Definition matters massively. One person might say, “professional preachers are the problem!” Then another person might say, “amateur preachers are the problem!” And both might be right. It all depends on what they mean by what they say.
1. “Professional” can be referring to very different issues. What image does the term “professional” bring to mind? You might think of a person’s skill, or how they handle their communications with customers, or their manner in person, or their motivation for what they do. That is already four variations of potential meaning for the term “professional.” Perhaps an electrician is called to solve a problem in your house. They might be a real professional in their work (positive – they knew exactly what to do), their invoice was very professional looking (positive – good communications), their conversation and manner in conversation might have been a bit professional (negative – cold or aloof communications), and their reason for working may have seemed too professional (negative – it was all about the money).
2. “Amateur” can be referring to very different issues, too. What image does the term “amateur” bring to mind? You might think in the same categories as before. Perhaps the electrician was amateur in their work (negative – they did not know what to do), their invoice looked very amateur (negative – sloppy communication), their conversation might convey the enthusiasm of an amateur (positive – they love what they do), and their reason for work may have been the best side of an amateur (positive – they do it for the love of their craft).
3. In terms of skill, be professional. I don’t want someone showing “amateurish” skill levels when they fix my car, cut my hair, or operate on me. Skill is good. In reality, some of the most skilled people in the world may not be paid for what they do, while some who are paid should not be allowed anywhere near your car, your scalp or a scalpel. So actually, pay is irrelevant. The point is about skill. So as a preacher, it does not matter to this point whether you are paid to preach or not. In terms of skill, be as professional as possible. Read, learn, study, grow. Be a good steward of the ministry opportunity God has given you.
4. In respect to motivation, be amateur. When someone’s vocation has been “professionalised” then their motivation becomes suspect. This is why a nationally known car exhaust company may not be trusted (did they do more work than was needed in order to get more of my money?) Or why it is a problem if your medical practitioner is incentivized by drug companies to prescribe treatments to as many people as possible (whether they need the treatment or not!) In this respect, skill is not the issue. The point is about motivation. A highly skilled mechanic who rips off the customer is not to be celebrated. A brilliant clinician who risks lives to increase their income should be prosecuted. So as a preacher, your skill level (in this point) is not my concern. In terms of motivation, be as amateur as possible. Love God, love people, and love your craft. Be driven by the privilege of getting to speak God’s Word to people for their benefit.
5. And in the area of interpersonal communication, be genuine. I have underlined issues of skill and motivation, but interpersonal communication is also part of the package. Coming across as too professional can be problematic, even when you are not preaching. Coming across as an amateur might be an issue too. Instead, how about we settle on the need to be genuine? It does not resolve all the complexity of conversational dynamics, but it does leave us with two clear points to finish.
6. As a preacher, let’s do what we do as well as we can. If that means being professional in some sense, so be it. We certainly don’t want to be amateurish.
7. As a preacher, let’s do what we do with heartfelt motivation. If that means being amateurs in some sense, so be it. We certainly don’t want to be professionalised.
The definition of labels is important. This is an example worth pondering as far as preaching is concerned and how we might view our ministry. We should preach as professionals in the sense of “to the best of our ability” and as amateurs in the sense of “with the passion of a captured heart.” We should not preach as professionals in the sense of “relying on our own ability,” or “just for money,” nor as amateurs in the sense of “to a poor standard.”
It is also an example to keep in mind in a world where labels so easily get applied as a pejorative, and the mud sticks because people don’t question what is really meant.
In the next week or so I will be completing my short video collection through the Psalms. Please do check it out and share with any who may find it helpful as a reference, or better yet, as a companion through the Psalms in 2023!