Ministerial humility

Humility and honesty go hand in hand. These traits endear us to people, build trust between us, and let them know that we can relate with them in their struggles, fears, and doubts.

Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

I recently came across an informal little compilation called The Faith, Wit and Wisdom of Gerald H. Minchin. Dr. Minchin served the Church as minister and educator from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many, I'm sure, remember him as a genuinely spiritual man who was relentlessly thoughtful and honest about his faith. Here are a few examples of his thinking:

Under the subheading "Things I Do Not Understand," he confesses, "I do not understand the reasoning or logic of intercessory prayer. I know it works." "I do not understand why an omnipotent God could not have done a better job with this world." "I do not know why God did not reveal Himself in such a way that nobody could mistake his message or meaning." "I do not know why prophecy was not made so clear that a dozen different men would not come up with a dozen different interpretations." "I do not know why He did not give us a book so unmistakable in its teachings that honest men would not disagree over it." "I do not know why God is so silent when His creatures agonize in prayer."

Near the end of this list, there's this one: "I find it increasingly difficult to say what God ought to do under any given conditions. I do not have all the facts, and if I did, I would not know what to do with them. A few years ago I had all the answers I knew what to say. The older I get the more certain I am that there are many things I do not know."

Like Gerald H. Minchin, we all struggle with our own "l-don't-know" issues, don't we? The difference may be, how ever, that Dr. Minchin openly confessed his, and by doing so he became one with all the rest of us we who also have puzzling questions that challenge our faith.

How refreshing and relieving it is for someone to come right out with it! How disarming, how telling, how winning it is! Perhaps above all, it is reassuring when an "authority" makes such confessions. This is especially so when someone is honest about his or her limitations, even when the prevailing political pressure is for them not to do so. It can be a bit troubling, but it is at the same time very valuable when someone refuses to play the false role of being supremely sure of everything!

It is important in all this, of course, that the person who makes such confessions nevertheless goes on believing and embracing with both arms and a full heart the wonders of God's love as revealed in Jesus Christ. To carelessly express doubt is one of the most dam aging things a minister can do. But that's not what we are talking about here. We're talking instead about humility, honesty, and the admission that even though we don't have all the answers we still believe with a full heart.

Humility and honesty go hand in hand. These traits endear us to people, build trust between us, and let them know that we can relate with them in their struggles, fears, and doubts.

Our times are characterized by a skeptical cynicism not only toward the faith we hold dear, but often toward us as "believers." Christian faith and Christians themselves are being unprecedentedly questioned.

In reaction to this cynicism, too many of us have taken on an over-compensative, bombastic, almost pompous stance that leaves people with the impression we are "Know-it-alls" and that if people would just listen to us they'd finally "get it." That's always been a turn-off and it always will be. It only wins a few, and I'm not sure how much good it does them!

This issue of Ministry contains articles that relate to these questions in one way or another. Below is an apt sample quote from Samir Selmanovic's article, that encompasses my concerns well. Apart from Samir's own fine description of these dynamics, he draws this one from Thomas C. Oden: "The healthier the study of God, the more candid it remains about its own finitude, the stubborn limits of its own knowing, its own charades, Band-Aids, closets, masks, and broken windows"

At a closing point in Gerald Minchin's list of confessions there is this magnificently truthful statement: "Near death, Isaac Newton said, 'I am like a child playing with pebbles on the seashore, while the great ocean of truth lies stretched out before me.'" God help us to have the same kind of humble recognition of who we are and where we are. We are called, I believe, to be this veritably modest, this approachable and this honest about our calling and our faith, as we relate to those we seek to reach for Him.

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Willmore D. Eva is the former editor of Ministry Magazine.

May 2005

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