Do You Want To Preach?
It has been suggested that I might write a few words of encouragement to young men who desire to preach, but hesitate to plunge into full-time work and leave their present secular employment. Sometimes one will hesitate simply because he may feel that he lacks the necessary education to pursue the work of a gospel preacher. It may be that by relating my own move from secular work to full-time preaching, someone may be helped to realize that he neither lacks intelligence nor ability to do likewise.
I graduated from high school in 1957 with average grades. My high school years might be best summed up by saying that I was more interested in having a good time than I was studying. I was baptized into Christ in August 1956, under the powerful preaching of brother Albert E. Wickham (deceased) at Coshocton, Ohio. Painful though it is to relate now, I would have to characterize my Christian life between baptism and the close of 1960 as "unfaithful." I began dating Patricia Carpenter in December, 1960, and we began attending services together. She was baptized March 12, 1961, and has ever since been a great source of help to me. Another significant factor was the influence of my godly grandmother. At this writing she has been a Christian for over 63 years.
Upon our marriage on June 24, 1961, my wife and I moved to Wooster, Ohio, where I was employed. We began attending services at the Burbank Road church of Christ, where brother Jesse F. Wiseman (now of Scottsdale, Arizona) was preaching. We attended every service, and brother Wiseman encouraged me to take part in the services. I thought I would die the first time I led a public prayer! You can expect stage fright, and work to overcome it. Brother Wiseman was a great source of encouragement to me to do the work of the Lord. Association with a devoted gospel preacher will be of great benefit to you. And, brother, don't underestimate the help of a good woman. My wife is ever a source of encouragement to me, and comfort when I'm discouraged. Yes, preachers get discouraged sometimes!
The months passed by and I learned to pray, make announcements, preside at the Lord's table, and even "get by" as a song leader. In the winter of 1962 the Wooster church conducted a men's training class where I learned to make a Bible talk. On May 8, 1963, I preached my first sermon at the Wooster church. Believe me, it was rather short and pitiful! You will improve with time and effort.
On August 11, 1963, I preached my first sermon "away from home." This was at the new congregation at Salem, Ohio. I preached there once more in August, and three more times at Wooster in 1963. I owe thanks to Wiseman not only for encouraging me in the Lord's work, but for also teaching me the truth on "current issues."
But regardless of how much help or encouragement you may receive, you have to be "personally motivated" to preach the word. Several preachers have said to me, "Don't preach unless you have to." This means simply that your faith must lead you, "personally motivate" you to do the Lord's work. Don't preach simply because someone wants you to, but because you want to, yea, feel that you "must" preach the gospel to the extent of your ability. I have never deluded myself into thinking that I had a great amount of ability. In fact, I have felt woefully lacking in many areas. Yet, I felt, and feel that I must do what I can to further the cause of Christ.
Other brethren, including William Wallace, Cecil Willis, Paul Kelsey, and Clarence Cline were a source of help and encouragement to me in the years 1963 to 1965. In February of 1964, brother Wiseman moved to Mulvane, Kansas, but he had succeeded in instilling in me that "spark" of motivation to do the Lord's work.
In 1964, I preached fourteen Sundays at various places including four Sundays at Wooster, and once as far away as New Bern, North Carolina. In the winter of 1964-65, I attended the training classes held at the Brown St. church in Akron, Ohio. These were a great source of help.
In 1965, I preached quite a bit at the Eastside church in Mansfield, Ohio, a small group that had "come out from" the liberal church. I preached sixteen Sundays in 1965. I traveled 1,476 miles in preaching and was paid $185.00. Of course, I was earning my living at secular work.
In 1966, I thought I was ready to make a preacher. I wrote letters to various places that had advertised they needed a preacher, and brother Cecil Willis advised me of various places that needed preachers. I traveled to, and preached "trial sermons" at five different churches needing preachers. The brethren at Charleston, West Virginia invited me to move there and I accepted. I preached fourteen Sundays in 1966 before moving to Charleston on October 1st. We owned a new home in Wooster, which we eventually sold, and moved to a cock-roach infested old house in west Charleston. (Which I mention to point out to you that your wife will have to be a woman of great faith, too!) We moved on faith alone because the Charleston church could not fully support me, and my support was not promised from anywhere else at the time we moved. Soon, however, faith was rewarded as several churches took up my support. Being generally unknown to brethren will always be a problem in securing support.
