The Pew Looks at the Pulpit

The Pew Looks at the Pulpit: Know Your Limitations

This is a part of the viewpoint column.

VINSTON E. ADAMS Manager, West Indiss College Press, Jamaica

[Note: Your comments and constructive criticisms are invited. Whether it be praise or disapproval, our only re­quirement is that it be done in the framework of a Chris­tian spirit. All items under this heading reflect the per­sonal views of the respective writers and not necessarily those of this journal or the denomination at large.—Editors.

As was mentioned earlier, the mere fact  of ordination does not confer on a man talents that he did not previously possess. No one is made a financial genius by being ordained. His knowledge of economics is not increased. His knowledge of history and of languages remains the same. It is well, then, for him not to put on airs. It might get him into trouble.

Well do I remember hearing a sermon by one of our fairly prominent preachers built around a certain interpretation of a phrase in the New Testament Greek. It really was a good sermon and I enjoyed it. A few weeks later I had occasion to men­tion the subject to another minister, one who also had heard that sermon. With charity for his colleague he pointed out to me that the particular interpretation put on that Greek phrase was entirely unsup­portable. The Greek did not mean at all what the preacher had said it meant.

But you say that is a small matter. The congregation got a good sermon. What else should one want? There is something else I want. I want accuracy in such trans­lations. For all we know, it may be that someone in the audience knows Greek, or for that matter Hebrew, far better than we do. You will be ridiculous in his sight if you pull a stunt like that, even if en­tirely innocently. Never underestimate the erudition of your audience. You might be surprised. Some people, hearing a bad mistranslation, would say only that it was a mistake. Others would have a tendency to think it was a deliberate deception. In the first case you would be thought igno­rant and your influence impaired. In the second case your influence would be de­stroyed. You can afford neither.

In these modern days general knowledge of the ancient languages is increasing. Scholarship is unearthing new meanings to old phrases. It isn't safe for one to go by what his antiquities teacher taught him ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. If you can­not keep up with modern understanding of the ancient languages, don't preach sermons that will involve such interpreta­tion. You will be a better preacher for hav­ing avoided this pitfall.

Buying "Know-how"

Some years ago I was a member of a committee that was planning on buying a certain tract of land. We had all visited the place and had evaluated it. It suited our purpose fairly well, and we decided to secure it. At the meeting called to take the final vote, I asked the chairman, who had been doing all the actual negotiating with the opposite parties, whether he had asked the opinion of other people in that community as to the proper price for that property. Acting as though I had asked an improper question, the chairman turned to me and said, "Adams, the only way I know how to buy a piece of land is to pay what the owner asks." And with that he called for the vote. It was bought at the price requested. Later on the chairman found out that we had paid about five times what the property was locally con­sidered to be worth. I will say for him that he was man enough to admit before the committee later that we had been taken in and that if he had been wiser he would have offered them much less money.

On another occasion, prices on con­struction work of various kinds were se­cured. When certain specifications were not met, the committee found it impossi­ble to find anyone who was responsible, for every contract had been sublet from two to five times, and not one of the parties would take the responsibility. We paid dearly for that bit of financial folly.

I have seen many thousands of dollars wasted, spent by well-meaning but igno­rant committees, trusting to the judgment of ordained men instead of taking the ad­vice of others on the committees.

One of the ministers on this particular committee was especially close to me. I said to him, "Why don't we investigate more thoroughly before we fall into these traps?" His reply was enlightening. It was something like this: "I know I am a fi­nancial fool. I always buy high and sell low in my personal finances, and I guess it just carries over into committee work too."

Then I asked him just how he got into this frame of mind. "When I deal with a man, I like to pay him a liberal price so that he will think of me as a liberal man. When I sell I like to have him think I am doing him a favor by selling at a small price."

I believe he was telling the truth, but at what a cost to the denomination! If such financially irresponsible persons would only come to the point where they recognize their limitations and let other people handle business, the denomination would be many thousands of dollars richer each year, and not so many of our preach­ers would make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of those financially wiser.

Shades of Infallibility

There is not one among our ordained men who will claim infallibility, that or­dination has created a situation where he cannot err. But it is a tragic fact that some times shades of this attitude creep into the dealings of our ordained men. Nurtured shades of infallibility do not let you trust your fellow men. Some tend to trust only their own judgment. In whatever ways their opinions meet those of their fellow men, they tend to trust only their own.

I am a printer. I have printed dozens of handbills for numbers of series of evan­gelistic meetings. For the most part the various preachers lay out their own hand­bills and posters according to their own likes. The printed handbill or poster is often the first introduction a nonchurch member will have to Seventh-day Advent­ists. If it is badly laid out, if it is ineptly worded, it not only fails to draw people to the meeting place but it creates a bad impression in the minds of those it is in­tended to influence for good. It repels them. It gives a reverse reaction.

To print advertising intended to attract people to public meetings in a shoddy way, obviously defective as to layout, gramma­tical construction, logical expression of ideas, is not only ineffective, but it makes the church a laughingstock to those we wish to attract. To put out such adertis­ing is like inviting guests to come to our home for a meal and then setting our food before them in dirty dishes. They will go away, remembering not the food we served, no matter how nutritious or palatable it may have been, but instead, the dirty dishes we used, and they won't come back.

Leave It to the Printer

I know a few preachers (I am sorry they are so few in number) who take the copy for their proposed handbills and advertis­ing to a professional layout man who gives them competent advice. These preachers heed the advice, and it pays off. They are able to attract large crowds, hold them, and bring them into the church. And when these same men move to an­other city they enlist the aid of other lay­out men. They simply do not trust the old ideas in a new place. Of course, the cost is more than if they trust themselves, but the effectiveness is so much greater that no one complains about the few extra dollars spent.

In one place where I worked a preacher made the rule that we were to do no print­ing for him without his personal ap­proval. He set himself up as a judge of all the presswork we were to do for him. And when we had to do work for him when he was away, he told us to call his secre­tary, who would O.K. our work. We liked him and his secretary, but frankly our workmen knew a lot more about the work we did for him than he or his secretary did. We tried to give him all he requested, but even with all his precautions he never got a bit better printing than if he had never seen any of it before it was run.

Some preachers on institutional boards tend to be domineering. I remember one of our better-known preachers who was for a short time a member of the board of an institution where I worked. The printing department was on the brink of extinction because of lack of modernization. I was new there, and the manager asked me if I would conduct the smaller board on a tour of my department. This would give me an opportunity to show them the inadequacies firsthand and explain what was needed and why.

Readily I seized the opportunity. I took the men throughout the shop and laid matters clearly before them step by step. When we had finished the tour, this man, dramatist that he was, turned to me and said something like this in his stentorian voice: "Don't tell us any more. It's a terri­ble tale. I can't stand it. I'm going to have to go home now, take down my hair, and have a good cry." The merriment he wanted to create was the only concrete re­sult of the tour. He had destroyed in the minds of his fellow board members any desire they may have had to relieve our situation. It was not until a new adminis­tration came into the union and the insti­tution that we were able to make the prog­ress the times demanded.

(To be continued)


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VINSTON E. ADAMS Manager, West Indiss College Press, Jamaica

August 1968

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