Communication Between Pulpit and Pew

Building rapport between ministers and laymen.

JAMES J. SHORT, M.D., Cannel Valley. California

ANY lack of good rapport between min­isters and laymen naturally inhibits the program of the church. In seeking the reason for such a situation both ministers and laymen should be willing to examine themselves. Of course, it may be that our leaders are not conscious of any fault or indeed that there is any problem. But through the years attitudes and habits of thought have developed and have been perpetuated that have given the impres­sion that "these things ought not so to be" yet they are accepted as a matter of course.

More specifically, there appear to be two types of ministers in our ranks—those who identify themselves with "the priesthood of the believers" and those who identify the particular category to which a minister be­longs. Perhaps a few words from a layman, an erstwhile worker however, may not be out of place.

Repeal of the Golden Rule

First, let me say kindly that the out­standing characteristic of the esoteric priesthood type is a certain aloofness to­ward the members. He is noncommittal in conversation and thus manifests a lack of confidence in the lay membership. Therefore the free flow of ideas that should exist between members of the body of Christ is thwarted. Frustrations and irri­tations develop as church members feel that they are not trusted—simply by virtue of their being lay members and not clergy­men. Might it not be possible that many offshoots, which have so plagued our move­ment, are the result of such clerical atti­tudes? Courteous and thoughtful sugges­tions, written or verbal, are often ignored completely or are met with an enigmatic smile without commitment. Ministers and even administrators are often inaccessible, telephone calls are not returned, and promises are not kept; in fact, even the rules of ordinary courtesy seem at times not to be observed. Yet we will all admit that the golden rule has not been repealed.

These attitudes imply an underlying in­difference to the people in the pew—an assumed superiority in wisdom and knowl­edge of what constitutes Christian ethics and conduct. This viewpoint was unequiv­ocally expressed some years ago by quite a responsible administrator who was ques­tioned in a meeting as to why there was no lay representation on a certain local con­ference committee. He simply remarked that laymen could not contribute much, they usually just "go along." Then he said: "We [the ministers] live with these prob­lems, and know what they are all about." I was led to remark that history showed that the growth of the episcopacy was the beginning of the great apostasy. This prob­ably did not enhance the standing of lay people in the mind of this good brother.

Carping and Heckling Taboo

We have been sorry to see a type of de­fensiveness on the part of certain of our ministerial brethren. Occasionally we read and hear explosive denunciation of "criticism." Shakespeare's words may be apro­pos: "Methinks thou dost protest too much." Those who incline toward the con­cept of a hierarchical type of church polity naturally have an allergy to criticism. We would not condone criticism as such, but is not a certain type of criticism essential to real growth and development? Webster defines criticism as "analysis of qualities and evaluation of comparative worth." It does not necessarily mean faultfinding, censure, or destructiveness. No minister would claim to be perfect or infallible in all his ways. By virtue of his public career he should expect and accept an evalua­tion of his work and sermons. By accept­ing constructive suggestions he can grow and develop from strength to strength. He is always free to reject mere carping and heckling. Many a man has had to live with a very consistent critic—his beloved and observant wife. But a good companion is also a devoted booster. In our home we enjoy the criticisms of each other and de­spite these frequent interchanges I am happy to report that we still live together in peace and harmony and have done so for forty years!

Statistics Don't Prove Anything

One often hears the comment by minis­ters, "Our people are loyal. They give gen­erously." To what are they loyal? To the great principles of the gospel and to their leaders in so far as they stand for those prin­ciples. Offerings will be given even if they disapprove of certain methods and atti­tudes of leadership because they give "as unto the Lord." Generous offerings do not necessarily imply blanket approval of all that is done, however.

It could well be that a freer interchange between pulpit and pew, a more definite communication between ministers and members, each bearing mutually common burdens of the church, would mean much to the future success of the church. As mem­bers of the "royal priesthood" do not our laymen have a right to be heard rather than being relegated to the status of peons? Communication ceases to be communica­tion when it is just one way. In pulpit, press, or assembly too often the minister just tells the people, making scant provi­sion for an exchange of views. If lay mem­bers had an adequate forum it might be the best thing that could happen to a church. Many lay people have good intel­lects and may be as well informed and spiritually-minded as those who have been ordained to the ministry. Free and open exchange of viewpoints as in forum discus­sions "calling no man master," "in honor preferring one another," with Christian courtesy, tact, and restraint would, we feel, do much to cement closer bonds of sympathy and better cooperation. It is not for any one group to lord it over God's heritage as did the sons of Eli. Has not the time come for a "pressing together" not only of the membership as a whole but also of those on both sides of the line of demarcation?

"All Ye Are Brethren"

If all of us as ministers and laymen would in humility and earnest prayer re-examine ourselves to see whether improvement can­not be made to the end that the work of God be not hindered, a new warmth, con­fidence, and fellowship would, we feel, pre­vail in our midst. Such accusations as "brainwashing of the brethren" recently made by a veteran worker concerning a domineering pastor of a large congrega­tion would not be heard. Jesus said "One is your Master, . . . and all ye are brethren."

We pay tribute to those many God-fear­ing, member-loving ministers in our ranks who identify themselves with "the priest­hood of believers" and who have done so much by their Christian conduct, warmth, understanding, and sympathy to maintain the courage and morale of the total mem­bership. What blessings follow in their train! I cherish and prize my contacts with them. When the Holy Spirit has His way with us He will develop us into a genuinely united body in Christ. We need His power, but first of all we need His sanctifying grace.

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JAMES J. SHORT, M.D., Cannel Valley. California

July 1966

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