Professional Preachers

by Ed Bragwell
via Biblical Insights, Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2013

The trend toward developing a "professional clergy" among churches of Christ has been in the making for some time now. More and more, both churches and preachers, have come to view gospel preachers as professionals much like the professions of this world. Churches seek out and "hire" these professionals much in the same way that school and corporate boards hire their executive personnel. A larger church may "hire" several of these professionals with each assigned an area of responsibility.

In the early days of my preaching, the "located preacher" issue was a big issue. Leading the way among the "no located preacher" side of the issue were men like Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett. They painted a picture of the "located preacher" (a preacher who was supported by the local church and did most of his preaching there) as being a "professional clergyman" A number of debates were held on the issue with this charge being ably answered. However, I fear that the "located preacher" in many cases has evolved into the very thing that Carl and Leroy were making it out to be a hired professional clergy. It is not because the "located preacher" practice logically leads to professionalism, but the abuse of it can and has evolved into this mind-set.

A good example of this concept recently appeared on the website of the Central church of Christ in Athens, Alabama. The page states that they are "seeking a full-time Associate Minister with a focus on College and Career and Young Couples age members (generally 18 year old singles through young adults with pre-school age children). This congregation has an average attendance of over 400 and is currently served by a senior minister, a youth minister, a part-time children's minister, and a part-time secretary, in addition to seven shepherds"

They say that "salary is highly competitive and will be negotiated with the candidates based on education and experience. Benefits include health insurance and retirement allocations, moving expenses, merit and cost of living raises, professional development, paid vacation, sick leave, and holidays, plus sabbatical leave"

"Qualifications:

  • Called by God;
  • Happily married to a Christian woman;
  • Bachelor degree, or higher from an accredited university program in Bible or Ministry;
  • At least 3 years of full-time experience in a church ministry environment;
  • Effective and proven teaching/communication skills, including writing and speaking abilities;
  • Information technology skills such as computer, internet, website maintenance, in-depth knowledge of social media use, audio/visual systems;
  • Desire a candidate with a gift for worship leading in song."

Now, my brethren, this is an example of professionalism gone to seed. Can you imagine a congregation in New Testament times sending out a circular letter anything akin to this? Even if we laid aside the "information technology skills" section, which contains tools not available in the first century, I still cannot imagine that an early church would have sought out an evangelist to work with them using such incentives and qualifications. Even had they done so, I cannot imagine where they would have found a man among those early preachers that would have met all of these qualifications.

In the first place, the New Testament concept of the gospel preacher (evangelist) is not that of one being hired to do the bidding of the congregation. He is one who has committed himself chiefly to the work of preaching the gospel to any and all in or out of the church. He may travel from place to place or he may stay in one place for an extended period of time (I Timothy 1:3; Acts 20:31). His livelihood may come from the work of his own hands (Acts 18:3; I Corinthians 4:12) or it may come from partnering with churches and individuals who wish to have fellowship with him in his work (Philippians 4:15; Galatians 6:6). This is not an employee-employer relationship. It is a partnership (fellowship) in the great work of preaching the gospel to save the lost in the world and edifying the church. The work accomplished by the preacher in this partnership redounds to the account of the supporting partner(s) (Philippians 4:17).

An evangelist (gospel preacher) is not a hired gun to do the work of elders or any other member of the church. He has no special qualifications other than being a faithful man (II Timothy 2:2) who knows the Scriptures (II Timothy 3:14-17) and is capable of teaching them (II Timothy 2:24). In his work of preaching he will teach whomever he has opportunity either publicly or privately (Acts 20:20). He may be either uneducated or educated. Most of the first century preachers were "ignorant and unlearned men" but they knew Jesus (Acts 4:13). On the other hand, the apostle Paul was very educated, but he made a concerted effort to downplay this fact so that the faith of those who heard him would not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (I Corinthians 2:4-5).

The fact that most of the first century preachers/teachers may have received what they preached by direct divine revelation does not change the nature of the gospel preacher today. The only difference is that they received their information directly and preachers today receive theirs indirectly reading in the New Testament what the first century preachers received by revelation and passed it on in their inspired writings. If a faithful man is capable of reading what they wrote (Ephesians 3:3-5), and is capable of teaching that information to others, he is qualified to preach the gospel both to the world and to the church. He does not need a degree from any college or university, accredited or otherwise, to preach. He does not have be "called by God" other than being called by the same gospel that called him to be a Christian.

Young brother, there is no work greater nor more satisfying than that of preaching the gospel of Christ. Do not look upon it as a "job" or a "profession" comparable to the various jobs and professions of this world. If you are looking for "a job" then go down to the employment agency or the personnel office of the company that might be hiring and put in your application. If you're looking for a "profession" then go get the education required by that profession and pass the necessary examinations needed to practice and hang out your shingle.

If you want to preach, prepare yourself by immersing yourself in a study of the Scriptures, either alone or with some knowledgeable brother(s), look for ways and opportunities to hone your skills at teaching, publicly and privately, what you have learned from the Scriptures. Then decide which course is best for you and your family whether to devote your "full-time" to the "ministry of the word" by entering into a partnership with brethren (individually or collectively) in order to "live of the gospel" (I Corinthians 9:14) or "work for a living" while you preach. Or maybe a combination of the two.

Also don't look at yourself as a hired hand of the church or a "professional counselor." You are a preacher of the word who preaches in season and out of season, both to the saint and sinner, that which is revealed making application by reproving, rebuking and admonishing where needed. Be thankful for those who partner with you in the matter of giving and receiving (Philippians 4:15), but do not show partiality toward them in your preaching. Your preaching must be always to please God rather than man or else you will not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

One other piece of advice. Even if you plan to preach full-time, while you are young get a good academic or vocational education, not in order to make you a better preacher, but so you will have something to fall back on should you need to support yourself and your family should your circumstances change. If your purpose is to get an academic degree in order to get a better "preaching position" and you are "hired" by a church because of that degree then you both deserve each other because neither of you have the foggiest notion of what scriptural gospel preaching is all about.

I wish brethren could get away from this concept of "hiring and firing" preachers and think more in terms of the scriptural concept of fellowship or partnership between the one giving (the church) and the one receiving (the preacher). And if preachers would look at themselves as servants (workers) of the Lord in His work of seeking and saving the lost and doing the brethren service at times (II Corinthians 11:8) a lot of this professional concept of preaching would disappear.