The Preacher Search: Lessons for Churches Searching for Preachers, Part 1

We finished a 15-month preacher search late last year. I’ve learned several lessons I thought I should pass along.

Many of these I learned the hard way. This was not my first preacher search, by any means, but the Churches of Christ are changing, and every search brings new lessons.

And so, some of these I learned a long time ago. Others, I should have learned a long time ago, but didn’t. And a few are brand new, just because times change and so you have to learn as you go.

1. Immerse the search in prayer. We got this one right. It sounds trite to modern ears, but if you believe in prayer at all, this is one time you need to begin with prayer. Don’t wait until human efforts fail and then only turn to prayer in desperation. This is a bigger task than humans can handle alone. Get on your knees and pray — and do so often.

2. Beg the church to do the same. Spend time in prayer for the search with the congregation. Devote Sunday morning assembly time to it. Do it often.

3. Preacher searches take longer than you expect. I’m told that the typical search time for a pastor in a Baptist Church is two years. Many internet articles warn pastor search committees to expect the search to take more than one year. I have no idea what the statistic is for Churches of Christ, but I imagine that the time frame is getting longer.

You see, as the denomination fractures, the pool of talent gets smaller. The odds of finding a match go down.

Moreover, progressive Churches of Christ are, on average, larger than more conservative Churches, on average. Therefore, the talent pool of young ministers ready to move to a larger church is smaller. There aren’t as many smaller churches within the progressive ranks — comparatively.

Also, many talented progressive preachers have left the Churches of Christ, relocating to nondenominational congregations and Christian Churches.

Ministers that have left the Churches of Christ denomination may well be very happy to consider relocating to a progressive Church of Christ, but many have left the informal networks through which churches find preachers. And, of course, even many progressive congregations would be challenged to hire a minister who’s left the Churches of Christ for part of his career.

In short, don’t be surprised if your search takes more than a year.

4. Salaries are being bid up. Wrap it up in all the church-talk language you like, the laws of supply and demand apply to preachers, just like gasoline and apples (and lawyers). If you compare the year-to-year salary surveys conducted by Abilene Christian, you’ll see a definite upward trend in salaries for ministers. Presumably, the churches that participate in the survey lean heavily toward the progressive end of our denomination.

This confirms that there is less supply than demand, as noted above, and explains why searches will often take longer than they did 10 or 20 years ago.

This is a good thing. We in the Churches of Christ have long underpaid our ministers, and I’m glad to see wages moving up to be more comparable to the pay of the membership.

Here’s a summary from the most recent survey that’s been completed, 2011 —

Average   Weekly Attendance Average Total Compensation
<151        51,937
151-300        69,029
301-500        89,160
501-750        106,111
751-1000        112,889

Total compensation includes health insurance and other like fringes. And pay varies a lot in each category.

Pay varies more on church attendance and contribution than education, age, experience, or years with the church. In other words, churches tend to hire as well as they can afford.

5. Prepare your congregation for the wait. Those of us who grew up in church remember 6-month preacher searches — or less. And we expected to have the three best candidates put before us to select among. Nowadays, it’ll take longer, and you’ll be very unlikely to be able to court three ministers at a time. (I’ll explain in a bit.)

Tell the congregation to expect a long search at the very beginning. It’ll take 3 or 4 months, at least, for the church to be emotionally ready to even consider a new candidate. They’ll have to spend time letting go of their old minister.

And then it just takes time to identify candidates, listen to their sermons, interview them, check references, etc. Plus, they won’t all come to your attention at once. It takes time for word to get out and for candidates to respond.

Even then, not everyone you call will be interested, and many you interview won’t be a good fit. A few will seem like great fits and break your hearts by turning you down.

It’s like dating. Sometimes you marry the first girl you date. Sometimes it takes a few false starts and broken hearts. Be patient.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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58 Responses to The Preacher Search: Lessons for Churches Searching for Preachers, Part 1

  1. Gary says:

    Just because there aren’t as many known progressive smaller Churches of Christ doesn’t mean there aren’t many progressive Church of Christ preachers out there in them. I’m not sure how it can be determined in any meaningful way whether they are “ready” to move to a larger congregation. When the Highland congregation in Abilene called Lynn Anderson to their pulpit from a very small church in British Columbia he had never ever served in a church with elders. But he went on to have an enormous impact on a generation of Church of Christ youth who spent their formative college years in Abilene. One of them was Rick Atchley. Thankfully the Highland elders did not go by conventional standards of who was ready to be in the pulpit of a flagship Church of Christ.

  2. Laymond says:

    “Pay varies more on church attendance and contribution than education, age, experience, or years with the church. In other words, churches tend to hire as well as they can afford.”

    2Ti 4:1 I charge [thee] therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
    2Ti 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
    2Ti 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
    2Ti 4:4 And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
    2Ti 4:5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

    It is really doubtful that a young Jew from Nazareth, or an old Jew from Rome would ever make the cut in today’s world.

