Becoming a Preacher – “Seeking to Make a Difference”

As a boy, the opportunity existed for me to learn how to preach.  The congregation I attended held classes specifically for men and boys to develop themselves and prepare to share the Word of God with the world.  I can remember providing a short lesson at one point and more than likely I gave more, though I do not recall them.  After that time, preaching sort of left my mind.  It was not until the age of thirty-two that I sought out the opportunity to preach again.  My family and I attended a congregation in Upper Sandusky, Ohio at the time.  I requested to speak on occasional Sunday evenings.  Following my first lesson, the minister of the congregation left never to return.  Preaching immediately became a major focus of my life.  Did anything take me by surprise?  Yes.  Would I do anything different?  Yes.  Most families do not prepare their boys to preach.  Many men come to the decision to preach later in their lives.  They seek to make a difference in the lives of men.  Their own life discoveries direct them to try to save souls in darkness.  They love God and man and the opportunity to serve compels them to preach.  Unfortunately, the preacher often suffers due to insufficient knowledge, faulty expectations, and hardship.

Continual growth characterizes my understanding of both Christianity and preaching.  These cannot be separated.  When I began to preach certain foundations existed already from the years of teaching I previously received.  However, be sure, relying on the past results in insufficiency for the future.  Peter called upon the Christians to grow (2 Peter 3:18). Above all things a preaching Christian must grow.  Ephesians 6:15 speaks of shodding the feet with the gospel of peace.  All preachers need a good pair of Gospel shoes.  They need to walk through the scriptures, trample down sin, kick some backsides, and endure having their toes stepped on.  Those shoes also better be mighty tasty; at times the preacher’s foot will be in his mouth.  Putting on gospel shoes means study.  A preacher’s passion revolves around study and sharing his study.  Calls reach him 24 hours a day.  Emails pour in.  On-line debaters crouch in readiness.  Members of congregations receive the scripture from him, but the preacher must always be ready for a challenge to his presentation. Challenges come under the roof of the Church building, over the grill at a summer BBQ, in the gym, and on vacation by strangers and friends.

James 3:1 – Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment.  This verse does not tell Christians to avoid teaching the word.  All Christians must be apt to teach (2 Timothy 2:24).  Even in persecution the early Christians spread the Word (Acts 8:1-4).  James cautions those who would be “masters/instructors” of the Word.  In other words, spiritual guides to other Christians – preachers.  A preacher strives to be a master of the scriptures.  When he arrives new to a congregation, members and elders pepper him with interviews and questions.  Note:  New preacher, at some point it will be shocking how invasive some questions may get.  An open book on your life describes the wide expectation of most congregations toward you.  If only congregations would determine to question the beliefs of their own class teachers as thoroughly, a great number of doctrinal fires would never occur.  Be prepared preacher.  Your decision to preach should not be based upon your needs or wants; it must take into account the souls of others.  Can you develop these souls?  Error harms souls.  If you teach it, the Bible had better show it.  Think you can juggle full time work and full time preaching and do it well?  Others will suffer if you are wrong.  A congregation needs meat, not always milk.  How much study does a preacher engage in?  Anecdotally, most preachers declare they put in 60-70 hours a week.  Scientifically, a number of studies demonstrate 50+ and 60+ hour weeks are the norm.  Understand, this does not mean that the remainder of the week can be used by the preacher for sleep, personal and family time.  The calls, emails, questions, and social expectations remain constant.  As a final note, preachers frequently find time does not exist to study personal interests on Biblical topics.  Their study time focuses on classes, sermons, lectures, etc.  A great number of preachers lament a lack of time for unstructured study.

Some men want to put in the time to share the scriptures with others, but there may not be a pulpit position in their area.  What do they do?  Friends, if preaching existed only from a pulpit in the local congregation, little preaching would be done.  Men must seek out the opportunity to share the gospel.  Many thousands of people would not object to hearing a gospel message at this moment.  Home studies do not reside as the exclusive domain of preachers, but they definitely remain viable opportunities for preachers to declare God’s message, even in a world widely rejecting the gospel.   How many prisons contain men and women willing to listen to the words of God?  With a few questions and a background check, the opportunity beckons to able preachers.  Some high schools allow preachers to speak at Christian clubs.  Universities also present opportunities in open forums or clubs for preachers to share the gospel.  My family and I currently visit a senior center to share the Word.  If a man wants to preach, he must seek the opportunity.

