“Hey preacher, it must be nice working only an hour a week!” Ha, ha. Yeah, I know, that’s funny. Those of us who preach have heard it a hundred times and we laugh along with you knowing that it is just a good-natured teasing. But let me address something more serious.
The following are actual comments made by well-meaning Christians:
To a teen just as he graduates high school: “If you want to preach, you don’t need to go to college.”
Repeated comments to 18-22 year olds: “I don’t see why you need a training program; you are already such a good speaker.”
To a high school graduate: “If you want to preach, get a four-year Bible degree.”
Comment by a twenty-two-year old: “I have a degree in accounting, but I’ve always thought about preaching and the church in Podunk has asked me to come. What do you think?”
Another twenty-two year old: “I’ve been through a couple summer training programs, so I think I’m ready to preach.”
A thirty-year old who can’t find a job during a recession: “Lately, I’ve been seriously thinking about preaching. Do you know a place that is looking?
What do these comments have in common? Among other things, each comment suggests there is little or no preparation needed to be an evangelist. Anyone can do it. If you can get up in front of an audience without your knees knocking too badly and ramble on about some thoughts you have from a few Bible verses, you can preach! This attitude comes from being uninformed at best and demeaning at worst. Unfortunately, this mentality is not uncommon. It is even evident in how some churches go about finding a preacher. Some are primarily looking for someone to fill the pulpit so that the men in the church don’t have to prepare the lessons. So they parade a group of preachers through over a period of weeks as if it is a contest to see who can deliver the best two sermons on Sunday. Honestly, if the main purpose of a preacher is to speak in a pleasing way on a Bible topic, then I can easily understand where the above comments are coming from. But that is hardly the biblical model.
The Need for Training
There is a strong biblical precedent for training and preparation to do the work of an evangelist. Jesus spent over three years training the apostles and others with them to lay the foundation for the spreading of the gospel and establishing local churches. Paul took young men with him such as Timothy, Titus, and others so that they could learn the work by a “hands on” method. He followed this by personal letters to these men that would be handed down to all others who would do the work in centuries to come. And all of this was done in a day when the preacher could rely on direct revelation from the Spirit. How much more is training needed today when it must be gleaned from diligent study? I’m not suggesting that every man who wants to preach should go through a formal training program, but at the very least he should be where he has shepherds who really know how to guide him and/or an older preacher who can offer critical input and direction. Too many young men are going to small churches that are thrilled to have someone to help them but at the same time are poorly qualified to offer him the kind of feedback he needs to effectively do the work.
What is missed in all this is the serious harm that can come to an unprepared young man as well as the harm he can do to a local church. Doing the work of a preacher carries with it a high stress level, especially in the beginning years. No preacher becomes proficient in his teaching without critical, constructive feedback. But thrown out on his own, that feedback is either non-existent or comes from harsh brethren who do not have enough experience to help a young man get better. The result is a man who either does not improve significantly or who becomes so discouraged he quits. An even worse scenario is the church itself being harmed either by the foolishness of the preacher or by the church and the preacher becoming content with stagnation. Souls are at stake both in the church and out of the church and a man who is unprepared to do the work of an evangelist negatively affects both areas (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 4:2-4). It is the reason James warned, “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
The Pulpit and Beyond
Let’s talk more about preparation. First, there are important reasons why in our present day a college education is preferable. For example, I have trained young men who halfway through the program realized they weren’t cut out for the work. Now what? Back to school? But wait, this man is already twenty-three years old and married. School isn’t exactly an easy option. And what if this man has a Bible degree? What secular job is he prepared for?
There are at least two benefits to college before preaching. (1) The years from 18 to 22 are an important time of maturing. There is no reason for a man to enter the pressure-cooker of preaching too early. (2) A formal education provides some foundational preparation for preaching. The ability to study, research, and discipline oneself are strong requirements for effective preaching.
The part of the work that most people do not see, including a young preacher-to-be, is even more challenging than the Sunday sermons. I could list more, but here are five “unseen” parts of the work that strongly call for training:
- If an evangelist is going to help a church grow, he must stay ahead of the church in his own personal growth. “Be an example to the believers…” Paul told Timothy (1 Tim. 4:12). Men who preach must diligently press toward the goal if they are to help others reach the same goal.
- Efficient use of time in study, research, organization, and sermon preparation. In my experience, good sermons require an average of ten hours of preparation, even longer for young men. Having good “tools” and knowing how to use these tools are essential.
- Knowing how to move the church in the direction of growth so that they are “ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). Preaching is not figuring out a lesson every week; preaching is equipping (Eph. 4:11-16). The goal is not a “lesson.” Every lesson must have an equipping purpose.
- Duplicating oneself by “committing the word to faithful men [generic, men and women] who will be able to teach others also” is an oft-neglected work of an evangelist. This is time consuming and usually takes place in small group studies or one on one studies.
- Evangelism: making contacts, following up on visitors, teaching classes to non-Christians, and helping members participate in the process. This requires “after-hours” work. Preaching is not a nine to five job and learning to truly be an evangelist takes time and skill.
It is wonderful that so many young men love the Lord enough to devote their lives to this vital work. But preaching the gospel wields great influence. Let’s not do harm to young men or the kingdom by suggesting that preparation is not necessary or that doing the work is easy.