  3. Jack Exum says:

    This is a great start on a needed topic. Seems to be the right time since many ministers make moves during the spring and summer, hoping to be settled in for kids to start school somewhere else. Good comment about Lynn… He saw problems in the church coming, and spoke out on them with courage.

    I know in my own case, looking for the possibility of starting again in the ministry… it is difficult to find a congregation that is looking for someone who has a more balanced approach to preaching the gospel, as opposed to those who tend to ‘feed’ the problems which are hurting the Church of Christ today.

    Ministers who are continually studying, and necessarily changing how they deal with problems such as DRM and LEGALISM as well as the ISSUES which come and go with each generation… find it difficult to be honest with themselves and their beliefs, and ‘hold a steady job and thus nurture their family and pay their bills’, unless a congregation is growing in grace along with them.

    I am looking forward to more articles on this subject Jay.
    JAck Exum Jr

    The big question is how to find these congregations which are looking for ministers who have grown in grace, are not afraid to ‘make changes’ in their preaching, as their study in scriptures have led them?

  4. Monty says:

    What Jack said!

  5. Charles McLean says:

    I once hired a young man as an outside salesman. He had never sold our product line before, but he was an excellent salesman elsewhere and a high-character person. I overpaid him to start, and limited his responsibilities while he learned our expectations and our customers. Then, one day I set him to work in outside sales. “I want you to make good things happen for us. You are going to make some mistakes,” I told him. “In fact, at some point, you are going to make a mistake of such a size that will take both me and MY boss to untangle. I will tell you right now that when this happens, you will NOT lose your job. And if it doesn’t happen in the next six months, you’re probably not trying hard enough.” I can tell you that right now there are preachers who read this and would run through a wall for a church opportunity like it.

  6. Grizz says:

    I cannot remember where I read it for certain (I think it may have been a survey published in the Christian Standard magazine a couple of years ago), but it seems to me that there ought to be something said for the fact that preachers generally peak in their effectiveness between ages 45 to 55. With that in mind, not alone, but in conjunction with other pertinent factors, we should consider the idea that a preacher is usually most effective when his own general development is basically similar to the spiritual development of the congregation. One of the issues I have seen crop up in preacher searches over and again is the tendency to want to hire someone further along in their spiritual journey than the congregation is ready to receive – to get the best ‘bang for their buck’ in a sense, so that people will look back on it someday and credit the search committee with a visionary choice. This opens the door to severe cases of frustration for both the congregation and the newly called preacher and his family. Better to pick a man like Jack described who is ready and willing to grow with the congregation as preacher, member, thought-leader and community example.

    As a former preacher among churches of Christ who left to serve in various volunteer roles in Christian churches and eventually assumed leadership roles in those churches, I have been considering a return to preaching ministry on a full-time basis and find very few churches even willing to consider a man in his early 50s with my background. Over and again, even churches who I was informed were ‘progressive’ in character, cannot seem to get past the idea that someone turned to our brethren in the S-C/RM heritage when taking a break from full-time ministry. In my own case it involved a marriage crumbling under the strain of leadership expectations and a wife’s moral failures under the duress of critical and extremely judgmental eyes on her/our parenting of very young children. The marriage was mortally wounded, though we fought the cancer of infidelity for another 8 years before the marriage succumbed to the disease. During this time it was our brethren in the independent Christian churches who offered practical help and a chance to heal outside the spotlight … which has been crucial to both my own rehabilitation spiritually (divorce is devastating, duh!) AND the rehabilitation efforts of my (now ex-) wife when she needed it most. It was among independent Christian church brethren that we found an opportunity to continue to serve using the gifts we had been given, and an open loving acceptance of our brokenness without constant suspicion and gossip. There was support to rescue each of us as fellow soldiers, even as wounded as we both were … in ways I/we had tried to model for others but ways which had not been modeled towards us (with the shining exception of a little congregation in East Central Illinois where I served for less than two years … even years later after we had left that area to follow other opportunities).

    The very real question for me has become, “Are we really sure that we consider one another to be brethren … or not?” It is easy to say we do, but quite another thing to practice it with genuine reciprocity.


  7. Gary says:

    I agree with Grizz’s observations. I made a decision in the 80’s to consider and treat brethren in Christian Churches, Independents and Disciples, the same as my a capella Church of Christ brethren- as brothers and sisters not in the extended family but in the immediate family. Many blessings came my way through the years from that decision. No one of the three is a utopia by any means. All three have our challenges. But I’m convinced we have so much more in common than what separated us in the past and we are stronger working together whenever possible than we are apart. Each “stream” brings strengths that the other two can learn and benefit from. Our heritage with Stone and Campbell doesn’t end with our American churches. The British Commonwealth Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are another stream of our historical movement with a rich history of their own. So many individuals have moved from one group to another that the personal networks are already in place when we cross the old lines of division.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    I entirely agree that many Churches of Christ would distrust a ministerial candidate who’d spent some time among the Christian Churches. Many wouldn’t care. But so long as instrumental music is an issue, time spent among the instrumental Christian Churches will be an issue.

    The same issue arises for time spent in a “community church.”

