PREACHERS MUST HAVE TIME TO THINK
By J. B. Chapman
From The Preacher's Magazine, Oct, 1929
The trend nowadays is toward administration. The duties of the religious leader are so multitudinous and so exacting that he is likely to get into a whirl. We are not now in the mood for saying what the preacher should ''do" or should not do in regard to the many things expected of him; each man will have to decide for himself. But of this much we are sure: If the preacher's preaching is going to be of a high type, the preacher must have time to meditate and pray, and he must also have time to "think." No man who is in a fever of hurry from one week's end to another can possibly "speak from the top of his mind."
And the "time" of which we speak cannot be taken in the form of an annual vacation, or even of a weekly rest day. Rather the program of the day and of the week must be so arranged that the preacher will have time with his books and time with his thoughts.
Because it is possible to compare preachers only with those of their own generation, we are inclined to be content with whatever is. But there can be little doubt that we are now in a period of "poor preaching." Various factors have doubtless entered into the ministerial deterioration of which we speak, but we think the full, hurried, fevered life which is expected of the preacher is one of the factors.
Of course there are many preachers who would have plenty of time if they but knew how to organize their program. There are others who would not make proper use of their time if they discovered a way to have more of it. Then there are some whose parish is able and should be willing to employ an assistant pastor to share the duties of the overworked leader. But whatever it takes, a way should be found to give the preacher time to think.
One of the great preachers of America accepts no pastoral duties at all. He even has a private office downtown with nothing but a private telephone. But his public utterances are such as to indicate much careful thought and his ministry is waited upon by throngs of people. Of course his is an exceptional example, and it is not desirable, even when it is possible, to separate the preacher from the pastor. But this is a period requiring discriminating thought. There is such a general dissemination of knowledge that the preacher must be discriminating as never before, and discrimination requires thinking. It is not enough for the preacher to read and travel and hear; he must think and select and arrange and construct.
The stale preacher is no worse than the "raw" preacher. One comes with threadbare platitudes and familiar truisms; the other peddles half-baked notions which may require revision before the close of the season. But neither touches life in vital places or stirs up lasting fire in the mind and heart.
It is easy to complain that people will not come to church, but it is wiser to provide a worthwhile meal for those who do come so that they will become anxious for their friends to share with them the following Sabbath. It is a fortunate layman, and a happy one too, who can say, "Our minister always preaches well." And if a good many laymen get to saying this thing, room will become a premium in that preacher's church.
We think the modern tendency to shelve the sermon and give principal place to other parts of the service is both wrong and unwise. It has pleased God to make preaching the principal instrument in the saving of souls, and there is no factor that will bold an audience Sabbath after Sabbath, year in. and year out, like good, sound well arranged, unctuous gospel preaching.
A preacher of our acquaintance says he cannot find time to prepare more than one good, well-thought-out sermon a week. And besides the question of time, he cannot concentrate the powers of mind and heart on more than one theme during such a time. And an observer announces that even the most gifted preachers really preach but one sermon which is fully up to their standard each week. One of the ways out of this is to devote one of the Sabbath services to evangelism and be content with an "exhortation" in that service. But it is not wise to make this the same service every time. Let it be the evening service sometimes and the morning service sometimes.
But however the program is arranged, there is no escape from the necessity of giving the preacher time to think, as well as time to pray and meditate, if the preaching is to be really worth hearing for any considerable length of time.