For many years I have felt a lack of real preachers among us as Seventh-day Adventists. I do not mean a lack of men though we lack them too but a lack of men who can preach. We have men who can entertain, men who are adept at gathering related material from the Bible, Spirit of prophecy, church papers, and books, and illustrating it cleverly. We have many teaching evangelists, but we lack great preachers.
We place a great deal of emphasis on evangelism, and that is as it should be, but every evangelist knows that the intensity of a series of meetings leaves little time for self-improvement and development. The mechanics of pre paring for the various meetings and Bible classes and the organization of names, literature, and assistants required leave little time for anything but the visiting, and that, many times, is slighted.
Our work is highly departmentalized, which makes for progress. This of course is as it should be. But the work of each department is to promote the various projects that it deems necessary. Week by week the promotion material comes to the minister, pastor, or district leader, and his time can be largely taken up with these programs.
Most of our churches are small, and no study room is provided for the minister. This necessitates his studying in his home, a situation which may be very distracting. The duties of the home crowd in. Mrs. Minister will probably expect some help in her busy program. The children with their play and little quarrels need attention and often call on father. The average wife handles these problems herself -when her hus band is not around. Perhaps the minister may have several churches and must spend much time in travel to the various places.
In the mission field the problems are even more difficult. Nearly every foreign worker is expected to do administrative work as well as pastoral. It is much easier to do the office routine of answering letters, making plans for the mission, and holding interviews and conferences and committees than it is to stay by the pastoral (or evangelistic) study that is necessary. With our indigenous worker it may be harder yet, because to all these duties are added many other hindrances to real study. His home is not even so private as is the home of the overseas worker. Those who have been in the villages know this to be true. Then he probably serves as teacher-evangelist, which keeps his program rather full.
In any other phase of work a man has regular working hours. Someone is overseeing, or he has to work by the clock and punch a time- card. There are hundreds who are up at four or five every morning to get off to the factory or place of work. Thousands are up at six. And there are millions up and at their work by seven or eight o'clock. And yet many lazy min isters sleep until half-past seven, and then take their time for dressing and breakfast. Of course they must take time with the newspaper, and it is almost noon before they are ready to settle down to real work.
Is this as it should be? No! God help us to prevent this from being true in our lives.
Ministers Are Teachers
A minister is in truth a teacher. Every week he is giving and teaching. It may be two or three times a week in the case of a pastor. It may be from four to seven times a week for an evangelist. This cannot go on indefinitely without his replenishing his store. Sooner or later he will discover what others have already discovered long ago that he has nothing much to share. A minister is in reality giving of himself every time he preaches. He is giving the best of his mind. Unless something worthwhile is going in, there will certainly be nothing of any value coming out.
Many have the idea that they can easily "get up" a sermon. They need only to go through their file and the Index to the Spirit of prophecy books and "organize" a sermon. This is not preaching. Sermons must grow, just as lilies or roses grow. It takes time. The gardener works hours and days and even months and years on the soil. The ground is fertilized, dug, raked, watered. From the properly prepared soil the beautiful lily comes forth. He doesn't spend his time working on the bud. He doesn't have to help the leaves to open. This part nature cares for herself if the preparation has been proper.
So with the preacher and his sermon. He needs to cultivate the soil, fertilize it, stir it, water it. When this is done the sermon will unfold of itself. It will of itself grow rich and full and beautiful. But all the work on the sermon itself without the fertile soil for it to draw from can never bring forth a product of real worth.
If time is spent on the sermon instead of on the mind and the soul, a man will find himself soon running out as a preacher. Instead of advancing and improving as the years go on, he will find himself at the end of his resources, and will discover that he cannot preach. A man of this sort may be a good preacher at thirty and ready to be dropped from the work at forty. The topsoil has all eroded, and there is no fertility left. But it should be just the opposite. With proper reading and study through the years, a preacher becomes a great power for God. Instead of insipidly re-serving the same truths in the same way and with the same illustrations, he goes deeper and deeper into the truth, and always has something fresh and alive and vital.