    It’s not necessarily that the elders care that much but that there will often be a group of members who see instrumental music as a salvation issue — or who are unwilling to be branded as tolerating instrumental music among their families and friends. In fact, quite often it’s the “You ruined Thanksgiving!” members who object the most — not that they see a real issue but they are closely tied to family who would divide a family over instrumental music — and they don’t want to lose their grandparents, uncles, or cousins because of the preacher hired by their church.

    Hence, you can have a congregation that is 100% convinced that instruments are not a sin and yet have a substantial percentage rebel at taking an overt action to approve of instrumental music — a joint service with instrumental Christian, hiring a preacher with an instrumental blot on his resume, whatever — because they can’t bear to suffer the disappointment or anger of their relatives back home.

    I am convinced that this is light, light persecution to suffer for the sake of unity — which is a command. I don’t see where we have the right to divide the church for the sake of familial relationships. As painful as it can be, it’s not as painful to us as dividing the body of Christ is to him.

  9. Jay Guin says:


    I plan to follow the series on search for a minister with a brief series on ministers searching for a job — not that I know that much about being a preacher in search for a job. But I did learn a few mistakes not to make …

  10. Laymond says:

    Jay said ; “I am convinced that this is light, light persecution to suffer for the sake of unity — which is a command. I don’t see where we have the right to divide the church for the sake of familial relationships. As painful as it can be, it’s not as painful to us as dividing the body of Christ is to him.”

    Jay how come the people who are satisfied with the way things are, are always accused of being the people who are dividing the church ? if it is not necessary to play an instrument in service to be saved, why is the change necessary? to satisfy the wants of man, or God. people who claim progressive status, invariably comes up with ” if you don’t change, you are splitting the congregation. Why are the people who came up with the idea of change not dividing the church ? Oh well I forgot what Paul said about those ticklish ears. maybe that’s it.

  11. Larry Cheek says:

    I would think it would be much easier for these ex-preachers that want to return to that service again to start a new congregation from scratch, I would suspect that they each have some contacts with what we might say ex-members of all denominations that decided to stop meeting with churches that need to be given a boost in the right direction. Nearly all congregations began small and grew, and these individuals may be the most teachable.

  12. Gary says:

    I knew a couple only a few years ago who immediately left their Church of Christ when the possibility of having a mixed a capella and instrumental worship was discussed even though it was rejected as the timing not being right. They left their Church of Christ and went to a Fundamentalist church with instrumental music! When questioned about the irony the wife replied that Churches of Christ are not supposed to have instrumental music! What made this situation even more ironic was that this woman had family in a Christian Church and the couple had no problem visiting and worshiping there. When she died subsequently the minister of the Christian Church performed her funeral. Rationality flies out the window for many Church of Christ folk when the subject of instrumental music comes up as a possibility in their local church.

  13. Gary says:

    Another couple in that same church left it when women were allowed to do two things publicly in the worship- pass communion trays and the offering baskets and read scripture. The wife made the decision to leave and the husband followed. Her reason? “What will I do when my mother comes to visit?” They ended up however with an Evangelical megachurch as their new home church. And her mother? They visited a more traditional Church of Christ when the mother would visit. But they never entered the door again of their former Church of Christ.

  14. Jim says:

    A church should also consider hiring a seminary student who is in his or her last year of seminary. This is done in many small Jewish temples and has been done for decades. During the last year of seminary a rabbinical student goes to a congregation one or two times a month for the year and learns how to work with a congregation and a board. He or she will teach Sunday school, teach Hebrew, perform pastoral care duties and learn how to be a rabbi. The only thing they can’t do is conduct a wedding, and that is because of the legal aspect. Some may be asked to conduct a funeral. This knowledge is hard to teach at seminary but could be considered on the job training. Churches should consider this and give a student a real chance to prove him or herself. The experience is great and the congregation is a source of a letter of recommendation and may help the student get his or her first pulpit.

    Also, the student will generally not want to get too political and the congregation will get used to hearing different ways of approaching various texts and ideas.

    As someone who is under 40, there is a problem these days which is the fear of hiring someone lacking experience. Everyone had to have a first job at some time. Sometimes you need to just take a gamble and hire someone young who demonstrates potential. Don’t do like academics and try to hire someone for life. You will rarely find the perfect candidate.

    There is nothing wrong with being a stepping stone where someone young comes and works really hard and gets a start. I know people who get mad when someone leaves for bigger and better, but I can guarantee you that the person will remember who gave him/her a start when his/her resume was short and experience was lacking. That person will be likely to hire the next generation and train him/ her like he/she was.

    I believe this is as biblical as it comes. Of whom much is given much Is expected.

  15. Charles McLean says:

    Laymond puts me to mind of the question, “Who is dividing the church?” to which the answer is, “Those who insist on doing what I won’t allow, or allowing what I don’t do.”

    Fact is, changes in the CoC such as are often discussed do not divide the church at all. They merely shift pieces of an already-divided church into other pigeonholes. Brother A is already divided from the believers in the community church down the street. So, when his elders open fellowship with that group, Brother A leaves in order to maintain his existing division. Sister B is already divided from people who accept sprinkling as baptism. On the day that her local religion club ceases to reflect her division, she takes her fellowship down the road to someone who DOES reflect her division. So who divided the church? We did. But we did it long before the elders decided to allow an instrumental service or hired a woman to direct the nursery and children’s church program.

