Dr. Theodore Ferris, rector of Trinity church (Episcopal), Boston, made this statement at the annual convention of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. He was lamenting the tendency to increase organization to the detriment of the care of the flock. Continuing, he said, "More and more I am convinced that if we spent half the time with the people that we spend with bureaus and departments, the world would marvel at the results."
This tendency to burden the ministry with machinery began shortly after Pentecost. The apostles, however, with clear spiritual insight raised their voices in protest, saying, "Look ye out . . . men . . . , whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word." Acts 6:3,4.
We all know the result: "The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." Verse 7.
Ministers must be more than club coordinators or spiritual engineers. Carrying a program is not our only work, nor is it our primary work. Rather, it is the ministry of the Word in the homes of the people, the seeking of the lost and straying sheep and then leading them to the fountains of living water, that constitutes the real work of a spiritual shepherd. But the tendency today is for us as ministers to be so swallowed up with committee appointments and the running of institutional machinery that we and our flock get "spiritually mangled in the wheels."
Were the situation referred to by this Episcopal cleric isolated from Adventism, we would justifiably preach about it as a sign of the times. But the alarming fact is that the same trend he observes can be seen in our own ranks. To merely raise a voice of warning will not suffice. Nor is it easy to check the progress of important departments, with their seemingly necessary machinery. That would be impractical and revolutionary. Earnest, honest, efficient men and women have been assigned to these responsibilities, and must make good. Furthermore, the philanthropic and economic needs of the church seem to indicate a need for more machinery. But just where is the limit of this rising crescendo?
We thank God for our organization. It came into being under divine guidance, and through that same guidance it has frown and developed until today we are found in almost every corner of the globe. And it is this organization that is the medium through which our spiritual and evangelistic interests are promoted. But the machine must be run by the men of the movement, not the men by the machine. How often it is that the work of visiting the sick, the perplexed, and the prospective converts is turned over to laymen, often un prepared, while we as ministers are giving our time to the "business" of the church a complete reversal of the apostolic pattern.
The Ministerial Association has been receiving considerable correspondence of late from workers and laymen alike, voicing concern for our accumulating machinery. The usual criticism is that our promotional plans, which tend to multiply our machinery, come from "higher up." But when those classified in this "higher up" group face the problem, they declare that the pressure comes from "the field."
We are not laying the blame anywhere. Whatever the cause and whatever the problem, we are all in it together, but it is a trend we do well to consider seriously. It was a sad day when the church lost the real vision of the ministry, for then men sought office instead of service. Rulers and disciplinarians replaced shepherds. Then followed the Dark Ages.
Reviewing his work before the elders at Miletus, the great apostle reminded these men that he had served the Lord "with all humility of mind, and with many tears," and that he had taught them "publickly, and from house to house." It was by public and personal evangelism rather than by the promotion of a particular program that he carried forward his ministry. He was a great organizer, but his greatest work was leading a group of workers into the field and raising up new churches. His continual burden was to preach where Christ was not yet named, and upon him came daily "the care of all the churches." Yet his heart went out constantly to the unsaved multitudes in the cities and towns where the gospel had not yet sounded dark counties, we would call them. He was not merely planning the work for others, nor telling others how to do it, but as a captain in the Lord's army he was leading his men out into the fight.
The present gigantic plan to sound the Advent message in every sizable city throughout North America during the next few months is a most wholesome indication of a right emphasis. A more definite report concerning this fine plan appears on page 23. We rejoice that there is a "sound of a going" and that the Lord is leading the way. A statement we have often read before comes to our minds as we contemplate the tremendous possibilities of this huge evangelistic enterprise: "When divine power is combined with human effort, the work will spread like fire in the stubble." Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1885.
Fire! Yes, "cloven tongues like as of fire!" That is what we need. We need it in every division of the world. We need it in every corner of the vineyard. And as we face the mighty challenge of our unfinished task, may the God of heaven clarify our thinking, anoint our vision, and in His mercy save us from being "mangled in the wheels."