The Challenge of Comparisons To Previous Preachers – Curtis Gilbert

It is for certain that preachers face various challenges when beginning a new work.  Such is true of the preacher just beginning his first work as well as the “seasoned” preacher who has left one congregation in order to work with another.  One such challenge is properly handling the issue of being compared with another preacher.  At this point in my life as a preacher I have had the privilege of serving four different congregations over a period just short of 21 years.  During this time period I have heard comments in both the negative and the positive relative to how I compared to the “previous preacher.”  Such begs the question of how should I, or any preacher for that matter, handle the pitfalls of being compared to the “great preacher” who preceded me and how should I avoid negative criticisms of a “not so great preacher” who was with the current congregation before my arrival?

First, let’s consider some of the possible pitfalls that may be associated with being compared to the “great preacher” who I am now following.  Upon hearing comments of how great the previous preacher was, one might:

  1. Become insecure and seek to investigate why he was so great in an attempt to imitate his qualities and thus lose focus of that which is most important.
  2. Feel as though he is being treated unfairly and therefore become bitter toward those who are making the comparisons, thus becoming less effective in his service to the whole congregation.
  3. Allow such comparisons to eat away at him to the point that he becomes frustrated or depressed and thus functions at a level lower than that of which he is capable.
  4. Though it should never happen, I suppose an immature preacher could attempt to seek out some “dirt” on the previous preacher in order to show that he was not so great after all.

So, just how should I handle such pitfalls of insecurity, feelings of being treated unfairly, frustration or depression, and the temptation to defame the previous “great preacher” because I am being compared to him?  Well, like it or not, our brothers and sisters in Christ are human with the same weaknesses as we preachers and thus comparisons are a reality.  I must realize such and thus not be surprised when I hear of those comparisons.  Then I should truly be thankful to God that the previous preacher was, in the eyes of the congregation, a “great preacher.”  Additionally, I should be thankful to God that the leadership of the congregation saw some potential in me to become a “great preacher” by inviting me to serve in the Lord’s kingdom with them.

Several passages of scripture come to mind when I think of needing strength to overcome the pitfalls of allowing being compared to another “great preacher” impede my preaching ministry.  The first one that came into my mind when I was invited to write this article is 2 Corinthians 10:12-18.  (I am aware that this passage applies specifically to the apostle Paul and his ministry but the thought is applicable to those of us who preach today relative to comparing ourselves with others or being compared to others.)  2 Corinthians 10:12-18 (NKJV) says:

“For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves.  But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.  We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us – a sphere which especially includes you.  For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith in increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment.  But ‘he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’  For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.”

The second passage of scripture that reminds me that I need not be intimidated by any comparison with anyone else is the apostle Paul’s charge to Timothy as recorded in 2 Timothy 4:1-5.  It says:

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:  Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.  Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

This passage also reminds me that what is most important in my ministry as a preaching servant of the Lord and his church is to preach the word of God and not be sidetracked by anything, especially that of being compared to anyone else.  God will judge the other “great preacher” by the same standard with which I will be judged (John 12:48-50), and not how my brethren or anyone else may judge me or feel about me.

Second, how do I avoid negative criticisms of a preacher, or preachers who preceded me, who were “not so great”?  Again, I must remember that my brothers and sisters in Christ are human with the same weaknesses that I have and thus comparisons are a reality.  Therefore some well-meaning brother or sister may come to me with criticisms of the previous preacher in order to inform me of things I should avoid or do differently.  Or, it just might be that I have heard of some of the shortcomings of the previous preacher and am therefore tempted to criticize him in order to make myself look good.

To avoid such it is good to be reminded that God is not pleased with “gossips” or “slanderers” (1 Tim. 5:13; 2 Tim. 3:3).  (I am aware that the immediate context of 1 Timothy 5:13 is referring to widows, but can the application not be made to all Christians?)  A preacher needs to remember this, and from time to time he may need to kindly and lovingly remind that well-meaning brother or sister of the same!

In conclusion, preachers, let’s remember that preaching is an awesome responsibility and it is not about us, the other “great preacher,” or the “not so great preacher.”  It is about pleasing the one who gives the increase of our feeble efforts!  The inspired apostle Paul summed it up in these words:

“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.  Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.”  (1 Corinthians 3:5-8, NKJV)

Liledoun Road Church of Christ

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