    A Sunday morning address change does not a division make. For the most part, such accusations of divisiveness are really just a riff on that song from The Sound of Music

    “Oh how do you make them stay
    And do things just as you say?
    How do you keep them hushed and sitting down?”

  16. Charles McLean says:

    Oh, and sadly, some of these family members for whose sake we maintain our divisions died years ago.

  17. Jay Guin says:

    Jim wrote,

    A church should also consider hiring a seminary student who is in his or her last year of seminary [as an interim preacher].

    Excellent thoughts.

  18. Jay Guin says:


    You’re right that many argue — or have found through experience — that it’s easier to start a church from scratch than to revitalize an existing congregation. But I’m very skeptical of that approach.

    I’ve seen preachers move to a town, start a new church, just to have a job — while stealing sheep from other churches in town. They’re really just creating division and weakening the Kingdom.

    And I’ve seen dowdy, tradition-bound churches revitalized and begin to grow anew.

    There are, of course, many barriers for an existing church to adopt a new mindset and new mission, but the biggest barrier is usually the eldership.

    But the second biggest barrier is often a staff that wants to make the changes necessary but who fail to love their members enough to handle the transition with compassion for those who struggle with change. The ministers often see the change process as “us vs. them” rather than “us only with them” — if that makes any sense.

    I think you have love your members so much that running off 20% of the membership in order to grow is unthinkable. When the 20% see how much you love them, then they’ll be willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

  19. Jay Guin says:

    Laymond asked,

    if it is not necessary to play an instrument in service to be saved, why is the change necessary?

    You assume that what church is about is the salvation of the members. It’s also about the salvation of your neighbors. The question should be rephrased, “Is it necessary to play an instrument in service for your neighbors to be saved?”

    Might not be in your church — if you’re effectively seeking and saving the lost. But if your song style is a barrier to bringing others to Jesus where you are, why would you want to stay the same?

    The point is that the misson we’ve been given by God is far more important than how comfortable Thanksgiving dinner is for us each year.

  20. Jim says:

    Thanks. Lately it is looking like if you want a moderate student, look at ACU or Pepperdine. Conservative students would come from Freed or Harding. I know ACU has some female students too. It might be that 2 students could go to one large congregation and split the duties. They could alternate preaching sermons. A really moderate congregation could let the female student preach too on Sunday morning.

    I also am aware that in very small Catholic Churches one priest often serves two or three churches. Mass times are staggered on Sundays so that the priest can go between them. This may be what small cofCs have to do, share a minister and each contribute to his pay.

  21. Gary says:

    As a Lipscomb graduate I remember when we called FH Hardly Free and they referred to us as David Liberal. But I have been impressed over the years in learning of or meeting so many progressives who are FH graduates from Leroy Garrett to young adults now in their 20’s. I asked one of them one time about this and she replied that they were taught to think for themselves. Relatively few ministers come from Pepperdine because CoC students are usually not more than 10-20% of the student body.

  22. Jim says:

    That’s good that Freed graduates are taught to think for themselves. I am not sure if the same can be said for Harding SBS graduates.

  23. Jay Guin says:


    I’ve recently been involved in a campus minister search (still ongoing). I’ve found that among these relatively young ministers, you can’t judge theology by their alma mater. We’ve had some very progressive ministers with degrees from some very conservative universities.

    It seems that all the universities are graduating students who can think for themselves, and a lot of students are studying their way out of legalism. (And I think the teaching is less legalistic than it once was even in reputedly conservative universities. You can’t teach sound hermeneutics and exegesis without equipping your students to find the truth for themselves.)

    I would urge any search committee to give little thought to where the candidates’ degree came from.

  24. Gary says:

    Having one minister serve two or three small congregations is a great idea in theory and has worked well apparently for United Methodists. I once knew a Methodist ministry couple, husband and wife, who together served four churches. The problem with trying to do that in Churches of Christ is that we are too diverse. It’s often hard enough for a minister to work well with the leadership of one church. A poor minister trying to do that with two or three would go crazy. Of course that would never likely happen because what are the chances of several Churches of Christ agreeing to call the same minister?

  25. Jay Guin says:

    PS — The idea of sharing a preacher among two or three churches takes us back to the 19th Century circuit-riding preachers — who would rotate Sunday by Sunday (horses didn’t go fast enough to visit two churches the same day). This used to be the typical experience for a small-town church.

    Now we don’t even consider the possibility — I guess because (a) few have seen it and (b) we take congregational autonomy to absurd extremes.

    It is, in fact, a very good idea.