We as ministers should always be increasing in mental vigor and capacity. We should be constantly enriching our minds.
Simply because there is no one appointed by the mission to stand over us with a stop watch is no reason for us to be too complacent. The angels are watching. And our congregations are watching us every week as we stand before them with the Sabbath sermon, the Wednesday prayer meeting, or the evening evangelistic sermon. They can tell whether they have a preacher or a repeater of other men's ideas; whether they have a thinker or a tinkerer.
Working by the Clock
We should, then, set ourselves to work by the clock. There must be a definite time for study. We should have an exact schedule for the day, and then work to that. True, it may be necessary to adapt it to fit into a changing program of evangelism, departmental work, district leadership, and itinerating, but let us have a program. Other things may and will press in to take our time, but they must not crowd out our study hours.
Napoleon was not brilliant. It is stated that he was the forty-third in his class in the military academy. But after his schooling he began to read. His secretaries were continually busy finding and sending books to him. He allowed himself only five hours of sleep a night and studied through the hours when other men were asleep. No one ever hears of the forty-two who were ahead of him, but he has made his mark in the world. The lesson is obvious: Too many neglect to study when they are in their best years to do so.
C. C. Crisler, in his early years as secretary to Mrs. E. G. White and later as a great leader in the China Division, was a diligent reader and student. He kept a cot in his office and would read and study until far into the night and then stretch out to sleep for two or three hours in the small hours of the morning. Truly "reading maketh a full man," and no man who lacks the fortitude and self-discipline required to keep himself studying and reading will ever produce great sermons.
So a minister should rise early and begin at once to study while the mind is fresh. I believe his first hours should be spent with the Bible, the Spirit of prophecy, and other devotional books. Study diligently. Have a place of privacy, and have it a rule that you are not to be disturbed. You who have worked at Ingathering know how difficult it is to meet an important businessman. He, surrounds himself with secretaries, and unless you have an appointment it is almost impossible to see him. So it should be with you in your work. Some may occasionally complain that they cannot see you, but they will be proud to bring their friends to hear their minister preach.
Spurgeon had a program of this type. C. E. Jefferson in his book The Minister as Prophet tells of an individual who called and was anxious to speak with Spurgeon. He claimed to be a servant of the Lord and to have come on urgent business. Spurgeon replied, "Go tell the servant of the Lord that I am engaged with his Master."
Work without a break. Don't stop to run an errand in the middle of the study time. It is much easier to inspect the church janitor's work, to overhaul the slide projector, to visit the sick, yes, even to do Ingathering, than it is to stay by your studying; but fellow workers, let us not shirk our study program.
Have a set time in your study program for sermon preparation. It may be four mornings a week. But save the fifth for general reading and study. Later in life you should gradually change until most of your mornings are spent in study of a general nature. As the fountain fills up, it overflows easily; as your mind broad ens, sermon preparation requires less time.
Work hard and diligently. Discipline your mind to the study. Endeavor to retain what you read. There is no use pouring water into a sieve. It runs straight through. Train your mind to hold, to retain. Outline freely what you read. Make notes. File important material. But above all, read carefully! It will seem tiring and slow at first, but it will pay dividends.
"A minister should never think that he has learned enough, and may now relax his efforts. His education should continue throughout his lifetime; every day he should be learning, and putting to use the knowledge gained. . . . The saving of souls is a vast work. . . . Those engaged in it should constantly increase in efficiency." Gospel Workers, pp. 94, 95.
No shirker or lazy person will ever become a great preacher. He must be self-sacrificing. He should work as hard at his work as the farmer does at his harvesting, as the mechanic at his machine, as the carpenter at his bench, as the executive at his desk, as the factory worker at his production belt, as the housewife at her household duties. He is paid from the tithe, and should spend his time wisely.
He who will make such a program and stay by it will find himself a man among men, head and shoulders above his fellows. He will find himself respected not only in the church but in the community. May God help us to be faith ful in our study hours.