“Brothers, We Are Not Professionals,” proclaimed John Piper prophetically almost 20 years ago. But we should warn, equally prophetically, that the alternative to the professionalized ministry is not amateur preaching. Sure, in the literal sense of the word – doing it for love – we are amateurs. But in the sense that the word is now employed – for shoddy work done by inept practitioners with all the seriousness of a Saturday morning fisherman using a cane pole and a safety pin – no, true pastors are not amateurs.
Here in the Bible belt, we have a problem with amateur preachers. I don’t mean that they do it without pay. I mean that they do it for sport like some men take up marathon running. After work, they’re out slogging down the road, talking about how they hope to qualify for Boston or preach next Sunday. The amateur no more aims to full-time pastor than a weekend jogger aims for the Olympics. He wants to be the speaker on Sunday morning, with all eyes turned to him, issuing forth the word. He’s playing at what true pastors have given their lives for. The pastor’s vocation is his hobby. But, brothers, we’re not to be such amateurs.
What are we not to be? Professionals will invest a few years in training so they can make a living. Dr. Piper is right: don’t be like that. But the amateurs’ unwillingness to sacrifice the time to prepare is a red flag. They won’t get a degree from a seminary or Bible college. True pastors are willing to do their “best to present [themselves] to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It’s not that seminary qualifies one to be a pastor; it’s that qualified pastors seek out the training because it’s one of the signs of a truly called pastor. Amateurs might study a few hours before a message to avoid looking like a fool, but they won’t invest their lives in the work. My advice to church folk: don’t you invest an hour of your time on Sunday morning listening to him. Brothers, if you’re not willing to sacrifice for the training, reconsider whether you’re called to be preaching on Sunday morning.
Second, amateur preachers aren’t sent by a church. Real pastors are. In Acts 13:1-3, the church sees that Paul and Barnabas are gifted and called and sets them apart. The church sends them. Professionals see the church as a place to set up shop like a lawyer sees a law firm. They’ll often climb the career ladder, always to bigger and better-paying churches. Brothers, don’t do that. And don’t see the church, like amateurs do, as the venue where you can be the big man.
Amateurs go off from their church, usually within their vicinity, because they can’t imagine relocating for it, looking for an audience. One Sunday School teacher didn’t like something the pastor did and led his Sunday School class away to start his own “church.” He wasn’t sent by his church. He undermined it. Brothers, if your church is faithful and yet doesn’t ask you to preach or teach, consider that maybe that’s because you’re not called to preach.
Third, amateurs have no sense of the church as a Body with different parts, each of which, including them, needs to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). The professional sees the church as a business where he can work. Brothers, don’t see it that way. But, also, don’t see it, like the amateur, as a stage, like your local community theater, where you can be the star. Instead, ask how you can serve your church. Don’t ask how you can get upfront but ask what the church needs. The true pastor preaches because he wants to feed Christ’s sheep. The professional wants to feed himself. The amateur wants to feed his ego. Brothers, if another man in the church feeds the sheep better than you, consider whether your part is to help him.
Fourth, amateurs don’t ask what they are gifted to do to serve the church. They ask for the spotlight. An amateur-preacher might, indeed, have a gift for the gab, so people want to hear him, or he might be a dud. There are men in their seventies who have no gift for public speaking, cannot effectively teach a class or deliver a sermon, or even clearly deliver announcements despite years of trying. Yet, they still yearn to be the preacher. They say preaching gives them the most satisfaction, never mind that their preaching doesn’t satisfy the church. Like a kid, he wants to play and doesn’t think about what the people in front of him really need. The church needs help, deacons serving, faithful members, and, yes, a preacher. The true pastor has a gift that can fill that last need. Brothers, don’t be like the amateur who only thinks of his need to be somebody. So, he will wander off looking for a pulpit to play in. My advice to church folk: don’t give it to him. My advice to you, brothers, find your gift and use it to serve the church.
There are real pastors. They need your support. If you are a Christian, you are called to give them “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17-19) and follow them (Hebrews 13:17). You should have a shepherd in your life whom you heed. If you’ve been fooled by amateur dabbling in the ministry like it’s a hobby – some take up golf, some fishing, and some preaching – don’t think they’re all like that. I joke that half the men in my Southern county believe they are preachers. The tragedy is that few of them are real ones. But don’t let the amateurs turn you off from the authentic with a true vocation, not a just a job or a pastime but a calling. Go find a genuine pastor and, like Aaron and Joshua held up Moses’ hands, help him.