  26. Jim says:

    Thanks. The other alternative would be the circuit rider enters the 21st century. I have a feeling that large congregations who have multiple ministers on staff would be willing to let one of their ministers deliver a Sunday sermon live to a small congregation via Skype or whatever new video conferencing software is out there. Of course the small congregation should pay a small fee to the large congregation for the minister’s time but I’m sure that it could be worked out. Then perhaps one Sunday per month the minister comes to the congregation in person. Basically the small congregation would be serviced by the large congregation without surrendering any autonomy. Now if the small congregation wanted to become a satellite or subsidiary of a large congregation I’m sure that could be worked out contractually as well.

  27. Gary says:

    Jim, the conservative retrenchment at Harding for so many years now has been a disappointment although a progressive spirit is still very much alive there and, last I knew, at the Downtown congregation. I don’t know anything about the new President but hopefully he will be better than his predecessor.

  28. Jim says:

    My sources are not optimistic that the new pres will moderate any. We all doubt that he will let women have increased roles and/or get rid of the blacklist of prohibited speakers.

  29. Laymond says:

    Jay said; “You assume that what church is about is the salvation of the members. It’s also about the salvation of your neighbors. The question should be rephrased, “Is it necessary to play an instrument in service for your neighbors to be saved?”
    In other words, don’t worry about members of God’s Kingdom, and keeping them on track , they can always be replaced, the main objective is filling those pews, keeps the money rolling in, so we can hire a more famous preacher, after all is that not what it takes to have that 1,000 member church.
    I have a little news for Jay, the bibles tells us to love our neighbors, not save your neighbor, I do believe that job belongs to someone else. I think Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep, tend my sheep” not go buy me more sheep.
    “Is it necessary to play an instrument in service for your neighbors to be saved?” I don’t remember seeing that anywhere in scripture. But if it is there, there are going to be a lot of us hunting harps in hell. As far I know the same thing required of me, is required of my neighbor. believe, repent, and obey.

  30. Gary says:

    That is sad. There were times in Harding’s history when it was a relative bastion of moderation for Churches of Christ. The story of President J.N. Armstrong in For Freedom by Sears is an inspiring account of how some quarters of Churches of Christ never gave in to legalism and the conservative regime.

  31. Jay Guin says:

    Jim and Gary,

    Bruce McLarty is conservative in terms of a cappella singing. But we should not assume that means he rejects the salvation of those who disagree or that he holds a legalistic view of grace.

    The strongest evidence if favor of Bruce is the quality of graduates being produced by Harding. I have two sons who graduated from there. Several kids from my congregation are there now.

    And they seem to be getting an excellent education in Bible and otherwise.

    There is a real danger that as the Churches of Christ struggle over instruments, grace, etc. that we stereotype those we perceive to be our opponents. When I began this blog, I attempted to stay out of the instrumental music controversy, figuring that the real issue is grace — whether we accept the salvation of those with whom we disagree.

    In fact, some of the most grace-filled Christians I know believe that instruments are sin. But they love and accept me despite our disagreements.

    On that basis, I feel obliged to give Bruce the benefit of the doubt and not rush to judgment on what is ultimately a side issue. I mean, I think our children can receive an excellent education and be well prepared for lives of ministry even though the president insists that they sing a cappella in chapel.

  32. Jay Guin says:

    Jim wrote,

    Now if the small congregation wanted to become a satellite or subsidiary of a large congregation I’m sure that could be worked out contractually as well.

    It’s an interesting thought. I’m aware of at least one dying congregation that revitalized itself by merging with a larger church and becoming a second campus for that church.

    That required some amazingly courageous leaders.

  33. Gary says:

    Jay, I agree with your point. Regarding a capella singing, I love it even though I now worship in an instrumental congregation. I wish Churches of Christ had embraced a capella singing as a beautiful tradition of our heritage rather than as a mark of doctrinal correctness. The earliest preacher I listened to regularly as a child emphasized the wrongs of instrumental music more than the resurrection of Christ.

  34. Larry Cheek says:

    I realize through your comments that I did not convey my thoroughly enough. It was not my intention for the starting of the new congregation to draw from active members of another assembly. I believe that there is an ample supply of individuals in any area that have given up on or been driven away from the assembling together with believers. Just look the number of people in any area and compare that to those that are attending any church. The harvest is ripe but there are not enough workers at the churches performing successfully at gathering them for the assemblies. It may not be the churches fault, but I see it very easy for members of large, I’m speaking of greater than 50 members, which is larger than most churches in this area, to see their duty of service to the Lord fulfilled by their attendance on Sunday morning only. Of course there probably is a good percentage of the members at any congregation that attend all the services of the church, but then their time is filled with member relationships. My point being that there is hardly none that will make themselves available for personal outreach studies directed to those that are not attending churches, actually they may be coworkers and the suchlike of the most faithful and dedicated members of the church. But, they are neglected. To me a small group of believers working at growing an assembly tends to convey a more caring attitude to those outside, and they tend to be more available to communicate without the ritual of organized assemblies. Yes, I understand that everything has to have some kind of order or there will be ciaos. I believe that within lessons we have studied on your blog, God did not set up a ritualistic order for assemblies, that when broken were condemning of the members. Christians have in the past and in many areas are now still Christians even though they are not allowed the freedom of expression that we currently have. It appears there was during the persecution, an underground church, and all of us know individuals that cannot attend the organized services of local congregations. Who better to reach out to people in these circumstances than an ex-preacher, referring to someone who is not presently involved with duties dedicated to a peculiar assembly. I can speak this from personal experience. Since the local preacher where I was attending, there were no Elders and he did not want any, decided that I was not good for his elderly congregation and accused me of teaching things that did not follow his guidelines, I found myself outside that assembly, of course the church there is dead only barely enough members to pay the utilities. I have visited many churches hoping to establish communication links, some were CoC, some members expressed a desire to study with me hoping to resolve the issues, I was willing and explained anytime and any where, but they have never stepped up to the plate. Of all the other churches that I have visited are always glad to see someone visit and will send cards inviting you back but none have even offered to have a private study. It seemed to be offensive to them when I even asked if it was possible to meet and study outside the confines of the designated classes with the guided literature. Of course probably the Pastor is the only member that is allowed to communicate in that fashion. I have more and more problems with Christian communities (as you should notice I do now believe that we CoC are not the only Christians) that give the impression that Christianity only exists within those who attend the assembly at a building.

