Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 18, 1960
NUMBER 15, PAGE 10-11a

The Pastor System

L. L. Brigance

We read often in the papers published by "the brethren" of the "located preacher," the "located minister," the "local evangelist," and such like expressions. It is hardly necessary to suggest that none of these are scriptural expressions. Not only are these terms, unscriptural, but often the position, work and objective of the one to whom they refer are even more so.

One of the principal elements in the digressive movement has been "the pastor of the church." This individual was not one of the God-ordained pastors of the church at some particular place, but an officer unknown to the New Testament who "took charge" of the church, pastors and all, and "ran the whole works" to suit himself, and often his personal interests. From a biographical sketch of Benjamin Franklin, written by John F. Rowe, we quote two sentences, as follows:

About the period of 1856 the "pastorate" began to be discussed. This meant, by its special advocates, that "educated pastors" must take the oversight of the churches. . . . Colleges sprung up in every direction; teachers, by scores, rushed to the colleges; in a short time hundreds of pastors, without age or experience, and some without any previous religious education, were seen rushing (with diploma in hand) for the most inviting churches, the majority of which had been built up by the now slighted evangelists.

These modern pastors superseded the elders in the management of the church, constituted themselves dictators, and thus changed God's simple order of church government into what came to be known as the "one-man pastor system."

When the writer first began to learn about these things thirty-five to forty years ago, one of the principal things criticized in the "digressives" was this "one-man pastor system." The preachers among the churches of Christ fought it like they did instrumental music and missionary societies. There were few, if any, churches of Christ in this section of the country that had "located preachers" in those days. But how is it today?

We have the "located minister" or "local preacher" on every hand. Many of these gentlemen are typical modern, not ancient, pastors. With them preaching is as much a profession as practicing law, medicine, or dentistry. It is an easy way of life — a soft job. The more successful ones are like the lilies of the field: "They toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Any sort of physical labor is beneath their dignity. To "labor with their hands," like Paul did, would soil them. They must be kept clean and soft. He must be perfectly groomed. His clothes must be of the latest style, the color scheme must blend just right — his hatband and his socks must match. Moreover, the crease in his trousers must be kept as sharp as a razor's edge, and his tie must be adjusted with meticulous care. Shades of David Lipscomb, F. B. Srygley, and J. D. Tant!

These modern pastors are job hunters and job holders. They "compass land and sea" to get a job as the "located minister" of some strong, wealthy congregation, and then they begin to fortify themselves and strengthen their position, so that they cannot be ousted when the congregation desires to make a change. Some of them resort to the dirtiest political tactics. They court the sisters or the young people or some other influential group so as to gain a personal following and create a party that will insist upon their retention as minister or "spilt the church." Sometimes this "modern pastor" is able to oust the old elders, the scriptural pastors, and install younger men who are his personal friends and partisans. Some of them insist upon being made one of the elders themselves, so they can dominate the eldership, control the church, justify themselves in receiving "double honor" (pay), and thus perpetuate themselves in office. It is not uncommon for a congregation to have trouble over its "pastor" (located minister). Some of the members get tired of him and want to make a change. He wants to stay on. He likes the town, is well fixed, gets a good salary, and is enjoying life. Why make a change? He convinces himself that he can serve the church better than some stranger. He has a small following, with whom he connives and schemes to perpetuate himself as their "pastor". Sometimes he stays on, but "splits the church." Quite a number of congregations have divided over the preacher. Of course such a preacher is a hireling and "careth not for the sheep." His purpose is not to feed the flock, but to fleece the flock. The writer knows of churches that have "pastors" that they cannot get rid of. He "outsmarts" them and stays on. Such a preacher not only "careth not for the sheep," but he does not care much for himself. He has a low sense of honor and very little self-respect. When any preacher continues to hang on after he learns that any considerable number of the members do not want him, he shows that he puts his own selfish desires and interests above the welfare of the church. He is just a hireling and "careth not for the sheep." Like "Simon the sorcerer," his "heart is not right" in the sight of God.