Preachers must not only seek the opportunity to share the scriptures, but seize it when it presents itself.  God opens doors to those seeking and willing to go through them (Matthew 7:7).  How many opportunities disclose themselves to the preacher each day, but he chooses not to seize them.  Consider the person who asks “Why are you so happy today?” That is a preaching opportunity!  Whether it is a person who sneezes, someone holding a newspaper, or an individual with a funny t-shirt, there are preaching opportunities to be seized.  A man who decides to dedicate his life to sharing the gospel must look at preaching differently than he has likely been programmed.  A preacher does not have to stand in front of a group for a 45 minute talk.  His preparation enables him to speak in any situation without notice.  The other night someone slid off the icy road into the ditch in front of my house.  It was 2 a.m.  The drivers and passengers knocked on my door for help.  Not only did they receive help, but everyone of them, including the tow truck driver talked with us about God before they left.

At times opportunities to share the gospel may not be apparent, so they must be made.  Missionaries go to places where there aren’t “preaching positions”.   Websites can also be created to share the gospel.  Consider this: a website can draw thousands of visitors a week or month to the Word of God.  Most pulpits do not accomplish that.  What about street corner preaching?  A preacher who wants to preach will always find a place to do so.   This goes for the beginning preacher and the seasoned preacher.

Many individuals who desire to become a preacher imagine fun times of sharing the gospel with smiling faces.  The words they share create a near revival of baptisms, repentance, and activity.  Quite often the first few times they present lessons, they will see smiling faces which encourage.  Reality will set in though.  The prophets, inspired by God, met rejection (Acts 7:51-52).  The apostles, inspired by God, met rejection (Acts 5:28).  Jesus met rejection by men (Mark 14:1).  Most preachers experience moments more like the prophet Jeremiah, than Peter on the day of Pentecost.  Failure must be accepted.  When it occurs, dust yourself off and move forward, rejoicing in God His Message was shared(Acts 5:40-41).

A great number of preachers should learn to pack boxes and drive moving trucks.  Not just because this help will be expected by nearly everyone that moves in your congregation, but because preachers often find themselves heading to a new congregation.  It may be the congregation did not want to hear the words shared with them.  Quite possibly there may be power plays or personality conflicts.  At other times, the preacher may seek an opportunity which allows him to better provide for his family.  Even when all things appear to be fantastic, a congregation may decide they want to do something new.  I spoke recently to an elder whose congregation purposely shifts to a new preacher every few years.  The change supposedly spurred the congregation away from being lackadaisical.  Whatever the reason, many preachers live in fear of the day they must pack their bags and head down the road.  It wears on the preacher and his family and most often represents a hardship of preaching.

Along with the issue of moving, finances concern most preachers.  A move itself costs money.  Boxes, tape, trucks, gas, and traveling meals add up.  If the preacher owned a home, he must try to rent it out (being an absentee landlord) or sell it.  In both situations, he may be holding onto an empty house for a long time.  On the other end of his move, he faces trying to get into a new home or rent which includes the rental and storage deposits.  Some folks might object, “Lots of people have to move, what’s the big deal?”  Is it a forced, unpaid move every 2-3 years like preachers?  Some see the “parsonage” (a home owned by the church for a minister) as the answer.  First, preachers of my acquaintance have moved in to parsonages only to see their power, phone, cable, etc. turned off when a congregation is done with them.  Second, because a preacher does not have to pay “rent”, the congregation uses this as an excuse to pay him a lesser amount.  Thus, a preacher receives lower pay and does not build any equity for his future.

