bits from bob....

On Selecting and Keeping Preachers

by Robert J. Young
©, 2003, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

The phone rang fairly early this Monday morning--a little after seven. A preacher resignation. Later that same day, a call from a preacher planning to quit preaching. I learned recently of another church looking for a preacher. I thought about titling this piece, "On Hiring Preachers." But's it's really another idea that is floating in my gray matter. My real question is, "Why is it so difficult for churches to keep preachers?"

Churches periodically hire preachers to conduct special series--gospel meetings, seminars, workshops. In both cases--selecting preachers for local works and selecting preachers for special series--most churches have the cart before the horse. The focus is usually on the preacher rather than the unique needs of the local church or community. The preacher is selected before the situation he is to address is analyzed. You may ask, So what? What's the point?

Assume for a moment you are not feeling well. Achy, queasy stomach, headache, tired. In fact, you feel so poorly that you determine a visit to the doctor is in order. And you just noticed a rash beginning to develop! You call me, your local preacher and resident expert on medical care. You ask me to recommend a doctor but you tell me nothing of your symptoms. So I recommend my favorite ophthalmologist. The last time I went to his office, he handled my blurred vision and headaches in one visit--he wrote a new eyeglasses prescription. A visit to my eye doctor is unlikely to do much for your rash or to ease your achy feeling. No, we select doctors based on our symptoms.

Just as we select doctors based on our symptoms, effective ministry is a match between the skills and expertise of a preacher and the problems and needs of a local church. That is why not every preacher should preach in every place. That is why capable preachers fail in certain local church settings. Ministers who represent and make available the remedy of the Great Physician should be selected as carefully (more carefully!) than one would select a physician for the ailments of the physical body.

Consider another illustration. Assume that you are ill and that you have this time chosen the right kind of doctor to help with your problems. But despite his expertise and reputation, you don't like what he tells you. The medicine tastes bad, the recovery is too slow, and it costs too much. You could get another doctor, but the chances are good that she or he will tell you the same thing. Churches who respond to an unpleasant diagnosis by firing the physician (minister) will not only have trouble keeping preachers--they will have trouble making much progress.

You may respond, isn't the gospel the gospel? Where's the Bible for this idea? Throughout the New Testament, the gospel message is proclaimed with the hearers in mind. The sermon on Pentecost was different than that to the cripple (Acts 3), or in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13), or at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17). Certainly all these sermons have similarities as they set forth the gospel, but the connecting points to the audiences present on those occasions are different because the audiences are different.

I could not think immediately of a preacher who is looking and who would specifically fit the unique needs of the church in question. I know of preachers who are looking to move, but I could not in good conscience recommend them. Not because they are not effective preachers in certain situations, but because we must do more in hiring and selecting preachers than ask, Who is available? Who is good? or Whom do we like? When we learn to do better in selecting preachers, we will do better in keeping preachers.

If you would choose a doctor whose speciality is to address the diseases suggested by your symptoms, you should not ignore spiritual symptoms when you choose a preacher. If a visiting preacher won't take the time to ask what the special needs of a local church and community are and make some effort to address those needs, you can know that you're hiring a G.P. General practitioners are fine for some illnesses, but not for all. Only when we analyze the needs of the church and select a preacher capable of meeting those needs will we find effective ministry. In a very real sense, the minister is similar to a doctor whose job it is to diagnose, prescribe, adjust, and heal. Ministers charged with this task are empowered for effective ministry, and are as committed to the spiritual health of the spiritual body, the church, as physical doctors are to the health of our physical bodies.

More thoughtful approaches to hiring preachers for full-time ministry, and to selecting ministers for special series will result in more effective evangelism and stronger churches. More thoughtful approaches in selection will make keeping easier too. Or are the children of this world still wiser than the children of light?

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Last updated November 4, 2003.