  35. Jim says:

    I hope Bruce succeeds and gets his own advisers who will not just agree with everything but will dispense real advice. When I was there in the 90’s I did not see much open mindedness. I do think they should put away the blacklist and let people speak there who may have differing opinions.

  36. David Purcell says:

    Anyone remember the old chapel at ACC? Nothing comes close to the acoustics of
    that wooden tabernacle of my memory. I’ve seen men singers close their mouths and
    listen in tears when they first visited.

  37. Gary says:

    Jim, Pepperdine started to blacklist Milton Jones years ago from their Bible Lectures when his congregation began using instrumental music. But the other guys who were big draws stuck together and said they would not come if Milton was not invited as well. The idea was quickly dropped.

  38. David Purcell says:

    I love the church and will defend it always, warts and all. I loved the old singing in
    the frame structures of my youth. No amplifiers needed. Now the only way to find such joyful singing is in the country churches, primitive Baptists, sacred harp etc.
    Where I worship the singing is awful. It’s true. And the one dying church before was
    the same. The reason is acoustical. The higher the ceiling the lower the reverberation.

    Hymns need to be felt as well as heard. You know some if not most churchgoers
    have developed tin ears. Or they just like everything modern except for banjos &
    guitars. You have to admit a lousy pianist or organist is not very inspiring. I realize
    that IM is not a salvation issue but the church has not done due diligence on the
    subject. It would be disruptive to try to convince an acappella congregation to
    bring in instruments at this late stage.

    This happened at R. Hills when the leaders reneged on the promise to keep them
    out and Christians I know left for that reason. If you doubt that I can sustain the
    statement. It worked out for them because they found a committed ‘working’ church
    in the Metroplex. The “Hills” mission to reunite the Disciples, Christian and CofC
    is commendable and appears to be successful. There are three campuses in DFW
    that are largely unrecognizable as traditional CofC not including the mother church.

    What is most regrettable personally is never being exposed to the Ketchersides, the Hooks and other great thinkers until recently. One more observation, I was tempted
    to purchase books by Bart Erhman until I heard him say (youtube) he no longer was
    a believer in the divinity of Christ. All his scholarly research produced an agnostic.
    His biblical research led him to expect an imminent parousia in the first century.
    I know another respected Christian blogger who fell away for a time because of the
    same conundrum.

  39. Grizz says:


    I just read your response to my post. I find it amazing that you consider yourself progressive after reading your comments. I guess we all like to see ourselves as positively as possible. And, after all, you actually are progressive in most of what I read, though you are NOT progressive in this response (in the least!).

    You wrote:

    “Hence, you can have a congregation that is 100% convinced that instruments are not a sin and yet have a substantial percentage rebel at taking an overt action to approve of instrumental music — a joint service with instrumental Christian, hiring a preacher with an instrumental blot on his resume, whatever — because they can’t bear to suffer the disappointment or anger of their relatives back home.”

    1. What overt action to approve IM?

    When we hire a former Catholic, are we approving the RCC? When we hire a former Baptist, are we approving offering a sinner’s prayer invitation? When we hire a former Anglican, are we approving homosexual ministers?

    Where is the scripture that states a preacher must have been raised in the churches of Christ?

    Some felt Timothy should have been raised a Jew. What did Paul say about that? Did they circumcise all of the Gentiles? Did Paul lead Timothy to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices? Did Paul warn the churches NOT to allow Timothy to preach? Did Paul warn Timothy to be careful about letting anyone know he was a Gentile Christian?

    Are we so confused that we think the US Constitutional requirement for presidential candidate eligibility (residing a minimum of 14 years prior to running AND only candidates born in the US running after they become 35 years of age – U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Paragraph 5) applies to church of Christ preachers?

    2. What happens if we have a Sunday singing assembly with other area churches of Christ and a Christian Church member shows up? Is the whole assembly stained by the intrusion?

