Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine." I Tim. 4:16.
In his admonition to Timothy, the apostle Paul couples the person of the messenger with the teaching, or the message, itself. 'Heed" is to be given to both. The same principle is true of the gospel ministry today. The ones chosen to give God's final message of hope to a rapidly perishing world must be living representatives of that message in body, mind, and spirit.
"Take heed unto thyself," said the apostle. The "self" suggests personality, individuality, personal distinction. These surely should be apparent in the work and deportment of every gospel minister. Every individual should feel' free to act natural, and in a manner becoming to him. One person may quite properly deport himself in a way that would be entirely unbecoming in anyone else. So in this matter of pulpit manners, the personal distinction of the preacher must have its proper place. In dealing with this subject, therefore, allowance is made for the idiosyncrasies of the minister. But right in this connection, as in all other cases, the words of the apostle apply. It is really because people are constituted so differently that it is necessary to take heed to oneself. Each of us has his own special case to study, and it is only as we become acquainted with ourselves that we are able to benefit from instruction and make necessary improvements. We read in "Fundamentals of Christian Education :" "To know one's self is great knowledge. True self-knowledge will lead to a humility that will allow the Lord to train the mind, and mold and discipline the character."—Page 525. But self-knowledge must be followed with self-improvement. Someone has rightly said:
"The person of a minister should be neat and cleanly; his manners such as will show the fair influence of religion on his temper and deportment; his style of intercourse such as will be an example to the old and the young, and such as will not offend against the proper laws of courtesy and urbanity. There is no religion in a filthy person, in uncouth manners, in an inconvenient and strange form of apparel, in bad grammar, and in slovenly habits—and to be a real gentleman should be as much a matter of conscience with a minister of the gospel as to be a real Christian."
One fault can very easily eclipse all the minister's virtues and gifts. Since the pulpit is the place where both the virtues and the faults of the preacher are most quickly detected, it is profitable to reflect upon his manners and conduct in the sacred desk.
A few years ago a questionnaire dealing with the chief defects of preachers was sent to hundreds of laymen. Eighty-five points were listed. The following fifteen defects, classified under three heads, received the highest score:
I. Faults in Speech.
Monotonous rise or fall of voice.
Excessive noise or bombast.
Lack of correlation of voice and subject.
2. Pulpit Presence.
Apologetic demeanor or lack of authoritativeness.
Careless or incorrect dress.
3. Character and Arrangement of Material
Evidence of lack of preparation.
Lack of directness.
Lack of humanness.
Unrelated to actual life.
By looking over this list carefully, every preacher can discover for himself wherein he has defects. Fortunate is the minister who has a wife or friends who can point out his defects to him. Often a preacher considers himself almost perfect, and receives a real shock when some fault is pointed out to him. It takes a lot of heavenly grace to take correctives gracefully. This is where we can help one another in our high profession. Once we realize our deficiencies, we will "spare no pains to reach the highest possible standard of physical, mental, and moral excellence."—"Counsels to Teachers," page 67. Here are some suggestions for better manners.
1. Personal Attire. Grenville Kleiser gives us some timely advice on this important subject:
"An attractive personal appearance is of undoubted advantage to a speaker, as even the first impression made by him may determine his subsequent success or failure. Prejudices and preferences are formed by an audience quickly and unconsciously. The speaker who wishes to make the best impression, therefore, should make the most of himself. His clothes should be plain and in good style. He should remember that immaculate linen and scrupulous care of the nails, teeth, and hair are unmistakable signs of culture and refinement."
2. Deportment in the Pulpit. The minister's entrance into the pulpit should be deliberate and dignified. His presence in the pulpit should be an object lesson of worship and spiritual leadership. His attention should be centered on the service he is rendering to the congregation, and not upon a multitude of things about.
"He should sit up straight in his chair. He should keep his knees together. He should seldom cross his knees, and never by resting one ankle upon the other knee. He should stand squarely upon his two feet. He should never permit himself to lean upon the desk with his arm upon the Bible. He should not clasp his hands over his abdomen, nor place them under his coat tails, nor put them in his pockets."
3. Watch Speech Defects. Five faults in speech head the list in the group of fifteen defects which received the highest score in the questionnaire previously referred to. "All impurity of speech or of thought must be shunned by him who would have clear discernment of spiritual truth."—"The Desire of Ages," p. 302.
4. Punctuality at Services. The minister should be punctual in his appearance at public worship. He should start his services on time. He should be punctual in bringing his services to a close. One man who regularly attended services and was always in good time was asked how he invariably managed to come early. He replied, "It is part of my religion not to disturb the religion of others."
5. Remain in the Pulpit. All conduct of worship should emanate from the rostrum. Once the minister enters the pulpit he should remain there until the service is over.
6. Apologies out of Place. An apologetic demeanor is out of place in the pulpit. Either the minister should be prepared to enter the pulpit, or he should stay away if he must make apologies. Advertising one's deficiencies is a sure way to impair one's efficiency. Lack of authoritativeness is linked with making excuses. The pulpit is no place for uncertainty or failure to carry out the program of the church as it should be carried out.
7. Avoid Mannerisms. How obnoxious some mannerisms are to the audience or congregation! Mannerisms are legion in number—adjusting the hair, arranging the coat, fingering the nose, standing at the edge of' the platform, excessive use of handkerchief, etc.
8.Sermon Delivery. A number of terse maxims on public speaking have accumulated through the years. These can be most helpful in sermon delivery.
"Stand up ! Speak up ! Shut up !" These are called the three "ups" in public speaking. They originated with Martin Luther, the great Reformer. Here we have a warning against some of the fatal weaknesses of public speakers —slumping in posture, inaudibility, and failure to stop at the proper time.
The three "in's" of public speaking : Every speech should interest, inspire, and instruct.
"If anyone is ever fool enough to ask you to speak, be fool enough to speak." Beginning speakers often doubt their ability. They often refuse to speak because they think they have nothing worth while to say. But just as a doctor always responds to the call of the sick, so a public speaker should respond to the call to speak. Only by speaking will you learn to speak."
"Fust I tells 'em what I'm goin' to tell 'ern; then I tells 'em ; then I tells 'em what I told 'em." This formula of a successful colored preacher has the elements of good organization—introduction, discussion, and conclusion.
"Begin low, proceed slow, rise higher, take fire, when most impressed be self-possessed, to spirit wed form, sit down in a storm." This formula cautions restraint and self-control. It teaches the value of climax and warns the speaker to stop when he has the audience in his hands.
"If you don't strike oil in three minutes, perhaps you are boring in the wrong place." Here the speaker is advised to get to his subject quickly, not to dawdle. If you have nothing which challenges the attention of your hearers, it is better to stop as quickly as possible.
"Think yourself empty, read yourself full." The minister should think his subject through if he hopes to be original. The people come to hear what the minister thinks on a certain subject, not to hear what he has recently read about it. If one thinks the subject through, the organization of the material will emerge, and he will realize his need of material to fill in the gaps. Reading will help to supply that need.
"A speech should be like the leaping of a fountain, not the pumping of a pump." That maxim came from the great Phillips Brooks. To fit into this illustration, the speaker should be fluent. He must like to speak, be enthusiastic and joyfully abandoned to speaking.
Every Seventh-day Adventist minister may be a great power in the pulpit. We have a mighty message, and it is only by presenting this message to a sympathetic audience in such a manner that both the message and the messenger will attract our hearers that we can meet the demands of the present hour.