WHY did such a talented man as Jim leave the ministry and go into business for himself?" "What happened to our pastor? How could he leave his wife for another woman?" "What's wrong with preacher Bill? His attitude toward his work as a minister is so negative." "Why does our district leader act so discouraged all the time?"
This list of heartbreaking questions could be greatly expanded. One could tally all the reasons for discouragement and depression among preachers. We could form committees by the dozen to ponder the problems leading to failure in the ministry. Research organizations could be hired to analyze these problems and offer solutions. But isn't there at least one major factor that invariably enters any picture of failure among ministers?
Let us assume that the above examples of failure are men who were qualified in every respect to be ministers of the gospel. There are some men, both in and out of the ministry today, who are failures simply because we depend on human judgment alone in our selection of those to be ordained. Those who have not been called by Cod to the ministry and have failed are valid failures!
One inspired commentator claimed she "was shown that quite a number who were thinking it their duty to teach the word of God publicly had mistaken their work. They had no call to devote them selves to this solemn, responsible work. They were not qualified for the work of the ministry, for they could not instruct others properly." 1 She further stated that "God has repeatedly shown that persons should not be encouraged into the field without unmistakable evidence that He has called them. The Lord will not entrust the burden for his flock to unqualified individuals." 2
When God calls a man to the ministry and the brethren are aware of it, that man can count on triumph in his work. There is no such thing as failure for him as long as he follows the formula for success. God has never called anyone to failure, and that includes Noah! This does not mean to say that a God-called, thoroughly converted minister will never make a mistake nor experience at times what may appear as failure in his work.
As the world's Redeemer, Christ was constantly confronted with apparent failure. He, the messenger of mercy to our world, seemed to do little of the work He longed to do in uplifting and saving. Satanic influences were constantly working to oppose His way. But He would not be discouraged. 3
Why Peter Failed
Do you remember Peter's cursing denial of Christ? Peter was called and ordained by Christ, yet the divine commentary states that "Peter had prepared the way for his great sin."4 What a thought! Imagine a person consciously or unconsciously preparing the way for failure. None think it strange to prepare for success, but few consider the concept of preparing for failure. Some may think that Peter's denial experience was most uncommon. Yet he followed the same pattern that every last one of us follows who fails. In my thinking, there are no exceptions.
Just how did Peter prepare for failure? Speculation is unnecessary. The facts are that "it was in sleeping when Jesus bade him watch and pray that Peter had prepared the way for his great sin."5
It is well to remember that preparing for failure can involve more than one type of sleep! Physical unconsciousness is not the only way to induce insensitivity of mind, body, and soul. Those elements under our control that adversely affect any of our senses can be categorized as "sleep"! Furthermore, anything, regard less of how honorable and right it is, that is permitted to come between us and our daily hours of study and prayer induces spiritual sleepiness. We are urged to "guard jealously your hours for prayer, Bible study, and self-examination. Set aside a portion of each day for a study of the Scriptures and communion with Cod. Thus you will obtain spiritual strength, and will grow in favor with God."6
How many Adventist pulpits would be vacant next Sabbath if no minister were allowed to preach unless he had spent twelve hours (two hours a day) in Bible study and three hours (thirty minutes a day) in prayer during the preceding week? A rather solemnizing conjecture?
Modern preachers live in an intense environment. The world with its post offices, bookstands, newspapers, bill boards, and airwaves floods our eyes and ears with materials both good and bad. Even the church cranks out an amazing amount of wonderful propaganda that could claim a major portion of our reading and thinking time if we let it. No man can encompass even a small part of this deluge of materials, which in the main is putting mankind to sleep.
How should a minister relate himself to this problem? The same way Peter should have related himself to his situation in the garden. "Had those hours in the garden been spent in watching and prayer, Peter would not have been left to depend upon his own feeble strength. He would not have denied his Lord." 7
How desperately our church needs men of prayer and study.
The digitalis for spiritual heart failure among ministers is a daily dose of knee bending and Bible study. We can build churches, organize campaigns, be men of the century, sit on a score of commit tees, travel to and fro throughout the earth, but when one refuses to take time for prayer and Bible study each day I repeat, each day, not tomorrow, not next month, not next year, but each day he has failed! Some reason that when a certain project is finished they will do differently, but that time usually never comes. Furthermore, when one fails to spend time with God on any particular day, that failure is one that cannot be rectified. Time cannot be recalled. It is gone forever! A second chance to make that day go right will never be given.
Sit down, my fellow minister, and count the days when you did not spend time with Cod. Certainly, most of us accomplish something from the stand point of church work. We make some visits, preach a sermon or two, write letters, but this is merely sharing ourselves the giving of ourselves in service. What I am talking about is not giving of our selves. I am talking about receiving from God for ourselves those spiritually nutritious elements that make it possible for us to give properly of ourselves to others.
Furthermore, I am not advocating a cloistered life of study and prayer totally disconnected from service. Never! The two go hand in hand. My fear is that many Adventist ministers do not take time, for whatever reason, to let Cod mold the soul, to strengthen convictions, and bring vitality and life to the spiritual nature that results from communion with Him.
A Lesson From the Falcon
Come with me to a football stadium. Thousands are jammed in to see the U.S. Air Force Academy play. Just before the game begins, a sleek free-flight falcon is released. It gracefully soars upward over the stadium. Finally the bird circles, beating the air with its tapered wings, and waits for the signal. The crowd is as silent as just before a crucial play. Suddenly the bird folds its wings and drops like a jet airplane on a strafing run. Its zoom-lens eyes keep in focus a fist-sized leather lure whirling on a string above the head of its trainer and master, who is known as a falconer. At the last split-second, it brakes from 175 miles per hour to zero, sinks its talons in the lure, and rides it to the ground.
The training program of these symbolic airborn mascots of the Air Force Academy yields important lessons for us. Handlers must spend three to five hours every day with their birds. In good weather the birds are flown for about half an hour. When the weather is too bad for flying, the trainers take care of other duties, but there is one duty that must be performed without fail. The handler must hold the falcon each day even if the weather is too poor for flying. The smallest break in this routine under mines the trust between handler and bird, and undoes months of work.
We, as wild birds with spirits that need to be tamed; we who are prone to fly away from our Master; we who by nature are sinful and uncontrollable; we who are rebellious and cantankerous; we who permit anything and everything, including good things such as church work, to keep us under pressure so that we are depressed and discouraged; we who feel that we cannot take time for Cod as we should—oh, how desperately we need a daily handling by our divine Falconer, Jesus Christ!
Why not prepare for success instead of failure by beginning this day to spend time with Cod on an organized, routine basis? If this plan is earnestly and sincerely followed, there is no reason for failure in the Christian ministry!
1 Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 553.
2 Ibid., vol. 1, p. 209.
3 The Desire of Ages, p. 678.
4 Ibid.,p. 713.
6 Gospel Workers, p. 100.
7 The Desire of Ages, p. 714.