What About the Doctors in Your Congregation?

What pastors can do to utilize this enormous asset.

CLIFFORD R. ANDERSON, M.D.

Doctors can be an enor­mous asset to any minis­ter. We have them in many of our larger congregations. They sit on church boards, and often play an important part in the activities of the congregation when encour­aged and understood. But when poorly handled they may slip out of the church and be lost. Often this may be due to noth­ing more than just plain neglect, or per­haps they are bored by a church program that does not impress them too favorably. Sometimes they may even be a bit ashamed of what they see and hear. This calls for serious thought on the part of the pastor.

The doctors in the church often exert an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. How can the pastor use this in­fluence for the good of all? What can he do to get their cooperation and support in handling the many problems of a large congregation? He must learn to understand them.

It is not always easy for a minister to un­derstand what goes on in the mind of a doc­tor. This is because they each deal with hu­man problems on a somewhat different level. 'While the doctor has to be very realis­tic in his approach to life, and often has to disclose hard cold facts to a family that has perhaps lost a loved one, it is the responsi­bility of the minister to bring hope and comfort and faith to them. However, each is vitally necessary to the good of the stricken family, and there is no reason why they should not work together.

Because of their different approach to life, the minister and the doctor often tend to look at things from entirely different viewpoints. The one may feel he must be concretely practical, while the other feels he must deal with the realm of the spirit rather than the body. Because of this, dif­ferences sometimes come between them. When this occurs on a church board it may well threaten the smooth running of the church.

What Can the Pastor Do?

Can anything be done to improve this situation? Yes, there is much that any sen­sible pastor can do to help himself and at the same time help the doctors in his congregation. First of all, he should realize that in spite of their impressive degrees and their prestige in the community, these doctors are normal human beings, just like himself. There is nothing so unusual about them except that they have been trained to be skeptical. Doctors are taught to doubt almost everything they hear, and also much of what they see.

Now, there are many conditions, such as a broken leg or a case of measles, where the diagnosis is perfectly obvious. It takes no great skill to reach a conclusion in such cases. But the real test of a doctor's skill is when the chances of failure are great and when the patient's life may be at stake. It is here that real training is so highly impor­tant.

If you, as a young minister, could sit un­observed in the office of a well-trained doc­tor for a few days, you would learn some in­teresting things, not only about the patients who come but also about the doctor himself. You would notice how unimpressed he is by many of the things the patient might consider important, but how carefully he tracks down something the patient may have almost forgotten to mention. In other words, he is looking for reality and for gen­uine underlying causes.

Now what has all this to do with you? A great deal, if you want that man to be of real service in your church. First of all, it might be well to remember that the doctor in your congregation can see through your reasoning just as easily as he can see through the endless psychosomatic com­plaints of his problem patients. He knows within the first five minutes whether you have studied your subject and whether you have anything worthwhile to say. His pa­tients expose the weakness of their reason­ing within the privacy of his office. But you are different. If your reasoning is unsound, and your arguments are based on faulty preparation, you expose your weakness be­fore the whole congregation. There is noth­ing more important than the kind of ser­mon you preach on Sabbath morning. It should be the very best that truly conse­crated scholarship can produce.

Your doctor member will always admire sound thinking, based on genuine research and study. He will always be impressed by a sermon that feeds his soul. He will be dis­appointed if his pastor puts forth what Ellen G. White once called "a maimed sacri­fice," an offering that cost neither prayer nor study. Pastor, the doctor in your con­gregation wants to feel proud of you. He may have patients he would gladly bring to church, if he could feel sure there would be a real message for them.

It would almost seem that some ministers have adopted the attitude that the feeding of the sheep is not really important pro­vided they get their conference goals. To see them in action one would almost gather the impression that, once the regular drive for goals is over, "any old sermon will do." That kind of attitude will never impress favorably the thinking members of your congregation. Such a man would be far bet­ter off in some other occupation. The min­istry is no place for those who have failed to qualify for the medical or some other profession. The doctors in your congrega­tion know that there is no higher calling than the ministry. And there is no man so highly appreciated as the minister whose mind is filled with the fullness of the Word of God. There may be many things he may not know, but if he is a man who truly walks with God, if his voice and his words carry the wisdom and love of the Good Shep­herd, his flock will find true rest and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The young minister should realize that his greatest sphere of usefulness lies in the spiritual realm. Do not try to impress the doctors in your congregation by trying to sound "scientific." To some of them you might sound a bit ridiculous. If you have a genuine background of scientific knowl­edge, they will know without being told. For although most doctors are far from be­ing in the strictest sense of the word scien­tists themselves, they have been exposed to enough of the genuine fields of science to know the real thing when they see it.

The medical men may look affluent, but deep down within themselves they know something of their poverty and their own need for a closer walk with God. When they come to worship on Sabbath morning they bring not only their own burdens but also the cares and sorrows and anxieties of many other families to whom they must minister. Because they are only human they will make many mistakes. Do not drive them from you by criticism or cold indif­ference. Treat them as your friends. Above all, feed them with the bread of life that they may have strength to sustain oth­ers in their hour of grief and distress. If you can bring these community leaders into a closer walk with God, your ministry will become ever more fruitful for the king­dom. And what is more, you will be truly obeying the voice of the Good Shepherd when He said, "Feed my sheep."


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CLIFFORD R. ANDERSON, M.D.

December 1958

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