Replacing the Preacher – “ Seeking a Preacher ”

The preacher shares his final words, steps down from the pulpit for the last time, and after gathering his things leaves the building for good.  Preachers come and go, often more frequently than they should.  The Church moves forward with or without a regular preacher, because the ability to worship God does not rely upon the presence of any particular man.  Yet, this does not dismiss the wisdom of having a local preacher.  A sound preacher blesses a congregation in many ways a typical member does not.  When the preacher leaves, how should the Church replace him?

In the interim, congregations who can fill the pulpit with the membership do well.  In fact, congregations should give members ample opportunity to present lessons during the tenure of a preacher.  As a word of caution, assigning topics to these men would be wise.  When assigning topics an eldership shepherds in a manner which meets the needs of a congregation.  Simultaneously, by assigning topics elderships protect against any potential faulty teaching or personal agendas.  Beyond the preaching of a membership, congregations often seek outside, temporary preachers.  In doing this, a congregation establishes a semblance of normalcy from week to week while maintaining consistent soundness.  The temporary preacher also enables the congregation to take its time in searching for a permanent preacher.  One note of concern regarding temporary preachers:  Pay them like preachers.  A great number of preachers travel to aid congregations in need.  They do so gladly and with the desire to glorify God.  However, they need to eat too.  Do not take advantage.  One brother shared a story with me of traveling hours to fill in at a congregation at a time when he was barely meeting bills.  He did not even have enough gas money to get home.  After preaching the Sunday morning class, main assembly, and evening service, he received a thank you and nothing more.  He ended up going to a pawn shop so he could sell something and get home.  While most preachers do not go through such extremes when visiting a congregation, most receive little pay.  Preparing three lessons likely took the preacher 20-40 hours.  Quite commonly for a Sunday visit preachers receive $75.  This means the preacher worked for $1.88 to $3.75 an hour before expenses.  Congregations, consider the labor all preachers endeavor to perform and remember passages such as Luke 10:7 and I Corinthians 9:6-14.

After finding an interim preacher replacement, most congregation post “seeking a preacher” advertisements with magazines, newspapers, preaching schools, Christian universities, or websites.  A short review of advertisements for preachers demonstrates a major need for instruction on what a congregation should be looking to find.  On one hand, many congregations post outright illegal requirements in their posts.  On the other hand, they show the spiritual immaturity of a congregation which may keep a sound preacher from even considering them.  “What not to do” and “what to do” needs to be discussed, but first here are some common items I found recently in “seeking a preacher” advertisements.

  • “The ideal candidate should be age 35-55”
  • “Looking for a young and enthusiastic individual”
  • “We desire to place a dynamic individual in this position”
  •  “Require a degree from an accredited university”
  • “Humorous”
  • “Good looking”
  • “Published Author”
  • “Able to maintain congregation website”
  • “Well versed in using Power Point”
  • “A minister and wife team”
  • “Youth Minister”
  • “Family Life Minister to perpetuate unity of spirit and joyful fellowship, with a focus on young adults and youth”
  •  “A Godly family man that has or plans to have children”

Perhaps the reader does not see any problem with these requirements.  From the vast number of advertisements posting such items, you are not alone. However, after considering the requirements, I do not know a single preacher who would qualify.  Most would not qualify having only three of the qualifications present.

When seeking a preacher do not focus on non-essential attributes.  Imagine the apostle Paul comes to your congregation.  His resume demonstrates amazing experiences in sharing the gospel.  Unfortunately, the congregation turns him away because he does not have a preacher certificate or degree from a Christian University or preaching school.  Brothers obtaining a degree or certificate may be fantastic preachers (I would vouch for a number any day).  Yet, outside of a piece of paper one sound preacher is the same as the next sound preacher.  A great number of gospel preachers never set a foot in any teaching institution beyond the Church and the family living room.  Most of the world and Christian Dispensation has only known such “non-educated” preachers.  Additionally, a word of caution:  Most institutions identified as “Christian” or “Church Schools” contain many false teachers.  Few go beyond three or four decades of their formation before the teaching they provide is unrecognizable from scripture.  Send your young man away and you may get back more than anticipated.

Family status does not qualify as an essential attribute for a preacher.  Again the apostle Paul comes to a congregation with his resume.  Again, he faces rejection by not being married or fathering children.  A wife and children bless a man, but his Biblical qualification comes from studying God’s Word.

