Heart Talks

By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer

Chapter 1


By W. A. Sellew


     "How do you like your preacher?" is a question frequently asked, and the reluctant reply in too many cases is somewhat as follows: "Well, that is a difficult question to answer. He is a good fellow, but some way he does not seem to build up our church or congregation. We would like a change at conference time, but I suppose we will have to get along with him another year." In other words that preacher is not in demand; he is not a success. He is, so far in his ministerial life, practically a failure.

     Why is he not a success? He is fairly well educated, he has a nice family, his children are well behaved. He is a man of clean habits, an honest man, "a good fellow," yet in spite of all this and many other good qualities, he is not wanted. In order that the question at the head of this chapter may be intelligently answered, it may be necessary to specify what it means to be a successful preacher as it is viewed from the standpoint of this article.

     1. The possession of intellectual attainments, be they ever so varied or brilliant, will not of themselves make a man a successful minister of the gospel. They may be helpful and very desirable, but they are not necessary. They may greatly add to his success, but they do not constitute the elemental basis of success. We must insist -- and very strongly, too -- upon this fact, although in these days of formal and worldly religion, this position is very unpopular and is one that will be met with much criticism.

     2. To build up a large congregation or to gather together a large church membership cannot be accepted as conclusive evidence that a preacher is successful in his vocation. These conditions are very generally held in these times to be the very best, and in most cases the only conclusive proof of success that leads to ecclesiastical power and promotion. With this position we take issue and strongly contend that this very thing (estimating a preacher's success by numbers) is working irreparable injury to vital godliness and to the true prosperity of God's cause on earth. Ministers who make numbers their standard are a most serious menace to the cause of Christ and a great hindrance to the efforts of those preachers whose aim is to build up a spiritual church. This is the true basis and standard of success in the ministry. Where this standard prevails there will result a stronger and deeper spirituality, which will manifest itself by increased attendance at prayer meetings. Family piety will be developed, family altars will be erected which have been neglected and the church membership and the congregation will, almost without exception, be increased.

     With these limitations we are now ready to answer the question, "Why some preachers are not in demand." There are very many reasons that might be given, but two or three at most will cover nine-tenths of the cases involved.

     1. First of all some preachers are actually lazy. This is not an elegant word and it may sound harsh and disagreeable to some "ears polite" and it may be especially unpleasant to those to whom it applies, but nevertheless it is very expressive; it is a word in common use and everybody will know just what is meant when we use it. We might say they are "indolent" or "averse to labor" or "disinclined to action," but we prefer at this to say just what is meant, and say they are lazy.

     Many preachers fall into this habit who would not have it in some other vocation. A preacher is not driven and crowded to his work like many other persons. The mechanic is routed out by the alarm clock, the factory whistle, or by the call of the watchman. The farmer is pushed to his work by the weather or the urgency of the season, but none of these things affect the preacher. He may, if he is so inclined, "take it easy." He can do now what is to be done, or he may put it off until another time. There is no one who is authorized to make him go or do. Unless a preacher takes himself in hand and forces himself to his duties it is quite easy to become careless, then indolent and then lazy.

     Why should not a preacher be as diligent in his business as mechanics, laborers, farmers and business men are in their affairs? The very first of the rules for a preacher's conduct given by Mr. Wesley emphasizes this phase of a preacher's life. It says, "Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed, neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary." No preacher can make a success who ignores this injunction. "Seest thou a man diligent in business? He shall stand before kings" (Prov. 22:29). With only ordinary ability and limited attainments a preacher who will work at his vocation as other successful men work at theirs will be in demand.

     A preacher gives himself to God by a special and peculiar dedication. He gives up secular employment with the distinct pledge that he Will be faithful and diligent in God's business. His time and effort to their full limit belong to God. What excuse can he give at the final accounting for that wasted time, that neglected opportunity? When he sits idly around the home or spends hours and frequently a whole day in merely social visiting, sometimes bordering dangerously on gossiping, he has broken his vow to God, wasted that which is more valuable than property and which it is difficult to ever redeem. Those who are supporting him in this idleness are also greatly wronged. They are all the while putting their money into a hole. All the conditions of such a life cry out to God for a radical change and for speedy reformation.

