Someone observed to us that in these times it must be very difficult to be a preacher. There was a time when preachers were highly respected and the work of the church revolved around them. But not any more. Well, it depends on how you look at it. In many ways it is a very good job. You are likely to have subsidized housing, which is no little item in these times. You usually have a car allowance which most folks don't have. Most preachers get their insurance and hospitalization paid, as well as their utility and phone bills. A lot of good things can be said about the job -- so long as one doesn't dabble in preaching.
An "I-they" syndrome is developing which we see as very destructive, as far as a preacher's work is concerned. It is increasingly hard for a preacher to think of himself as one of the flock. He thinks of himself as the manager of a staff -- the head of an organized enterprise. If elders are developing a gap between themselves and the congregation with their shot-calling practices, preachers are doing even more. Many are reaching the point where they cannot tolerate being crossed, and correction is an anathema.
The "I" is the preacher and the "they" may be the elders, the members, the teachers, or most any other group. Preachers want the congregation united alright, but on a level one step below themselves. They must remember that they, too, are members of the body. Unconsciously many preachers are encouraging a "we-they" relationship between groups in the congregation -- which is the forerunner of trouble.
There are many reasons for division in congregations. We would attribute a lot of them to the increasing bureaucracy, -- the rule making, organization and indirect communication which is largely a consequence of the sheer size of many of our congregations. One of the things that leads to centralization of authority is growth, and the consequent need to govern relatively common patterns of performance among members. The standardization of these practices leads to the development of "routine Christianity'' and routine ways of dealing with people. Systems are introduced for the handling of the human process and a jargon of administrative service replaces individual initiative in the church. The preacher becomes an administrator, or business manager, rather than a proclaimer of the Good News.
Having been a preacher and having worked with a number of rather large congregations, we can empathize with the preachers who find themselves cast in the role of corporation manager rather than proclaimer. This is at least one of the reasons why we quit "local work" more than a quarter century ago.
When preachers are poorly paid they have a great deal of freedom that they do not have when they are given high salaries and put under pressure to produce. The poor preacher who was condescended to by the "brethren" with chickens and eggs and a ham now and then could speak his mind. But when the preacher lives in the finest house in town on a lovely tree shaded avenue, and is in the upper 5% of the income bracket, managing a corporation with several hundred or several thousand constituents and a million dollar budget --that's big business. He becomes accountable to those who set his salary, and is under pressure to deliver or move on to make room for someone who can and will. Our very size and our prosperity has changed the role of the preacher. He doesn't have time to meddle with preaching any more. We do not think a preacher who really wants to preach needs to apologize for his mid-career change to something besides "local work." He almost has to, in order to give himself more fully to preaching. Inside pressures have forced him into a role he does not want to play any longer. Routine administrative work has driven out the evangelistic urge that started him out as a preacher of the gospel.
The guilt feelings that preachers have over becoming managers of programs drive them to compensate by shuffling papers, bossing the staff, or going into counseling. The thing that was their life's calling has been reduced to a twenty-five minute stage appearance before a home audience.
Why can't we put preachers in the pulpit and let the pulpit become their throne, rather than the church office? Let's wind them tight with an insatiable zeal for the lost and turn them loose on the world. Somebody else can mind the store.
If, as we sometimes put it, "elders are doing the deacon's work, and the deacons don't know what they are supposed to do," it is even more true that preachers are doing a church manager's work, rather than the ministry they prepared themselves for. We can hire a better business manager to manage the corporation than the preacher is in most cases. He is cast in a role he was not cut out for. Many of our church situations are in shambles, and stay that way, because we try to orchestrate them with someone who is ill prepared for the job. We would suggest that it would help a lot to get the local congregation on course if the average group of elders hired a church manager, like they hire a janitor or a secretary, and leave the preacher free to do what his first inspiration called him to do -- preach the gospel.
Why even call him a preacher when ninety percent of his time, energy, talent, if any, is spent on something besides preaching?
Yes, times have changed, and so has the role of a preacher. We have almost completely destroyed the office of an evangelist. What preaching there is being done is done largely to "us" and not to sinners. The Good News is not getting to those who need it so badly, because our preachers are not preaching to them; they are preaching to us. We have heard so much preaching it has quit having any effect on us. Not long ago, we had finished a sermon, and had gone dutifully back to the door to shake hands -- professionally. A member came by and gripped our hand warmly, saying, "Preacher, that was a wonderful sermon!'' We had our mouth all puckered up to say, "thank you," like we always do. And then he said, "But we don't aim to do a thing in the world about it." How true! Every preacher feels the frustration of it. Yet the times have locked him into a role that he is forced to step up on the stage and play.
We might turn things around for the better if preachers would insist upon their being free to preach the gospel to the people who need it instead of those who have heard it until preaching is ineffective, and if churches would support them while they preach to sinners like we support them while they preach to us. --Reuel Lemmons, Editorial, Firm Foundation, June 15, 1982.