Three strikes and Paul is out!  Paul couldn’t power point, i-pad, or web design.  What a ridiculous requirement!  Can the man save souls by preaching the Word?  Hired!  If a congregation would like to later aid a preacher in learning tech skills, fantastic.  Tech skills may be non-essential, but certainly they can edify at times.  Most preachers would likely be glad to update their tech skills.  Still, it is far better to have a non-tech preacher who can preach soundly, than a Bill Gates who would gladly invite clapping and praise teams into the worship service.

What about ads that think the preacher should be a published author?  If writing letters qualified him, Paul could do this.  He wrote a couple of those.  Why should a congregation not hire a sound preacher if he has never published something?  A congregation with such a requirement needs to examine its priorities.  Does teaching the Word come first or not?  If writing something down remains important hire a stenographer and let him publish the writing.

Congregations dramatically falter when they begin to require non-essential personal attributes.  Asking for a good looking or fit preacher aids someone’s salvation in what way?  Does one find this requirement in Hezekiah 9:14 or Opinions 3:16?  Such considerations come very close to the partiality spoke of in James 2:1-9.  What if the Fabio preacher develops wrinkles, begins to go bald, or heaven forbid gets a wart?  Do the members toss him out quick as possible so they won’t be shamed by his grotesque appearance? More Quasimoto preachers exist than not.  Should the preacher who has a scar or happens to be missing a finger, arm, or leg not even apply?  How will “fit” be defined?  Does this mean the congregation will be increasing a preacher’s salary to include a gym membership?  For that matter, perhaps a budget for plastic surgery can be put together.

“Must have good speech”, this requirement struck a first century chord with me.  Consider the following:

Act 2:6-7“And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language.  And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying, Behold, are not all these that speak Galilaeans?”

Luke writing of the day of Pentecost points out the reaction of the people when they heard the Spirit filled voices of the apostles sharing the gospel.  These normally were not men with “excellent speech”.  Later, Paul pointed out how he approached sharing the gospel:  “And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  (I Corinthians 2:1-2)  Some folks absolutely abhor southern speech.  Others cannot understand a single word an Easterner speaks.  Western speech is way too fast!  Northerners speak to folksy.  On and on the complaints could go.  Friends, God’s Word from human lips saves souls, regardless of speed, fluidity, or dialect.

“Dynamics required!”  In other words, continually rouse the emotions of the membership so the building will stay full.  Energy, humor, personality – congregations often want this from their preacher.  As long as the preacher is dynamic, it’s acceptable if his lessons are mere pabulum.  Dynamics before doctrine encourages comfort rather than conviction of the soul.  Just make sure they get a good chuckle out of the lesson and feel good when they leave.  Make certain the cornerstone of the Church – the teens – go away happy.  Congregations, preachers do not spend hours a day studying and sharing the gospel, to be evaluated on how many pizza trips or game nights they spend with teenagers.  Preachers do not strive to be a teen’s buddy, but if they are worth their salt, they will put dynamics aside and tell you that you are responsible for your child’s upbringing.

When congregations seek a preacher they need to stop viewing the preacher as their employee or “do it all man”.  The difference between a regular Christian and a preacher lies within the fact that a preacher has put aside secular opportunities so he might study and share God’s Word full time.  Whether he is a missionary or a local preacher, the congregation should be grateful to have the opportunity to support his efforts.  The preacher stands accountable to God, choosing to preach locally, but trying to spread the gospel worldwide.  He attempts to fulfill as many congregational needs as possible under the direction of the local eldership, but his efforts alone cannot save a congregation.  He cannot be their official congregational visitor.  On his own, he can only visit so much having the responsibility for his own spiritual life, his family, and other teaching opportunities.   A preacher is not the only person who can visit, teach Bible basics, or do a home Bible study.  Elders guide, shepherd, and counsel a congregation.  This domain does not fall at the feet of a preacher.  The preacher is not a 9-5 office guy, replacement parent, switchboard operator, carpenter, or building cleaner.  Will he be glad to help where he can?  No doubt.  But consider the necessity of spreading the gospel from Acts 6:2 – “And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables.”   Congregations, do you want to make a preachers day?  Tell him just to preach and teach while you bring him person after person who wants to know the gospel.

