Tuesday
Oct122010

Hard Pressed

A young man named Dennis approached his preacher after services one Sunday, extended his right hand and addressed the elder man with glee.

“I wanna be a minister like you when I grow up.”

Impressed, but puzzled, the minister asked what inspired such a holy calling. “It’s a no-brainer,” Dennis replied. “You only have to work one hour a week!”

Perhaps you have guessed that diminutive Dennis is the infamous menace, scion of the funny pages since 1951. Dennis’s cartoonist must have been short on originality when he drew the cartoon for October 10, 2010 – Dennis’s observation is certainly not new.

Preachers, of course, work more than the single hour in which they teach before the congregation each Sunday morning. Many also teach a Bible class before or after the worship, and – this will shock some – there is also usually another worship service later on Sunday in which the congregation expects an entirely different lesson. 

Gospel preachers are usually responsible for writing articles, collecting news and publishing a weekly bulletin. Nowadays, their work also includes editing and publishing some kind of web presence for the church. Their lessons must be illustrated with slides and duplicated for those who desire an audio recording.

Many write their own Bible class materials and all must spend hours in study. Few are handsomely paid, but most embrace the work for the joy of serving the Lord in such a valuable capacity. There are criticisms and disappointments and many are the misconceptions of the preacher’s work. The preacher is often confused for the elder or the deacon, but the New Testament description of his office and work is distinct from theirs. The eldership is an office synonymous with that of pastor or bishop – they are the shepherds of the flock, upon whom the sick must call for solace and counsel (see James 5:13-20). The deacons minister to the congregation in matters more physical than spiritual, tending to the needs that would otherwise diminish the time devoted to study and teaching and shepherding that belongs to the pastors and preachers. Some would even mistake the preacher for the sexton, a non-biblical officer who looks after church property and is expected to tend to the plumbing, electricity, air conditioning and every repair and repairman who must stop by the building at any time.

The preacher is most publicly active when he is in the pulpit, but hours of study and perhaps years of experience have preceded him there. His devotion to the word and work are expressed in the scriptural content and themes of his lessons, as he avoids tickling ears that want only to be amused and not convicted (see Second Timothy 4:1-5). 

Paul once wrote about his preaching experience that he was “hard pressed” between a desire to continue ministering and a yearning to go home to be with Christ. Preachers ever since have vacillated between the same two opinions, feeling pressed in other ways as well.

Today, the preacher’s efforts are compressed into a slot of less than an hour, during which he is expected to read from the Book clearly, give the sense and help his listeners to understand its meaning (see Nehemiah 8:8). Some would yearn to compress him further, transforming his sermons into sermonettes by stripping away the scripture or diminishing the applications, but he is driven to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

From time to time, factions will arise that will to see him suppressed. There are truths that must be taught, but which threaten to upset the false security enjoyed by those who revel in sin and wish not to have it exposed. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Lessons on moral issues, on divorce and remarriage, on false doctrines and creeds all fall into this perilous category.

Herod attempted to repress the preaching of John the baptizer, to subdue him by imprisonment, but even then, John taught the truth. Some preachers can be repressed by threats made to their paycheck or their gospel meeting appointments. They will be quarantined from writing for the brotherhood, appearing at prominent lectureships, and being hired by the bigger churches. They become as repressed as watchdogs that won’t bark (Isaiah 56:10).

At other times, preachers become oppressed, beaten down by unrealistic expectations and painful disappointments. Biblically, oppression almost always refers to the treatment of a poor man by the rich (see James 2:6). Seldom is the preacher among the congregation’s wealthy and some brethren love to have it so. He should not make more than the poorest member of the church, they say. Never should we interfere with our preacher’s duty to suffer for the Lord, others say. Only a fool would get into preaching for the money, but they are likewise foolish who diminish the importance of gospel preaching by starving the one who does it (First Corinthians 9:13-14).

Preachers are little different from anybody else. In the course of doing the Lord’s work, they want to provide for their families and be ready to pay for braces, college educations, and their own old age. How many preachers are depressed by the difficulty in begging for support all one’s life, only to reach old age and to be cast aside? Even the apostle Paul said that he had to learn to be content by sometimes having enough and at other times, suffering a very certain lack (Philippians 4:10-13). He asserted a right to make an honest living from work that still requires more than one hour a week: “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more” (First Corinthians 9:11-12)?

Every preacher yearns to be impressed. Not by his salary, or even pats on the back, but by evidence that what he is doing is making a difference (Second John 4). It is not his glory, of course, but a sense of satisfaction that he is making himself useful to the King of kings. He is impressed when the sinner repents and fainthearted arises, when the skeptic is convicted and the unbeliever is converted. He is impressed when young men mature and old men lead, when young women stand fast and old women teach them. He is impressed not only when the kingdom grows, but when there is growth in the kingdom (Second Peter 3:18).