ADDRESS, DECEMBER 3, 1963
Is the Ministry Keeping Pace?
David Allan Hubbard
The ministry has taken quite a beating during recent years, especially in
novels and short stories. Take Elmer Gantry. Sinclair Lewis has given us a
picture of a loud talking, backslapping, almost swashbuckling evangelist.
Egotistical, unethical, immoral, he uses all his influence for his own
aggrandizement. Starkly sensational, ruthlessly hypocritical, he stoops to the
lowest means to attract audiences and substitutes emotional appeals for
the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then there is Mr. Mackerel in Peter De Vries’ Mackerel Plaza. More
interested in Oscar Wilde than in the Apostle Paul, confused in what little
theology he has, Mr. Mackerel worships at the shrine of relativity. He
became a minister because his mother wanted him to. His church building, he claims, is the first split-level church in history, with five rooms and two
baths downstairs, a dining area, a kitchen and three parlors for committee
and group meetings. Upstairs is a huge all-purpose interior divisible into
compartments by means of sliding walls and convertible into an auditorium
for plays, games and dances, with a small worship area at one end, almost as
Dr. Fred Worthington, the district superintendent in Gregory Wilson’s
The Stained Glass Jungle, is a man who bounces all over the conference like
a loose tennis ball. A gentle kind of schemer who maneuvers men in and out
of pulpits according to their loyalty to him and his program, he eases his
way forward with one fixed goal before him—a bishop’s chair. The Stained
Glass Jungle also gives us a picture of Jack Lee, B.A. ’53, B.D. ’56, minister
of the Wentworth Church, who is constantly tortured by the gap that he
feels between what he professes to be and what he knows himself to be.
Another example is Dr. Davidson in Somerset Maugham’s short story Rain. He is a medical missionary who heartlessly tries to drive a prostitute
from his island and yet is lustfully attracted to her. He confuses justice with
vengefulness, a wooden kind of legalism with righteous convictions. Finally
he seduces Sadie Thompson just at the time when she had begun to look to
him for spiritual help.
And how often on television have we seen doddering sentimental
clergymen, impractical, outdated, the butt of jokes and pranks, the object of
pity, but not of respect.
It is important for ministers to learn from their critics even when the
criticisms are overstated. We can see in such writings what one scholar has
called a mirror of the ministry. We must recognize the peculiar hazards and
temptations of the calling, the false values that may draw a man into it, the
shoddy motives which may govern what he does. Ministers themselves
lament the futile busywork, the frenzied activities, the time spent in committee haggling and frothy conversation. They deplore the teas and
suppers, picnics and parties, memos and budgets, blueprints and building
permits and the half-a-hundred other drains on their energies and time.
Furthermore, there are critics who feel that the ministry has lost its
relevance. Times have changed so drastically, they say, that the church has to
find other ways of presenting its message and shepherding its people. They
declare that the ministry will be among the professions doomed for
obsolescence in the next decades.
It is small wonder, then, that all over the country men are slipping
away from the ministry by the hundreds—and sometimes writing articles on
why they quit. While the number of students in our colleges and universities
mounts annually, the theological seminaries across the country strive to hold
their enrollments steady. On college campuses one is likely to hear, “I want my life to count —I am going into the Peace Corps.” “I want my life to
touch human needs —I am going into social work.” “I want to serve Christ
on the front lines—I am going into the diplomatic corps.” “I want to make
an impact upon people—I am going into teaching.” “I want to help men and
women understand themselves—I am going into counseling.” These things
What about it?
Are we to scuttle our old approaches and try new ways to reach men
and women with the gospel? Has the seeming inadequacy of traditional
approaches to the ministry spelled its doom? These are real questions and
we should try to meet them head on.
Today the Christian ministry offers unprecedented opportunities. The
technological achievements of our generation are astounding. Take one
aspect—automation. On the one hand the conversion of many of our great
factories to automated enterprises has given us more leisure, which ought to
mean more time to contemplate the real issues of life, to exercise our
discipleship outside of our working hours. Simultaneously this leisure
presents a great temptation—a temptation to play more and pray less, to
devote hours to the quest of pleasure rather than of holiness. What an
opportunity for the ministry to give spiritual guidance in the stewardship of
time and in the theology of leisure!
Automation poses an even more vexing problem. As machines take on
increasing importance, what happens to people? Are they to be viewed as
handles which set the machines in action, as silent sentinels that watch the
work? Middle-aged men are left uncertain about their role in the work force
of America. They have become part of a surplus, an embarrassment to their
employers. and a burden to their labor unions. In the midst of a society
greatly in danger of depersonalizing human beings, the Christian minister
can meet both worker and employer with the love of Jesus Christ and show
them that in God’s sight they do count, as in men’s they ought to.
Then what about the educational advances our society is making?
