What do the people who sit in the pews expect of the minister who stands in the pulpit? How many ministers seek to dis cover just what their members are thinking or what they have need of spiritually? Ministering to a congregation means a great deal more than the presentation of a pleasing sermon on Sabbath morning.
If we study carefully the writings of Paul, we will discover that he was well acquainted with the needs of those in the churches in his charge. In some of his epistles he mentioned them by name. He knew the spiritual tone of the churches. He was able to send counsel, and sometimes it was essential that he send words of correction to them. I think that Paul knew what the laymen of his parish expected of him. "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ," was his counsel.
Recently an interesting book fell into my hands, not a new one, for it was published in 1917. Nevertheless the counsel is timely for our day. The title itself is intriguing: The New Layman for the New Time. The author, William Alien Harper, who was at that time president of Elon College, has much to say to the minister, as well as to the laymen. The introduction was written by Amos R. Wells, and he calls upon ministers of the churches to "give the men tasks fit for men, for the women work fit for women, calculated to call out all their powers and make the utmost demands upon their purses, time, strength, intellect, and devotion. They will respond. Boldly, gladly, and promptly they will respond. And the kingdom of God will come." Dr. Harper comes to us with a challenge to ministers to harness these lay forces. Says he:
"The minister's duty of training is not finished when he has trained all his members for service in the church. He has, with that done, just equipped his plant and placed it in perfect working condition. To stop there is to miss the real purpose of the Church, which is service not in its own interests, but service for the Kingdom. The minister knows his community. He knows the Kingdom's needs. He must not only preach the gospel of social service, but he will, like his Master, send out his workers into the harvest field individually, by twos, by threes, in larger companies. But before he sends them out he will train them."—Page 57.
The only way that the kingdom can come is by a uniting of the laymen, the church officers, and the ministry. Laymen need leadership. Laymen need training. If the minister does not train his church members, who will? We need not only leadership but also fellowship. Soldiers in battle will follow a real leader through any kind of difficulties. Church members in the Lord's army will follow any true leader in the conquest of souls for the kingdom. Laymen are not primarily interested in how good a preacher their minister is. They are vitally interested in how good a leader he is.
Quoting Dr. Harper once more: "We laymen want ministers, not sacerdotalistic over-lords. We crave universally for training for service." —Page 58. It was of interest to notice a statement that this layman made in another section of his book. He said, "The professional evangelist is here to stay; he has a prophet's work to do in bringing men to a consciousness of their spiritual lack, but he will never win the world to Christ."—Page 88.
Personally, I do not believe that the time will come when the ministers will be relegated to the background, and only the laymen will carry on in the final giving of the message to the world. There is no question but that the laymen will play a large part in the final loud cry of the message, of course. But in practically every revival or new advance in God's work through the ages there have been priests or ministers involved. So it was in the great 1843-44 movement. Though it is true that many laymen were chosen by the Lord to do a great work at that time, it is equally true that ministers of the gospel united in that movement.
What else does the layman want of his minister? Again we quote from the book The New Layman for the New Time:
"He wants him to be a leader, not simply a leader in church matters, but a leader in the walks and vocations of daily life. . . . He is to study the daily work of his membership until he is able to lead his individual members to the highest type of service in their realm. ... He is to adapt himself to their needs so as to be able to counsel with them and to inspire them to do their best and to live their cleanest as they engage in their daily ministrations."—Page 50.
Here is a field into which few of us as ministers have entered. To know the vocations of our membership, to understand them and their problems, and to be able to counsel them as to the best way to labor for souls in their particular sphere of service—this is specialized ministering indeed.
In our present world we hear a great deal about psychiatrists, those specialists who endeavor to help individuals with mental problems. Many ministers of the gospel are also turning to psychiatry, believing that it constitutes a new avenue for bringing religion to those who are mentally confused. But our need Is for ministers who know the members of their churches in a personal way in order to help them spiritually. Possibly we are "too busy" to care for the flock. Possibly we have so many other things to do that we fail to make the first things first. Christ was never too busy to minister to just one individual. He never turned anyone away. He taught, trained, preached, and ministered to the despondent and to the sick. Mental illnesses as well as physical illnesses came under His touch, and at the same time He was training His church to go out and build up the kingdom.
Note two more brief excerpts from the same book by Dr. Harper:
"The minister is a specialized priest, specially endowed of God with the qualities fitting him for his position and because of their discovery of these special qualities specially set aside by his fellow- laymen to his special work in the Church."— Page 41.
"Ministers are powerless without the support of the laymen. Laymen are shepherdless without ministers."—Page 45.
The program of the church is a two-way street. It has to do not only with the minister who directs the affairs of the church but also with the laymen and what they expect of their minister. We would accomplish much more in our ministerial leadership if we connected with it a teachership, than we would by merely preaching to our people week after week in an attempt to help them to be good Christians. The best Christians you have in your church will be the ones who go out into the field building up the kingdom. The more of this type you develop, the sooner the work of giving the gospel will be finished.