When Preachers Err (Miss the Mark)

by Floyd Chappelear
Sentry Magazine, December 2000

I love to preach. There is something about standing before an audience and expounding the word of God that energizes me. Again, I love to preach.

Furthermore, I love to teach Bible classes. I regard myself as a director of a class whose chief responsibility is to get others involved. When students are actively involved, real learning takes place. What a great feeling to know that men and women are thinking for themselves and learning the word of God.

Home studies are a special joy. I would conduct them every day of the week if enough prospects were willing to participate. When a person obeys the gospel of Christ one is uplifted in a way that no other way can compare.

Visitation is by no means a chore I although I dislike hospitals intensely. I focus on the person and ignore the situation so that I might do what I have to do with pleasure.

I love to write. Getting the gospel message across through the printed page is very satisfying.

Studying God's word pleases me a great deal. I love to learn what the book says and not merely what others have regurgitated as if I were a nonthinking baby sparrow. The book is a treasure trove of information and practicality if we will but dig it out for ourselves. It should be viewed as a mine with treasures as yet not discovered; at least not by me.

I hate being a preacher. Literally hate it.

The Anomaly Explained

I love doing everything that preachers are expected to do but hate being a preacher. How can this be? It is because of the peculiarities of the "vocation." Consider:

I have worked in service stations, have been in show business, worked as a meat cutter, done door-to-door sales, sold insurance, represented young people in their efforts to secure college funding, delivered soda-pop to grocery stores, been a soda-jerk (some say I still have half of that calling), have taught a college class, worked as a counselor, owned my own print shop, vending machines and a cake and candy store, and other things as well. These all have one thing in common. Do the best job possible and rewards will follow. Not necessarily so for a preacher.

It is the only job that I know anything about that one can get fired for doing it right. If the preacher proclaims the word of God accurately, without prejudice, and unfailingly in times of crisis he can get fired for it. Sometimes the saints want their ears tickled and the faithful gospel preacher will not do it (II Timothy 4:2-4). Should a preacher rebuke an elder who sins publicly he is really running the risk of being axed (l Timothy 5:19-20). What a job; you do it right and you might well lose it.

Have you ever heard of a company firing the accountant because after five years he's been there long enough? It happens to preachers with some degree of regularity. Now, frankly, it could be that the preacher really isn't doing what is needed to be done to facilitate growth in a church and needs to be dismissed. However, this isn't what is charged. Rather, "it's time we got a new preacher."

What other job is impacted by one's wife as heavily as the preacher's wife is? Many a good man has been dismissed because of the shortcomings of his mate. And sometimes his wife really does make it impossible for him to carry on. However, the following problem is the one which troubles me the most.

A Personnel Problem

When a preacher misses the mark publicly (sins; Romans 6:13) he suddenly loses all vestiges of humanity. He is no longer a person but he is now regarded as "personnel." This failure to achieve full membership in a church will gnaw at a preacher and occasionally destroys him.

[Let us take an aside at this point: I am not referring to scandalous sins. When a laborer scandalizes the church it ought to take action. The prophet told David that his behavior was a blot on his escutcheon which would result in men blaspheming God for generations (II Samuel 12:4). Shameful behavior falls into a category of its own, but this holds true for non-preachers as well as evangelists. I'm on record as saying that a preacher who has an "affair" should take time off -- a minimum of one year.]

A preacher whose weaknesses have preceded him to the judgment (I Timothy 5:24) should be accorded the same loving response from elders as anyone else. However, in all too many cases, the preacher is treated as an employee who can be dismissed and another brought in. (I have always referred to myself as a "hired gun" for in a sense that is all a preacher is.) But when the evangelist's sin is known he is rendered unfit to be heard as a preacher. After all, how can we sit and listen to a man who we know has the same weaknesses that all of us have? He must be replaced. After all, he is personnel (he works for the church) and we cannot have flawed personnel on the payroll.

Should people have refused Peter as an Apostle when it was made known that he acted hypocritically in the matter of eating with the Gentiles? (Galatians 2:11-13) Should Barnabas, too, have been rejected from the pulpit?

After Demas forsook Paul, having loved this present world, should he be regarded as unfit to labor in the vineyard? (II Timothy 4:10) (There is nothing in the text to say that Demas forsook the Lord, but along with Crescens and Titus merely abandoned Paul. Additionally, Demas may have been free from worldliness but was just afraid to die.) Was Paul wrong to call him a faithful co-laborer in the gospel? (Philemon 24) (Some scholars argue that II Timothy was written several years before the letter to Philemon; others postulate otherwise.) [Philemon was one of the letters Paul wrote the first time he was in prison in Rome. Philemon would have been written at least five years before II Timothy. I believe Floyd was mistaken in several points in this paragraph.  See The Prison Letters. - jwh]

What about Barnabas again? He had a sharp dispute with the beloved Paul. (Acts 15:39) Could we allow him in the pulpit before us? What about John Mark about whom the dispute arose?

When a preacher acknowledges his weakness, seeks the brethren's forgiveness, and has shown an aptitude to do the work then the church should treat him as anyone else. In too many cases this is not done. After all, he is personnel, not a person.

In many ways, a preacher is like a bit of hardware for a Mac computer. Plug and play. He is plugged into the system and does his work. When another preacher is desired he is brought in, plugged in, and expected to do his work in an exemplary fashion. I'm a realist. I know that should the church with which I labor lose one of its excellent elders the church would be impacted greatly. Should something happen to me, another will be hired to take my place. Frankly, I envy to some degree the blessedness of the relationship to the church that most enjoy and that the elders enjoy especially.

If there is anyone who should be treated without partiality (James 3: 17), it is the preacher. He should be given the same latitude to err as everyone else has. He should be received with warmth and enthusiasm when correction is made -- as everyone else is. It is this failure to achieve this relationship that is so discouraging to so many preachers, and it is no wonder. I do not hate the work I do or the support that I receive from a good eldership. I ache when I consider that I will not be treated as a person were I to openly fail. After all, I am not a person as much as I am personnel in the minds of some. Peculiarly, I say these things in spite of the fact that I work with an excellent eldership who have treated me wonderfully in the twenty-eight years I have been here. Nevertheless, there is a certain tenuousness to the situation that leaves me with an empty feeling.


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