Wise advice for a new small town pastor...
In honor of the the ordination and installation of Rev. Andrew Halsey as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, Mississippi, yesterday, here is a letter my Dad received from an older woman who had a few words of advice for new pastors starting out in a small town church. My Dad thought her words so wise that he ran them in his monthly column in Eternity magazine:
(The following letter was written by Mrs. Floyd K. Chapman, who lives in a small [population 1,064] Midwestern town. Her letter was written in response to an article about the suspicions some laymen have of their ministers and of interdenominational agencies. I found Mrs. Chapman's insight into the image of the Protestant minister so penetrating that I asked for permission to quote the letter. Mrs. Chapman kindly agreed. -Joseph Bayly).
The Big Truth about Many Preachers
I like to think I am a voice from the grass roots.
I am more than 60 years old, full-time employee of the local weekly paper, substitute public school teacher and superintendent of the Sunday school of the First Baptist Church. I have lived on a farm or a small town most of my life...
I love the Lord and His work and, I must confess, I like people. In spite of all their shortcomings, I do, and I feel that many of them like me, too. We often talk of things related to the church, our Lord and His Word.
It is true that we suspect new ministers of Communism and are, perhaps slow at accepting them. This is a changing and uneasy age, and we are afraid of being used. We believe in the Word of God and America, and are afraid unscrupulous persons will use us to work destruction to what we hold most dear and precious. We are very concerned with the criticism of the World Council of Churches and are afraid of alliances with those with whom we are unacquainted.
I think I could write a very good article entitled "The Big Truth about Many Preachers." I feel that many are called to serve God, but perhaps in some different way.
If the people are honestly convinced of a man's sincerity, they will not pay attention to what Sinclair Lewis or some other writer says, because few of the common people read as much as we'd like to think. Many I know read only the following: the headlines, daily funnies, lost and found items; local items. Also they read some farm magazine, after a fashion--then they turn on TV. This is truth, whether we want to admit it or not.
On Sunday they go to church--they like to hear about Jesus, because he loved them enough to put up with their failings. They are not especially interested in economics, except as it affects them directly, or in politics, except in presidential years. But they respect freedom beyond words. They despise anything that makes them lose their self respect and much talk to the contrary they fear the creeping socialism that has made so many dependent upon the monthly government check that puts the bread in their mouths.
They know that they are not learned or smart and they fear people who are, unless they love them. Love is something one feels and if one loves he overlooks so much.
Can you take the big truth, the fact that too many of our ministers do not like people. They love subject matter, but are not sympathetic with the daily problems and weaknesses of the common man. This is not a weakness confined to our denomination.
Too many think they know it all--and do not give the other fellow credit for any knowledge. For instance, a pastor in our community a few years ago attempted to tell one of our more successful farmers of the superiority of horsepower. If it was or was not superior was not the point: the farmer was operating a large farm successfully and happily with his modern machinery. The minister should have been more tactful. If he knew nothing about farming he should have kept still or asked questions.
Sir, I am only a small-town woman, but I am sincere when I say there are a few qualifications a minister must have. Without them, regardless of denomination, he will be accused of everything under the sun--including communism.
1. He must have had a sincere Christian experience and must sincerely love the Lord and His work.
2. He must have had a certain amount of training in Bible, organization and method.
3. He must be willing to work--not too good to use his hands at times--and not too proud to ask help if he needs it.
4. He must really like people--more than books, more than organization, more than position.
5. He must walk ahead leading the people gently as a shepherd, and not try to drive them with a whip.