To the Preacher from the Pew

IN RECENT years I have written very little, thinking that old retired workers should be neither seen nor heard. My work now is on a local level, and my place among the laymen in the pews affords me a safe and comfortable opportunity to see the church move forward in better and younger hands. . .

-now retired, spent forty-four years in denominational service, and served in such posts as missionary to China, college Bible teacher and president, president of the SDA Theological Seminary, and secretary of the General Conference.

IN RECENT years I have written very little, thinking that old retired workers should be neither seen nor heard. My work now is on a local level, and my place among the laymen in the pews affords me a safe and comfortable opportunity to see the church move forward in better and younger hands.

You are God's men, with God's message, doing God's work, in God's own way. Quite a responsibility, quite a privilege, and quite an honor all wrapped up in one human being.

The church is watching to see how well you discharge your duties. The world is watching to see what kind of fruit results from your ministry. The universe is watching to see how God's plan is working out under your care.

But Christ is waiting for the manifestation of Himself in His church, of which you are appointed to act as an undershepherd.

What a work to be done! What a man required to do it!

They are expecting to see revealed in you and me The Christ, who has come into our hearts to abide and to be The Lord of our lives.

They are not impressed with our rundown houses and yards, our careless dress and appearance, our lack of courtesy, and our poor manners.

They expect to see Christ in you and me, in your way of life and in mine. We belong to the royal family, and we must act our part. We are never off duty, never on vacation from our vocation, never free to do just as we please.

The world needs in 1973 what it needed more than nineteen hundred years ago—"a revelation of Christ" (The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).

It needs a message, not in tame, lifeless utterances, but in simple, compelling, convincing terms; not soft platitudes and pleasing anecdotes, but something so powerful that it can disturb the comfortable and yet so soothing that it can comfort the disturbed.

Few, if any, people like to be called sinners, yet your message must convince men that they are just that, and above all else that they need a Saviour with the power to cleanse and transform them into candidates for heaven. That is your business—to seek and to save and to reconcile such men and women, and even children and youth. The very nature of your work will not let you win a popularity contest—nor did your Master.

A Storm Ahead

These are serious times in which you live and work. The prospects are not bright for improvement. What you have to do must be done speedily, without delay. You must indeed be up and about your Father's business. The night comes when no man can work. The Sunday-Sabbath crisis is right upon us, and the second coming of our Lord and King is imminent. Our people must be ready. Yours is no ordinary task for ordinary times.

It is indeed apparent that you as Seventh-day Adventist ministers and preachers, by the very nature of your mission and your message, will be thrust into the vortex of the storm that is soon to break upon us and bring consternation to the world.

Words fail to convey the seriousness of the task to which God has called you and to which you have dedicated your life. No other line of service in this world can compare to the one you have entered. The eternal destiny of hundreds, yes, thousands, of individuals rests in your hands. On your every word, every sermon, every act, hangs the destiny of some poor soul.

Brand-new Persons

Your great satisfaction comes from seeing people change their way of life, and that change is well stated in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as it is interpreted by Taylor,* "When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun!" In Colossians 3:12-15, Paul adds:

As, therefore, God's picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. For give as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts and remember that as members of the one body you are called to live in harmony, and never forget to be thankful for what Cod has done for you (Phillips).†

This is but a brief glimpse at the Biblical word picture of The Christian, whom you as ministers are commissioned to "make"—to produce as the result of your work, your preaching, your ministry.

"There is nothing that Christ desires so much as agents who will represent to the world His Spirit and character. There is nothing that the world needs so much as the manifestation through humanity of the Saviour's love."— Christ's Object Lessons, p. 419.

God's Test for His Ministers

However, it is clear that:

Cod can use the human agent just to the extent that he will be worked by the Holy Spirit. To men who accept positions or responsibility as presidents, ministers, physicians, or workers in every line, I am bidden to say: Cod will test every man who enters His service. He does not ask, Do they possess learning and eloquence? Have they the ability to command and control and manage? He asks, Will they represent My character? Will they walk in humility, that I may teach them My way? The soul temple must not be defiled by any loose or unclean practice. Those whom I will acknowledge in the courts of heaven must be without spot and wrinkle. The Lord will use humble men to do a great and good work. Through them He will represent to the world the ineffaceable characteristics of the divine nature.—Ellen G. White letter 270, 1907. (Italics supplied.)

