GIVE US A PULPIT MINISTER

Neal Griffin

 

Every Church of Christ that I know of hires pulpit ministers for their own use. By this, I mean, to keep locally. Generally, these pulpit ministers preach two Sunday sermons to the Church of Christ members, teach a Sunday Bible class and a Wednesday night class. Generally, they are expected to preside at Church of Christ weddings and funerals and to visit church members when they are sick. And, they are expected to carry the party banner. If the hiring church is of the "one-cup" persuasion, it is the "one-cup" banner. If the hiring church is of the "one-cup with handles" persuasion, then it is the "one-cup with handles" banner, if it is the "conservative" Church of Christ that is doing the hiring, then it is the "conservative" banner. If the hiring church is an "instrument" church, then it is the "instrument" banner. There are those who deny that their preachers are under any such creedal restrictions. Without arguing the point, I would make the general observation that there is no cross hiring over these party lines. The hiring process ensures that the hiring Church of Christ will be kept pure from such. The aspiring pulpit minister is examined carefully on these party line points. His background is researched and his references are checked. And then comes the most important part, the "try-out" sermon. This is very important because it determines whether or not the aspirant will "fit it". It is acknowledged, at this point that the job being applied for is commonly referred to, in preaching circles, as "the work". And it is further acknowledged that this "trying out" process, among preachers, is often referred to as "parading their floats". Information is often sought from other preachers who are knowledgeable about the whims of the members of the Church of Christ to which application is being made. Do they like loud ties? Do they like "thou" and "thee"? A quite voice? Foot stomping? Back slapping? Hugging? One never knows when this information will be helpful in landing the "work".

Sometimes several preachers are put on display before one is selected. One is not chosen because one of his pearls lacks luster. Another is not chosen because his pearls are not lined up just so. But finally, the elders (where there are elders) decide that a consensus has been reached, and the name of the parade winner is announced. The new pulpit minister soon arrives, and hopefully, a smooth transition from one pulpit minister to another is accomplished. The parade winner, in some cases, moves into the Church of Christ manse, takes up the local work, and settles in to draw his wages in the form of checks drawn on the Church of Christ bank account.

The amazing thing about this entire pulpit minister process is that it is defended as being, "according to the pattern". One does not need a degree in religion to see that this misses the mark. Nowhere in scripture do we read where Christians are authorized to make merchandise of brethren. Nowhere in scripture do we read where ministers of the Word were required to hawk their wares like street vendors.

And, name-changing does not alter the facts: Calling pulpit ministers, "evangelists"; referring to hiring as, "selecting a helper"; and, calling the job, "the work". When a minister spends his time preaching from the pulpit to the same group week after week, he is a pulpit minister. Whatever we call him, he is a hired, pulpit minister. And It doesn't matter whether we call it, "taking support", or, "being hired". The fact that he gets his pay in the form of checks drawn on the Church of Christ bank account, belies the suggestion that he is not an employee of the payer.

The proponents of this practice argue that, "you must not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the grain". They argue that "if one is a proclaimer of the Word, he should live of the Word". They argue that "Paul said that he had a right to take wages from the Corinthians". These principles are undeniably true. I amen these principles: One should, in fact, pay a just wage to his hired help. A preacher should not be required to support himself. Paul did have a right to take wages from the Corinthians. But, conceding these, points does not concede to the present day hiring practices of the Church of Christ. Let us consider what Paul meant when he said that he had a right to take wages from them. Let the Bible speak!

When Paul said this, did he mean that what Jesus had already said on the subject is now being overturned and repudiated? Wouldn't it be the wiser course for us to take what Paul said in light of what Jesus had already said? Or worded differently, wouldn't it be the wiser course to resolve what Paul said, and make it comply with what Jesus said? In fact, isn't the same person speaking, when Paul by the Spirit speaks, as it is when Jesus is speaking?

I refer you to Matthew 10:5f and Luke 10:1-12. You will notice the similarity between the instructions that Jesus gave to the twelve and to the seventy-two who were sent. Now, I would like to pose these questions: Did Jesus tell them to go into a town or village, find a Church of Christ, and be tried out and hired by it for the local work? Isn't it a fact that Jesus said to find a peaceful MAN (my emphasis) there who would take them in and care for them? Read it again! It is there in black and white. Jesus said it. It is the indisputable truth from the mouth of God. It is ours to honor it.

Now, back to the point: When Paul said that he had a right to take wages from them, in what sense did Paul have this right? Is it conceivable that Paul (the inspired) was not aware of the instructions that Jesus had given the other apostles and the seventy-two regarding their support? My point is simply this: When Paul said that he had a right to take wages from them, he was saying that he had a right to move into their homes and be cared for by the individuals who were being taught. This is the pattern. Why can't we accept it? The problem with it is that it does not fit the way that we are already doing it. It is not the way we like to do it. It is not glamorous. It does not allow us to elevate the preacher to the lofty pulpit status that we envision for him. And it causes a very real problem for those who have a financial interest in the process.

The denominational world has its dandy, glorified, locally supported, pulpit ministers. Tribute is paid to them each time they ascend to the pulpit. Why can't we also have pulpit ministers? My reply to this is: WE DO. We do have pulpit ministers, and on a grander scale than most of us are willing to admit. The question seems not to be, "Is the practice scriptural?", but rather, "Does the practice please us?" The plea, "Give us a king so that we may be like the nations round about us", sounds similar to, "Give us a pulpit minister so that we may be like the denominations round about us". Peer pressure is not applied against teen-agers only. Have we, also, succumbed to peer pressure?

Can this ungodly system be changed? I think not. This system could, however, be abandoned. We could start doing it the way Jesus instructed. But, what a big step that would be for us. Babes can't take big steps. Grown men, on the other hand, can take big strides. Where do we fit? Where do you fit?