Not every preacher, however, "located" with a church is a pastor, modern or ancient. Paul was "located" with the church at Ephesus for about three years and at Corinth for about half that time, and yet no one would think of Paul as a pastor after the modern type. Neither would anyone think of our little "sissy" modern pastors as being after the Pauline type. Paul was not hunting a job as a preacher. He may have hunted a job as a tentmaker, but not as a preacher. He did not look upon preaching the gospel as a job, a position, or even a way of making a living. He seems to have thought that his eternal salvation depended upon his preaching. "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" said he. He was willing to endure "hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" He labored night and day that he might not be chargeable to any of the Thessalonians while he preached unto them the gospel of God. (1 Thess. 2:9.) At Ephesus he "ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears." (Acts 20:31.) So diligently did he teach and preach during the time that he was "located" with the church at Ephesus that "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." (Acts 19:10.) While carrying on these arduous labors — "disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus," warning "every one night and day" — he "coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel." "Yet ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me." (Acts 20: 33, 84.) Among his sufferings, he speaks of cold, hunger, and nakedness. (2 Cor. 11:27.) Contrast our "located ministers" today with Paul at Ephesus and Corinth. Our modern pastor lives in a nice home, with all modern conveniences — electric lights, fan refrigerator, radio, range, telephone, and other equipment. Delivered at his door are the morning and afternoon papers, his mail, milk, groceries, laundry, etc. His family are all well dressed — painted, powdered, and perfumed. His wife has her household servants — the cook, the housemaid, and nurse — if, perchance, there should be a baby. The minister rides about town, making his "pastoral" calls in a fine car, which is kept spotlessly clean, waxed, and polished. On Sunday morning he appears in the pulpit immaculately dressed, spends thirty minutes making "the announcements," and then preaches a little twenty-minute sermonette which he has gleaned from the works of far abler and more industrious men. Another sermonette of about the same character and length on Sunday evening, delivered to a few bored and sleepy old people, completes his pulpit labors for the week. When the hot days of midsummer come, this hardworking, self-sacrificing, broken-down servant of God must have a vacation (with pay) in the mountains or at the seashore, lest he have a "nervous breakdown" super-induced by overwork. For all of this the church pays by giving him a check every Monday morning for fifty, seventy-five, or a hundred "bucks."

The foregoing description in a general way fits the more advanced and favored type of "located" preachers among us, but it is admitted to be exaggerated somewhat of "located ministers" in general. The majority of them are not so well fixed, but would like to be, and are striving to that end. It is this professional attitude -- this looking upon preaching as a job, a way of making a living — that is so utterly contrary to the whole tenor [of] gospel teaching. A letter received recently from a brother who is preaching for a good, strong church speaks of his work as "my job" and as "a place to preach and make a living." This hunting for the best jobs, the best places "to preach and make a living," the strong churches that somebody else built up, because they can pay good salaries, is one of the greatest and gravest of evils among the churches of Christ today. Nearly every young preacher just as soon as he gets to where he can preach a few sermons wants to get "located" with a church. He does not wait for "a call," he goes out hunting a place — a church where he can get a good salary. Some such preachers have quit preaching and gone into business or some secular employment when it promised more money. When they made a failure or the job played out, they have gone back to preaching again. Of course if a preacher does not receive enough to live on from his preaching, there is nothing wrong in his taking up some secular employment, provided he continues to preach all he can. But when he quits preaching because he can make more money at something else, he "is not fit for the kingdom of God." E. A. Elam used to say that "if a man could be hired to preach, he could be hired to quit."

There is no denying the fact that the "pastor system" exists among the churches of Christ today. It is a growing evil. It constitutes a major menace to the cause of Christ. If it continues to develop as rapidly during the next quar ter as it has during the last one. the greater part of the church is going to be corrupted by it. "Brethren, we are drifting."

Finally, let it be said that not every preacher who seeks a place to preach is a professional. If he nicks out a place where the cause is weak, where the Church is small, but where the opportunity is great, and "locates" `here for the purpose of doing his very best to convert the community to Christ and to build up a strong church after the New Testament order, I would not accuse him of being a professional preacher or a modern pastor. But when the preacher is always seeking a larger congregation with a finer meetinghouse and that pays a bigger salary, to say the least, it looks suspicious. It looks like he is a professional seeking his own personal interest.