Local church leaders and pastors may have different views on what is required of the outstanding minister.
In 1956 when H. Richard Niebuhr published his classic study, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, he called the ministry “the perplexed profession.” The theological and societal ferment of the sixties seemed to suggest that American youth was not challenged by the ministry: men left their pulpits for programs of social involvement, and some denominations reported serious declines in seminary enrollment and ministerial applicants. All the while, conservative churches were booming; but even they were having their pastoral difficulties. Some prophets of doom announced that a new breed of ministry was about to emerge, demanding a new kind of church.
But the CHRISTIANITY TODAY-Gallup Poll of 1,060 Protestant and 998 Catholic clergy seems to indicate otherwise. Evangelism is still the number one priority of the ministry, according to 59 percent of all the clergy polled. Does this mean that they are turning a deaf ear to the critical needs of society? No, for 82 percent of the clergy indicate that religious organizations should try to influence legislators to pass better laws. This should not be interpreted to mean that the clergy have all become activist in their emphasis, for 65 percent believe that the church should concentrate on personal renewal rather than social renewal.
In other words, we seem to have a pastoral profile that reveals a healthy balance of evangelism, social concern, and spiritual renewal. How this balance can be maintained and its concerns expedited, is quite another matter.
Top Priorities for Christians
The clergy were asked to select from the following list the number one priority for Christians: (1) Help to win the world for Jesus Christ; (2) Concentrate on the spiritual growth of one’s family and self; (3) Join groups and support causes that will improve the entire community; (4) Help strengthen the local church; and (5) Take part in efforts to influence local, state, and national legislation on important issues.
Table 1 summarizes the results and shows that evangelism takes the lead as the number one priority, with none of the other items even making a close second. Of course, we might inquire whether all the clergy would interpret “winning the world for Jesus Christ” in terms of New Testament evangelism.
It is significant that 66 percent of the clergy who are 50 years and older gave evangelism their first priority as opposed to 59 percent in the 18–29 years bracket and 55 percent in the 30–49 years bracket. This may suggest that the more mature clergy (although age is no guarantee of maturity) have stopped being attracted by all the latest fads and programs and have centered on the one great task of winning the lost.
This emphasis on evangelism, however, ought to say something to those who are in charge of ministerial education and training. While Bible institutes and Bible colleges offer courses in evangelism, a quick perusal of seminary catalogs indicates that there such courses are limited and usually offered as electives. In other words, our seminaries may not be training ministers in the very area they feel is most important! Perhaps this helps explain the popularity of the independent evangelism seminars that attract so many pastors and their lay leaders.
It would seem that the clergy polled look upon this evangelism as an individual ministry rather than the work of the whole church, for only 10 percent indicated that “strengthening the local church” was their first priority. It is difficult to conceive of New Testament evangelism apart from a strong local church that can receive the new Christians and help to nurture them. Perhaps this is a case of “salvation, yes; the church, no” and is a holdover from the attitude expressed in the sixties, “Jesus, yes; the church, no.”
Donald Gerig, senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, Illinois, adjacent to Chicago, has expressed his concern in this area: “The way we define the task of winning the world for Christ could well be the new ‘watershed issue’ to be faced in the church in the next decade.”
The Church and Society
The CHRISTIANITY TODAY-Gallup Poll asked: “How important do you think it is for religious organizations to make public statements about what they feel to be the will of God in political-economic matters?” Table 2 illustrates the response, with 51 percent of the clergy answering the question with “very important.”
As for age divisions, only 44 percent of the 18–29-year-olds responded “very important,” 51 percent of the 30–49-year-old bracket, and 54 percent of the clergy 50 years and older. One would think that the younger clergy would be “gung ho” for social and political action, but such is not the case. Perhaps this is a psychological backlash from the extremes of the sixties, or perhaps local churches are exerting more influence on their pastors to stay out of such activities. Hazel Erskin reported in 1967 that 60 percent of the Protestants looked unfavorably upon their pastors becoming involved in civil rights issues, and 71 percent considered such movements to be influenced by the Communists (Public Opinion Quarterly, XXXI; “The Polls: Demonstration and Race Riot”).
