Recently I attended the annual meeting of the Adventist Chaplains Association, hosted this year by Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Shawnee Mission, Kansas. (It sounds like a log-cabin dispensary on an Indian reservation, but actually it is a modern, gleaming, highly equipped hospital in an affluent suburb of Kansas City.) Meeting with this group of Adventist ministers dedicated to a specialized ministry was a new experience for me in more ways than one. First, because I had never met with this group before, most of the faces were new to me, although I did come across some old friends. Second, it was a new experience because I detected an attitude that I had not often found (at least with the same intensity) in other groups of church workers. If I were to try to sum it up in one word, the word would be sensitivity.
From the first meeting, it became clear that here was a fellowship of Adventist ministers that was unusually sensitive to people—their needs, their feelings, their potential as human beings. I haven't yet decided whether this sensitivity came as a result of their work and training as chaplains or whether those who have this heightened quality are drawn to the chaplain ministry. However the case may be, its result was evident in the satisfaction with which these individuals met the challenges of their work. It is evident also in the lack of pretense among them or the need to impress their colleagues.
Since my own ministry has been primarily the traditional one of a pastor-evangelist, I couldn't help reflecting that much of what the chaplain does in ministering to people in a specialized way, the parish minister also finds included among his duties in a more diffused manner. Like the chaplain, he is called upon to deal with people in a variety of crises and situations. I carried from that meeting the conviction that ministers, whatever their responsibilities as pas tors, evangelists, administrators, depart mental directors, et cetera, could learn an important lesson from these chaplains—sensitivity to people.
How easy it is as busy pastors to schedule several hospital visits with a prearranged agenda in our minds—go in, greet the patient, express our concern or encouragement, read a text of Scripture, have prayer, and leave. In our impatience to get to our next appointment, we may never take time to find out how this person really feels, his fears or needs. We may never really minister to him individually. What we perceive as an expression of pastoral concern may seem to him mere mechanized, unfeeling ritual.
Likewise, do we see that Bible-study interest as a unique human being with a background and desires and fears and potential that make him or her like no other person on earth? Or is that Bible study just a time slot on a particular evening, a statistic moving on its way to the baptistry?
As an administrator, do we see our workers as fellow children of the same Father? Are we sensitive to their needs, their talents, their weaknesses? Do we seek to help them grow? Or do we come to view them as parts of a program that fulfill their positions with varying degrees of reliability and efficiency and thus either advance or retard our own objectives?
It's easy to become calloused to humans, their unpredictableness, their problems and their sufferings, in spite of Paul's counsel to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Rom. 12:15). Paradoxically, ministers whose work revolves around caring for people are among those most tempted to erect barriers against genuine involvement and sensitivity.
As gospel workers, detachment and a lack of sensitivity to people may be less demanding, but I am convinced it is also less satisfying; it may allow us to squeeze more activities into our day, but it will prove unproductive in the end. Our Lord identified with and entered into the feelings and lives of those to whom He ministered. If we are to be like Him, we cannot do otherwise. —B.R.H.