More people are engaged in the learning process at every stage than in the
history of mankind. We can fill rooms with books on theology, psychology
from a Christian’s viewpoint, Biblical studies and devotional living, books
which were written specifically for laymen and which our laymen are
reading with avid interest . More and more the minister has an opportunity
to be a teacher, training laymen for leadership.
At the same time these educational advances have brought with them a
growing wave of skepticism and agnosticism across our country. Many of
our great universities have become centers of uncertainty and doubt.
Without either truth or grief the obituary of God is being written across the
land. Our country faces a challenge not unlike the challenge which deism
presented to the Christian faith in the years immediately after the
Revolution. Christianity and paganism are meeting in raw confrontation as
surely in our citadels of learning as on the foreign mission fields.
Sociological changes also present fresh opportunities for the ministry.
The move away from the farm which has closed so many rural churches
should he taken, and is being taken, as a new call for circuit riders. Would
that we would see a revival of the spirit of the circuit rider, who laced the
frontier territories with his restless tracks and countered the call of the wild
with the Word of grace.
Our great cities are freighted with opportunities, though they present
their own peculiar difficulties. What more could a minister ask for than
occasion to work out the meaning of redemption within the tension-stretched context of a West Side Story. Christ came to seek and save the lost,
to heal the sick, to call sinners to repentance.
Another urban problem is the high-rise apartment buildings. Behind
the protection of a doorman and an electrical buzzer system, hundreds of
thousands of people live in deliberate isolation. What a challenge to crack
the hard shell of these structures and of the people who live within them and
to see their hearts laid open to the grace of Christ!
What about the suburbs? Ministers are needed who will lead these
people into the realization that the Christian church is more than an activity
to he squeezed into a busy week along with bridge, Scouts, Little League, and
PTA. As suburbanites commute from home to city, so they live as commuters
from the secular to the sacred, scarcely realizing the surveillance of God
over all of life.
The American frontier showed us the importance of a ministry which
is mobile, creative and aggressive when confronting a transient society; and
today, as then, America is on the move. Who is reaching our migrant
workers? W ho is touching the vast communities living in trailer courts,
following the soil and the seasons? Who is serving the host of people who
drift front city to city, job to job?
The racial revolution has issued a challenge for ministers to sound the
call for love—a hose that flows not only from white to black but from black
to white. Without fear or favor, without glib answers or private prejudices,
should we not remind society that the avid integrationist and the rigid
segregationist are both sinners under judgment and men for whom Christ
Worldwide political changes challenge the ministry. The hot blood of
nationalism is flowing and with it a renewed concern for national religions.
The need is great for men and women to proclaim the one and only way in a
world suffering from an almost narcotic stupor of sentimentalism The clay
has come for new Amoses to leave their orchards and flocks in Tekoa and
call for righteousness and justice; for new Hoseas refined, if necessary, by
personal suffering and even tragedy to demand that men bend themselves in
worship before the living God.
Present in and through all of these changes — technological,
educational, sociological, political —and indeed contributing to them, are
the pressing emotional needs of mankind. Our sophisticated refinements, the
rapid evolution of material things from luxuries to necessities, the relative
ease of our physical living, our increased longevity, our ability to cope with
so many material problems, our skill in identifying and labeling emotional ills— none of these things nor all of them put together have contributed
measurably to our quest for meaning. Homes are breaking up, parents are
baiting their children, and children are hating their parents. Labor and
management face each other toe to toe. Extremists to right and left try to
outdo each other in sarcasm and slander. The colossal insolence of man causes him to refuse the only true refuge in life; and though in fact he is
totally dependent upon God for all that he has, he blandly and blatantly
revels in his independence.
It is part of our sinfulness as human beings, even as Christians, that we
sometimes have shied away from because of the difficulties or because of the
attractiveness of other vocations. Like Dr. Garrison in the novel The Stained Glass Jungle we have often asked the right questions with the wrong
meaning. A layman, recently converted and impelled by the wonderful zeal
of the new convert, came to Dr. Garrison and asked him to consider leaving
his splendid congregation and coming to the struggling Inner City Church
named Macedonia. Dr. Garrison was shocked by the temerity of the layman.
Finally, as if to end the embarrassing conversation, Garrison said, “Very
well, Mr. Waddle, exactly what is Macedonia prepared to offer?’ Waddle’s
reply was brief and cogent. “Everything a preacher could want! There’s
taverns and dives, and the new thruway has jammed all kinds of people in
there. There’s 110 playgrounds. The kids just run wild in the streets. We got
more sinners in a mile of our church than in all the rest of the city put
Paul knew the reputation of the people of Crete: “Liars, evil beasts,
lazy gluttons.” Yet he said to Titus, “This is why I left you in Crete, that you
might amend what is defective.” The Christian ministry today does offer
everything that a true minister could want, not because there are no
difficulties but because there are many!
