“Every Man Can’t Be a Great Preacher”

George Shidler: "Every man can't be a great preacher..."

George Shidler (1776-1828) – sometimes spelled “Shideler” – was converted to Christ in 1808 through the preaching of David Purviance. Two years later he was engaged in the work of preaching the gospel, doing most of his work in Ohio. He preached for eighteen years before he passed away at the age of fifty-two.

One of the aspects of Restoration History that I enjoy is learning about the lesser-known men who contributed to the work of preaching the gospel. I first learned about George Shidler when I read The Biography of Elder David Purviance. He was a “minor” figure in this book about one of the often forgotten men of the movement. In the anecdote quoted below, Shidler talked about his feeling of inadequacy for the work of preaching when he compared himself to one he considered to be great example of a preacher – a man named Brother Kincade.

“About the time Bro. Shidler commenced preaching, Bro. Kincade preached in his neighborhood. Everybody went to hear the great man — Bro. Shidler among the rest. He had never heard such preaching. It seemed to him he knew the Bible by heart — he knew everything and he himself knew nothing. He went home, measuring himself by Kincade, and therefore overwhelmed with a sense of his ignorance and utter unfitness for the work of preaching. He said to himself, ‘If I could preach like Kincade, I might preach: but ignorant as I am I had better quit it.’ For near a week he was miserable, under the temptation to quit the ministry, because he could not preach like Kincade. He mourned, and wept, and prayed before the Lord, and at last was delivered from his trouble thus. Said he: ‘Every man can’t be a great preacher — every man can’t preach like Kincade — some preacher in the world must be the least of all the preachers, and if it pleases God that George Shidler should be the man, be it so. God helping me, therefore, I will try to occupy my one talent till the Master comes.’ From this time forward he was happy in doing what he could in the vineyard of the Lord.” (The Biography of Elder David Purviance, p. 259).

It is not uncommon for preachers – whether they are well-known or they labor in obscurity – to be tempted to compare themselves with some preacher they admire and become discouraged that they are not a “great preacher” like “Brother So-and-so.” However, there are a few problems with making comparisons like this:

  1. We place ourselves as the judge over ourselves and our work – Jesus is the only one qualified to judge us (James 4:12). Paul told the Corinthians, “I do not even judge myself” (1 Corinthians 4:3, ESV). We stand or fall before the Lord in judgment (Romans 14:4). Regarding comparing ourselves with others, Paul said those who “measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves…are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
  2. All faithful gospel preachers are fellow workers – Paul wrote, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). Both Paul and Apollos were serving God in a common cause – the cause of the gospel – according to the opportunities that were before them.
  3. All those who labor in the kingdom are important – In the context of the local church, Paul explained to the Corinthians that each part of the body – no matter how important or unimportant it seemed to us – was a vital part of the whole (1 Corinthians 12:14-27). When Jesus gave the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), He explained that all those who worked – whether they were called at “the eleventh hour” or they had “borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day” – were rewarded equally by the Lord.
  4. We will never know the lasting impact our labors will have – Commenting on the response of the Samaritans, Jesus told His disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor” (John 4:35-38). Often a harvest can result from the seeds that were planted by those who will never see the fruit of their labors. We cannot know what impact our efforts to preach the word will have on others, but we can continue to work diligently anyway.

The way Shidler responded to this feeling of inadequacy is a good lesson for any of us who are tempted with these feelings from time to time. Citing Jesus’ parable of the talents, he said, “I will try to occupy my one talent till the Master comes.”

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master gave his servants different amounts of money to manage while he was away – five talents, two talents, and one talent. The servant with five talents gained five more and was rewarded. The servant with two talents did not gain five more like the first man, but he gained two more and was rewarded for his faithfulness. The reason why the servant with one talent was punished was not because he had fewer talents than the others; instead, it was because he did not exercise good stewardship over his single talent. He did not have to gain five talents or even two talents to be considered faithful. He only needed to put his one talent to use in the master’s service.

Even if a preacher considers himself to be a “one talent man” in comparison with others, he can and must serve the Lord to the best of his abilities and opportunities. Rather than being discouraged by comparing his work with others, he can, like Shidler, be “happy in doing what he [can] in the vineyard of the Lord.”

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  1. I once considered myself one of the biggest preachers in the brotherhood and then I lost 65 lbs. Sometimes our brethren tend to make judgments not based on John 7:24 and some of those judgments are only based on what they think they see. Such a method is dangerous and has resulted in overthrowing the faith of many people. In my years preaching I have come to understand that I am but a servant of the Lord who gave himself for me. I am nothing more than that and happy about it!