Putting moving and home ownership aside many congregations often do not want to put forth the money required to adequately support a preacher.  The members would rather keep the money in their own pockets for their own personal use. In fact, again in a recently shared conversation, it was noted a congregation chose its male membership to alternate giving lessons in lieu of a preacher so they might save money.  This is a great idea for congregations working so they can adequately provide for a preacher in the future.  For the men this experience develops them as well.  However, in the long term, it is not ideal, nor does it represent the hearts of the Christians well.  Again, a preacher puts in long hours on topics so he can adequately present.  He does not grab a sermon off the internet and with 15 minutes preparation present it.  A preacher’s life revolves around study of the Word.  Digressing, many congregations believe paying a preacher the average salary of the membership acceptable.  The failure in this lies in a congregation’s expectations.  Nearly all congregations expect their preacher to entertain members at their home or be engaged in some other activity frequently.  The preacher often shoulders the responsibility for feeding and housing visiting preachers as well.  These expenses add up.  Next take into account that most people receive 401k plans, bonuses, retirement plans, and other perks where the preacher does not.  One final financial consideration is insurance.  Most preaches do not carry insurance because they cannot afford it.  A lack of insurance hurts most preachers because they have to pay the medical expenses out of pocket.  Few congregations provide insurance and they don’t realize that if a preacher wants insurance he must pay a much higher premium than others.  People who receive insurance through work benefit from the reduced premiums of corporate discounts.  Companies also typically pay around 70% of that premium.  An average preacher salary cannot afford insurance.  This hardship shocks many new preachers.

A congregation frequently maintains mistaken expectations for a preacher’s family.  If a congregation desires to hire a ministerial team, then they need to pay double the single rate.  A preacher’s wife is first chosen by him to care for his home.  No package deal for congregations exists.  She does not spend most of her time buried in study.  She struggles enough supporting her husband’s frustrations with a congregation.  She should not be expected to be the third ear of the preacher and battle issues to which she does not desire to be a part.  When her husband rejoices, she rejoices.  When her husband pains, she agonizes.  Unless she volunteers for something beyond the expectation of all members, she should not be burdened with more.  This same principle goes for the preacher’s children.  Often the level of scrutiny leveled at them reigns far above any other child in the congregation.  Preacher’s children are normal kids who have enough normal kid issues without other burdens being directed toward them.  The hardship of mistaken congregational expectation hurts the preacher and his family.  Sadly, those wanting to become preachers don’t often realize this until it is too late.

When trying to raise a boy to be a preacher, mentors are important.  For a man entering the preaching field, mentors cannot be assigned a value.  So the preacher does not worry his wife, he calls his mentors.  When a preacher is frustrated, he calls his mentors.  Contemplating a move? Mentor.  Struggling with a tough question?  Mentor.  Second thoughts about continuing to preach?  Mentor.  Disagreement with the elders, made a mistake, searching for a verse, need a book, unsure about preacher taxes, don’t read hebrew, how do I tell a woman about an immodest skirt, all this and more are directed at mentors.  Preachers talk more with other preachers than anybody.  They cannot talk to members, because members really have no clue what they are going through.  Only someone who has been there and done that can help, especially when they are removed from the situation and approaching it from a godly standpoint.  Preachers don’t forget your buddies in the trenches, because we have all been there.

A final concept someone considering preaching as a vocation must think on:  Tent making.  Paul preached the Word, but he also made tents (Acts 18:3).  Preachers, develop a secondary talent.  Yes, you should always seek, seize, and make opportunity to preach; however, this doesn’t always pay well or most likely, at all.  You can write articles, fill in at pulpits, participate in gospel meetings and lectures, and never see a dime.   The Word spreads through these activities and as such they glorify God.  However, when you family needs to eat, bills need to be paid, and gas needs to be put in the tank, you need work.  The reality strikes home for aged preachers out of work.  Who will employ an old person with 40 years preacher experience, but no secular experience?  Flipping fries isn’t going to cover the expenses at that point in life, but often, that becomes reality for the preacher.  Plan for the future, put away for the famine as did Joseph, and you will not be caught without.

Anyone contemplating becoming a preacher needs to know it is hard work.  Souls are at stake and Satan wants you to fail.  You must study and rely completely upon the Word of God – grow, develop, mature.  Opportunity exists everywhere.  Seek it!  When you see it, seize it.  If you must, make the opportunity.  Above all share the Word!  Hardships visit every man and there are unique hardships to preaching.  Preachers experience failure, struggle with finances, and must deal with the lofty expectations of others. Be prepared: Consult mentors and be a tentmaker.  Seek to make a difference!

 2 Timothy  4:1-2I charge thee in the sight of God, and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

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