[This article was laboriously typed on a special typewriter with a shield above the keys by E. R. Reynolds with his ataxic (spastic) left hand while a patient in bed in the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital. Brother Reynolds was seriously injured on October 22. 1966, by a fleeing thief who fired a shot at him which went through the left nostril and lodged in the rear center of his head. Brother Reynolds left the hospital last July 12 but is still essentially helpless and spends his days in a wheel chair. At the time of the accident he was serving as director of our Pakistan Union Training School, Chuharkana Mandi, West Pakistan. He was a second-generation missionary.—Editors]
A FRIEND and I were visiting recently. The Adventist ministry came up for discussion. The special topic occupying our attention was lazy ministers.
Now every Adventist preacher knows there is no time given by a conference staff to allow for laziness. Or is there? Such a charge would cause the average preacher to recoil.
The evangelist looks at the conference administrator and wishes he had office hours, and the departmental man, with his long hours out in the field, away from home, thinks the preacher lazy who goes to bed at 11:00 P.M. or midnight and then does not get up with the birds. But preacher laziness is a relative thing.
Not long after the visit mentioned at the outset of this article, I was talking with another friend. Our subject was the same. I thought I had a possible solution to the problem, but he ridiculed my ideas on the matter. But we both agreed a higher value placed on the ministry back in the schools might help. For more often than it should happen, someone says to a prospective, enterprising young candidate for the ministry, "Why do you want to be a preacher; why waste your time? You ought to be a doctor or a dentist." Now, I would not disparage a well-qualified medical profession but I lament that something less sometimes seems adequate for the ministry.
Laymen cannot and do not respect a lazy ministry. Who can blame them? Most of the successful among them are where they are because of hard work. They have every right to expect their leaders to show the same industry and character.
Most, though thanks be to God, not all, ministers are lazy in some form. This may be manifested by us in one of four ways: physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually.
Physical laziness is the only kind usually associated with the idea. But can the local clergy be blamed if their physique is not up to fitness levels? There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and if a man takes time for a swim, tennis, or golf in a consistent pattern, he often comes under withering administrative fire. And the older men cannot be expected to keep up with the younger men at the annual camp meeting time. It may be only once-a-year exertion for both groups, but the requirements of physical fitness vary according to one's age.
Jim was both handsome and popular. He also knew how and where to get the best "deals." He was not selfish with his information, either. Perhaps that was why he was so popular with the younger preachers. He even used his ability to save the conference money. That always makes a president and treasurer happy. So it was when it came time to pitch camp for camp meeting, Jim was more conspicuous by his absence than by his physical good looks. When he drove onto the campground in his late-model car, he was immediately surrounded by most of the young ministers present. After the swarm broke up a bit, a new man was bound to ask, "Who is that?"
"That is Jim," would be the reply.
"How does he rate?" would be the next question, somewhat tinged with envy.
"Oh, you don't know Jim?"
The last I heard, Jim was no longer a minister. God's work does not need lazy men no matter how busy they may be with good deals.
Then there are the mentally lazy. They borrow other men's sermons and seem never to have fresh ideas of their own. I am sure you have met this type. It is very easy to stumble into this pit.
One professor told his homiletics class of a young minister who returned to college after he had been preaching a couple of years, because he had run out of material. He had exhausted all he felt he had gained in college and had come back to get more.
Unfortunately, there are Adventist ministers like that. They expect to be moved within a three or four-year period, and then they will be able to repeat the good in their sermonic cycle. Such men are beyond their depth when they stay beyond that time. Close kin to them are those traveling preachers who have a notebook full of selmons they have preached before and felt were good.
The justification used by such is that they do not have time to prepare a new sermon each time they preach; and, anyway, they rework the old sermon to fit the new audience. Because they are dispensing spiritual food, I have an analogy from the realm of the physical to make. What housewife would keep guests coming to her table if all she did was to make a new gravy for yesterday's roast, on the grounds that everyone thought it was so good yesterday? If by the "no time" argument is meant an insufficiency of time to write out a sermon word for word, the point might be conceded. But to such I would suggest a brush-up on the expository method or extemporaneous. One of the finest sermons on death and the resurrection was preached expositorily on 1 Corinthians 15 by a traveling man who had his topic and title given to him.
I once knew a preacher who was socially lazy. He was otherwise industrious. He was a Christian gentleman and did his work well. He could also preach a good sermon. But he was definitely the opposite of gregarious. There are not many like him. His wife and children silently suffered a lack of the social contact they would have enjoyed. He gave as his excuse that he had no time. He had as much as we had. He just did not like social responsibilities.
Spiritually lazy men are akin to the intellectually lazy. They may go to sleep while studying, without being in the least concerned. There are even some who seem to think they can wait until they stand in the desk before they give any thought to the message of the day. Just because God occasionally gives His people their spiritual manna that way does not mean He will always rain down bread from heaven.
With these is the plagiarizer. There is a story told of the ministry of Dr. P. T. Magan. It seems that the conference asked him to take the sermon one Sabbath morning in a small, little-visited church. He preached a powerful sermon, but it was one that had appeared the week before as an article in the Review and Herald. At the close of. the service one good, elderly brother determined he would not let the young preacher get away with such an unseemly act of spiritual thievery.
"Young man," he began, "that was a good sermon you preached this morning. But it was almost word for word the same as an article last week by Percy T. Magan that appeared in the Review. Such use of another's material is just plain stealing."
The well-intentioned old man was a trifle hard of hearing and had missed the announcement at the beginning when the speaker had been introduced.
"But I am Percy T. Magan," pleaded the young preacher.
Not every borrower of the printed page is so fortunate as Dr. Magan was in having an opportunity to defend himself, even should he be innocent of the charge leveled at him.
It is no wonder that a lazy ministry fails to inspire the church to greater action. Seventh-day Adventist lay members are successful in their spheres in proportion to the drive they exercise. Nor ought they to expect less of their leaders. This is not meant to say that the Adventist minister is not busy. But more of us are lazier than we like to admit.
E.R. Reynolds, Jr.