Thursday, February 2, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
‘What a job! – One hour a week!’
Many preachers will feel somewhat “understood” or even vindicated by this humorous description of a minister’s work I ran across a few weeks ago. It is by Ben Morrell, from a speech before the Committee on Religion in American Life, in answer to the question: “What does a minister do?”
“What does a minister do? Well, his time is his own, which means that he is always on the job. He teaches, though he must solicit his own classes. He heals, though without pills and scalpel. He is sometimes a lawyer, often a social worker, something of an editor, a bit of a philosopher and an entertainer, a salesman, a decorative piece at public functions, and he is supposed to be a scholar. He visits the sick, marries people, buries the dead, labors to console those who sorrow, and to admonish those who sin, and tries to stay sweet when chided by others for not doing his work according to the way they think it should be done. He plans programs, appoints commit tees (when he can get them), spends considerable time in keeping people out of each other’s hair. Between times he prepares a sermon, and preaches it on Sunday to those who don’t happen to have any other engagements. Then, on Monday, he smiles when some jovial chap roars: ‘What a job!—One hour a week!’”
But can you detect an undertone in those words, in the contemporary minister’s fears that he or she is helpless and irrelevant—and struggling to answer the question: “What is the goal for which the church is working,” and answer that, so often, the church is “a jack of all trades and master of none.”
This raises what I call the issue of “The Tyranny of Many Good Things,” in which churches and houses of worship undertake all sorts of good work and beneficial projects, things which any civic club or organization might worthily do—and take on so many of these things that the one thing the church is supposed to do that no one else can do becomes obscured or even lost from view.
I have a cartoon from the Doonesbury comic strip, in which the pastor is meeting with his church board, going over all the events and activities planned for the following week. The calendar is jammed full with things like weight-control groups, 12-step groups, art classes, basket weaving, book discussions, sports of all kinds, political organizations, blood pressure screenings, church committees, sessions of the official board, and the like. One of the board members then speaks up: “You did not mention worship next Sunday,” to which the minister responds: “We had to cancel that for lack of time!”
I once heard a church member (not one of mine) say that he had been at his church at one activity or another each night for the past 20 days! There is a sense in which one can be “too busy” with church, but there is also a sense in which churches can gather up too many things that rightly belong to other departments of the world. There is the danger that we may confuse the Gospel with good works, and though we believe in both, it is crucial to remember that the church alone is charged with the proclamation of the Gospel, while all sorts of organizations can undertake good works. The church is an outreach organization, not a social club, and while it may well be busy seven days a week—it really is that “one hour a week” that gets made fun of that is the church’s one irreplaceable reason for existence. Let us as ministers and members resolve to keep that sacred appointment this Sunday!
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