A Letter From A Hurting Preacher

I am a F.T.G.P. (For the reader's benefit those four letters stand for "Full Time Gospel Preacher"-Editor) I've read some of your articles about FTGP's and have some idea about how you feel about them. I confess that I don't know fully how you feel though because I haven't read all of your articles. Though I have been receiving The Examiner since Jan. 87, it has only been the last issue or two that I have really read and studied. I browsed the earlier issues and then put them on my shelf.

Today, though, I've taken them down. Somehow, I don't know how, but The Examiner is touching a chord inside me. It has plunged me into a "Spiritual" crisis. Actually, I think the crisis has been brewing, The Examiner has hastened it along.

I'm frustrated, mad and disillusioned. I want to preach, but I am so sick of the crap that goes along with being a FTGP that I am beginning to wonder if it is worth it. I am sick of being judged by an elder in areas that have little or NO bearing on the condition of one's soul. I'm sick of being shamed by this elder for not cleaning off a stupid bulletin board when this elder rarely visits with members who are sick, discouraged, in the hospital, struggling with faith, caught in a moral problem and who rarely if ever attends the funeral of long-time members of this congregation. He publicly embarrasses people (members of the church) who do not sweep the leaves off the roof, turn out the lights, or put their 'Purposed' contribution into the plate. His condescending attitude repulses me. I can't tell you one truly shepherding activity he has actually engaged in the last several years, except to kick somebody's butt, if you can count that as shepherding activity. Then, enter the FTGP to try to smooth things out. For what? For the "corporate board member" (alias: elder) to jump his case again sometime later.

You know, if I managed the office, made a few visits, cleaned the bulletin boards, made sure the commodes are flushed, put all the announcements in the bulletin, have two fairly decent 3-pt. sermons, he is basically happy. No, not fully satisfied. He will, I'm convinced, HE HAS to find something trivial and insignificant to criticize, whether private or public. He has little regard for the feelings of others. And, since I, as the FTGP, am his "little servant boy," he can tell me just about anything he wants to.

I'm sick of it, Charles. Is this why our churches all across America are struggling so? We aren't growing, we can't keep our own kids, we are torn apart by division, we have tons and tons of repressed hostility (such as I have now. It is not like me to feel this way. I am a bit worried about it.) among our members and preachers. I don't know what's going on or what I am going to do. I just know that I became a FTGP (well-trained, too. Christian College, 2 Christian graduate schools, extensive reading) because I wanted to help people. Being a Christian, what better way could I help than to show them God's will for their lives? What better way to do that than as a FTGP? But, who cares about how a young, green, idealistic, sensitive preacher feels? Corporate board members don't, particularly the CHAIRMAN and CEO (alias: head elder). Some older, frustrated, maladjusted members don't, who feel the preacher (particularly when he is under 30 as I am) is a good receptacle to dump their vocal garbage.

I've taken the old Examiners off my shelf to read. >From what I see so far, The Examiner is the only paper attempting to address the bottom line issues that Christians are facing. Other papers, such as Image, are very good, but somehow it seems it glosses over or ignores some of the 'molten lava' boiling inside the breasts of our dear fellow-members and is threatening to erupt all over the corporate board members and involve our local religious corporations (alias, Church of Christ Churches).

A better self-image, positive attitude, better organization, etc., may help, but they alone can not solve the problems facing our churches. I don't have the answer, but it seems to me that a much deeper, spiritual problem is at the root of the problems the church faces. I have the feeling The Examiner is trying to uncover these problems. I hope you do. I'm looking for them.

Pray for me, Charles. I'm not praying too well right now. If I could, I'd walk out of here in a minute. But, as you have pointed out (painfully, too) in your paper, we FTGP's are trapped. My school debts, etc., have me so strapped financially I can't leave. I grew up on a farm and have worked with my hands a lot (logging, etc.), but where can I find a job like that that will pay my bills? I'm stuck, the CEO knows it, so on and on the corporate/semi-religious entity goes. And in its wake, we find the broken, frustrated, bruised people who couldn't fit the corporate image, so we kicked them out, or made things impossible so they'd quit on their own. God help us.

This letter is written to you, Charles. If it will serve any useful purpose for your paper you can use it. I'm not putting my name, as you can well understand. And, please, don't even put the state with the article.

This letter may be filled with all kinds of mistakes. I haven't bothered to proofread it because I don't want to have to read all this stuff. I've been carrying it all around with me and that's bad enough. There are not too many people you can talk to about it, especially in the local church where I am the minister. Although, maybe if I talked about it more I'd find a lot more people who agreed with me. I'm just afraid I'd cause a split. Again, that might be healthy, but there is something in me that shudders at the thought of causing a division. (Maybe I have some of the corporate personality in me?) I want to do good, what's right. It's just terribly difficult to know what to do sometimes.

Thanks for 'listening.' Believe it or not, just writing this letter has calmed me some.

