by Jefferson David Tant
There is no more noble aspiration than to be a servant of the Most High God in seeking the lost and encouraging the saved. After more than 65 years of engaging in this labor of love, please allow me to share some perspectives from my viewpoint. With my father and grandfather having been preachers (beginning in 1881), perhaps I can offer some worthwhile thoughts.
Preaching Is Not a Way to Get Rich
If you are looking to preaching as a way to line your pockets with silver, you have made a poor choice. While it is certain that in general preachers are supported better than they were in times past, preaching is not a path to wealth. I suppose there have always been those who looked upon it as a way of gain, as Paul had to deal with such attitudes in his day. “And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingers not, and their destruction slumbers not” (II Peter 2:3). In Romans 16:18 he wrote of those who “serve their own belly,” and then in I Timothy 6:5 he warned about those “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
We are encouraged to trust in the Lord. “Be ye free from the love of money; content with such things as ye have: for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). One said preachers are to be humble and poor, and that we should depend on the Lord to make us humble, and the brethren to keep us poor. Paul said he had learned to be content with much or with little (Philippians 4:11-13). It would do well for every young man wanting to preach to read J. D. Tant, Texas Preacher and see how it was 100 years ago when most preachers had to farm and do hard labor in order to feed their families while they preached.
In my first work among the Choctaw Indians in Pushmataha County, OK, I believe I was paid $25 a week (1959). We lived in a little unfinished 4-room house in this community of 600. We drove about 25 miles to Talihina to do our laundry, and 37 miles to Antlers for doctor visits when we were expecting our first child. Gasoline was eating us up. The Castleberry church down in Ft. Worth increased my wages by another $25. It was still tight, but we were making it. After being there a year with increasing attendance and contributions, I approached the congregation for a slight raise. “What are you doing with the $25 we are already giving you?” (I had previously told them of the $25 from Ft. Worth, but I guess they had forgotten it.) After their question I dropped the subject and never brought it up again. In fact, in 53 years of preaching, I think I asked for a raise only one other time, and I believe that was for $5 a week.
At times I have supplemented my income with part-time work when we had high medical bills, but we never went hungry. I can remember when my father had to sell our car to pay the bills when the church could have easily increased his income, but a power struggle among the elders prevented a raise. But I never heard my father complain or contemplate giving up preaching. I certainly believe the Scriptures teach a preacher should be supported, and adequately, but “money-seekers” should seek elsewhere.
Preachers should be prudent in preparing for old age. Not many churches provide any sort of retirement package, and too many preachers become the object of charity because they have not been wise in preparing for the future. Solomon urges us to “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).
Preaching Is a Life of Teaching
If you don’t like teaching others, then this work is not for you. Over and over again Paul instructs the young preachers, Timothy and Titus, to preach or teach.
- “Prescribe and teach these things” (I Timothy 4:11).
- “And the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing” (II Timothy 2:24).
- “Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (II Timothy 4:2).
- “But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
Whom shall we teach? Obviously, we are to teach and encourage the saints. “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers” (II Timothy 2:14). But what about those who are not saints? Some preachers seem content to “preach to the choir,” and don’t feel the need to heed the Lord’s charge to “Go out into the highways and hedges, and constrain them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).
I never knew a preacher that did not wish the congregation to grow. (I take that back. A church in Jamaica had six members. The preacher said, “That’s enough.” If the church grew larger, it would be harder to control everything. Thankfully, he no longer preaches.)
How does a church grow? There are three ways to grow.
- Members have babies and teach them to serve God.
- Members move in from other areas.
- Go out and win others for Christ.
Now, having babies is great, but not everyone can have babies, such as older folks, singles, and those who cannot afford more. Then the matter of growing through moving is not really a growth in the kingdom. That’s just a shifting of the sheep.
The people in the prophet Haggai’s day were lamenting “Is the seed still in the barn?” (Haggai 2:19). If the people were lamenting a lack of harvest, one possible cause is that not enough seed had been sown. That may well describe the problem in many congregations that are stagnant from a lack of growth. Most church buildings are full of Bibles. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Peter declares that we are “born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (I Peter 1:23).
Preachers need to get out of the study and out in the field seeking the lost. After all, that’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). If we claim to be his disciples, then we must act as disciples. A disciple follows the example of his teacher. There are people out there who will listen. I find them all the time — in banks, restaurants, service stations, neighbors, grocery stores. For example, I have little accounts in multiple banks. I go from teller to teller until I find one who will talk to me, and then I seek to establish a relationship with that person. A few have been baptized as a result. What are you doing to find prospects? If you are not willing to go out and talk to people and seek to save their souls, then you need to find another line of work.
“And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).
One thing is sure. If the preacher, who should have the time and knowledge, is not actively seeking the lost, you are not going to find many members fired up about doing it. The preacher’s example is a great motivator in this area. A preacher who is stuck in his study and pulpit may be tending to the garden, but he is not “sowing the seed,” which is the Word of God (Luke 8:11).