Few things have changed as much in the last two decades as the image of the minister. The time was when as pastor he was the "person" of the community. He was the authority in many fields and not infrequently the best-educated person in the district. This has changed. Today there are likely to be numbers of people with education well beyond that of the minister. Today's multiplied advances make it impossible for the minister to be the authority in fields other than religious. Do we then negate the role of the minister? Never. His is an immense responsibility. "It is stern work, it is perilous work, to thrust your hand into the sun, and pull out a spark of immortal flame to warm the hearts of men."—JOYCE KILMER, Proud Poet.
The image of the minister in his own mind is important, but how the preacher appears from the front side of the pulpit has a direct bearing on his effectiveness. Whether we like it or not, the attitude of most people toward the church is determined by their attitude toward the minister. That this is not a valid measure matters not. This is the way it is. Thus the image and influence of the church are dependent on the public relations of the minister. We therefore do well to be alert to the obstacles to effectiveness.
Particularly within the church the minister's life is an open book. Today's communications make it impossible to hide away. This is good, unless his life gets in the way of his work. Even the little things count: his appearance, his mannerisms, his tone of voice, his attitude at the sickbed, how he conducts baptisms, weddings, funerals, and Communion; how he conducts the worship, how he holds the Scriptures, and even the way he walks. All these and more determine the receptiveness of those he would minister to. The minister must command respect, must sell himself to the people. Sincerity and balance are essential to ministerial respectability. The image will be repulsive and the influence negative without generous use of the tool of tact. Too many ministers have dug their ecclesiastical graves with tactlessness. Cultivate the sense of appropriateness. Demonstrate sensitivity to the atmosphere of the moment. Brotherly kindness in action is tact. An objective interest in the feelings of others begets a winning charm. The urgent desire to see the work move will find tact a useful tool when calculating for the long haul.
The community sees the minister as the symbol of the congregation. To capitalize on this the minister must study to avoid these common dangers. It is easy to affect a clericalism. People will be made to feel that the church as well as the minister has lost touch with humanity and settled back unconcerned in an ivory tower. The mounting pressure for social conformity tempts many a minister to throw public practice and preference to the wind with a sanctimonious view that it is nobody else's business how he manages his private life. To the other extreme is the tendency to become "one of the boys." It will not help him do the work of God's man if he becomes known as the one with the topping joke or as the life of the party.
On the positive side: When the minister is known as the man with a message, the message of the Book, the image of the community will be valuable. Let it be known that the minister is interested in people. He has a lift for sinners, comfort for the sorrowing, strength for the weak. People will come to know him as the man with the divine solution for men's problems.
The minister may be a man of God, but if the community is not aware of this, his effectiveness is limited. To construct a valuable ministerial image it is helpful to cultivate relationships with the molders of opinion in the community. It is good to become acquainted with the civic and business leaders. Joining organizations that already have recognition can be an assistance. However, if the business of selling light-bulbs, fruitcake, or Christmas trees becomes the major task of the minister to the detriment of Bible studies and home visitation, he has traded the lesser for the greater. A minister does well if he makes certain that his name is favorably in print at rather regular intervals. In metropolitan areas this may be difficult. Anyone can get his name before important people by letters of recognition. One can watch the papers and commend leaders of the city with a few personal words.
Someone is likely to ask, "Is all of this to equate the successful minister with a slick salesman? Does this imply that the ministry is little more than the clever application of the principles of manipulative psychology? A minister must be ethical enough to fit a worthy image. He may know the technique of selling himself to people, but without the presence of the Holy Spirit he is a sham and a failure. On the other hand, a good man without proper public relations will be only a meager success. The image must be an accurate revelation of the source of ministerial power. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13).
Possessing a living experience with Christ by the grace of God, we of the Adventist ministry can each be God's man in the church and the community. Our work will be effective because there is an image in the minds of the people that will not detract from the work of God but will advance His kingdom.