    And if this is purely an emotional response only, as someone suggested, are the churches of Christ suddenly promoting emotionalism instead of the love of Jesus? This is not a development which I have heard anywhere else. How do you usually deal with emotional outbursts? Do you validate them when you are “100% convinced” there is no scriptural foundation to allow such a response to influence whoever it might reach? We certainly could not hire a Paul under those circumstances, could we?

    I do not claim to be a Paul. I do claim to be a blood-bought child of God. I also claim to be called to preach the gospel by God – a calling He has verified over the years in both churches of Christ and Christian Church assemblies.

    3. Since when has it become fashionable (or even acceptable) for church of Christ elders to lead according to how it might be perceived by “relatives back home”? Is this supposed to be a progressive idea?

    Jay, with this as your response, I see an imbalance between spiritual insights guided by the Holy Spirit versus hypocritical judgmentalism coupled with fear of popular perception.

    If this is our condition, we are certainly well -under-developed in comparison with the first century churches to whom Paul wrote. Rather than reflecting 20 centuries of progress, or even a few decades of progress, this shows definite signs of regression.

    Frankly, I am disappointed to find such a response here from you, Jay.



  40. Grizz says:


    You also wrote:

    “I am convinced that this is light, light persecution to suffer for the sake of unity — which is a command. I don’t see where we have the right to divide the church for the sake of familial relationships. As painful as it can be, it’s not as painful to us as dividing the body of Christ is to him.”

    So I ask, Why are we persecuting fellow Christians? Is that not Satan’s work? Whose side are we on when we persecute a fellow Christian in an way?

    Also, who is dividing the church over familial relationships if not those who claim to be preserving the familial relationships of members whose families might disapprove of a new preacher being hired in a place where they do not live and do not attend assemblies?

    This comment of yours above makes absolutely no sense to me. What did you mean?


  41. Jay Guin says:


    I said that people act this way. I did not say they should act this way. It’s true that church members behave in this manner. That doesn’t mean they necessarily get their way — but leaders should proceed advised as to how some members will react.

  42. Jay Guin says:


    There are church members who will leave a congregation or even divide the church to preserve relationships with their family, even though they know their family is binding laws that God does not bind and refusing fellowship contrary to the Bible. They put family ahead of God. It’s wrong.

    When we consider it more important to have a pleasant Thanksgiving meal than to honor God, we’ve shown ourselves unwilling to suffer even the least persecution for the sake of the gospel.

    The gospel is contradicted by such behavior because we acquiesce in the refusal of people close to us to extend fellowship across lines of disagreement. If my sister won’t eat with me because I worship at a church that uses an instrument, she’s the one dividing the church. She’s the one guilty of ripping apart the body of Christ. If I submit to her demands, I not only allow her to succeed in her efforts, I affirm her view of the gospel — a “gospel” that demands division over such things.

  43. Grizz says:

    Jay, Thanks for the two answers immediately above this. Needless to say, I was shocked that it seemed you were saying that this is just the way it is and so we must accept it – which is how it seemed to me to read … even after several times in which I read-through your entire remarks. I am happy to find that I misread it, even many times over.

    You responded to Larry saying, “I think you have love your members so much that running off 20% of the membership in order to grow is unthinkable.”

    Could you explain what you meant by that?


  44. Jay Guin says:

    Grizz asked,

    You responded to Larry saying, “I think you have love your members so much that running off 20% of the membership in order to grow is unthinkable.”

    There is cynical view of human nature that old Christians are unteachable and therefore must be run off to accomplish any real change. This tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we don’t even try to explain our views — we just impose change. Or we give up and plant a new church to steal members from existing churches.

    Notice how often it’s the hired staff that insists on the necessity of running people off, whereas it’s the elders, who’ve invested their lives in church, who resist. Why the difference? It’s about love. Rather than the choice being between running people off (staff) or kowtowing to their scruples (elders), we should look for ways to love them into change.

  45. Grizz says:


    I really appreciate this answer.

    At the first church where I worked full-time, there were about 65 or so in attendance when I arrived. Over the next 16 months I was asked to preside (?) at 46 funerals of members. Still, at the end of that 16 months we were averaging almost 140 in attendance each Sunday morning. When there truly needs to be a change, preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and let God work it out His way. We started with 65, had 46 funerals, and ended with 140. God’s math can do amazing things for a congregation.

    Trust God and love everybody as much as you possibly can, and way past where it is just a little uncomfortable. Treat God’s family like they were your only hope to continue breathing. Cherish them and they will surrender to Jesus – and start challenging you to take them further, so be ready.

    The most fun fact during that time is that the church was located in a little bitty town that only had 31 residents. The next closest town had 250 and was 4 miles away. Another town, 8 miles away, had a population of 2500, but also had 39 churches. The closest state university was 24 miles away and the biggest university was 40 miles away. The entire area was farming country. Give me a small farm community church any day!


  46. Alabama John says:

    Amazing what can happen when you bury the trouble makers. LOL

    Good job and happy to hear something positive!!!

