The Minister's Ally

The Minister's Ally

In spite of the fact that the ministry is such a high calling, there are times when the preacher has the experience of pouring his heart out in a great sermon and then finding that he had aroused only a minimum of response in his listeners. Why is this?

M.D.

TO THE minister, perhaps, the word preacher may signify the ultimate in attainment, and to preach the gospel the greatest of all privileges. But in spite of the fact that the ministry is such a high calling, there are times when the preacher has the experience of pouring his heart out in a great sermon and then finding that he had aroused only a minimum of response in his listeners. Why is this? What is the reason for this lack of response? Is it that the listener needs some kind of preparation before the ser­mon?

What, then, can be done to prepare the listener? What can be done to release the listener's mind, to open his heart so the prepared message will find fallow ground?

It has been said that the Presbyterian Church could never have existed had its fate depended only on its preachers, that even though the Presbyterian minister is better educated than many of his fellows, even though he does all the praying, de­livers the Scripture reading, and preaches a great intellectual sermon, the Presbyte­rian Church would have foundered centu­ries ago had it not been for its hymnbook. Again, it has been said that John Wesley's "sermon a day" could never have rocked England or America had he not been helped by his brother Charles who wrote more than six thousand hymns.

Remove the hymnbook, close up the or­gan, and disband the choir and we may see all sermons fall flat and the worship in our church dry up. Yes, the church can still be a wonderful place for quiet reflection and for hearing the gospel, or a place for mak­ing our prayers, but the spontaneity of the natural emotion of genuine religion and the common release of the heart as found in song would be gone. We would have muted an element of worship we need to enable us to give true praise and adoration to a living God.

In other words, the successful minister through the ages seems to have been the one who has carefully followed the "order of service" so faithfully outlined by David in Psalm 95:

"O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. . . . O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye hear his voice, harden not your heart" (Ps. 95:1-8).

Any deviation from this order of service has through the ages generally been a the­ological failure.

"But," says the minister, "I am following only the commandment that was given me to 'let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God' (Luke 9:60) and 'go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand' (Matt. 10:7); for which purpose 'the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings' (Isa. 61:1). Also," the minister hastens to add, "with Paul I must say, 'Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!' (1 Cor. 9:16), 'whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle' (1 Tim. 2:7)."

To such a dedicated minister, however, we would call attention to other scriptural texts. Perhaps a statistical study could be of some benefit. Admitted that the preacher is important in any church, yet the word preacher appears in the English Bible only eleven times while the word singer (s) ap­pears thirty-six times; the commandment to preach is given only six times while the commandment to sing to the Lord, to shout, to rejoice, to praise, or to make a joyful noise, et cetera, is given more than five hundred times; and given in other forms such as -eth, -ing, -ful, et cetera. These verbs appear an additional one thousand times. Such examples of the latter forms as "serve the Lord with gladness," "Come before his presence with singing," "Enter into his gates with thanksgiving,"' et cetera, are used to modify other verbs, and while not de­tracting from their own importance, they are giving emphasis to the verbs "serve," "come," and "enter."

Such a repetition of commandments to be joyful, as thus found throughout the Bible, would suggest the importance of this as a daily habit, that each should sing or make a joyful noise unto the Lord at least once daily, a habit of earlier Chris­tians now perhaps falling into disuse as our homes become filled with the raucous tones of the radio and TV.

What is more important than singing? Is prayer? The commandment to pray oc­curs in the Bible less than forty times, and even the well-known commandment to "pray without ceasing" is preceded by "Re­joice evermore" and followed by "In every thing give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). We must not, of course, conclude too much from statistical comparisons.

I would not propose to dictate how any minister should relate himself to his flock or advise him how to preach to them his God-given sermons; but I would suggest that careful consideration be given to the possibility of putting a greater emphasis on singing and on making a joyful noise to the Lord. Music has always been effective in preparing the hearts of the flock to re­ceive the sermons, or in other words it pre­pares the fallow ground for the seed.

We should also note the psychological impact of each one's being a participating member. Such participation encourages the feeling of "togetherness," and the im­portance of this must not be underesti­mated if the church is to remain active.

So let us put more emphasis on sacred song as an integral part of family and church worship. It will lift us all to God and prepare the hearts of our listeners for the message God has given us for them.

 


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M.D.

October 1961

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