To stand before a group of people and proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ is at the same time the greatest honor and the most humbling experience. It is the greatest of honors because the message proclaimed is that from the very words of God. The preacher is a messenger of God, insofar as the message preached is indeed the word of God. It is the most humbling of experiences because no man is worthy of the task. The preacher must first examine himself before he proclaims the word of God to others. Such an examination may reveal inadequacies in his life. Having thus examined himself in the light of God’s word, having prayed for God’s mercy, and having applied the message to his life, he may then be ready to preach the message to others. Even the great apostle Paul realized this truth. He stated, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). He referred to himself as a chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) who was placed into the ministry not because he was worthy, but because he was a recipient of the mercy of Christ, who enabled him and counted him worthy (1 Tim. 1:12). Every minister of the gospel would do well to echo these sentiments.
The preacher is first and foremost just that, a preacher. It is very easy for a preacher of the gospel to become inundated with many tasks and responsibilities as he feels the pressure to meet the demands and expectations of others. This can lead to a life that is very busy, but sorely lacking in proper study and preparation to preach the word of God. If one gives his life to the preaching of God’s word, then he should guard that charge from distractions that would diminish his ability to do so effectively. The preacher is to “minister to the saints” (Rom. 15:25); that is, he is to serve them in their spiritual needs. This is not the task of the preacher alone, but that of every Christian (Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:10). When the preacher capitulates to the expectations to do the work which God expects of every church member, he not only robs them of the fulfillment of having done their duty, but may find his duty as a minister of the gospel hindered. Elders do well who protect the preacher from unnecessary burdens that hinder his ability to focus on the study and proclamation of the word of God. The apostles had the wisdom to understand this. When approached with the complaint that the Hellenist (Greek speaking) widows were being neglected in their care, the apostles stated that it was not fitting for them to “leave the word of God and serve tables” (Acts 6:2, NKJV). They charged the church with the task of finding those who they would appoint to that task so that they could devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). While preachers are not apostles, they are to be ministers of the word. The wisdom of the apostles should guide elders, deacons, preachers, and all members in being certain that each fulfills their own duties and responsibilities.
What makes a good minister? In 1 Timothy 4, Paul warns the preacher Timothy of the impending departure from the faith and his duty to preach concerning the truth of God’s word. He then states, “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Tim. 4:6, emp. added). He continues to admonish Timothy to avoid “profane and old wives fables,” to exercise toward godliness, and to be an example to the believers. He reminds Timothy to give attention to reading, exhortation, and doctrine. Timothy is instructed to meditate on these things, to give himself entirely to them, and to “take heed to yourself and to the doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). This is how the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to define a “good minister.” A good minister will not fail to “preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). He will not shun to proclaim the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). He will speak those things that are proper for sound doctrine (Tit. 2:1).
Unfortunately, the “corporate” mindset of our society has affected the way people define roles in the church today. While there are many elderships which view the role of the elder as a shepherd, too often elderships conduct themselves as a board of directors. This mindset has also affected how elders and church members often view the role of a preacher. The preacher is identified as an employee of the church. He is hired to preach and visit. Often, he is hired to do the work that others in the church should be doing. The plea of the restoration movement is to “Speak where the Bible speaks, be silent where the Bible is silent. Do Bible things in Bible ways, and call Bible things by Bible names. In matters of faith, unity. In matters of opinion, liberty. In all matters, charity.” If the church is to speak where the Bible speaks and call Bible things by Bible names, then should not this principle define the roles of those who serve in the church? The employer/ employee relationship that so often defines the role of preachers in churches is nowhere to be found in the scriptures. The two epistles of Paul to Timothy and his epistle to Titus define the role of the preacher. In Ephesians 4:11, the scriptures teach that God gave the role of evangelist, just as he did that of apostles, prophets, and pastors (elders). Each of these roles was intended by God to fulfill a purpose in the building up of the church, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). The roles of apostles and prophets have been fulfilled and are no longer extant. The roles of evangelists (preachers) and pastors (elders) as well as that of deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13) are all ordained by God and defined in scripture. It is proper for churches to support one who preaches to them, not because he is an employee, but because God has thus ordained (1 Cor. 9:14; Mark 10:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 2:6; Gal. 6:6). By so doing, the church enables the evangelist to devote himself to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). In John 10:12, Jesus spoke of the hireling who flees because he does not care about the sheep. The church needs fewer hirelings and more servants of God in its pulpits!
It is imperative that evangelists and elders foster good relationships! The failure to nurture such relationships has hindered the work of many churches. Those churches which are blessed by elders and preachers who love and respect each other are empowered by such. Stephen Guy has served the Lord’s church as both a preacher and an elder, as well as helping to train many preachers as a college instructor. The following are the words of brother Guy as spoken to this author:
“Young and older preachers alike look for a congregation to spend their life in ministry. The relationship between a minister and congregation has been compared to a marriage. At the center is the elder/ preacher relationship. The elders do make the final decision on the hiring and firing of the minister, and the minister answers to his elders as every member. The relationship between an eldership and minister should be one of mutual love and respect. However, in a number of congregations a corporate mentality has crept into the elder/ minister relationship in which the elders act as CEOs and the ministers are treated or function as hirelings. The Bible says that elders are not to lord over the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). This includes the sheep, known as the minister and his family. The shepherds are to treat every sheep in a godly manner. If the minister is not acting in a godly manner or being effective, they should be corrected in the same way as any other member, in love. There are times when it is best for the minister and elders to part ways, however it should be done in love and be God honoring. Elders and ministers who love the Lord, and one another, make for a great marriage. Elders and ministers, if you are enjoying such a relationship, pray for and praise, publicly and privately, one another, and the congregation will follow your example. One compliment from an elder can make a minister’s day, and one compliment from the minister will make an elder’s year.”
Michael serves as the pulpit minister for the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.