Your brother,

A FTGP, looking for answers

Editor's Note:

My heart goes out to my young brother. I long to meet him, talk with him, and to let him know that I love him and want to help him. I can empathize with him. I understand his conflict and inner struggle. God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ are there for him; and I would like to be. Pray for him. In the last two years I have heard from or talked with at least a dozen preachers confronted with the same hard situation. There are many others out there struggling with the same kind of problems. This is another example of what the institutional church and its Rulers, along with the clergy system, can do to the hired employee known as the Pulpit Minister or by some other title. It you "hire out" to work for an organization or a person, it is your job to do what is required of you. That's the way the game is played. If you can't obey, then get out! If you stay, obey and submit to the requirements. But, dear brother, seriously consider the consequences of such a decision, both here and now and for all eternity! Hired preachers are NOT free in Christ to do His will as THEY see it. The employer calls the shots, because he pays you as an employee. You must decide who it is that you really are working for; who it is that you really serve. Is it "the local church" institution, ruled and run by a Board of Rulers, or is it the Lord Jesus Christ? That is the decision of eternal consequences.

Preachers must get honest (1) with themselves, (2) the people they love and want to serve, and (3) with God and the Lord Jesus; and acknowledge the situation in which they are involved. Then, and only then, are they in a position to decide what they SHOULD or what they MUST do.

THEY HAVE TWO OPTIONS: (1) Continue in the role of the hired employee understanding what is required and expected. Accept the compromises you must make that are necessary if you are to be an acceptable, successful professional Pulpit Minister or work in some other similar employee role. You must condition yourself to ignore the teaching of the Scripture on this matter. Accept as a way of life whatever needs to be done to be a "good servant" (hired hand) of the corporate church and obey fully the Corporate Board of Directors. Flush the toilets. Fix the bulletin board. Do the work that a true pastor should do--visit the sick, the weak, the wayward, and the hospital. YOU are THEIR man--they hired you and you work for them! If you accept this role, then do it right--be a good employee!

You will have to deal with your own conscience, but you can do that rather easily. You can rationalize what you do. After all, there are hundreds of good men in the same position and they seem to have adjusted to their hireling role. Some are quite successful and in high-paying jobs; even up to $60,000 to more than $100,000 per year, with an excellent compensation package. If you really get into it and make all the right moves, run in the right crowd, perhaps become a "specialist" of some sort, you can get "calls" for workshops and appear on the lectureship at the various colleges and universities. If you are creative, you can find many things to occupy your time and take your mind off the reality of your situation. You can get so busy with devising your own projects--puppet shows, ball teams, camping, parties, trips to Dollywood and other such recreation attractions, things for the youth, for singles, for the elderly, etc., that you won't have time to reckon with your conscience and knowledge of God's word and the folly of all this plastic "church world" business. You will soon lose sight of the fact that multiple activities have been substituted for preaching the gospel, teaching the saints, and doing the work of the Lord. You will be so busy doing "the work of the church"--a new building program, a Family Life Center, etc.--that you may actually equate all this with doing the Lord's will and work. The church institution and the Board of Directors will be so pleased to have you as their hired professional manager that they will raise your salary. And all the while your conscience will bother you less and you can even get to "love" who you are and what you are doing.

One other possibility: If you will find some way to get into and through one of our Seminaries and obtain one of these "Doctor" degrees, you might get a job at one of the schools or universities as a Professor of Religion, Greek, Ministry, Divinity, Theology, or whatever. This will set you up over just ordinary Ministers or Church employees. You can then be sought out as some authority or expert in all the areas of Church work and theology. Also, this puts you in a unique position. Like most of these professors do, you can get a job with some near-by church organization as the Pulpit Minister and draw another salary! That is double-dipping in a special way. Ordinarily, such men are not required to be so much in the "flunkey" role as are the mere ordinary, undoctored Ministers. This gives you the best of both worlds. Not as much of the daily activities will be required of you because you have the "greater responsibility" of teaching Bible or some of the dozen or more related subjects to candidates for the professional Pulpit Minister role. You will receive accolades and recognition as a scholar and highly-learned theologian to whom all should give heed! You can write books, make films, maybe even become a professional "Consultant" to corporate churches who need some professional to advise the untrained, secular, limited Board of Directors on how to successfully operate the corporate organization. When you speak or write, your word will be authoritative and final. In brief, the above is one option for professional ministers, those who earn their living as direct and/or indirect employees of the Church of Christ Church institutions and /or the para-church institutions like schools, colleges, universities, publishing companies, etc.

So, forget the teaching of Scripture about the role of a servant of Jesus Christ, ignore your conscience, and move out and move on. Greater things await you. Never allow yourself to question what you are doing in the light of reality, results, and God's word. You can rise to higher heights than you can now imagine. Go for it. Claim your place in the "sun" of the Church of Christ Churches. Seek your fame and fortune. It's all there for you.