The church at Charleston, unknown to me, was plagued with serious internal problems. These were problems that I, as a young preacher, was ill-prepared to cope with. This was my "trial under fire." Brother, there is no substitute for experience!! That I made a lot of mistakes and used poor judgment I will be the first to admit. Hindsight allows for clearer vision than foresight. Being unable to cope with the problems, and lacking congregational support in solving the problems, I decided to move. I stayed at Charleston only ten months, which in itself was a very discouraging thing to a young preacher. Perhaps when you begin full-time work, your first work will prove unfruitful. Do not let it be a permanent source of discouragement, but continue to press on in the Master's work. Do not expect your first work to be perfect. Brethren sometimes expect a young preacher to have the knowledge, wisdom, insight, and judgment of a seasoned veteran gospel preacher. Being human, you are bound to make mistakes. Let the mistakes you make be profitable to your spiritual growth, by helping you to grow in wisdom and knowledge.
In July of 1967, we moved to New Carlisle, Ohio, following brother Robert Davidson in the work there. This was indeed a pleasant work — we stayed about two years with nine being baptized, and fifteen confessing sins. On June 23, 1969 we moved to South Bend, Indiana, being engaged in a pleasant and challenging work here.
Both the work at Charleston and at New Carlisle were not self-supporting, and this proved to be a frustrating problem at times, trying to maintain adequate outside support to continue full-time work. Just about as soon as you thought your problems of support were all settled, and you could concentrate on gospel work, then a church would write to say that because of "unforeseen circumstances" they would have to discontinue your support at such-and-such a time. So off you go to write more letters, a good percentage of which brethren do not even bother to answer. Perseverance and faith will help to overcome such problems. Every congregation will have problems unique to itself, so every congregation you work with will be a challenge in a different way.
Do you want to preach? You can. You who are reading these lines probably have more ability than I possess. You must, first of all, be motivated, that is, want to do the Lord's work. Then you need to study. This will require time. You will have to make time in your schedule for study. In your study you need good books. The more the better. If you are as I was, you have neither time or money for formal college work. But you can buy books, a few at a time, and eventually have the great Bible scholars of the world at your fingertips. Following this article is a list of some that I would recommend. You will need to preach by appointments for a while. Three or four years of part-time preaching will do you much good.
There is a tremendous need for faithful men who will give themselves to "preach the word." Do you want to preach? You can, if you will. "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me." (I Corinthians 9:16-17). Pray for wisdom, study for knowledge, work for success.
NOTE: None of the above is intended as a reflection upon the church in Charleston, West Virginia. They have made tremendous progress in overcoming their problems and are prospering in the work with brother Richard Swan preaching for them.
List of Recommended Books:
1. A good Bible with extensive cross-references.
2. Young's Analytical concordance to the Bible 3. Davis Dictionary of the Bible
4. Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary 5. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
6. Search for the Ancient Order, by Earl West. 2 Vols.
7. Why We Believe the Bible, by George Dehoff.
8. Barn's Notes on the Old and New Testaments, 27 Vols.
9. Beacon Bible Commentary, 10 Vols.
10. The Life and Times of Paul, by Conybeare and Howson.
11. Introduction & Early Ministry; The Middle Period; The Final Week, all by R. C. Foster 12. Halley's Bible Handbook.
13. The Preacher and His Work, by Jack Meyer, Sr.
14. Preachers and Preaching, by James P. Needham 15. The Bible and Archaeology, by J. A. Thompson
16. The Church, the Falling Away, and the Restoration, by J. W. Shepherd 17. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, by J. W. Haley
18. Sermon outline works, such as: Complete Scripture Outlines, by E. C. Coffman, and The All-Sufficiency of the Gospel, by Melvin Wise, etc.
19. Debates by brethren, such as Cogdill-Woods, Willis-Inman, Porter-Bogard, Porter-Tingley, Otey-Briney, etc.
20. Other books of your own choosing.
(These books are available from the Gospel Guardian Company, Box 470, Lufkin, Texas 75901)
— 1802 Caroline Street, South Bend, Indiana 46613