  47. Gary says:

    Jay, I like your idea of loving people into change. But died in the wool Church of Christ folks are so stubborn and resistant to change at least in certain areas. The couple I mentioned who left a CoC over the possibility of instrumental music being used was fine with allowing women to read scripture and pass communion trays and offering baskets. But others who left over the expanded role for women said they would have been fine with instrumental music. So many raised in Churches of Christ have hidden landmines on certain issues. In general I have found that those who come into the CoC from a different religious background are much more amenable to change. The born and bred members I think also tend to be hardest on the minister.

    Regarding not being willing to lose 20% of the members to make a change, the question then becomes how many are churches willing to lose when they can’t be loved into change? 10%, 5%, 2%? It is also true that no one really knows how many will actually change until the change is made.

  48. Gary says:

    Correction: It is also true that no one knows how many will actually leave until the change is made.

  49. David Purcell says:

    The two main obstacles hindering growth in my area are exclusivism (rejection of
    ‘other sheep’) and entrenched misunderstanding of the afterlife. Like Jay said IM is
    a side issue that should never further divide the church.

    A test of that issue is taking place, starting last Sunday, at Heritage FW. A third Sunday IM service is proposed and according to my source five elders have resigned.

    As the progressive boulder begins it’s slide downhill some get crushed, some jump aside, some breathe a sigh of relief. The binding must end at some point or growth
    is sacrificed. Using “hellfire” is counterproductive exegesis, leading to unrealistic
    teachings. Likewise binding our ladies with misapplied text is revolting to many kingdom servants but education in love must proceed sudden correction.

  50. Jim says:

    Sunday schedule: 8 am, no female participation, no IM
    9 am, female participation, a Capella.
    10 am, female participation, IM
    11 am, male participation only, IM

    Matter settled. Donations should not fall off by more than 5%.

  51. Gary says:

    Jim, that concept actually worked well in the 90’s for what became the largest church in Australia, the Wesley Mission in Sydney. Their lead minister was a Church of Christ minister whose name I can not remember. They had 55 worship assembles, each tailored for a specific group of people with common characteristics, in 1996 when I heard their minister speak at the World Convention of Churches of Christ in Calgary. He was an inspiring preacher. He and his church were once featured on the cover of the Australian edition of Time. Unfortunately it’s much harder for smaller churches to pull that concept off.

  52. Jim says:

    Australia also has the Uniting Church which merged a few denominations into one.

    The old saying in the South holds true, you got 3 _____, then you will have 4 churches.

  53. Gary says:

    I can understand to some extent the crisis of conscience that arises when a church with only one assembly adopts instrumental music (although the person in the pew is still only singing not singing and playing and so is not actually being asked to possibly do something that would violate their conscience). But when a church with multiple assemblies adds an instrumental service and elders and “mature” Christians leave that necessarily means that they see an a capella only church as essential to being part of Christ’s church. That seems to come close to putting the anti-instrumental music doctrine on the same level as elements of the gospel like the resurrection of Jesus. To me that is when an otherwise beautiful tradition of a capella singing crosses the line and becomes the cult of Church-of-Christism. Elders above all others should know better.

  54. Jim says:

    Nobody would really have a problem if the church of Christ just said by tradition we are a cappella and intend to remain that way. At least then the statement would be honest. Generally, the pervasive idea is that the use of instrumental music damns one to hell.

  55. Alabama John says:

    I do not know a church of Christ that wouldn’t say it is a sin to have instrumental music in the church building. To have a song leader play a note to get everyone on key is a recent debated issue as that would not be allowed until a few years ago.
    In a members house it is OK with most to have a guitar or piano played, but a few will not sing or attend anywhere there will be an instrument playing along.
    There was a debate over a person losing his voice box and had a mechanism of some sort installed he could speak through as whether he could sing and make music though that human made machine in a service in the building?
    This kind of debating has run so many off and will still continue doing so. Just have an older member or older former member recall what was not allowed under penalty of hell that is forgotten and allowed today.
    We are our own worse enemy.

  56. terry says:

    We have acappella and instrumental services. While I used to be strongly against instrumental worship I now prefer it. Great to see so many brothers and sisters using their God-given musical talents praising God. IM was implemented to grow the church and it has worked. Many at IM services are not people you would see in traditional services. There have been 140 baptisms this year and a lot are like the folks Jesus reached out during his ministry. We all know how powerful music is and the impact it has on society; we should use God-given musical talent to reach the lost and bring people to Christ.

  57. Gary says:

    AJ, the debate over an artificial voice box singing in church is amazing. Life really is stranger than fiction. It reminds me of the debate some years ago among our far right brethren of whether a woman could scripturally speak in a worship service as a translator for those speaking another language. Ira Y. Rice, Jr., took the moderate position and said that a woman could scripturally translate because she was the same as a microphone!

  58. David Purcell says:

    Borrowing from the ‘white paper’ on IM by the Heritage CofC: “Even Alexander
    Campbell, one of the preeminent leaders in the Restoration Movement, recognized
    that the NT “prescribes no ritual or liturgy, but leaves the worshippers to act from that
    holy spirit which the gospel inspires.” Which begs the question: What if unrestrained
    joy broke out in our worship services?

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