The Hireling

Terry Gardner


"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. He that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fieeth, and the wolf snatcheth them, and and scattered them: he fieeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep." (John 10:11-13).


Jesus came as a good shepherd laying down his life for all men. He was mocked, beaten and died on a cross. There was nothing in what Jesus did that benefited Him...it was all for us. Jesus laid "down his life for the sheep."

While the "good shepherd" cared for the sheep and was willing to die for them, the hireling "careth not for the sheep." The hireling is a hired shepherd who tends a flock not his own, for money or personal gain. The hireling is bought and paid for with no concern or "care" for the sheep except as it suits his own interests.

Hirelings in the Old Testament

Jeremiah the prophet of God wrote: "...from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. They have healed also the hurt of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace: when there is no peace." God had determined destruction against His people unless they repented. Their wickedness was so excessive that they "were not at all ashamed neither could they blush" (Jer. 6:13-15). Their paid clergy (preachers) not only did not warn them of the impending war and devastation, they lied and prophesied peace, peace! The people continued in sin due to the deception of the prophets and priests. Jeremiah stood almost alone warning the people to "trust ye not in lying words." These bought prophets and priests had "bent the knee to Baal" and Jeremiah was in the "minority." The majority were self-serving prophets who told the people what they wanted to hear. Isaiah described the same problem this way "For it is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of Jehovah; that say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophecy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophecy deceits" (Isaiah 30:9-10). The Prophets (or Seers) willingly did as the people requested because they were bought and paid for... and this left Isaiah in the "minority" who did not bend the knee "to evil."

Elijah on Mount Carmel took on 450 prophets of Baal. Baal's prophets were kept men. They were bought and paid for by Jezebel. These 450 prophets were men that "eat at Jezebel's tables" (I Kings 18:19). These prophets of Baal cared not for "the sheep" (the people of Israel). They sold out for money. True prophets of God were always in a minority in Old Testament history.

New Testament Hirelings

Paul wrote Timothy: "For the time will come when they will not endure the sound (healthful) doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (II Tim. 4:3-4). Those with an itching ear are always willing to pay to have it scratched. The idea is of a group of people who want their itching ears scratched and tickled. For the right price some are always ready to do the tickling.

The early gospel preachers were totally committed to Jesus Christ. These godly ministers of the gospel were imprisoned, beaten, stoned, suffered hunger and thirst, did not have enough clothes and were put to death. This took conviction and faith in God Almighty. There was little financial gain in preaching because the early Christians were poor in this world's goods and suffering persecution. These godly ministers were prepared and called from "real life." They were not hot house plants sitting in their air conditioned studies drawing a big salary. They had trades and had worked in the marketplace. It was according to the will of God for their material needs to be met by the disciples; however, they were not owned by any man or group of men. They were not hired to preach and were not employees of any church organization. They belonged to the Lord. No elder or eldership controlled them. They served God not men. If support failed they could and did make a living. Peter could fish, Paul and Apollos could build tents.

Modern Hirelings

Contrast our modern "preacher system" with these early men of God. There is no persecution. The average preacher fares well financially ($20,000 to $40,000 and up.) They have a "professional" job for which they are hired by a board of Elders. They are professional preachers. Cled E. Wallace saw this problem developing 40 years ago. Cled noted that J.N. Armstrong (founder and President of Harding College) never meant "to develop an institution that would manufacture and turn out. professional preachers... But he (Armstrong) said that the colleges are turning out a class of professional preachers. And professional preachers are a good deal like professional politicians, they don't always lead, they follow. They sometimes, and often, put their ear to the ground and find out what people want, and give them what they want. You know, there is a professionalism about it that takes away that individual reservedness of character that has courage and persistence and fearlessness as its main characteristics. A man who preaches the gospel because he loves it and because he loves the church, will preach it regardless of circumstances. If he is paid he will preach it and if he is not he will preach it anyhow." (1)

Our modern professional system demands that "our" ministers go to "our colleges." J.D. Tant saw the problem this way: "If a Bible college is essential to being a gospel preacher I wonder why Christ went to the Sea of Galilee to get his preachers instead of to the great college at Athens?" (2) Our "system" is patterned after the Catholics and the denominations. The only difference between the Catholics and us is they call their clergy "Father" and put him in a dress. We call our preachers "Brother" and let him wear a suit. (The suit is just a matter of the Elders' judgement and if trends continue as they are, preachers would do well to keep their dress sizes on file!) We separate "our" preachers from the people. We send them through special programs and schools. They, often, are not a part of "real life." They know nothing of the struggles of the factory worker, businessman or laborer. Over 100 years ago the pioneer preacher Ben Franklin wrote of preachers in this situation:

"They have not the knowledge of the world, the ways and manners of the people to do it [preach]. They know nothing of the toils, hardships, and burdens, of the masses of mankind; are incompetent to sympathize with them, mingle with them, become a fellow creature with them, and preach the Gospel of Salvation to them, in an acceptable and successful manner and save them. They not only are wholly incompetent, incapable, and could not, if they would; but it is not their atmosphere, not their congenial sphere, and they never will do the work in the Lord's great Evangelical field. They never have done the work, and never will." (3)

This system will lull the members to sleep and the work will remain undone.

Cled Wallace summarized it this way:

"Professionalism in preaching. That doesn't mean that a man who preaches ought not to be prepared, ought not to be educated...but you can take a professionally minded young man, put him through college and put him through 'seminary' -- we call ours 'department of religion' -- but you can put him through, put a scissor tailed coat on him, give him as many degrees as a thermometer, turn him loose, and there'll be some 'ignoramus' rise right out from behind a bush somewhere, out in the country, and preach circles all around him. And that doesn't mean that education is a bad thing, it just simply means that there is something to preaching that you can't get unless you know the Book, unless you love the Lord, and unless you feel a good deal like Paul did when he said, 'Woe is me if I preach not the gospel'." (4)

What About Your Preacher?

Is he of "the spirit of Elijah?" Does he have the power of Paul and boldness of Peter? Does he have the character of those worthies of old time who were "stoned" and "sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins: being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy)?" If this describes your congregation's preacher then he is in the "minority" and should be supported spiritually and materially...with generosity. This is a man who cares for and loves the sheep. His motivation, like the worthies of old, is not material. This kind of man is looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. This man belongs to the Lord and is His servant alone. Let us pray fervently that God will raise up for His use men (and women) of this character.

1. The Bible Banner, Sept. 1948, page 5.

2. The Firm Foundation, Sept. 23, 1947, page 3.

3. Book of Gems, page 127-128.

4. The Bible Banner, Sept. 1948, page 5.