Perils of Professionalism in Preaching

Yesterday I urged us all to pursue a “professional” preaching ministry in the sense of being well trained, well informed and well skilled. But there are negative associations with professionalism that I think we would do well to ponder:

1. Don’t be contractually defined. It is hard to stomach professional sports-persons haggling over how many tens of thousands they should be paid each week, and refusing to play until they get what they want. Surely it is worse to sense similar issues with preachers. Obviously the sums involved are considerably smaller, but the idea that a preacher will tell of the glorious grace of God with a smile as long as his own contractual terms are in place is simply wrong. It is difficult when there are employment contracts involved, but surely we preach because of something other than money (and hopefully others will recognize their role in making sure the preachers are provided for appropriately)?

2. Don’t be selfishly driven. There is nothing wrong with receiving finance in association with preaching. Whether it is a regular stipend, or a loving palm gift, we thank God for any funding given in association with preaching. However, the moment a mercenary attitude creeps in, something is broken. A preacher should be giving of themselves, giving themselves away in ministry. While they shouldn’t starve to death in the process, surely it should be others that are concerned to make sure that doesn’t happen. And when it isn’t a matter of starving, but moving to higher levels of luxury, a preacher concerned with what is received seems to be a preacher who has lost their true focus.

3. Don’t be self-reliant. Another aspect of professionalism that we must be wary of is the idea of self-reliance. That is, the loss of prayerful dependence on God and the loss of humility and perceived weakness. Even the most skilled and capable and gifted individual is still stepping out beyond their own strengths when they open God’s Word before a gathering of people. Let’s be sure never to lose that sense of utter inadequacy as we preach.

What else would you add, either positively or negatively in association with professionalism?

2 thoughts on “Perils of Professionalism in Preaching

  1. I think one related area to that of professionalism is the idea of plagiarism in preaching. I’ve come across some people wanting to apply what seem to me to be the standards of academic writing to preaching in this regard, which don’t seem to me to quite fit.

    On the one hand, we should be professional in the sense that we put our own work into understanding and applying the passage to the specific people we’ll be preaching to, so we won’t just copy and paste a sermon outline from the Internet!

    On the other hand, preachers aren’t professional academics trying to come up with original “research”. The point is to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, which is unchanging, not dazzle with novelty. If someone has explained a passage helpfully, then it’s fine to draw on that. If you’re leaning heavily on a particular writer or theologian’s take on something, or if you’re quoting directly, then it’s helpful to mention where you’re getting it from.

    But I don’t think preachers need to give comprehensive verbal footnotes for all their preparation – for most listeners it’ll be a turn off and won’t add anything helpful. Plus you should be demonstrating what you say primarily from the Bible text!

  2. I must admit that I am very much in agreement with Kierkegaard: Whenever the preaching of the Gospel is made a living, the message is changed”. I am not sure that it is ever possible to honestly and completely preach the gospel for money.

    When I look in the bible, I find Paul refusing ever to take money from those he is ministering to. Yes, he accepted money from people he had ministered to in order to continue his missionary work, but he is very clear that he would not consider being paid by those he is currently serving. This is in keeping with the rabbis of his time, who would have thought it shameful to sell the word of God. They got paid for other things (circumcisions, teaching reading, scribal duties, etc.) but never for bringing God’s word to people, that was considered an honour and a privilege.

    I know we are not historically in the same place and am not advocating this for all, but it should certainly be our attitude that what we do is a privilege, and I, for one, will not accept pay for doing it.

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