THE PREACHER’S LAMENT
By Wayne S. Walker
Most congregations I know of are made up of some very fine people. However, I have received the impression that in many places the members seem to be too involved in the various activities of life—job, home, school, etc.—to be the kind of Christians that they should and could be. And this is quite frustrating to anyone who is trying to be a gospel preacher. Whether they realize it or not, many local churches do not really need a “full-time preacher.” A “pulpiteer” to speak twice on Sundays would be quite sufficient for things to continue as they are.
Another attitude which manifests itself, though probably unconsciously also, is that many people feel that when they have been to the church building for one (or more) services a week, they have completely fulfilled their “Christian duty.” There seems to be little personal involvement. It would not be right to make a statement such as, “The members aren’t doing anything,” for this could not be proven to be true. However, in many cases, there is precious little evidence for what they do.
In order to augment activity on the part of each member, various congregational works that could be tried have been suggested in business meetings—radio broadcasts, newspaper articles, weekly teaching bulletins mailed into the homes of prospects, a personal evangelism program, etc. Yet, in nearly every instance, someone is always able to come up with a thousand and one excuses why we couldn’t and shouldn’t do it. The primary reason given, of course, is that “we cannot afford it.” It is true that the financial condition in many churches isn’t too good. But sometimes we don’t express enough faith in God.
Instead of sitting around doing nothing (except paying the bills on the upkeep of the building) because “we don’t have enough money,” why don’t we try doing what God commands us to do whatever it costs (within reason, of course), and trust in Him to supply our needs? Some of the “good business sense” displayed by brethren in the work of the church is nothing but plain, old stinginess and unbelief! And if it doesn’t cost all that much money, then probably “we just don’t have enough time to do it.” Brethren, when shall we learn that if we are too busy to be personally engaged in the Lord’s work, then we are simply too busy?
There are other problems that have to be dealt with. One is hospitality. I hesitate to bring this up for fear of sounding solicitous, but I refer to it to make my point. How often is the local preacher where you attend invited out by members? To answer, consider the following question. How often do you invite the local preacher to your home? Not necessarily only to eat, even though this is quite all right, but just to visit and enjoy one another’s company?
Preaching can sometimes be quite lonely because preachers may not have as many social contacts in the community as the members who have lived there longer or work there might have. And it is even lonelier when he is all but left alone by the brethren. And what about showing hospitality to other members too? In addition, do you ever ask any of the Sunday morning visitors to go home (or out) with you for dinner? Read Romans 12:10, 13, 20-21; Hebrews 13:1-2; and 1 Peter 4:8-10.
Another similar problem is friendliness. Often, we will have new people move into the area, attend a couple of services, and never come back. I mentioned this to a member once, and he replied, “It certainly isn’t because we aren’t friendly.” But are we really as “friendly” as we think we are. Now, I realize that many of these visitors are shallow, weak individuals with little conviction and sometimes not too friendly themselves. Maybe they are looking for social gospel tactics that we cannot participate in. If they truly loved the Lord, they would return to hear the truth regardless of whether the church was “friendly.”
But what do they see when they visit us—a group of vibrant, enthusiastic, concerned Christians, or a bunch of Sunday bench-warmers? As an example, one Friday night of a meeting I attended there was a large number of visitors from other congregations. I’m sure that everyone at least spoke to everyone else. But it wasn’t long until all the visiting men were in one corner talking to each other, all the visiting women were in another corner, all the local men in another, and all the local women in still another. Friendly?
A third problem concerns visitation. Quite frequently when someone from the community attends the services, the preacher will nearly have to beg one of the members to go see them with him. There is little individual initiative in all too many instances. And almost never will anyone come to the preacher and say, “So-and-so seems like a good prospect; would you go with me to visit him?” A few may ask him to go see somebody, but when he asks if they would go with him, the answer is almost always, “Oh, no! I could never do that.”
Thus the preacher’s visits do not prove very effective. Is it that some feel that once they have a full-time preacher, he is there to do all the work and everyone else can use his time as he likes? There are still other problems as well—attendance, contribution, class participation—few of these activities ever seem to be what they ought to be. These subjects are preached on many times but with little response.
Because of the above-mentioned problems, preachers sometimes feel as though they are beating their heads against a wall. There are better things for a preacher to do than to have to beg, cajole, and plead with members to do their jobs in the kingdom while trying to do his own work. And because a “negative” spirit seems to prevail in such places, the preacher may decide to look for some other place where he can do more for the Lord’s cause and feel more useful in the vineyard. And then brethren wonder why preachers move so often!
I hope that this hasn’t sounded too harsh and pessimistic. It is not meant to be. Certainly not all congregations are such as I have described, nor even the majority, and there are in general many fine brethren of deep conviction and zeal all over. But I do wish to call certain items to your attention, because from my own limited experience and from talking to others, the situation described in the preceding paragraphs is more common than it should be. Is there something you can do about it?
—Taken from Torch; Nov., 1980; Vol. XV, No. 11; pp. 14-17
[Editor’s note: I first wrote this article some 32 years ago, when I was a young, relatively inexperienced, and single preacher. It reflects two or three rather difficult situations in which I had found myself in those early years of preaching. If I were writing it today, I probably would say some things a bit differently and hopefully not sound so negative. So please don’t “read between the lines” and get a false impression or reach a wrong conclusion. We love the congregation at Elm Grove and are very happy here. However, the problems that I addressed are very real and still exist in many instances. Each of us should examine ourselves and ask, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”]