There is another possibility: the younger clergy want to avoid “labels,” and social involvement could get them branded as “liberals.” If this is the case, then it is a sad commentary on our theology and our integrity when we permit the “fear of man” to hinder our concern for those in need. Once again, we are forced to ask whether our ministerial training programs prepare pastors to deal with difficult social issues.
Pastor Gerig raises an incisive question at this point: “I am curious in my own mind whether the trend among the younger respondents represents a reaction against the more liberal social-political involvement of previous times, or a return to conservative standards to protect an affluent lifestyle. Frankly, I fear it may be the latter; and this could pose real problems for the church in the next few years as we are faced with the need to consciously limit our lifestyle.”
The CHRISTIANITY TODAY-Gallup Poll also asked: “Do you think religious organizations should or should not try to persuade senators and representatives to enact legislation they would like to see become law?” An overwhelming 82 percent of all the clergy said “should,” representing 93 percent of the Catholic clergy and 81 percent of the Protestant.
Does this represent a recovery of political conscience on the part of the Christian clergy? If so, then it also presents some problems. A glance at Table 1 will reveal that only 2 percent of all of the clergy polled felt that exercising political influence was their number one priority, yet 82 percent feel it is important to try to influence legislation. What is the relationship between evangelism and social concern, and how can the pastor keep his gospel witness clear and untarnished while identifying himself with specific political parties and legislative action? Not many evangelists have been seen at the White House lately!
Perhaps the word “persuade” was interpreted to mean: be informed, write letters, urge others to write letters, sign petitions, and vote wisely. If the word had been defined to mean overt action—sit-ins, protests, and the like—perhaps the response might have been different. However, if this is the true conviction of 82 percent of our clergy, why is there not more evidence of it? With the exception of editorials, carbon-copy resolutions passed at denominational meetings, and occasional sermons, not much political action is seen. It may be that concerned pastors are putting their money on the religious lobbying that goes on behind the scenes.
Clifford E. Anderson, executive secretary for Home Missions, Baptist General Conference, said the poll assumes ministers understand legislation and the legislative process. “I have not found this to be the case. Usually there is reaction rather than action,” he said.
Personal or Social Renewal?
Closely related to the above issues was question four on the poll: “Do you think the church in general should Concentrate its efforts more toward personal renewal or toward social renewal?” Sixty-six percent of the Protestant clergy and only 50 percent of the Catholic clergy voted “personal.” However, we should note that 32 percent of all the clergy felt that the two should be balanced equally, suggesting that it is not an either/or proposition but both, and the amazing thing is that only 2 percent of both the Protestant and Catholic clergy voted for social renewal.
Again, this may be a reaction to the social emphasis of the ministry during the activist sixties. Or it may be a matter of semantics: how do we define “social renewal?” After all, one man’s slum could be another man’s investment!
The allied question, however, helps to clarify the issue: “Do you think personal renewal generally leads to social renewal, or not?” Seventy-nine percent of all the clergy responded “yes.” There is no significant distribution among the age brackets (18–29, 82 percent; 30–49, 79 percent; 50 and older, 80 percent).
Noting the positive response to the question, Clifford Anderson commented, “Assuming personal renewal has taken place in many locations, there is not the strong corresponding evidence that it has brought strong social renewal.”
Rev. John Crocker of Faith Missionary Church in Indianapolis felt the response “reflects a widespread Christian idealism.” He added that social renewal is unlikely because society would refuse to engage the truth even if believers transmitted it faithfully.
The poll asked pastors to rank nine ministerial activities in terms of the “degree of satisfaction” received from each. First was preaching (47 percent), followed by administering the sacraments (14 percent), teaching (13 percent), evangelism (12 percent), study (11 percent), counseling and visitation (8 percent each), and administration and community service (2 percent each).
