Vol.XX No.II Pg.2
April 1983

Preachers Who Eld!

Robert F. Turner

In recent years many churches have appointed their preacher to serve as one of their overseers (bishops, elders, shepherds). We assume these men are scripturally qualified (the first consideration) and know Paul wrote of elders who "labor in the word and doctrine" (1 Tim. 5:17), so we are not questioning the right of this arrangement. Preachers seem to be staying longer at one church, owning their homes, and becoming more a part of the community, and all of this contributes to the practice. But brethren have a way of using one case — where long association, permanently located, and well qualified make for a good example — to justify another case where practically a newcomer, untried, and having little experience with that church or community, is accepted because he is "the preacher." That situation is ripe for problems that could tear the church apart.

If the man continues to be supported by the church we could have a "conflict of interests" when elders meet to discuss a "raise" or perhaps a change of preachers. Their active "public image" tends to push them up on a pedestal anyhow, and in conditions not uncommon these days the new preacher may become the "leading elder." If he takes business meeting differences to the pulpit — look out! Often the preacher is considered because in smaller churches there are fewer qualified men from whom we may choose. In fact, with our highly mobile society, the preacher may be one of the more constant members. He may be appointed because the alternative is one — or no elders at all. I can relate to such situations, and feel deep sympathy and concern for these brethren. Where the man appointed is a long-time resident, well qualified, and approved by the congregation without "preacher pressure," this has much to commend it.

But you detect a note of caution, an "if" or "but" or "however" in the way I write?? You are right! I know it can be scriptural, I know it can be expedient, I know it has worked in many places. I also know it can be scriptural without being expedient or profitable 1 or. 6:12), and it bothers me to see churches rushing into this arrangement on little more justification than "that's the way they did it over in Podunk."

One person writes, "Can a man hold the office of Evangelist and Elder at the same time?" I believe neither are "offices" in the official or hierarchal sense — it is the office of one to preach and the other to oversee in the sense of duty, work, or function.