The experience of a young preacher of a popular denomination came under my observation some time ago, and may serve as an object lesson regarding the hidden dangers in a minister's popularity. This young man had just finished his college work and had been assigned to a pastorate in a thriving village. He was youthful, alert, possessed of good health and a pleasing personality, and began his ministerial career with every promise of success from the standpoint of natural ability and favorable conditions.
Although the church to which he was assigned was small and in a much run-down condition, the coming of this brilliant and ambitious young preacher brought a real awakening throughout the community. The chief ambition of this young man seemed to be to please the people, and his winning personality and freedom of speech served well to that end. In all his preaching, in handling church problems, and in entering into the social functions of the community, it was his constant study to make sure of pleasing everybody and to be thought well of. He studiously avoided saying anything that would cross the path of his hearers, and consequently there was little attempt to rebuke sin, for fear of rebuking sinners. He entered enthusiastically into athletics and sports, and adopted the general practices of the people. In fact, it was very apparent that he was bent upon winning esteem as a broadminded, social type of preacher.
As would naturally be expected, this young preacher became very popular. Everybody in the village rejoiced that such a capable and energetic social leader had arrived in their town, and flocked to the church. Extensive repairs and enlargement of the church were made possible by the generosity of the people, and very soon the little church became the popular social center for the village. But notwithstanding all this apparent growth and improvement, it was very apparent that the spiritual standard had become greatly lowered. Instead of the world's being brought to conform to the spiritual standard of the church, the church had opened its doors to admit a strong tide of worldliness. In other words, the church had attained to a place of popularity at the expense of spirituality, and had been led into this sad situation by her spiritual guide. Here was a case of " like people, like priest," as the Lord has portrayed, and the result is utter failure, for the Lord declares: " I will . . . reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to Me." Hosea 4:9, 6.
As I observed the development and outgrowth of this young minister's career, it seemed to me that the fundamental difficulty in his case was his fixed purpose and constant endeavor to please the people; and in contrast my mind turned to the counsel of Paul to young Timothy, expressed in the words, " Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
The cultivation of a pleasing manner by a minister of the gospel is not to be condemned; but when a minister begins to study how he may gain the approval of men, without regard as to himself being approved unto God, he is headed toward defeat. The mouthpiece for God, the ambassador of heaven's King, cannot mold his message and govern his conduct to satisfy popular demand. His social contact must be governed by the high standard of the holy calling of the ministry, as set forth in the inspired word. To lower this standard, in the desire to win favor and popular applause, and be considered " a good fellow " in the social realm of the world, results in ruin to the career of any preacher.
Never have the needs of the world more greatly demanded a ministry free from self-seeking, a ministry hidden behind the cross of Calvary. It is the crucified Christ who will draw all men unto Himself, when He is lifted up before the people. To present Christ in all His beauty is to be the study of the minister. To substitute the study of plans and methods which cater to public opinion and please the unregenerate mind, is to lower the standard and defeat the purpose of the gospel ministry.
South Lancaster, Mass.