     2. Another fruitful cause of failure in a preacher's life, perhaps equally so with the one above mentioned, and frequently accompanying it, is the lack of pastoral visiting. How a preacher can hope to succeed in his vocation without systematic and persistent effort in this direction is beyond comprehension. "Absent treatment" may be permitted to the physician, and it has been claimed that it is even effective in divine faith healing, but it will never answer the requirements of a pastor. He must meet people face to face in their own environments. He must for a time enter into their very lives and hear at first hand their "tale of woe" to become a "cure for souls." In the vow taken when a preacher is ordained a deacon, the case is put in clear and unmistakable terms. It is his office to search for the sick, poor and impotent that they may be visited and relieved. "Will you do this gladly and willingly?" The answer is, "I will do so by the help of God." Here is a solemn vow and pledge to do the very thing that will bring him success, and yet how many are found making excuses for not doing it.

     It is of no use to mention here the petty and trifling excuses that are usually given for the neglect of this plain duty of a preacher's life. My brother, never again speak of these excuses. To those who understand the situation such excuses seem almost ridiculous, and we wonder how you can possibly take yourself seriously while making them. There are no excuses that can be accepted. You must undertake this plain duty in spite of all hindrances in yourself, in others and in your environments.

     There is no one thing that a preacher can do to grip and hold the hearts of a community as that of visiting. those who are sick and infirm. It affects not only the individual and families visited, but the whole body of that community. It is better than the higher type of preaching and will hide a multitude of faults. The preacher who does not do pastoral visiting may be tolerated by those whom he is serving, because they can do no better, but he will never be in demand.

     3. Many preachers fail because, as they say in the West, they are not "good mixers." They have ability but not adaptability. They are set in their ways of doing things and they think they know just how such things should be done. A preacher enters his new field of labor impressed with this idea. He forgets that there are able and experienced members of his church who have the same ideas -- that they know how things should be done and who have behind them to back up their ways of doing many years of experience in environments and conditions that are new to him. In the place of waiting and observing condition: to find out whose ways are better, he attempts to bring his members to his way of thinking and doing; and then there is trouble. If his ways are really better than theirs, he must first get the confidence of his membership and then as a rule they will be ready to follow him in any reasonable changes. Confidence is a plant of slow growth. It must be secured to insure successful leadership.

     And then a much more serious phase of the situation is that some preachers are so set in having their own way that they attempt to put off on their members their ideas and even their notions as if they were convictions, and in this way assume to give a religious phase to conditions that should be kept entirely separate from religion. They defend themselves in their stubbornness by claiming that they are "standing for the right" and are "defending die truth," and that they "must act according to their conscience," while the fact is that the things for which they are contending have no moral quality involved in them whatever.

     A preacher should never yield convictions that involve any moral principle whatever to any idea of expediency, but he can and must adapt himself to such conditions as exist, even though they may seem to be undesirable, in which no moral principle is at stake, until a time shall come when he shall be able to influence a change for the better.

     No preacher has a right to tear down and destroy until he is able to put something better in its place. This class of preachers will attempt to reform in a few months social and economic conditions that have existed in a community for a long period of time, and by a lack of adaptability ruin forever their prospect that might have existed, of making much needed changes.

     4. It is not necessary here to mention the fact that some preachers fail because they engage in secular employment, as it is an established and admitted fact that the two callings are incompatible, and no preacher can make a success in the ministry and continually follows a secular employment.

     And now, my brother minister, if you see your faults, in the name of the Lord and for the sake of your profession and for the love of souls, have the courage to admit the fact, and make the effort of your life to recover yourself before it shall be too late; "redeeming the time because the days are evil."