Congregations which view the wife and children as an extension of the preacher need to rethink their position.  I have written it before, but it bears repeating:  If you think you are hiring a husband /wife team, pay double.  Furthermore, whether a man has a wife or children has no bearing on his ability to share the gospel.  His family did not choose the vocation of preaching.   The only requirements to be placed upon the members of a preacher’s family should be those applied to all Christians.

There are a vast number of items which should not be done or even come to mind when seeking a preacher.  Now it’s time to switch focus and ask “What should be done by a congregation seeking a preacher?”

Taking out an ad to find a preacher represents a wise decision.  However, the only need to be expressed should be the following:  “Sound gospel preacher needed.”  Any other item included beyond contact information and the congregation’s location is irrelevant and beyond scripture.

When a preacher comes to share the message and see if the congregation fits him, pay him as if he is the permanent preacher.  If he appears sound, do not hire him immediately.  Instead, make an agreement to bring him out numerous times or house him locally for a couple of months so everyone can drop their happy face.  It is neither wise nor fair to a preacher or congregation to make a hurried decision.  Congregations and preachers with their families can be hurt both spiritually and financially by rash decisions.  Yet, most congregations continue to hire preachers after two to four visits.  A year later, everybody suffers, including the community.

Prepare an extensive questionnaire for preachers to fill out before they even visit.  Know what the man believes before you consider him as an option.  Myself, I send congregations a questionnaire beforehand because I have no desire to submit my family to a place that will reject my teaching later on.  Note: It is a wise move for an eldership to utilize the same questionnaire for all their class teaching members as well.

When seeking a preacher, be prepared to offer a substantial salary.  The average salary of a congregation’s members will typically not be enough to adequately support a preacher (yet it will often be accepted).  The normal preacher does not receive the benefits, bonuses, perks, health insurance, 401k, or retirement plan secular workers do.  Additionally, most congregations put upon the preacher the added expense of entertaining often.  Other expenses include building a library of commentaries and reference material, as well as traveling to lectureships and gospel meetings for further education.  Books do not come free and vehicles to not travel without expense.  To meet these expenses, preachers often take the opportunity to speak in gospel meetings. Do not frown upon or try to disallow this activity.  This may be the only way the preacher can get extra money for expenses, savings, and emergencies.  Do not bring in a preacher to be in a situation of continual financial distress.  A man who can focus freely upon the Word of God is more important than saving a few dollars.

When seeking a preacher, agree upon and set aside a severance package from the beginning.  When a congregation brings in a preacher, it is their responsibility to choose wisely.  If they do not, the preacher should not suffer for their mistake.  Consider three months salary acceptable.  This gives a preacher time to get his affairs in order and seek other employment.  Remember, a preacher is your brother in Christ above all and should not be treated poorly.  Assuming all goes well and a proper match occurs, after a set number of years (say five) present the severance amount as a bonus to the preacher for his dedicated service.

In anticipation of placing a future preacher, elders should set congregational expectations beforehand.  Make certain that the Christians have their priorities straight.  It should be clear that God expects giving to be a priority, not a second thought.  Good stewardship should characterize a Christian’s life.  Establish from the beginning what a healthy preacher’s salary costs including planned raises and benefits.  It’s ok for a preacher to live minimally, but often if members are asked to make the same sacrifice, rebellion starts.  This should not be.  Congregationally, if it is necessary to cut other expenses such as missionary funds, building funds, or outside projects to properly provide for a preacher, then this should be done.  Congregations take care of your preachers.  Do not make them the focus of lean budgeting.  Additionally, elders should make it clear to the congregation that the preacher, preaches.  He is not the counselor or jack of all trades.  If members need help in their lives, bring it to the elders. Do not burden the preacher.  Elders have been appointed by God to shepherd and congregations should not try to shift this obligation to someone else.

Congregations seeking elders can do it right.  They can choose a man who will gladly serve for a long time.  To do it right, they need to stop doing it wrong.  A preacher should be selected upon his ability to share the truth.  If he can do that, then he is the right man for the job regardless of whether or not he is good looking, has a family, or can work a power point presentation.  Congregations fulfill your duty to support men who give their lives to share the gospel.  Care for them and plan for their future and yours.

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