Saving Face and True Status

Where do I stand in the eyes of the people around me?

Secretary, Ministerial Association, Far Eastern Division

Whether it be the occidental ex­pression status, or the oriental ex­pression face, the idea is the same: "Where do I stand in the eyes of the people around me?" It would seem almost paradoxical that the minister of the gospel should even be conscious of such an idea about his own standing. The literal meaning of the word minister could imply a social position near the foot of the ladder. Yet every minister must face the realization that, however genuinely humble he may feel, the office of the ministry itself is the highest ever entrusted to men.

So we are inevitably involved in the problem of status.

It was this involvement that impelled the apostle Paul to write, "I magnify mine office" (Rom. 11:13). Would it be too much to say that this is the duty of every minister—to magnify the office of the min­istry? The attitude of the minister himself toward his position as a minister, and the attitude of the members of his church to­ward his ministry—these are legitimate concerns of every preacher.

It seems to be a well-documented fact that the work of the ministry is not so highly regarded today as it was in former years. In the so-called Christian countries this may be considered a by-product of a lessening interest in spiritual things, in re­ligion as a whole. In other countries it could well become a significant reason why non-Christians find little to attract them to the Christian faith. In either case, it is a tragedy.

Perhaps we should take a little time to analyze this decline in the status of the ministry.

Fifty or more years ago the min­ister was often the best-educated man in the community. Not only was he a spiritual leader but he was also regarded as a wise man. Now, the minister often feels that he is behind the times. In the business and social community, and among the members of his church may be any number of people who are better educated, more experienced, wider traveled than he. If he has the idea that his status depends on successful compe­tition in these fields, he is doomed to frus­tration.

Then there are financial considerations. The ministry has never been, and cer­tainly is not now, a lucrative profession. Hard pressed to keep up appearances, sometimes harassed with the routine prob­lems of personal finance, the minister is inevitably tempted with discouragement. Other young men, looking on, and without the compensating sense of divine call, find it easy to decide that the ministry is a some­what unrewarding way of life. Certainly the spiraling materialism, which is the dominating facet of today's society, con­tributes to the loss of regard for the min­istry.

But surveying the situation candidly, we must admit that to an embarrassingly large extent the decline in the status of the min­istry is the fault of the ministers themselves. Feelings of inadequacy because of limited education have often been magnified out of proportion by an even more basic lack of self-confidence. Many a young minister of outstanding ability has succeeded all too well in convincing the members of h;s con­gregation that he lacks the training that he needs. If he had not brought the subject up himself, the members would not have given it a thought. By consistent efforts to expand his knowledge through continued study and the maturing process of experience he could have served with dignity and success.

Ministers must also blame themselves for getting involved in such a variety of projects that they become men of affairs rather than men of God. They may be re­garded as great do-gooders, as energetic social workers, as outstanding promoters of the church's campaigns, but if any or the total of these projects takes precedence over the revealing of God to the people, the dignity of the ministry inevitably suf­fers loss.

How shall the minister go about magni­fying his office? What can we do to raise the status of the ministry? Certainly we cannot resort to the ordinary methods of advertising and public relations—these would merely hasten the decline by cheap­ening our calling. I would like to suggest three positive lines of action to be taken, not by the church, but by the individual minister.

Personal Cognizance of the Divine Call. More than personal ability, more than edu­cation, training, or experience, more than the nature of the work itself, it is this divine call that distinguishes the ministry from other professions. For a man to feel this call at the beginning of his service is not enough. It must be his constant impelling motive. The apostle Paul understood this well, for he wrote: "Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for ne­cessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). A personal cognizance of the divine call will automatically result in the magnifying of the office.

A Life Which Underwrites Our Message. Nothing contributes more to the decline in status of the ministry than the unministe­riallike lives of ministers. Personality weaknesses, carelessness in individual re­lationships, errors in judgment, open sin —these are disasters in anyone's life, but when they occur in the life of the minister, they constitute a blot on the whole profes­sion. Fortunately, the converse is also true. The minister whose life is a visible affirma­tion of his message not only exerts a tre­mendous influence for good but also mag­nifies the office of the ministry.

Raising the Level of Ministerial Perform­ance. This applies to three phases of the minister's activities: public presentation of the gospel, personal ministry, and or­ganizational supervision.

Every minister may become a better preacher. Why should he be content with mediocre speaking? Not only does he know or have access to the principles of public speaking but he also has abundant oppor­tunity to develop his abilities by practice. For material, he has the inexhaustible re­sources of the everlasting gospel. For in­spiration, he has the challenging thought that his audience will be expecting to hear a message from heaven. Seventh-day Ad­ventist ministers ought to be the greatest preachers in the world!

There are some ministers who do well in the pulpit, but fall down when it comes to personal ministry. Yet it is here that some of our most effective work can be done. Every minister should be a careful student of human nature. He should have a work­ing knowledge of the basic principles of psychology. He should develop skill in the art of listening, and in wisely discovering the real needs of those who seek his help.

Finally, the minister should be con­stantly developing proficiency in the tech­nical business of supervising church activi­ties. He should refresh his knowledge of church history and organization. Looking well to his liaison with the conference or mission office, he should also keep a care­ful check on his own church officers and the way in which they perform their duties.

In all of these ways, as the minister raises the level of his own performance, he will also be magnifying his office.

Jesus was concerned with this matter of the status of the ministry. In one memo­rable statement He set the ultimate stand­ard. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

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Secretary, Ministerial Association, Far Eastern Division

June 1964

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