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No minister? Look to God and members instead

If you have a good minister, keep him. 
Buy him and his family presents.  Give him bonuses.  Be sure he has good health insurance.   
Let him take off to go to lectureships and go home to see his family and take the kids camping or to Disney World.  And tell him how much you appreciate him — not once, but over and over.
But if you don’t have a preacher, focus on the advantages of not having one and get on with the Lord’s work.
Sound trite? Not really. It’s more of a “making lemonade” scenario, especially in regions where preacher shortages plague congregations.
In the December Chronicle, these struggles are detailed in New England-area churches. But congregations all over the country are going through months of searches for just the right individual, looking for a single leader.  Often the search committee will settle on a candidate only to be rejected by him.  All of this time and energy spent looking for something outside the local congregation is terribly demoralizing for the Lord’s body.
Preacher searches, like building programs, drain a congregation of its energy.  Hopes rise and fall with each new tryout.  And the focus of the church is on finding a preacher, rather than on our work as Jesus’ designated change agents for a lost world (Matthew 5:13-14).  We typically put the mission of the church “on hold” pending the location of a minister.
Here are some Biblical antidotes to preacher searches that might free preacher-less churches from drawn-out searches and frustration while giving them the hope and strength to move forward.
•    We mature much faster by figuring out what needs to be done and doing it than we ever would by hearing it described from the pulpit. If every member takes responsibility, the church will grow stronger.
•    Evangelism, especially, benefits from transferring the job from the evangelist to the body of Christ, if the body takes it seriously.
•    The money that would have been used to pay a preacher (often a substantial percentage of the contribution) can be redirected to widows and orphans, to starving children, to the homeless, to families of prisoners, or to the sick and dying.  And it will have to be delivered by church members.
•    Not searching for a minister frees us to get on to our longer range goals today, rather than waiting for the preacher to be chosen, to arrive, to get his feet wet, to put his mark on our plans.  After a grieving process, it will be like taking the chains off and turning the congregation loose to go to work.
With the proper mindset, congregations without ministers can thank the Lord for individual members’ responsibility to grow the church.
We tend to think of having a located preacher as a “must” for a growing or stable congregation.  Without one we feel that we are somehow incomplete.  But this is not the Bible picture.  Acts 14 describes the approach Paul and his missionary friends took to grow churches.  First they preached the gospel and stood against opposition (verses 1-3).  Then they moved on to preach in other places (verses 5-7), but came back to encourage and strengthen the church (verses 21 and 22).  They appointed elders for each church, prayed, fasted, and commended them to the Lord (verse 23).  Finally they went home to Antioch to report what the Lord had done (verses 26-27).  There is no indication that the missionaries helped the new church find a preacher or raise the money to support one – or that the congregation ever had one.
I encourage churches to view being without a preacher as a blessing and an opportunity.  When a church has no preacher the responsibility for the health of the congregation falls on the congregation and on God.  
People step up and do what is necessary when the responsibility is theirs.  When there is a located preacher the temptation in our busy world is to hope the preacher will get it done.
Otherwise, if someone is going to give a devotional talk on Sunday morning, it will be a member.  If anyone is to sit with a woman while her husband has surgery, it will be a member.  If a visitor is to be invited to lunch and offered an ear and a prayer, it will come from a member.  If we are going to reach out to the community around us, the leadership will come from the members.  
David May is retired from public social services and is a member of a small congregation in Minnesota.  He is the author of “A Call to Arms! Out of the Pews and Into the Streets.” 

  • Feedback
    I am a member of a Church in Plainview Texas that has had no minister for over 50 years. We are growing and thriving and have no minister by choice. I would be interested in talking to others about that.
    Brent Richburg, www.plainviewchurchofchrist.net
    May, 17 2009

    Every Christian is a minister, a servant. We must find our ministry. Everyone has a best to give. We practice mutual ministry with teaching/preaching and love it. We also love preachers! I often state we have 4 pastors (elders) and at least 12 preachers (men willing to preach). I’m willing to give a free book, One Another Christianity: Mutual Edification to those who desire a more biblical model. We also provide DVDs of our TV ministry to help with the teaching in smaller congregations. Barry Poyner, Kirksville, MO www.kirksvillechurchofchrist.com
    January, 23 2009

    I appreciate David’s thoughts and only wish he’d taken it a step further. Having spent several years in Bangor Maine (before relocating to Nashville for work) I can attest first-hand to the struggles of serving a small church in an otherwise large community. We repeatedly tried to hire ministers. When we succeeded, we were unsuccessful in raising support to keep him and his family. We were too small to fully support someone and once again that congregation is without healthy spiritual leadership.
    What we need to do now is re-think the entire concept of a located preacher. As David noted, it’s really not a biblical concept. There is no book, chapter and verse that ordains it, but there is reasonable room (some would argue) in scripture to allow for it.
    But now is the time to equip our young men in our Christian colleges and high-schools with the skills the need, according to their spiritual gifts, to actively serve and lead in whatever congregations they find themselves with. I was very much a full-time employee in secular jobs while preaching and teaching in Maine. I attribute much of my capacity to do so for what I learned at Harding University. Still, those education programs can do more to prepare these up and coming men and women to be more proactive in small congregations as well as though with leadership voids.
    Our dependence on having a ‘pulpit preacher’ needs to be rethought. I think we’re better off to move away from this innovation and at the same time empower our shepherds and evangelists (those whose efforts are dedicated to reaching the lost and involving us directly in that work). It is the work of the shepherd to teach the flock and the evangelist to lead in its growth by working outside the building (vs. from a pulpit). True, many smaller congregations from Bangor to the Pacific Northwest down to the plains and beyond lack mature spiritual leadership. But this need can sometimes be met by recruiting transplants to the area, not just “hiring a preacher.” Likewise, those congregations that are ‘well-stocked’ with spiritually mature men and women ought to be sending them out on domestic campaigns to encourage these smaller families and helping them stabilize and build for the future.
    Doctrine never changes, but strategy must: The strategies and methods that worked 50 years ago aren’t working anymore. And the doctrine of Christ deserves our best mind and effort in delivering it to everyone around us.
    January, 15 2009

    “When a church has no preacher the responsibility for the health of the congregation falls on the congregation and on God.”
    Um, not to nitpick, but as a minister I hope that the author is not suggesting that the health of the congregation depends on me. And I would not want to blame God for the health – or lack thereof- of any congregation. The health of any congregation depends upon the faithfulness of its members, whether there is a located minister or established eldership or not.
    But in sum I enjoyed the thrust of this article. I agree that we place too much emphasis upon the person of the minister, although I would also agree that the right person can make a huge difference in the overall personality of the congregation. Paul may not have established a located preacher in every congregation, but he did send Timothy and Titus to tend to established congregations.
    Thanks for the good thoughts.
    December, 12 2008

    Well written, insightful. It is always better to go with the creative resources you already posses than to go to an outside commodity.
    December, 12 2008

Filed under: Insight Staff Reports

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