Happy indeed is the minister whose church officers are ioo per cent interested in their assigned tasks and are willing at all times to learn the very best ways of carrying them out. His lot will greatly differ from that of Paul, who had added to his other misfortunes "the care of all the churches."
Good officers can relieve the pastor of many burdens, leaving him free to search for those "other sheep . . . not of this fold," and bring them in. Members will be contented and co-operative with good officers at the helm. It is a mistake either to blame or to praise the worker entirely for the condition of the ordinary church membership. The church officers merit the greater portion of the comments either way.
Ideal officers are worth their weight in gold. But the ideal officer is not born. Some development and friendly guidance is needed. Training is essential. It is the size of the task to be performed that decides the manner and extent of the training required. So to begin with, the trainer needs to visualize the large scope of each office.
Every week is made up of 168 hours. Probably less than eight of these hours will be spent in church. The members spend twenty times as long outside church as in, and it is there that their Christianity needs molding. Our Saviour said, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." For how many hours of the week are the church officers expected to show their love for those under their care? Three on Sabbath and one at the midweek service? Church officers have as their first duty the very important task of becoming interested in and concerned for the membership. Church routine is an incidental form of service, secondary to the human touch.
Lack of visiting and interest in its membership is losing the Church of England an amazing number of members. The churches are emptying for that reason more than any other. Let us not follow suit. Before all else train all the officers to know how the members are faring in private life and to show an interest in them. Sabbath school superintendents and teachers are expected to miss their members if not in the classes, and to do something about it as a matter of course, but every officer should also be aware of the absences and be informed of the need. The church clerk can be a clearing house for information. Deacons and deaconesses should be chosen for sympathy and visiting capacity. If the minister will organize to this end, taking less-experienced officers with him on some visits as part of their training, blessing will come to the church.
For routine matters a little training may be needed. The best time to deal with this will be at the time of the first appointment of an officer. I have been amazed at how little instruction is sometimes offered to these new hands when they take over. Treasurers, clerks, and secretaries are disheartened at the outset if a parcel of books is thrust into their hands, with a cold remark from the retiring officer, "Here are your books." The implication is, "Sink or swim," whichever you prefer!
Would it not be more profitable, and certainly kinder, for the minister to get the changing officers together and personally help them hand over, seeing that the new officers have a chance to ask all the questions they want to ask? This involves an understanding of each office by the pastor himself, or he may misguide instead of being helpful.
Young officers are usually easier to handle in training. They are willing to learn, adaptable, quick to recognize the principles involved, and to fit details into their right places. It does not bull up the church life to appoint or retain those wh are past learning, simply to make them feel happy. The business and clerical offices should be in the hands of persons accustomed to handling business or young enough to learn.
If request is made in sufficient time by the church clerk or treasurer, those at the conference office are usually glad to help if at all possible. If word comes from you immediately after nomination is voted—about the end of November—we stand a better chance of helping than if our first intimation comes during the early days of January when we are stuck almost as by glue to our desks on year-end work.
It is an absolute truth that to save trouble later on, one should anticipate trouble early. We suggest that if the ministry wishes to be free from routine, free of the distraction of putting right the mistakes made by the church officers through ignorance, the earlier they are sure that the new officers understand the principles of their new tasks, the better.