“Well, what are ya!?!”

Perhaps this is a story to which only a preacher’s kid can relate, nonetheless it starts a good conversation.

A few years ago, my father (who is a preacher) and I were in our hometown area attending the funeral of the wife of a long time missionary and long time friend of my father. The missionary was originally from the area, so the funeral home was packed with local preachers and church members who knew him well. One such preacher, a loud and imposing man, approached my dad and struck up one of those “long-time, no-see” conversations.

In the process of catching up, the man asked my father about my brother, who is also a preacher. The preacher then turned to me and asked about recent events in my life. I was obliged to tell him that I was an education major at a particular Bible college with which he was familiar. His disinterest in those details was made obvious, though, when he abruptly asked me, “Are you a preacher?”

At that point, a multitude of thoughts flooded my mind. During that period of time, I had been asking myself very similar questions concerning God’s will for my life. The problem was my time at Bible college had left me a bit discontented with the modern fundamentalist’s definition of a preacher. I knew that every Christian was in a sense “called to preach”, but I also knew that there are specific men who are called out to be “preachers.” Despite all this, I knew what that preacher was asking for, so I simply answered, “No.” After an awkward pause and a befuddled look, he retorted, “Well,… what are ya!?!”

I tell this story is to illustrate the distorted view of preaching that many fundamentalist have. Since that day, I have accepted God’s call on my life to be a preacher. I do not know now what capacity I will pursue with that calling, but I do know that God wants me to preach so I am preparing in that way. Either way, if I were asked that question by that preacher today, I doubt that would simply answer, “Yes,” if for no other reason than because I disagree with that man’s implied definition of a preacher.

So, I had to ask, what is the true, that is, the Biblical definition of a preacher? The personal nature of the situation forced me to search God’s Word for the correct definition of a preacher as well as my heart for the desire which the Bible calls for in such a case. I would like to share some of my conclusions from that searching.

First, if God calls men to preach His Word, He does so through His Spirit. As with any call of the Spirit, it is an inward call. The call to preach begins with the moving of the Holy Spirit and with that moving alone. All other approval and endorsement are subordinate to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Next, that calling manifests itself in a consuming desire that cannot be described. It can only be experienced. Spurgeon described this as “an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.” He actually warned against preaching if the man involved could help it. “But,” he continued, “if he cannot help it, and he must preach or die, then he is the man.” The urgent impression of commission is one of the essential indications of a true call to preach.

Also, the calling and the desire are accompanied by gifts specially suited for the capacity to which the preacher is called to serve. That is not to say that every man called to preach has a booming voice and a striking personality. God equips men according to the work that He has for that man to do.

Finally, if a man affirms a call to preach, that affirmation obligates him to live a life worthy of his calling (1 Thessalonians 1:11). I do not think that this is necessarily related to the requirements for a bishop found in 1 Timothy 3, or at least would not be as specific. The discussion of a pastoral office is an entirely different discussion altogether. Nonetheless, a preacher must exemplify a wholly dedicated and spirit filled life.

With all of that figured out, my suspicions were confirmed that the modern fundamentalist definition of a preacher was nothing less than a departure from the Biblical standard. The following are a few of those departures that I see. Feel free to suggest more.

A misconception of the calling

Growing up in an IFB youth group, I could not possible give the number of guys that I have heard give a call to preach. However, I could count with one hand the number who actually became preachers. Likewise, I know of plenty that probably should have become preachers. This refers back to what has already been said about the Holy Spirit’s involvement.

Many of the professions that I remember were the result of the guy feeling conviction about not being what he should be as a Christian. The conviction could have been legitimate enough, but the reaction, “giving a call to preach”, was simply unnecessary. Others were the result of mixing indecision about God’s will and the pressure of an authority figure who “knew best.” In both of these scenarios the guys followed up and went to Bible college (an possible explanation for the carnality there), but many did not. No matter the decision they made, it was made without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A misrepresentation of the position

Many fundamentalist circles have fallen victim to the celebritization of preachers. Along with this is the more subtle deviation of exalting the actual calling of a preacher. Sadly, it was at my own Bible college that a teacher said, “Men, the best thing that you can do with your life is to become a preacher.” And to think, all this time I thought the best thing we could do with our life was surrender to the will of God whether it is preaching or not!

Also the calling is misrepresented as being synonymous with the office of a pastor. I believe that the Bible teaches that you have to be a preacher in order to be a pastor. However, there is nothing supporting the idea that you have to be a pastor in order to preach. Besides, every pastor that I have spoken to about this issue agrees that preaching is only about 20% of being a pastor. Many have told me that it is less.

A misunderstanding about the will of God

In conclusion, one concern that must be discussed is a misunderstanding about the will of God. We pay little attention to the fact that the Bible describes God’s will as acceptable (Romans 12:2), meaning that it will not be a difficult thing to surrender to. Given the desire as well as the appropriate gifts, the call to preach seems more like something that just makes sense rather than something to be figured out.

Obviously, there are men preaching who never received the appropriate call to do so. But, by the same merit, there are men who are not preaching because they have repressed all the circumstances leading to that end. My challenge to the reader is this: examine yourself. I examined my situation and came to the conclusion that I am a preacher. I say with Paul, “woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16) The question is, what are you?

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