When you relate these figures to those that deal with the importance of various pastoral activities, you discover that priorities are directly related to pleasures. The poll asked the clergymen to “rank in order of importance” the same nine activities, and preaching came out on top (56 percent). Administration of the sacraments was listed first by 15 percent of the pastors, with study (13 percent), evangelism (12 percent), and teaching (10 percent) trailing behind. Visitation ranked first with only 5 percent, and 4 percent listed counseling as the most important. Administration was named most important by only 2 percent of the clergy, and 1 percent listed “community service.”
Responding to the question: “What programs in your church are especially successful?” 25 specific answers were given—everything from “liturgy/worship services” to “concern for the poor.”
It is no surprise that the satisfaction gained from church activities closely parallels the importance clergy place upon these activities. The thing we enjoy doing the most, and feel we do the best, usually gets the highest priority. These figures agree with Samuel Blizzard’s study reported on page 69 of Ferment in the Ministry. Blizzard surveyed five thousand ministers and discovered that preaching and pastoral care were their most rewarding ministries, and administration and executive functions their least rewarding.
However, it is dangerous for the pastor to take a subjective view of the ministry and only emphasize those ministries that personally reward him the most. “Without belittling the spiritual nature of the church,” responded Pastor Gerig, “I am convinced that pastors need to be better equipped to organize and administer their church program. Our seminaries need to present the ministry of administration more positively. I think it is possible to train strong leaders without sacrificing the preaching ministry.”
A local church ministry cannot be built on preaching alone. While a strong biblical ministry is important, it is also necessary to train the saints and channel them into effective service. It may be that the local church leaders and the pastors have a different view of the ministry, and this conflict of views is what generates many of the problems that hinder church growth and effectiveness. The Educational Testing Service questioned a thousand lay leaders from various denominations, and from their replies built a profile of “the outstanding minister.” Without identifying the profile, they sent it to a group of psychological testers and asked, “Who do you think is being described?” The reply: “A junior vice-president at Sears-Roebuck” (Look, Nov. 20, 1962, p. 117).
The emphasis in recent years on “body life” reminds us that the church should not expect the pastor and his staff to do all the work. Let the pastor perform those ministries he does best, and permit others to share the work and develop their own gifts. While there are a few gifted men who are strong in many areas of ministry, most pastors have to settle for two or three talents. Is this a handicap? No, not if the pastor admits his weaknesses and permits others to compensate for them. The important ingredients are honesty and humility, both on the part of the pastor and the church.
Alive and Well?
When asked what professional and personal needs they would like to see religious periodicals address more effectively, the pastors put “Counseling/Practical pastoral ministry” first (11 percent). Apparently they feel they were short-changed in these areas of study while in seminary. When you consider the fact that many seminary professors have long been isolated from the practical work of the parish ministry, it only complicates the problem further.
Second on their list was “Stress in ministry/Personal problems of pastor in a congregation” (8 percent). Even though 70 percent of the clergy seldom or never think about leaving the ministry, they still cope with stress and frustration. The fact that they recognize this need and ask for help is a sign of health.
“Preaching” was third on the list (7 percent). Again, our seminaries are haunted by the criticism, “You are not teaching pastors how to preach.” Apart from basic speech and homiletics courses, the student is required to take very few hours in this field; the rest of his training comes from electives (if he has the time) and the school of hard knocks. Another serious weakness is the divorcing of the other disciplines from preaching. The student graduates without knowing how Old Testament theology, hermeneutics, church history, and counseling all relate to the work of proclaiming God’s Word.
That the Christian ministry faces new challenges and demands, no one can deny. That the age-old spiritual resources need to be replaced, no one dare suggest. John Bunyan’s picture of the pastor still stands, and it still convicts us and encourages us to do our best: The pastor had “eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back.” The pastor “stood as if [he] pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over his head.”
Can a man want any greater calling?
Carl F. H. Henry, first editor of Christianity Today, is lecturer at large for World Vision International. An author of many books, he lives in Arlington, Virginia.
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