The ministry has its satisfactions too. Christian ministers reach people
at the high and low moments of life. They help to give counsel during the
difficult teenage years, vocational guidance and premarital counseling as the
crucial decisions in life are taken. We stand before couples on their wedding
day and view their radiance and the warmth of their tender looks from a
vantage denied to others. We dedicate their babies and stand by faithfully
while the coffin of a loved one is closed. If this is a personal universe, ruled
by a personal God who revealed Himself to us as a person through a
personal Christ, then persons stand at the center of life. No one but the
minister call know the full-blooded joy of being close to persons in all their
vital personal experiences.
A minister contributes to a community what no one else can. The
medical doctor enters into certain emergencies; the lawyer, others. The tax
expert, the butcher, the grocer, the appliance repair man, the teacher, the
playground director and the newsboy all make their contributions, but
permeating every area of life is the love and support of the minister. He has
the satisfaction of the shepherd who calls his sheep by name. The power of
resurrection energizes his work, and he knows that, whatever it appears on
the surface, his labor is not in vain in the Lord. Phillips Brooks put it this
way: “There is no career that can compare with it for a moment in the rich
and satisfying relations into which it brings a man with his fellowmen, in the
deep and interesting insight which it gives him into human nature, and in the
chance of the best culture for his own character.”
And if there are disappointments and frustrations along the way, and
they are many and frequent, he remembers that the servant is not greater
than the master; he recalls, too, that it is not required of stewards that they
be found successful, but faithful.
One thing remains to be said about the ministry: It is essential
because God has ordained it. The ministry is not an idea contrived by men to
cope with the difficulties of communicating the message or building up the Church. It is God’s way of ministering to the Church in order that the
Church may carry on more fruitfully her ministry in the world.
In the midst of all the confusion about the nature of the ministry that
had grown up in medieval times, the Reformation sounded some clarion
notes. It was Luther who wanted the Church to realize that every legitimate
vocation was an opportunity for ministry. Justification by faith meant that
there were no second-class citizens within the kingdom. Every believer was a
priest, and some priests were called to be preachers.
Calvin also reminded us that the ordained ministry is a special office
of the Church. And not only a special office, but a gift of grace. It was God’s
loving and gracious way of making the message of the Incarnation, and of
that reconciliation which was the aim of the Incarnation, known to men.
The ministry, according to Calvin, was to be reformed. That is, it was to be
under the authority of the infallible Word of God rather than under an
ecclesiastical stricture. The ministry was to be catholic: each minister was a
representative of the universal Church working in a particular situation. The
ministry was to be apostolic in the sense that it had been commissioned by
Christ Himself, and its message was to be the message of redemption through
Christ that the apostles preached. The reformers viewed the ministry as
God’s way of accommodating Himself to human need.
But the ministry is not only a gift, it is a necessity: it is the means God
chose by which to put across His message. In our day and age men may take
the call to the ministry casually, but the Apostle Paul never did. “Necessity is
laid upon me,” he said. “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” “All this is
from God,” he claimed, “who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and
gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” As long as there are lost sheep, there
is need for ministry.
As time brings changes, approaches to the ministry may change; refinement of methods of preaching, techniques of counseling and
administrative skills may take place. But the ministry itself is indispensable
because God has made it so: To call into question the success of the ministry
in any period or the performance of any given minister is to call attention to
the earthiness of our human vessels. But to question the role of the ministry
itself is to engage in speculation that borders on blasphemy. It is to say that God did not know what He was doing.
Any evaluation of the ministry must include a plea to every Christian
layman to reassess his attitude toward his own ministry and his pastor’s. He
must recognize both the splendor of the revealed treasure and the earthiness
of the vessel. Honor and respect should be his attitudes toward the ministry,
riot adulation or adoration. He should allow his minister to be himself, a
frail human, a forgiven sinner. It is essential that the layman shake off the
temptation to be a spectator or a sponsor in his church, when be is called to
be saint and witness.
Let the call go out to every college and university campus in our land for
men and women to join the company of those dedicated to Christian
discipleship. Others may make their vocational decisions in terms of ease
and comfort, remuneration and prestige—but Christians cannot. Others may
seek to escape the seamy side of life and to live as though men were not
sinners, as though Christ had not died—but Christians cannot. The Christian
knows that it is love and not knowledge that stretches man to his full height.
His life has been gripped by the grace of God, and he can never be glib or
casual again. He has heard the twin themes of mercy and judgment, and
their ring penetrates all the other tunes of life.
This is a day for recruiting and enlisting, a day of enduring hardness,
running with patience, keeping a firm hand on the plow and not looking
back. Theological educators across the land are seeking to face their
responsibilities squarely. They join me in begging the whole church to spare
no effort, to see to it that men are prepared for the ministry, who can give
themselves to what the Puritans called “painful preaching”—preaching
which takes great pains to apply the Word of Cod to human predicaments
with stinging relevance.