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Ministers and Manners

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Archives / 1932 / November



Ministers and Manners

W.I. Smith

By W.I. Smith


As a body, ministers comprise the best group of men living on the earth, yet  as individuals many of them fail to please generally and to produce effec­tively because they do not demand of themselves the best in all things. Inability to "sense the immense importance of trifles" has been the cause of the failure of many a well-meaning minister; for "even slight defects in clergymen are mo­mentous, because they live always in a light as searching and intense as that which beats upon a throne. No other man in the community makes such con­stant self-disclosures as the minister. His eyes, lips, feet, facial expression, voice, mind, heart, moods,—all these are subject to public scrutiny."


The results of a questionnaire on preachers' defects sent out to hun­dreds of laymen and reported recently by the Christian Advocate, classifies the fifteen defects most frequently men­tioned, as follows:

1.   Faults in Speech.—Poor enuncia­tion; preacher tone; monotonous rise or fall of voice; excessive noise or bombast; lack of correlation of voice and subject.

2.   Pulpit Presence.—Listlessness; un­natural posture; apologetic demeanor or lack of authoritativeness; careless or incorrect dress.

3.   Character and Arrangement of Material.—Limited vocabulary; evi­dence of lack of preparation; lack of directness; lack of humanness; unre­lated to actual life; too long.

A minister should be careful in his speech. He should use the purest Eng­lish, tell the best anecdotes, sing the best songs, and give the best sermons, and these only. "A prevailingly trifling spirit, having its joke at every turn, taking no serious view of life, having no heart-piercing convictions of the illimitable need of men, whose unvarying bent is to levity and frivol­ity even in the presence of the high aims and solemn responsibilities and eternal verities of the word and work of God,--such a spirit is fatal to all earnestness, and therefore, in the end, to all real pulpit and spiritual power." One coarse or unseemly anecdote, one vulgar, uncouth illustration or refer­ence made by a minister, may forever rob him of his influence for good with some sensitive soul. "Would Jesus use this?" is the criterion by which to test illustrations and anecdotes about which there may be any ques­tion.

A minister should be irreproachable in conduct. "A godly example will tell more for the truth than the great­est eloquence unaccompanied by a well-ordered life." The attribute of "minis­terial manliness" is fundamental to the successful minister. This "manli­ness excludes all pettiness, all small­ness of thought and deed. It excludes all envy, 'which turns pale and sickens even if a friend prevail,' which, 'with­ers at another's joy, and hates that excellence it cannot reach. It ex­cludes all touchiness, all 'morbid in­sistence on unessentials.' It excludes all penuriousness or meanness in money matters. It excludes narrow­ness and bigotry. What one often regards as adherence to principle will be found, if examined carefully, to be nothing more than a narrowness that is positively inexcusable in one of dig­nity and character."

A minister should be immaculate in dress, "well brushed, carefully shaved, scrupulously clean, and well kept." "A preacher who is slovenly in his at­tire, allowing his hair to be unkempt, nails uncleaned, boots unblacked, and his clothes unbrushed and unpressed, will prove a very poor conductor of divine truth." There somehow exists a feeling that carelessness in matters that relate to good personal appear­ance is very closely related to careless­ness in those things that have a bear­ing upon the well-being of the soul. "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord" enjoins, we believe, both physical and spiritual cleanliness.

In closing, the following paragraphs will serve to re-emphasize the impor­tance of carefulness in speech, man­ners, and dress:

"No one can fully estimate how great a factor in life is the possession of good manners, or timely thought­fulness with human sympathy behind it. They are the kindly fruit of a re­fined nature, and are the open sesame to the best of society. Manners are what vex or soothe, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us by a constant, steady, uniform, invincible operation like that of the air we breathe. Even power itself has not half the might of gentleness, that subtle oil which lu­bricates our relations with each other, and enables the machinery of society to perform its functions without fric­tion."

"The minister must remember that favorable or unfavorable impressions are made upon his hearers by his de­portment in the pulpit, his, attitude, his manner of speaking, his dress. He should cultivate courtesy and refinement of manner, and should carry himself with a quiet dignity becom­ing to his high calling. Solemnity and a certain godly authority mingled with meekness, should characterize his demeanor. Coarseness and rude­ness are not to be tolerated in the common walks of life, much less should they be permitted in the work of the ministry. The minister's atti­tude should be in harmony with the holy truths he proclaims. His words should be in every respect earnest and well chosen."

"Finally, the minister who has a keen sense of the fact that his life, from his official position alone, must strongly influence for good or evil, will regard it as worthwhile, even imperative, that in both small and great matters, in word and in deed, he be as nearly perfect as man can be. His life then cannot but reveal the deep solicitude expressed by the preacher of whom Jean Ingelow wrote:

"Still I search my soul

To find if there be aught that can persuade

To good, or aught forsooth that can beguile

From evil, that I (miserable man! If that be so) have left unsaid, undone.' "

Washington, D. C.

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