Against local preachers

The Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston School of Theology in a sermon last year made the most pointed attack on local pastors I’ve read in a while. (I added paragraph breaks to make it a bit easier to read.)

Unwilling to invest in elders, the superintendents are driven to hire non-elders, people who are not trained, not educated, not ordained, not in covenant, not traveling elders.  In our yet to be fully born conference, this means that 540 of 931 pulpits are occupied, occupied by good hearted people, but people who have not studied the Bible in depth, do not know the history or teaching of the church, have had no preparation in counseling, in sacramental understanding, in worship and preaching, in administration, in pastoral care.


It is one thing to have laity Sunday once a year.  But every Sunday?  Do you go to laity Wednesday when the emergency room lets people who would like to be doctors administer drugs, set bones, and use ct scanners?  Do you go to laity Friday when people who would like to be bankers get to open and close the vault,  establish accounts, and make investments of your savings?   How about housing?  Do you sign up aspiring carpenters, who think they might have some talent in digging foundations and setting roof lines to build your house?    Is it OK with you if the principal of your daughter’s junior high school never graduated from high school himself?   Granted: education alone is not enough.  Heart and head we need together in the influential, delicate, personal, salvific work of pastoral care and preaching.


Not 540, but 40 non-elders is all we should accommodate.   Have the elders preach multiple times:  better one good sermon preached 7 times, than 7 bad ones once each.   Our annual conference provides everything but the one thing needful—a chance to confer.  Our annual conference attends to everything except its job—providing excellent clergy.

22 thoughts on “Against local preachers

  1. This is among the most arrogant and self serving posts I have ever read. After 30 years of being in a UMC congregation and traveling to many states and visiting UMC congregations led by elders, I have concluded that the system is fatally flawed. While most elders seem to have great head knowledge about basic theology and how the UMC works, as well as experience in managing churches, many elders I have met and listened to seem to be spiritually shallow and have controlling spirits. I have even encountered some who show no evidence of knowing Jesus. Certainly becoming an elder is an achievement in a worldly sense. But is is certainly no guarantee of spiritual maturity nor of fitness to lead a congregation. Most local preachers I have met seem to be more passionate about their callings and far, far less political. In many ways I believe becoming an elser may be a disability to one’s spiritual formation. There is a lot of evidence to support this hypothesis.

    Local pastors don’t be discouraged when you read dim-witted posts like the one offered here. You are held in high esteem by much of the body of Christ.

  2. Here are my thoughts on the sermon as a whole (mostly from the written text though I listened to the audio):

    Here is what is problematic:
    1) It is a poor sermon. This is the kind of sermon that upsets people in the local church. How does this really relate to the scripture passage?
    2) He uses the cloak of prophecy, but never names his vested interests. He is the dean of a school that needs future UM elders (and local pastors) to go there to prove its worth to the lager church. As a UM elder, he has a particular perspective and interest.
    3) He speaks demeaningly of local pastors. He frames this issue poorly. Nor does he show the appreciation of the training local pastors receive. This comment and his comment on deacons suggests a fair amount of ignorance on his part.
    4) Being an elder does not make you an excellent preacher and being a local pastor does not make you a bad preacher.
    5) His call to selectively not pay apportionments is wrong.
    6) Why does he attack deacons? Does he really understand ministry today? They are not lay persons and have a high level of training.
    7) Vague attacks, vague suggestions, so what are we really to do? So why should we care?

    Here is what I liked:
    1) He does raise some good questions about how we treat people.
    2) He raises the long term viability of elders – elders should be concerned – we are becoming too expensive.
    3) He raises the question how we choose bishops. Why do we elect who we elect? Are we using good criteria?
    4) He raises questions about how we treat elders and the drive to remove guaranteed appointments. He frames this issue well.
    5) He raises some good questions about worship.
    6) Going deeper into the tradition as a source of vitality is intriguing.

    Thanks for raising the issue. I think it is deeply problematic on a whole.

  3. In 1756 Wesley wrote “Some of our preachers who are not ordained think it quite right to administer the Lords Supper, and believe it would do much good”…..I verily believe it is a sin: which consequently I do not tolerate.”

    In 1745 he replied to attacks on lay preaching in his “Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, reminding critics of the severe examination of lay preachers.
    The original.

    “I was more convinced than ever that the
    preaching like an apostle, without joining together those that are awakened
    and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the
    murderer. How much preaching has there been for these twenty years all over


  4. It would also be of great advantage if persons in leadership understood what they are reading and teaching.

     “How long do ye halt on both knees….meaning is. “How long will ye be undecided as to whether you follow God or Baal?”

     Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
    But the people said nothing. 1 Kings 18: 21

    And said — Why do you walk so lamely and unevenly, being so unsteady in your opinions and practices, and doubting whether it is better to worship God or Baal? If the Lord – Whom you pretend to worship.
    Follow — Worship him, and him only, and that in such place and manner as he hath commanded you.
    If Baal — If Baal can prove himself to be the true God.
    Answered not — Being convinced of the reasonableness of his proposition.
    John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

  5. This is a vital issue in our Conference. We are large geographically, encompassing the entire State of New Mexico (121,697 square miles), El Paseo and West Texas (east to Odessa), and few churches on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and Colorado (the 4 Corners Area). However; we are small in membership (33, 784at the end of 2013) with 141 churches, 17 mission congregations, and 2 united churches. Thus, on average we have fewer than one member every 4 square miles. What this means t is that we have many small churches that are not able to financially support an ordained elder, located in relatively isolated areas. Although we have many multi-church charges, this becomes unmanageable when a round trip riding the circuit becomes much more than 100 miles. It is not logistically possible for our elders to preach 6 sermons at 6 different churches each Sunday, as the Dean suggested.
    In addition, approximately 40% of our ordained elders will reach retirement age within the next 8 to 10 years, and we have nowhere near enough ordination candidates to replace them. If we cannot raise up a large number of bi-vocational local pastors, there will be few United Methodist congregations outside the major cities in our Conference. We need to affirm local pastors and make it possible for people to pastor churches on a part time basis without the crushing debt load associated with attending seminary. Again, much as they would like to help, most of our churches, which have difficulty paying a full time pastor, simply cannot afford to help support seminary students too. I see a need to cut through the “hair ball” of the ordination process (too long, too complex, and too expensive) and affirm bi-vocational ministry as the church did in the early days of Methodism. I would point out that the number of Methodists as a percentage of the population began to decline around 1850, when we began requiring seminary education for ordination. ( See The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy.) I do not claim that requiring seminary attendance caused the decline. But I note that the advantages provided a seminary education were not sufficient to reverse it.

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