Where did all the preachers go, and what did you do to them?
by Joseph Franks
Sometimes, the relationship between the minister and his congregation can be quite thrilling. Through the faithful proclamation of God’s Word, converts are made, children are discipled, leaders are built, prodigals return, marriages are saved, families are improved, the consequences of sin are abated, lay-led ministries abound, local cultures are transformed, congregational size grows, buildings are built, and other churches are planted. Why does all this transpire? It is because the Holy Spirit chooses to sovereignly use the preaching ministry of one sinful but redeemed man; it is a fantastic delight to see such success from one’s preaching ministry. Then, to top it all off, how sweet and awesome it is when the faithful minister also gets paid a very good salary by his respectful and appreciative congregation. Such a relationship is wonderful for the shepherd and his flock. Many a faithful servant of Christ has enjoyed such a profitable and pleasant season of ministry. How sweet it is when ministers and brothers dwell together in unity under the preached Word of God.
However, at other times, the relationship between the minister and his congregation can be quite chilling. Consider the ministerial testimony of several Old Covenant notables. Noah and Lot’s neighbors valued not the ministries of their two “righteous” ministers. Because Joseph revealed God’s revelation to his brothers, he was viewed as an undesirable who was a threat to their success. They helped him hit the road. Moses, the grandfather of Old Testament preachers, found himself the subject of complaints and death threats. Korah called a congregational meeting with the intent of ending this ministerial calling. And the list could go on and on as one sees dismal relationships resulting from the faithful ministries of Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Consider the biographical account of Jeremiah:
And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (Jeremiah 26:8)
Well, when one comes to the New Testament, not much has changed. John the Baptist lost his liberty and his life due to his faithful preaching. Jesus was mocked, ostracized, slandered, and targeted for execution. And he promised such exciting ministerial possibilities for those who would follow his lead. According to the Messiah, blessed teachers would be those who were meek, mourning, and persecuted. (Matthew 5:1-12) Jesus knew what lie before his men; listen to the ministerial expectations presented by Jesus to his fellows:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:16-25)
Yes, the growth of the church and the transformation of Roman culture was most exciting. But preachers such as Stephen, Peter and John were not highly respected by all. Listen to the auto-biographical account of Paul:
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)
John, Jesus’ best friend, found himself marooned on an Island due to his ecclesiastical service.
Therefore, in light of the testimony of Scripture, church history, and modern culture, two questions need to be asked. The first as addressed to those behind the pulpit; the second to those within the pews.
First, are we fair-weather ministers who find ourselves ready to change our message or pack our bags when cultural or congregational storms blow our way? Are we childish or effeminate in our ministerial posture, or are we men of grit ready to love of Christ and his people regardless of personal consequences. My brothers in the ministry, I know not why we have such misguided ministerial expectations. I know not why we expect to preach, be comfortable, get wealthy, be famous, stay liked, and retire in ease. I know not why we moan and whine over long hours, apathetic hearers, elder-pressure, and the threat of societal persecution. Where do we get our rational to complain over not getting paid vacations, not getting the paid sabbatical leave, and not having the expense account of other ministers? What are we thinking? From whence came our crazy ministerial expectations? Such a life of ease and luxury is surely not the norm for pastors in the Bible. Neither has it been the norm for men of God throughout church history. And consider our suffering brothers around the globe. Yes, we need our ministerial man-cards checked and renewed. Real men like Martin Luther, John Knox, and Jim Elliot are not rolling around in their graves, but they may nodding their heads and and rolling their eyes as they see us whine over our “ecclesiastical woes.” Men, I hope you will agree; we need to soldier up as ministers of the Gospel. Let us be thankful and grateful for the pleasant and profitable seasons of ministry we have enjoyed, but let us not think such to be the norm.
But then a question for my other friends — those members in the pew. What do you expect from us? Do you see your temptation and tendency to slaughter the shepherd when he doesn’t feed you that which your spiritual palate desires? Many have been the minister persecuted by his people. So what do you expect? Do you expect us to give you the Word of God straight-up, or would you rather have a watered-down version of God’s will? Do you expect us to educate and stretch your mind, or would you rather us keep it short, sweet, and elementary? Do you desire that we puff you up and tell you how good you are, or would you allow us to present the Law and slay your ego? Would you have us present the objective commands of God over you, or would you be more appreciative of us having a conversation and presenting mere lifestyle principles for your consideration? Bottom line, do you want the sort of minister that gives you what you need, or the charlatan who gives you what you want? And what will be your response to the faithful man of God who week-in and week-out unflinchingly proclaims God’s Word in your hearing? Will you judge him for being too long? Will you condemn him for lacking the entertaining qualities of others? Brothers and sisters, I think you might need to be careful before you answer these questions. For there have been many ministers who have been greatly harmed by those in their congregations. In Scripture, in church history, and around the globe today, there always seems to be a large group of churchy individuals wiling to look at ministers such as Joseph, Jeremiah, and Jesus and say, “Because of your preaching, you will die!”
How about we work on preaching as did Jeremiah? How about you work on not responding as did Jeremiah’s congregation?