It is often a great surprise to us when we see the home from which a certain person comes. Perhaps we have had an entirely different idea of this person's surroundings. The homes of families are very revealing, particularly to a minister. He understands a great deal more about his parishioners after he has seen them in their native surroundings. And members of a family feel much closer to a minister after he has visited with them in their home, perhaps staying to eat a meal. They see that their pastor has taken an interest in them, and that he does not look up to, or down at, them from a great distance.
But there is one place that is even more revealing and leveling, and that is the home of the minister. When the minister visits a family in their home, a favorable impression is made, but when he invites a person or a family to his own home, a much deeper impression is made.
The various classes and groups of people that can be received in the parsonage are almost myriad. Take, for instance, a newly returned veteran or a young couple who have just moved to the town. Suppose, as the minister of the church, you invite the young people for the evening. Perhaps the wife is an Adventist but the husband is not. Invite some other congenial couple, so the young man won't feel as if the clergyman has him in a corner. On such an occasion it is not necessary to lead the conversation in particular channels or to come out with any obvious pull for the church. One can be almost sure, though, that religion or the church will come up naturally during the evening's conversation. But even if it does not by the end of the visit, you perhaps know the young man well enough by then to give him a little advice and a cordial invitation to attend church services.
Under such circumstances he will not feel as if he has been patronized, and whether he ever comes to church or not, you may be sure that he thinks he is on pretty good terms with that church since he knows the minister in a casual but friendly way. He is looking for just such a friendly, natural acquaintance as he adjusts to his new location. He doesn't feel pushed by the church, but he knows the church is interested in him, because the minister has shown an interest in him. Many people, and veterans, too, are lost to the church because no one went out of the way to show a genuine concern for them.
If the young man has a problem on which you could help him or advise him, in most cases he will say something about it during the evening. But if it is not the kind of problem which can be spoken of casually, the chances are that he will look you up later and talk it over with you.
Many valuable contacts cannot be made anywhere quite so successfully as they can in the minister's home. Every church has some "soreheads" or at least some potential troublemakers. Frequently these people are some of the most active in your church, but for some reason they feel as if they have been slighted, disliked, or looked down on by the other members, and occasionally by the minister. The minister is invited to social functions more frequently by those with the money and position to do it easily, and though he may try to be impartial with his attentions to the various classes, these "touchy" people will think the minister is biased against them, sometimes because of a very trivial reason.
The best place to make this type of person feel on a level with the minister and the rest of the church members is in the preacher's own home. When the pastor visits such a house, these disgruntled ones say, "Well, it is just his job. He had to come anyway." But when the minister and his wife go out of their way to invite them into their home, the feeling of bitterness is greatly mitigated. They say to themselves, "Now I'm on a par with Mr. Better-Fixed-Than-I-Am." Those people will have their social confidence increased, and they will have adjusted themselves a little better to society in general and to the church.
Perhaps after you are halfway through the main course at dinner, the man or his wife will remark, -You know, there is something queer about that deal," etc. Mentally you note the fact that that is what has been bothering them. In an offhand way you try to explain it. Or if it cannot be explained, you can help them to adjust to some other person's foibles and objectionable traits. Perhaps your visitor will not even realize that he has got it "off his chest," but when he leaves, he feels better for some unaccountable reason.
Inviting someone into your home is not going to solve all your problems. Your veterans or new people may not come to church regularly, or at all. The difficult people will still be difficult on occasion. It is not a cure-all. But the minister and his wife will understand the problem better, and in some cases will be able to solve the problem. If they cannot solve it, the attempt made to do what they can will make the other person take heart, for he realizes that someone would like to help.
Saving the "Most Precious Heritage"
The young people in the church are supposed to be "its most precious heritage, but the contact between most ministers and the younger generation is not too close. It is often remarkable.if they can come within hailing distance of each other. Young people are interesting to work with, far more interesting than some of your older members, but they are by far the hardest to get in a place where you can talk to them. In church they are usually dwarfed by their elders, who show no hesitancy in "sounding off" on any subject, even when it is addressed to the young people.
If the minister can bring the young people into his home for a discussion of ideas or activities, he will find that he has an ideal place to work with them. Great care has to be taken that no .one youth feels that he is being singled out by the minister, or it will frighten him so much that you might never get the opportunity to speak to him again. Do not invite too few, but on the other hand, do not invite so many it turns into a party. Perhaps you will discuss some new plans for the young people's society or some recreational feature. While you are drawing- them out on this subject you hear everything—from what is wrong with your sermons to what they want out of life. Some of the conversation may be silly and can be discounted, but the young people are going to reveal themselves as they are, for there will be no parental efforts to put the right words into their mouths for the minister to hear.
I remember one young man who, I honestly felt, never heard a thing that was said in church, nor did it have any reaction on him, for he "deadpanned" his way through church every week. One time in a casual gathering of young people I found out more about him than Vhad learned in the three previous years put together. He told us what he thought of girls; he wondered whether a minister had any difficulty finding something to preach about; he couldn't understand the mystery of the Trinity (I didn't think he even knew there was such a doctrine) ; and his mother wanted him to be a minister, and he was thinking about it. He also referred to several sermons which had been preached during the year, so he had been listening. Ever since that time we have had no difficulty in carrying on a conversation with this young man. It is remarkable what a little close contact will do for one's opinion of another, even for a minister who is used to drawing out people.
In asking people to the parsonage, try to have the occasion casual, interesting, and ordinary. Any entertainment you might give them does not need to be elaborate, even for those who have the best type of surroundings and do "everything up brown" themselves. You are just meeting friends. They will forgive you for what you haven't got, if you haven't got it. What you desire is for your visitors to feel at home and at ease. Never let the guests feel cornered, or your whole attempt will be ruined. Perhaps you do want to find out something about them, and what they think—but no more than they want to reveal willingly.
The minister's wife may find entertaining an added burden to her already heavy duties. But if she keeps everything simple, never letting a lack of something embarrass her, and if she lets her guests assist with the work, it can be done, and she will find that the results will be well worth the extra effort.
She should be careful to be a Mary and not a Martha at these times, for her husband is going to need her help in dealing with people. Some ministers who may be excellent preachers, may be short on common, everyday conversation. The minister's wife can fill in the awkward places, and keep the conversation running smoothly. The minister will find that these contacts will be as much help to him as they are to the individuals concerned. He will be refreshed by the various viewpoints, awakened to new subjects, and able to talk the language of his people.
One of the best devices a minister can use in making his church a wide-awake, wholehearted, integrated unit is that of a personal relationship with his members. It is in this factor that many ministers fail to make their ministry a success. Most of the best work he will ever do will be done through personal contacts. And every minister and pastor will find that the best social agency he can employ is his own home. It is a common meeting ground.
Our Adventist people are known for their generosity in tithes and offerings. They are usually equally generous in the use of their homes. No minister, or public worker, can be expected to return the many invitations he receives. That is unnecessary and impossible, but he does have an obligation to those whose hospitality he has shared. An extra word or note of thanks, or perhaps if circumstances permit it, a little visit with them in our own home will help to show our appreciation, and do away with the idea that we think it is always our due to be entertained.
remember a wonderful old couple who through the years of untiring, unselfish service as lay members of a Midwestern city, had entertained many a minister and often a minister's whole family in their home. Once this sister said to me, "Dad and I went to _________________ , and we met many of the ministers we had had in our home throughout the years. Not one of them took the trouble to say more than a casual 'hello' to us."
Let us not forget our responsibility to our kind friends, for it would be a travesty if our ministers should be less generous than our people.