This is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject of manners for ministers, but it is rather a series of suggestions for consideration. . . . Some of the habits they have and some of the things they do are 'done unconsciously. Not even the good wife calls attention to them. As men go on in their work, they become set in their ways, but there is always the possibility of change if they are willing to pay the price. It is easy to say that these things are inconsequential, and yet they may be the "little foxes that spoil the vines."
Of course, clergymen must be men of God, whatever else they are. As men of God, they must avoid even the appearance of evil. Whether they like it or not, there is a double standard—one criterion of conduct for the minister and another for the layman. To the minister personally there may be no loss or harm in a certain thing that others do, but he cannot afford to lend his precious influence to practices and habits that waste Valuable time and are occasionally at least a marked incentive to evil.
It is certainly reprehensible for a minister of religion to tell a shady story or to make a suggestive reference. Many a sensitive soul has been hurt by the careless jibes of the wisecracking minister. These mental barbs have served no greater purpose than to inflate the ego of the careless talker. A minister of Jesus Christ ought to be most considerate of the effect of his words and actions.
Pulpit manners especially may make or break the good preacher. Sometimes awesome dignity and holy tones are impressive, but generally they are overdone and hinder the message of the gospel. Let a man be natural and he will be effective. There is the story of a young clergyman who asked an older brother what to do with his hands When preaching. -The old gentleman replied, "Why not let them hang off the ends of your arms, as God intended them ?" The habit of lolling over the pulpit with both arms may seem like taking the congregation into one's confidence, but it is slovenly and undignified, no matter how great the D.D. who does it. Sitting cross-legged in the pulpit chair is another abominable habit.
But there are more serious offenses by the leader of worship. No clergyman likes to see whispering in the choir loft, even when the singers are not in full view of the congregation. However, how common it is to see two ministers in the pulpit engage in conversation from time to time, and often when the choir is rendering the anthem. It is even irreverent to be gazing about the room and fumbling the pages of a hymnbook when the choir is leading the congregation in worship. Perhaps the reason some congregations pay no attention to the organ prelude is that the minister and the choir seem to be almost unconscious of it.
Much has been written or said about the habit of poor reading of the Scriptures or rushing through the Lord's prayer as though the only value of the sacred words was their magical repetition, and the manner of clergymen in praying jerkily, putting long and absolutely unnecessary pauses between subject and predicate, or following the "that" of "We thank Thee, Lord, that" or "We pray that." Much, also, may be said of the sermon itself, but there is no space for a lengthy essay on homiletics. However, one habit of speaking ought to be corrected, for it is certainly disconcerting to those who sit near the front of the sanctuary. That is the habit of fixing one's gaze upon the ceiling or some object near the back of the room while preaching. How much better it is to look directly at one's congregation and back up the words by the marvelous influence of the eyes.
There is a series of habits and practices in the general ministry which are often offensive and certainly stand to be corrected. There is the habit of speaking of the church as "my church" or the pulpit as "my pulpit." Did he buy it? How much better it is to speak of "our church" and "our pulpit"!
It is a mistake on the part of some pastors to pay attention to and make regular calls on adults and older young people in the parish, and at the same time almost totally ignore children and those in their teens. They, too, are an important part of the congregation. Perhaps one reason why other organizations and institutions snap up some of our most likely young people and usurp their time and energy for lesser things is that the leaders of the church fail to note their possibilities in time.
One of the most frequent causes of differences between pastor and people is the habit of the former of deciding many important matters without consulting the proper board of the church. . . .
It ought not to be necessary to call the attention of the ministry to cleanliness. Cleanliness ought to be next to godliness, and the more godly the minister, the cleaner. Even halitosis or "B.O." is a matter of real concern to one who has to be in such close contact with people. Carelessness in such things as shaving or having on clean linen or pressed trousers lessens the influence of the minister of religion. Of course, he should be willing to wear overalls for work or slacks for play, but most of the time when he is about his business, his is a white-collar job. . . .
Let the minister become again the most respected man in the community as far as manners are concerned!—George L. Cutton in The Watchman-Examiner, Aug. 7, 1941.