by Richard Bunner
Alexander Campbell was not opposed to supporting preachers. He clearly understood the teaching of the apostle Paul when he quoted the Scripture from the Law, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and then applied it to laborers in the Lord's vineyard. Campbell, however, had determined that he wanted to preach and not be a burden to the church, much the way the apostle Paul had been during his ministry.
Many of the men who preached the gospel in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries did so under great hardships. They sacrificed being able to make good wages at secular jobs, they were away from
their families for extended periods of time, and they exhausted themselves preaching and teaching day and night. The church prospered and grew despite the fact that many of these soldiers of the cross were inadequately supported and neglected by the brethren. For the most part these preachers never complained. They just learned to be content with the meager supply they received looking toward a greater reward at the end of life's day.
Often times when the apostle Paul labored in an area he felt it necessary to work at some secular job making tents to provide his financial needs (Acts 18:3). Sometimes he also provided for those who were traveling with him (Acts 20:34). During these times he did not take support from the church.
In stark contrast to the apostle Paul and later preachers like Alexander Campbell is the practice today of what I call "weekend warriors." A weekend warrior is a brother who sells his sermons to supplement his income. It works like this: brother John Doe develops his public speaking skills until he is a reasonably good orator. He works up one good sermon per month, and then he agrees to go "help" two or three sister congregations that are within a Sunday morning driving distance from his home. Once a month he is going to show up at each of these congregations to teach, edify, and exhort with all longsuffering, and to demonstrate his skill at explaining the Word of God. The brethren want to keep him coming, so they are going to pay him. He gladly accepts this remuneration because this congregation needs to "learn to support the teaching of the Word", and because he has put himself out by driving an extra hour that morning getting to the worship. Now his home congregation is not inclined to pay him for his sermon, so he is given an incentive to book as many speaking engagements as he can fit into the month.
John Doe is really not a preacher, nor does he ever intend to become one. He works forty hours per week at a good paying secular job, with excellent health benefits, paid vacation, 401K, stock options, and more. When he is not at his secular job, he is coaching Little League, or playing golf, or working at his hobby out in his shop. Every moment of his life is filled with some activity. If the local congregation is getting together to go house to house, or to prepare literature for a mass mailing, or to visit a nearby nursing home John Doe may or may not be available to participate. He is not able to conduct a Bible study with someone in his community because he is so busy, and he certainly cannot conduct one in the communities where he goes to preach on Sunday because it is just too far to drive on a weeknight. In fact, John Doe really does not have much time for church work during the week, but his zeal abounds on Sunday morning as he drives to a nearby congregation to "help" them out.
What becomes really interesting is when there are three or four congregations within driving distance of one another and they each have a brother John Doe. This results in churches trading speakers on Sunday mornings. Brother John Doe from congregation A is going over to B; brother John Doe from church B will be at congregation C; and the brother from C will be at A. This way each congregation gets to support their speaker, or to put it more bluntly, each John Doe has been able to sell his sermon.
The above practice has no kinship with the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians when he said, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service" (2 Cor. 11:8). Instead brethren are robbing churches today to supplement their own excessive lifestyles. What's more, the church is being hamstrung, and unable to fulfill the Great Commission, which was mandated by our Lord. There is evangelistic work being done on six continents today. In some regions the work is far greater than the few laborers there can manage. Doors of opportunity are opening in countries where we have no preachers. Some American preachers are living in outposts where it would be beneficial to have another American family to help with the great harvest. The money that changes hands each week to what our denominational friends would call "lay preachers" would more than pay for these needs.
The weekend warriors are a discouragement to those young men who want to become gospel preachers, for while the two hundred dollars that some of them receive for speaking on a Lord's Day is a handsome supplement to their already lucrative income, it is not enough for the man who receives nothing else during the week. Brethren snort and growl when they discuss supporting a preacher to labor full time in the Vineyard, but they hardly blink an eye at paying for a Sunday sermon.
In Matthew 19:27 Peter asked a question that suggests he and the other eleven had made a sacrifice in order to follow Jesus. Jesus' answer to Peter also implies that His followers would all make sacrifices. I wonder if some are not profiting instead of sacrificing in the kingdom today.
Congregations of the church of Christ need to be good stewards of the Lord's money. It should be spent wisely in areas where the most good can occur. There is no Biblical authority for paying a man to speak on Sunday morning any more than there is for paying a man to lead the singing. There is authority to support a gospel preacher, whether he speaks in your assembly, or not. The brother who is simply a teacher or speaker should not be funded with the Lord's money. If he is a faithful brother he had to assemble anyway. If he drove past his home congregation to get to yours he made a sacrifice. Instead of paying him for his sacrifice let the Lord reward him for his good work. If you pay him it no longer is a sacrifice. Consider some more profitable ways of investing in the Kingdom of Heaven. We need preachers in foreign fields where the harvest is ready. Churches need to commit themselves for extended periods --five, maybe ten years -- to the propagation of the gospel in these fertile areas. Here in the United States we should look carefully before plunging into a work. When an effort is decided upon send someone who is willing to go and preach the gospel.
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