Of all the vocations I have had in my lifetime, none have been as worthwhile nor as fulfilling as preaching the Word of God. I have been in “full time” work (which simply means you have no other means of earning a living) as well as “bi-vocational” work (which means you make your living some other way. In either case, I considered myself a full-time preacher.
As fulfilling as it has been, it has not come without difficulties. Paul once wrote about his own hardships: “…in journeyings often, in perils of water, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Co. 11:26). While I will not put myself on the same level with Paul, I do believe young preachers and prospective preachers need to prepare themselves for the ill treatment they may receive. I was reared in a large church that was at peace. Our preachers did not receive harsh words, nor were they fired because somebody got angry with them. I just naturally believed everything would be wonderful when I began to preach. I would preach, everybody would shake my hand and tell me I did a wonderful job and they would all do just as the Scriptures I preached told them to do. Well, things just did not go that way.
I do not intend to make this a pity party for me. God has always been there for me and I have become stronger and I believe a better presenter over the years because of it all. I do want to perhaps say a few words that will help some of you who are just starting out or are considering preaching. It is a difficult field and you will need to love it to continue in it. Some of this will be negative but I hope to present it in a way that will allow you to see how to avoid some common mistakes and will allow you to have many productive years in His service.
As the preacher, you will live in a fish bowl, or a glass house if you prefer. Everything you do will be open for all to see and for all to criticize. You will have your critics. Your car may be no dirtier than any other member’s, but yours will be pointed out because you are the preacher. You may preach a wonderful sermon that has everyone spellbound, and someone will point out that there was a wrinkle in your shirt. You will preach too long, you will be too loud, you will use too many illustrations, you will put in so many scriptures that you lose people, or your hair will not be combed correctly.
My point is that you will need to know how to respond to all of this nonsense, which most of the time it will be. The most advice you will get about how you should preach and what your job as a preacher is or should be will come from those who have never written or presented a sermon in their lives and have no intention of ever doing so…yet they are the experts. You could decide you will not be pushed around and give it all back to them as they give it to you, but I suggest you buy shares of stock in U-Haul if you’re going to handle it this way because you will be moving a lot!
Rather, you must develop a thick skin if you do not already possess it. It seems some Christians enjoy saying or doing things just to hurt the preacher. You will prove yourself to be an unloving person who has no business in the pulpit if you talk to them the same way they talk to you. “Well, Mac,” you may be asking, “just what are we to do exactly?”
First, consider the source. When somebody is unfair to you, they may well be trying to compensate for some shortcoming in their life. When I was an air conditioning technician, one fellow at our company seemed to feel that the only way he could move up was by tearing everybody else down. You will find church members who are the same. Some things you just have to learn to let roll off of you like water. Many times it is in your best interest just to let it ride. Eventually the truth will come to light.
Secondly, conduct yourself with dignity and professionalism. By not getting down to someone else’s level, you will show people the best response to unfair criticism or ridiculous charges. Mudslinging always gets you just as dirty as it does the other person. Just do your job. If you are doing what you should, the garbage they throw will not stick on you. I am not saying you cannot and should not ever verbally defend yourself. There may come times when that is necessary. Just step back, evaluate the circumstances and do not charge in while you are angry. Remember these words: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Pr. 15:1).
Thirdly, and this is very important, realize that some will not conduct themselves in a Christ-like way just because they may call themselves a Christian. Some may “talk the talk” but walk a totally different walk. It has always escaped my capacity to understand what it is about being a church “boss” or “bully” that is so appealing. What is just as much beyond my ability to comprehend is why the rest of the congregation will bow down to them. You may very well find yourself in a situation where you are facing such a person and also find you have no support. All the “friends” you have made may tell you they do not feel the way this person does but you will find their support is only in private. After all, you can always move; they have to live there. Never mind that you already moved your family miles away from their home and will have to uproot them again. You will come to find out that some so-called Christians are selfish and will do what they think is best for them, which usually is not what the Bible says.
“Wow, Mac. You have almost talked me out of preaching.” That is not my purpose. If, however, you are looking for an easy job with lots of money and benefits, I hope I do discourage you because you need to do something else. Preaching is not nothing more than sitting behind a desk working on a computer, nor is it running around with other preachers all of the time and only working on Sundays and Wednesday nights. I was told that a preacher who preceded me would not many other things not even related to his job during the week and on Saturday nights he would pull two sermons off of the Internet. He will never grow like that. Most importantly, he will never please God like that.
I have only scratched the surface of the potential problems which preachers may face. You may be asking why anybody would want to preach with all of this going on. Believe it or not, these are the very reasons we need men to preach. Do you remember these words from Paul? “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Ti. 4:1-5).
Paul was well aware of what Timothy would face (and by extension we as well), but he also knew the souls of man were at stake. We must preach and stick with it because the world is dying without Christ. Many churches are dying because they have turned from Christ and are following their own paths. Somebody must tell them.
Young preacher — whether you be young in age, faith or time in the business — be prepared for many trials. Satan will not pass you by because you are a preacher. Temptations and trials will affect you just like they do everybody else. Yet, you will find there is no greater work in the world you could be doing.
I don’t want to leave anybody with negative perspectives about preaching. I believe it is the greatest thing a man can do. You please God by doing so. Consider more words from Paul: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Co. 1:21). Souls cannot be saved without the message of the cross and will not hear the Word without a preacher. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have no believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Ro. 10:14)
You also will meet many of the finest people in the world. There are those who will stand with you as long as you preach the truth no matter what. They will be there to catch you when you stumble and be a shoulder for you when things seem to be too hard to continue. You will perform weddings for their children, visit them in the hospital and perform funeral sermons for their loved ones. You will build friendships that will last for a lifetime. I wouldn’t miss that for all of the money in the world.
Finally, you will grow spiritually. If I were not preaching, I doubt I would be where I am as a Christian. You grow because you teach others and go through trials with them and for them. This puts you closer to Christ and better able to show the world that Satan will not win.
Don’t be discouraged by anything I wrote. Expect the best and be prepared for the worst. Always remember God is in control and we have already won. We just need to hang on and help others to do the same that we may win the prize. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co. 15:57).
Mac Ballard presently preaches for the Centertown Church of Christ in McMinnville, TN. He is married to Diane Ballard and they have four children, eight grandchildren and one on the way.