[1] Those who come out from the world, to stand distinct from worldlings in words and works, [2] those who realize that it is an honor to bear God's sign, will receive power to become His sons. The Lord will have men who can be depended on. . . . Those who in this sin-cursed earth bear this sign in holy boldness looking upon it as an honor, will be recognized and honored by Christ in the courts above.— Ellen G. White letter 125, 1903. (Italics supplied.)

It would seem that God is more concerned over character than literary degrees and intellectualism, over dedication, consecration, and involvement, than eloquence and brilliant oratory. Through the apostle God gives a few more practical words of counsel and sound advice to ministers:

I urge you then to see that your "flock of God" is properly fed and cared for. . . . You should aim not at being "little tin gods" but as examples of Christian living in the eyes of the flock committed to your charge (1 Peter 5:2-4, Phillips).

True indeed, the eyes of the flock, the eyes of the laymen in your church, are fixed upon you. They see everything. Nothing in your life is hidden from them. You and your family live as it were in a glass fishbowl, and your members are either very proud of you or they hang their heads in shame because of you. Such is your life and your influence in your church and in your community.

The work of the minister is a noble work, a difficult work, fraught with terrible responsibility. The eternal life or the eternal death of every man who comes within the radius of your influence is at stake and rests to some extent, perhaps to a greater degree than you realize, upon you.

You are ambassadors for Christ, to proclaim His message of salvation. Remember that a lack of consecration and wisdom in you may turn the balance for a soul, and send it to eternal death. You cannot afford to be careless and indifferent.— Gospel Workers, p. 35.

The unstudied, unconscious influence of a holy life is the most convincing sermon that can be given in favor of Christianity. ... A godly example has a power that it is impossible wholly to resist.— Ibid., p. 59.

What the church needs in these days of peril, is an army of workers who, like Paul, have educated themselves for usefulness, who have a deep experience in the things of Cod, and who are filled with earnestness and zeal. . . . For the want of such workers the cause of God languishes, and fatal errors, like a deadly poison, taint the morals and blight the hopes of a large part of the human race.— Ibid., p. 61.

Who Is Sufficient?

The natural human reaction to all of this is Who is sufficient for such a work? One thing is sure, we cannot do the work of the ministry in our own strength, but Cod Himself has given us one secret of success, which we do well to contemplate over and over again.

Listen to these words:

If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.— Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 189.

Now, that sounds simple enough for any or all of us. But from the same messenger comes still another secret of success:

The laborer for souls needs consecration, integrity, intelligence, industry, energy, and tact. Possessing these qualifications, no man can be inferior; instead, he will have a commanding influence for good.— Gospel Workers, p. 111.

The following counsel and warning sums up what we have tried to say so far, and sets the direction for further contemplation on this line of thought:

Love will do that which argument will fail to accomplish. But a moment's petulance, a single gruff answer, a lack of Christian politeness and courtesy in some small matter, may result in the loss of both friends and influence.— Ibid., p. 121.

To my ministering brethren may I say a word as one who now sits in the pews with my fellow lay men. We love every one of you. We pray for every one of you. We wish for every one of you Heaven's richest blessing and the greatest success.

But whatever you do or say, please do not be like the young minister who moved into his new church appointment determined to change and upset everything during his first month. When the old-timers approached the young iconoclast with some serious questions and concerns, the answer was "I did not come here to take orders, but to give them. Do as I say."

The members slipped back into their silence, and soon the attendance at Sabbath school and church fell off to a mere handful, and the young man was talking to empty pews.

The moral is, We cannot get along without you and your help, neither can you get along without our help and our support. A shepherd must have some sheep, and the sheep need a good shepherd.

* From the paraphrase, The Living B/We,Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. Used by permission.

† The Bible texts in this article credited to Phillips are from The New Testament in Modern English,© J. B. Phillips 1958. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.

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-now retired, spent forty-four years in denominational service, and served in such posts as missionary to China, college Bible teacher and president, president of the SDA Theological Seminary, and secretary of the General Conference.

November 1973

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