MY TEEN years were frequently punctuated with chapel exercises and Weeks of Prayer. A large cross section of Adventist youth leaders and speakers were seen and heard during those academy and college days. Those presentations, either impressed or depressed. The preacher who attempted to identify strongly with young people by using their "slanguage," telling comical stories and in general acting like an insecure, bewildered teen-ager himself, was the type that depressed. Admittedly, those fugitives from propriety, seemingly reached higher peaks of popularity than other ministers. But to the serious youth it was evident that this inexpensive type of popularity was gained by mere religious entertainment. Those students struggling with temptation and doubt left those spiritual circuses void of needful spiritual ammunition. They sensed that the speaker "made a hit" with the majority,- but such shallow antics, which build an ego, leave souls vacant of vitality. The ministerial clown has his day, but night soon comes when both he and his admirers are left in dungeon darkness.
I had been in the ministry a dozen years when a church school Week of Prayer found me telling Bible stories to first-graders. Feeling the necessity of holding their attention at any cost, I dramatically described these stories with adjectives and vocal sound effects. Noah's flood became a humorous conglomeration of men and animals. The attention of the class was firmly riveted on me. They enjoyed every second of the Flood. Their gleeful response gave me assurance of success.
After the meeting, this experienced Christian teacher quietly declared, "I wish we had 'Weeks of Prayer like those we used to have." This statement jolted me into asking what she meant by this wish. She answered, "Oh, you made them laugh—you held their attention and they enjoyed it immensely—but I have seen Weeks of Prayer where hearts were melted and even these little ones sensed deeply the love of Christ and their need of Him."
That one remark started a gradual change in my preaching ministry. I began to sense that my past ministry was more of a performance than a witness. I recognized that all too often I preached to build myself rather than to build men. A fight began in my own soul to eliminate the trivial and elevate the significant.
There was a day when I consistently applied 2 Timothy 4:3 to non-Adventist preachers. "For the time will come when they will not stand wholesome teaching, but will follow their own fancy and gather a crowd of teachers to tickle their ears" (N.E.B.). * No longer do I make this mistake. God's remnant people have no immunity from ear ticklers. There is one thing certain, an ear tickler has a depthless spiritual experience.
Ellen G. White, in writing to an Elder Hull, made a penetrating observation. She said, "You handle solemn truths with ease, but do not live them, that is the reason why the heavenly endorsement is lacking. Many whose ears you have pleased will talk of the smart discourse, the able preacher, but are no more impressed with the necessity of obeying the truth than before 'they listened to it. They go on transgressing God's law as before. It was the minister that pleased them, not the truths which he uttered. You remain at so great a distance from God that His power does not send home the truth."—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 435.
The joker, the clown, the crude, the rude, who ascend the pulpit outwardly betray what already exists inwardly. Words betray a man's character. This fact never has a truer application than when related to a minister.
Nothing More Difficult
Today I am convinced that the hardest task in the ministry is to preach in such a way that minds are gripped, attention is held, souls are moved toward God by using right methods of persuasion. It is an easy and pleasurable experience to seduce a congregation with jesting,•joking, and bright unique remarks that result in broad handshakes accompanied by gushing remarks such as: "Pastor, what a marvelous speaker you are!" But to lure your people into the gospel net through a Spirit-filled proclamation using decorous words and sounds is an arduous and expensive task. Nothing is more difficult! It takes all a man has. In fact, it takes his life, for the life-giving virtue of such a minister is constantly being imparted.
From Where I Sit
From where I sit today, I watch an ever-increasing number of spokesmen attempting to present the gospel. Our showmen are still with us, but like gusts of fresh air we see a fine group of dedicated men who stand up and simply impart what they know the Word declares and what they have personally experienced through the power of the Word.
(To be continued)