In order for a man to be a successful minister, something more than book knowledge is essential. The laborer for souls needs consecration, integrity, intelligence, industry, energy, and tact. Possessing these qualifications, no man can be inferior; instead, he will have a commanding influence for good." —Gospel Workers, p. HI.
These words, well known to our Advent leaders, emphasize qualifications that are essential for success in the ministry. The language is clear and the implications unmistakable. "Possessing these qualifications, no man can be inferior" it says. Then if not inferior he may by God's grace become superior and will therefore "have a commanding influence for good." The word "commanding," as here used, has the meaning of great, superior, noble, weighty, and important, an influence that demands and commands attention.
The Second Advent message should produce the most superior preachers and preaching in this generation. No minister who has a part in the proclamation of the "everlasting gospel" has a right to be inferior, ordinary, or mediocre. In this movement there should be no deficient or problem preachers, who produce more problems than they solve and must therefore be kept moving so that others can undo the damage done. Gospel workers possessing the essential, enumerated qualifications in balanced form will be "the head, and not the tail" in the service of God.
During my almost fifty years in the ministry it has been my privilege to read much, from many authors, on the secrets of success in the work of God, but the quotation given above is the most complete and comprehensive I have ever read, embracing more in a few sentences than can be found in many large volumes. It is a privilege to discuss this classic statement with thereaders Of THE MINISTRY.
"Book knowledge" is the first of the seven secrets named and is said to be essential "in order for a man to be a successful minister." This is especially true in this age of reading and greatly increased knowledge. The counsel of the apostle Paul to the young preacher Timothy to "give attendance to reading" was never more compulsory than at the present time. Only a diligent reader and student can obey the apostle's instruction to "study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2: l5). In fact, none other can expect to meet the anticipation and approval of a congregation in this well-informed generation. One needs to listen but a few minutes to a sermon or lecture to discover whether or not the speaker is in possession of book knowledge.
Paul was an ardent reader and diligent student, and this contributed much to his success as the greatest apostle, missionary, and soul winner of all time. While in prison at Rome, awaiting execution at the hands of Nero, he wrote his last epistle, in which he said to Timothy: "The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments." Commenting on this request, Dr. Wilbur Smith, in his Chats From a Minister's Library, says: "He is inspired, and yet he wants books. He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books. He has had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books. He had been caught up into the third heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books." If this divinely inspired apostle so hungered for book knowledge, how vitally essential it is that God's messengers of this crisis hour recognize their need of spiritual and intellectual growth so abundantly offered in this age of literature.
Of all the means of obtaining information, books occupy the first place. Matthew Arnold declared that in books we find the best that has been thought and said in the world. Education is the making up of the mind, and it is made up chiefly of what is put into it through reading and study. This is the work of a lifetime. In his reading and study program the minister must, of course, give first place to the Bible, the Book of books. He must be a man of the Book, and should be thus known by his congregation. James S. Stewart, in his book Heralds of God, declares that "the longest ministry is too short by far to exhaust the treasures of the Word of God," and, "No minister of the Gospel has any right to cease to be a student when his College days are done. However burdened he may be in after years . . . he must and he can—by resolution, self-discipline, and the grace of God—remain a student to the end. The preacher who closed down his mind ten, twenty, thirty years ago is a tragic figure."—Pages 46, 107.
We are informed by the servant of the Lord that regardless of how great is our knowledge of the Scriptures, they are an inexhaustible mine of truth of which we have only "scratched the surface."
It is impossible for any human mind to exhaust even one truth or promise of the Bible. One catches the glory from one point of view, another from another point; yet we can discern only gleamings. The full radiance is beyond our vision.
As we contemplate the great things of God's word, we look into a fountain that broadens and deepens beneath our gaze. Its breadth and depth pass our knowledge. As we gaze, the vision widens; stretched out before us we behold a boundless, shoreless sea. —Education, p. 171.
In the light of these statements and many others like them, is it not incomprehensible that God's people express their self-satisfaction by saying in words and actions, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing-? Surely such an attitude contradicts all true logic.
Treasure Home of Truth
In the second place, Seventh-day Adventist ministers should diligently read and study the writings of Ellen G. White, which now constitute a library of fifty-three volumes, and are said to be the best commentary on the Scriptures ever produced. Here is a treasure house of truth that is being sadly neglected, even by ministers. The instruction is scriptural, well-balanced, and will keep careful readers and reasonable persons from extremes and fanaticisms. There are many other wonderful books written by our own men as well as by godly ministers of other denominations that should be read. Since the Biblical statement "of making many books there is no end" has special application at the present time, we must exercise great care in the selection of those of greatest value, for no person can read more than a small fraction of those that are available. This is illustrated by the fact that in this country alone about eleven thousand books with new titles are published each year.
No minister should read less than a book a month, and an average of one a week is not an impossible reading schedule. There are a few, possessed with photographic minds, who are able to read a book a day. A Boston minister told a group of pastors how he improved his ministry by reading not less than a book each week. Many were shocked, and one pastor arose and said: "That is impossible. The average preacher does not read a book a month." The speaker answered, "That is the reason he is the average preacher."
Any minister owes it to his congregation to give them the most thought-provoking sermons he can produce through at least a week of reading, study, and prayer. One pastor, with a weekly audience of five hundred, estimated that each member came an average distance of one mile to church, making a total of five hundred miles, thus making a total of five hundred hours each Sunday spent in the service. He declared that this conclusion had a transforming effect on his study-life and preaching. He decided that it was unfair to waste so much of the time of his people without giving them the very best he could produce in sermons.
Bishop Gerald Kennedy, of the Methodist Church, in his book His Word Through Preaching, pages 87, 42, said: "A good many minutes are invested in an hour of worship. There are enough places where people are invited to kill time or spend it foolishly. The church where men cannot feel that every unforgiving minute has sixty seconds worth of eternal value has no right to complain if its pews are empty." "A steady habit of at least four hours a day of study is the only foundation upon which you can build an adequate preparation of sermons. Until the church learns that the preaching ministry must be protected, the preacher must learn to protect himself for the sake of his greater usefulness. The solution may be early hours before other people are about, or it may be late hours after most people are in bed. If a man does not find the solution God will soon know he is slipping, then he will know it, and finally the congregation will know it. If there is any substitute for just plain hard study in the preparation of sermons it has not yet been revealed."
John Wesley read books while riding horseback to meet his speaking appointments. At the age of sixty he was presented with a carriage, in which he built shelves for a small library. He thus spent his time reading while traveling over twenty thousand miles of British territory to preach thirty thousand sermons. During this time he also wrote two hundred books, which still wield a mighty influence for good. How true is the saying that "he who leads, reads," and it is just as true in reverse. Thomas Edison became acquainted with the best books and periodicals of his time and often read until two o'clock in the morning. John Erskine gave counsel when he said, "My advice to any book lover is to weed out his library once every two years and give away the books not likely to be read again." The preacher is wise who keeps only a working library, one adapted to his present and future needs.
Yes, "book knowledge" is one of the important qualifications for success in the gospel ministry. It prevents a preacher from becoming "inferior," and gives him "a commanding influence for good." But this alone is not sufficient, for "something more than book knowledge is essential," and these further essentials will be discussed in future articles.