General Practitioners

Is there rightly anything that could be con­sidered a heavier responsibility than that resting upon a true undershepherd in the soul care of his church?


[Editors Note.—This helpful article has been written by a worker who has been engaged in pastoral and district work for a number of years, and who for personal reasons chooses to remain anonymous.]

People these days want to be served by those who are competent in both knowledge and practice. Accordingly we find within the differ­ent professions and trades a strong movement toward specialization in limited areas and a tendency among the general public, as well as within the professions, to glorify the specialist. Still we have those who practice in a more gen­eral field. A medical doctor may specialize in cardiology or attend to some other special needs, or he may be a general practitioner, who deals with the over-all medical needs of the people. Similarly, the organized church has developed specialists who are confined to a narrow field of operations, and there are others who consider the over-all needs of the people.

The question is, Would the people be served better if more doctors and ministers were spe­cialists in narrow fields, or is the general prac­titioner still filling a need the specialist cannot meet?

This point will be made clearer by referring to an article in a popular magazine by a medical man who says: "I am a doctor. Not a pedia­trician, nor a gynecologist, a psychiatrist, in­ternist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist. Just a plain, ordinary, garden-variety general practi­tioner—a family doctor, if you will." He ob­serves that the general practitioner "has been converted in the public mind into a semiextinct dispenser of platitudes and pills, the M.D. who somehow never quite made the grade. . . . And while the general practitioner, or G.P., has been steadily losing ground and prestige, people have been turning more and more to the men­in-white glamour boys—the specialists."

Dr. Francis T. Hodges, the doctor quoted from, thinks the G.P. is coming back in public estimation. The specialist who is consulted for a specific ailment cannot know the whole patient as well as the G.P., who has human relation­ships with his patients. The patient who comes to the physician's office is a human being in need of help, not just certain data on an index card.

I am a family doctor too, a ministerial gen­eral practitioner. I am not a conference presi­dent, or any other kind of president; I am not a professor in some specialized field of knowl­edge; I am not a secretary or associate secretary or assistant secretary or secretary to the secretary in any of the many departments of church work. Nor am I a "famous evangelist" from one or another major city who has preached to "the thousands all over the continent."

I conduct one or two small evangelistic efforts a year and preach to three of my four churches every Sabbath. Then there are meetings; the conducting of board meetings, business meet­ings, prayer meetings, funerals, weddings, com­munion services, baby dedication services; and arrangements for church socials and other public church affairs. There are repairs and additions to the church buildings and church school buildings to attend to. I have been a camp superintendent for two years, and also helped out at junior camp perhaps for seven years.

In addition, there is occasionally the delight­ful work of conducting the Week of Prayer in some of our academies. Then, too, I have been a guest speaker at temperance rallies and at similar occasions in high schools and in Lu­theran, Methodist, Disciples, and Nazarene churches. I have been the treasurer in a minis­terial association, and on one occasion I was on the reception committee when some digni­taries came to town. One has also to visit mothers at the hospital, congratulating them on the arrival of son or daughter. Called upon at all times night or day to visit someone who has been desperately ill, I have seen miracles happen in response to a prayer of faith.

Parents are urged to send their children to church school, academy, and college. People who are about to "slip away" from the church are retrieved. Hours and hours are spent and hundreds of miles driven to hunt up corre­spondence school "interest," and I have rejoiced when a few of them later have been baptized.

One has to foster the Sabbath school, home missionary work, young people's work, Dorcas work, et cetera. There is a well-organized wel­fare center in our district and two church schools, all of which require my attention.

Every night except Friday night from Thanksgiving to Christmas I am out caroling for Ingathering; and in the spring I have to get at the campaign again, two campaigns being necessary to reach the goals. Then I have the promotion of the innumerable special offerings. My wife and I must do the writing of bulletins, pastoral letters, et cetera. Sermon preparations, too, must of necessity take some time in order to have a fresh sermon every Sabbath. So you see, I am certainly no specialist, but a minis­terial general practitioner. In general, I belong to the majority of our ministers, although it seems we are having more and more specialists running more and more departments.

But—let us face it—as in the medical pro­fession, the impression has sometimes been made that a pastor (G.P.) is a minister who somehow never quite made the grade. On one occasion I even heard it openly expressed about a man who reached retirement age as a pastor, that he could not have amounted to much since he never was called upon to carry a "higher responsibility." He had been a good pastor, but—he was just a pastor. It is notice­able, too, that "once an executive, always an executive." He must not be "demoted" to do the work that is the original and basic task of the ordained man of God.

Young men want to succeed. When to suc­ceed as a minister means to get out of basic ministerial work to carry heavier responsibili­ties in some specialized field of service, it is natural for them to strive to get at those so-called heavier responsibilities. Pastoral work is by some regarded simply as a steppingstone to something greater and more respected.

Of the ministerial interns I have known during the later years all have been fair speak­ers. They have done a good job conducting church services. They have been capable of writing advertising for meetings. They knew all about conducting evangelistic meetings of the kind that cost more money than most confer­ences can spend. I have found very, very few eager to knock at doors visiting. They had been trained in colleges to be evangelists, not pas­tors.

At workers' meetings evangelism is invariably discussed. And the term usually means special public services for the winning of souls. The one who has the most baptisms is deemed the best minister, no matter how he takes care of his other duties or permits large numbers to slip away from the church. Ingathering is usu­ally discussed, with some specialist leading out, but pastoral work is rarely discussed.

Dr. Hodges felt that the medical general practitioner is making a comeback long over­due. He was especially encouraged by a new em­phasis in certain medical schools on what they call "psychosomatic medicine," a field in which the general practitioner excels. From what I learn there is also a new emphasis in the the­ology departments of some of our colleges. And at the Seminary pastoral work has got a place under the sun. This trend will be felt in our conferences and departments.

We must make use of every avenue available to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. We must use the TV, the radio, the printing press, and the mimeograph machine; but those devices cannot entirely re­place the individual doing personal work. Christ spent more time with individuals than addressing crowds. Even today people are still people and not machines. Soul winning and soul care cannot easily be done by proxy.

Most successful pastors would rather be pas­tors than anything else. They are loyal to con­ference leadership, and do not desire the place of the conference president or departmental secretaries. They endeavor to do their work to the best of their abilities, and they are con­stantly studying to do things more efficiently. But, being human, they do not like to be con­sidered second-class citizens within the ministry. And it does not help young men to do their best if they look upon the work they are doing at the moment just as a steppingstone to something more respected. They will be more happy and do better work if they somehow can be made to believe that what they are doing right now is the work God wants them to do. If God wants them to take up some more spe­cialized line of work, they will find that work without having to "fish" for it. Again, God may not want them ever to take up those so-called heavier responsibilities.

Is there rightly anything that could be con­sidered a heavier responsibility than that resting upon a true undershepherd in the soul care of his church?

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July 1955

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