Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 31, 1967
NUMBER 17, PAGE 10-11a

Are Churches Of Christ Encouraging Preacher Professionalism?

Daniel G. Walters

Faithful brethren have long warned us of the danger of the professional clergy and of the pastor system. No Christian I know anything about would openly advocate either. Yet how far removed are we from these sectarian concepts in actual practice? First let us see what is included in being a "professional" in any field.

A profession is an occupation for which one must be specially trained; it usually includes a high degree of education. When one has completed his training and begins to practice his profession for a certain fee, he is then regarded as a "professional" and is distinguished from an "amateur" who may also do the same work at times, but does not do so for money, and does not possess the degree of formal training necessary to acquire "professional" status. Inherent in professionalism is the ambition to "get ahead" financially and socially. This entails a strong spirit of competition with others in the profession. One uses good public relations and cultivates the friendship of more successful members of his profession; they can give him the "pull" which is usually necessary for real success. When one ignores such unwritten laws, even if he is expert at his particular practice, he generally is regarded as second-rate and is not highly rewarded in money or prestige.

On the contrary, the old-fashioned "non-professional" preachers in the church put little emphasis on formal education or training. But they could put a modern preacher to shame with their knowledge of the Scriptures. They accepted support from churches, when such was available, but more often than not had to "make tents" on the side like the Apostle Paul. They recognized no distinction between clergy and laity. Those who had the ability taught publicly; those who did not taught privately. But all Christians alike were teachers and all were ministers. It would have been considered an insult to the rest of the Christians in a congregation for one man to call himself "the minister. ''These men who did spend a large portion of their time in public preaching concentrated upon evangelism and the establishing of new churches. They were not burdened with the administration of a highly organized local church; nor did they have any desire to usurp the functions of the eldership. The elders held the fort at home while the preachers ventured froth to conquer new territory for the Lord. On the whole, these old pioneer preachers bore little resemblance to the professional preachers of today.

It is evident that the more liberal section of the brotherhood has swallowed the professional preacher whole. We see degrees from "Christian Colleges" becoming essential requirements for all full-time preachers. We even see a sort of scale of promotion where one may start out as an "assistant minister." Then perhaps he becomes an "educational director." Then "the minister" of a fashionable congregation. Then, if he is especially gifted, he becomes a "nationally known evangelist" and spends his time directing "Campaigns for Christ." (In case you are out of date, this is a gospel meeting taken to town and given a haircut, a manicure, and a brand new suit with a flower to go in its lapel. At least this was the original idea, but some of the "Campaigns" became so enamored of their appearance that they disavowed all kin to the old-fashioned gospel meeting where the plan of salvation was preached.) In addition we see certain preachers advertised as "great preachers of today" or "brilliant young evangelists." And there are the testimonial dinners at which extravagant praise is lavished upon some well-known preacher. Preachers have even stooped to use their own publications to glorify themselves. Most of these preachers are pastors in everything but name. They direct church work programs, organize young people's affairs, are expected to plan and direct weddings and funerals, visit everyone in the hospitals, and then if there is any time left they prepare a couple of twenty minute sermonettes for the Lord's Day. It is no wonder that the word "minister" is replacing "preacher" and "evangelist." Proclaiming the gospel is the least duty of the modern professional pastor in a liberal Church of Christ.

But what about the situation in the conservative churches who pride themselves on sticking to the old paths? We do not put so much emphasis on formal education. We do not use high-powered advertising campaigns to build up certain preachers. We do not have the social gospel programs for our preachers to direct. But we had better take a second look at some of the things we do practice in relation to preachers. What about our strong congregational dependence on preachers rather than elders to "feed the flock?" What about our decreasing emphasis on gospel meetings in weak areas and debates with sectarians? What about our image of the located preacher who is expected to spend certain hours in his office in the church house, to make regular hospital rounds, to solve every personal crisis in the church, to be a marriage counselor and an advisor on juvenile misbehavior, to comfort the dying and then direct the funeral; in short to do about everything the Roman Catholic Priest is expected to do for his parish? And what about our competitive method of selecting preachers?

The New Testament teaches that elders are needed to make a congregation complete, that they are to have the oversight, and that they are to "feed the flock." It does not teach that a full-time preacher is a necessary fixture in a local church, Yet we have become so dependent on preachers that the elders have not developed themselves into efficient teachers, but have rather degenerated into business managers and experts on hiring and firing preachers who are to do their work for them. Show me a church without a preacher, and nine out of ten times I will show you a church with poor attendance, poor contribution, and one that is generally in a rapid state of deterioration. A church without a preacher is like a car without a motor. All work stops until another preacher can be secured. This is a symptom of some serious defect in our thinking.

Few preachers among us spend even half of their time evangelizing. Enthusiastic gospel meetings supported by brethren for miles around are going out of style. Preachers are bound to the local churches and are not being heard by the outside world.

In fact, as has already been shown, preachers are becoming everything but preachers. Why not be honest and call them pastors if that is what we expect them to be? The late brother C.R. Nichol wrote:

"The New Testament preachers never thought of preaching the gospel as a job or a position that carried financial remuneration. The professional' idea was unknown to them. Pure devotion to Christ and the truth were the only motives.

"Today we know preachers who are chosen by certain elements in a congregation as preachers because of personal preference rather than a fitness for the work. There is a tendency among us for the preacher to become a 'pastor' in the sectarian sense. I recall having read that 'after their own lusts they will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears!' God's plan is that the elders are his shepherds or pastors. The true preacher of the gospel will refuse to change the divine plan by doing the work God assigned elders, even if the elders wish to transfer their work to the preacher."

In conclusion, we need to take a look at our method of selecting preachers to work with local churches. The custom of a number of preachers competing against one another for a certain position by preaching "trial sermons" seems very suspect to this writer. The late brother J. D. Tant commented on this practice in the June 15, 1915, edition of the Firm Foundation. He wrote:

"U. G. Wilkinson is slow of speech, deep, logical. He is an able teacher, yet it takes him about one hour to preach a sermon. But you have heard something when he is through. David Lipscomb is on the same order. Each of these men has forgotten more than I'll ever know; yet I can take them through Texas, let each preach a trial sermon, then take two twenty-year old boys with me, and let each of them preach a twenty-minute sermonette, give the churches their choice, and nine out of ten of them will want the sermonette boy! Brethren, whither are we drifting? To my mind it seems funny, when you get sick, to send for a doctor to give you some 'trial doses' of medicine to see whether or not you want him to practice on you; or, if you get in trouble to get a lawyer to give you a 'trial case' or two to see if you want to employ him. Yet I do not know of a church wanting a preacher which does not send for him to preach a 'trial sermon.' Don't forget, brethren, we are drifting."

This type of preacher selection also leads to an undesirable spirit of competition. Preachers have to learn to be politicians, to develop movie-actor personalities, to say just the right things that will make them popular at a particular place. In other words, preachers often, in self-defense, become menpleasers rather than God-pleasers.

It is my opinion that churches should consider one man at a time, check on references and past record, then let him come and get acquainted and perhaps preach. If he is suitable they should agree to accept him. If he is not, they should tell him why in no uncertain terms so that he may be able to improve himself.

This is merely a suggestion. We do not have an iron-bound pattern on such matters. But some of the things that are going on in the brotherhood today do not seem to be in harmony with the pattern we do have. Remember, just because we have not been washed away by the liberal tide does not mean we are anchored securely on the Rock of Gibraltar. Brethren, we are still drifting.