But there is a second option open to the professional, hired Minister. It should be considered only by the few who yet wrestle with their conscience and whose only desire is to please the Lord, do His will, and go to heaven. In your heart of hearts, you know that the hired professional Pulpit Minister church employee role, with all other hired Ministers, is highly questionable to say the least; that it is all of men and not from God. Your conscience tells you that you are failing to act in harmony with what you know is right and wrong. You have that "guilty feeling" when you deep-down seriously study the matter. You must listen to that God-given "protective device" (conscience). It urges you to do what you know to be right in God's sight and it condemns and shames you for doing or being a part of what you know is wrong, not genuine. YOU realize that the C of C Church does have a "clergy system" just as all denominations do; and that you are a part of it and trapped in it. You realize that you are a hired employee of "the local church" institution, which pays you for prescribed services you are to render. You are fully aware of who is the Boss of the whole operation. You know that, of all the people, YOU must OBEY the Eldership in all its demands and directions. That papal body hired you and it can fire you. You do NOT work for the Lord doing His service; YOU work for a Church Board of Directors doing their service! Face the reality, my brethren.

You are aware of all the frivolous, worldy things required of you. You can see that the operation is like any other corporation of the world. You must please the Board, but also you must preach/teach and perform so as to please all the corporate members; especially the influential, wealthy, and professional, who exercise considerable influence and can apply pressure for an employee change.

On and on I could go describing this whole set-up. Good, dedicated, God-loving men, who want above all else to serve God at the fullest level, get into this FTGP business and find it less than satisfying. It is discouraging. They find themselves trapped. Most of them do not have a "tent-making" skill or trade to fall back on in order to earn a living; so they become dependent upon the Church corporation, with its Board of Rulers, for their livelihood. Hence, in spite of the disappointments and the disillusionment, they make "adjustments" and hang in there to do the best they can to serve the Lord in the establishment situation. Like our young brother FTGP, they learn to ignore a lot, accept the situation as it is, and work in the total system as an employee of "the local church." But, for the majority (in my opinion), in their heart they know it is not right or even good; and that it is getting worse all the time. They wish it was different, but "wishing will not make it so." They learn to settle down, play the game, and do the best they can under the conditions. THIS is when I get concerned about them for the present time and for the world to come. I have been there and I can understand. It is no easy matter to make a mid-life career change. It is even a heavier decision to "leave the ministry" and serving as a FTGP. Oh! If in reality a dedicated man could be a "full time gospel preacher," how great and noble that would be.

The whole C of C Church set-up and clergy system has become so fixed that it likely cannot be removed. It can only become more so. However, if enough of our dedicated, consecrated preachers would begin to do the preaching and teaching that needs to be done, there is no way to know just what vital changes could be made that could lead us back to the Lord. It is my opinion that "the remnant'' will have to start over for the most part and try to avoid following the ways of men and denominationalism. The Lord's way is so simple, so unstructured, that men can't long tolerate it. They have to organize it and institutionalize it, and set men over it and make the laity--the members--SLAVES of it. In this way denominationalism has always been born. Thus, the Church institution stands between the individual and the Lord. How sad that people cannot (or, WILL not) see this basic truth. What we have can only get worse. The younger generation of preachers now in training for their role as a professional Minister of the Church, of some variety, will accept it as it is and have little trouble adjusting to doing what is necessary in that professional role. They have never known anything else. After all it is now a profession like any other profession. It is a means toward an end--making a living while "rendering service."

My dear brothers, those of you who are involved in this business, in whatever way, I urge you to honestly evaluate your role, in all its dimensions, in the light of God's word. Are you really servants of the Lord Jesus or are you servant/slaves of men? You just must know that it is NOT the way of the Lord...

What will YOU do about it? Your eternal destiny is at stake. The eternal destiny of the many who look to you for direction and teaching rests upon your shoulders (James 3:1).

Finally, let me emphasize that my strong language is used in dealing only with a system and all the practices involved; NOT in attempting to judge the people involved. The vast majority of those who are involved are good, conscientious, highly competent men. They are my brothers in the Lord and I accept and love them. If I did not, I would not make the attempt to share with them my deep concern for their present, but more especially, their eternal well-being.

What will you do about it, my brother? If enough of you would begin to take the needed action, you might affect the needed return to the way of the Lord. Maybe not world-wide, but certainly where you are. You would put your job on the line and it may bring on some unpleasant and difficult times; but isn't it worth it in view of the final judgement?

A word to the non-preacher brothers and sisters: Why don't YOU help these men to be the kind of men they want to be in serving you by serving the Lord? YOU have tremendous power that you could exert in the direction of needed changes in getting back to the simple way of the Lord. YOU control your money, for one thing; and it takes money to run these Church institutions. You are the source of income or revenue. STOP PAYING THE BILL. Support only what YOU can approve as the way of the Lord, based upon YOUR examination of everything carefully in the light of God's word. Study HIS word and find out what is the truth and don't be victimized by unscriptural, and even anti-scriptural, teaching and practices. It would seem that MOST saints of any knowledge should know that multiplied millions of $$$'s for larger and more elaborate buildings and cathedrals is NOT the way of the Lord, especially while millions die without the gospel and millions are suffering for lack of proper material necessities. YOU are responsible for this extreme disparity between the things of the Spirit and the things of the flesh, because you agreed to "foot the bill" for such. Wake up, my people, the day of the Lord is at hand. God bless you with knowledge, faith, and the courage to do what you know is right and to oppose what YOU know to be wrong.

Please do not forget to pray for our young FTGP brother, as well as the hundreds of others who are trapped in the clergy system. - CAH.