Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

“Brains in the Pulpit”

In Pastoral Ministry, Roy T. Brumbaugh on 06/08/2011 at 15:40

As we approach the Lord’s day, here is a reminder for pastors, and an encouragement for congregations to support their pastors in the good, but difficult work of sermon preparation. At the time he wrote this, Rev. Brumbaugh was serving his second pastorate, in the pulpit of the Presbyterian church in Coatesville, PA.

“Brains in the Pulpit”
by Rev. Roy T. Brumbaugh
[The Presbyterian 96.6 (11 Feb. 1926): 8.] 

“WANTED—brains in the pulpit.” The caption caught my eye while reading the Christmas number of The Literary Digest. I found that President Butler was again on a rampage ; yet there may be some reason in his madness. Dean Inge, in a recent article, deplored “the inferior intellectual quality” of the clergy. Perhaps the “gloomy Dean” has something concrete on which to base his accusation.

Observation leads me to believe that not so many ministers really study. Usually not because they do not want to, but because they do not have time to. The ordinary minister cannot be a strong pastor and a strong preacher at the same time, and so following popular demand and ofttimes the line of least resistance he abandons study, and takes to the street.

An ordinary minister cannot handle the executive responsibilities of a good-sized congregation with the variety of programme demanded by the average church, plus community duties, and at the same time sound the depths of profound thought ; so, succumbing to the cry of the hour, he builds up a splendid ecclesiastical machine and participates actively in the secular interests of the community. Oh, they starve to death.

Pastoral visitation has its place, and many are called to specialize therein. The Church needs good executives, and God bless the man who is thus endowed ; but are not Christian ministers over-emphasizing these things to the neglect of constructive Bible instruction?

All ministers must do some pastoral work ; all must organize their parishes, at least after a fashion, yet the study is still the place where soul food is prepared and the spiritual life of the minister built-up.

[John] Lord writes of Chrysostom, one of the greatest : “Chrysostom regarded his first duty to preach the Gospel. True, he was the almoner of his church and the director of its revenues ; but he felt that the Church of Christ had a higher vocation for a bishop to fill than to be a good business man. The great were displeased that he would not honor with his presence their sumptuous banquets. His power was not at the dinner table, but in the pulpit.”

When I left Princeton Seminary [Class of 1919], I was resolved I would allow nothing to stand in the way of mental and spiritual growth and adequate pulpit preparation, knowing that unless I grew personally, my people would be hindered, and that intensive study was essential to edifying sermons. Was it easy to carry out this resolution? Nothing harder in the world!

Private devotions were interrupted by a variety of calls and callers, but private devotions still get the preference.

Popular demand says, “Come out in to the streets, be sociable, let the people see you at all hours of the day” ; but study still get the cream of daily mental and physical vigor.

Secular organizations say, “Come, join us” ; but humanitarian appeals shall never precede the stentorian calls of the Church of God. Almost anyone will do social work ; how many will ask a lost soul to receive Christ the Savioiur?

American ministers are men of splendid brain capacity, but the complexities of church life leave little time for strictly mental culture and soul development. The pew is mostly to blame. However, that may be due to under-nourishment.

I yet believed in spiritual quality, at the same time being aware that prevalent opinion prefers quantity. Five hundred mature Christians are stronger in influence and greater in works than five thousand babes in Christ. Insufficient prayer and study on the part of the ministry may account for the presence of so many toothless, helpless, milk-imbibing infants in our congregations.

I may be wrong in my conclusions, but until I am convinced otherwise, pulpit preparation shall have first place in the work of the week.

May many of the younger ministers resolve to resist the seductions of things merely good and choose the best.

May the laity help us in our endeavor to deliver unto them that which we also received from the Lord—after much prayer and study.

“Wanted : Brains in the Pulpit”? No, rather the proper exercise of the brains already there.

The old Roman world was aroused from its degeneracy mainly by the force of the Christian pulpit. May not sacred eloquence to-day accomplish similar results?

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