It comes as a shock to a minister to learn that a pulpit committee has overlooked his dedicated endowments and rejected him, considering him to have a negative personality. Church leaders recognize that an unattractive personality hurts a cause, and they dislike to recommend to any field a man who has neither a balance of good traits nor a graciousness of spirit. They seem to know that the personality and the preacher are not separable identities, that the man rises or falls, emerges to new heights or sinks to levels far beneath his capacity, because of the enhancement or the neglect of his identifying qualities. And it brings one up with a start to realize that his worth to his Lord is measured by the factors in his makeup.

So many aids to pastors fix attention on sermon preparation, administration, or program development that we are tempted to overlook the factor which often makes or breaks a minister—the effective use and enhancement of his personality. Until recently even divinity schools have failed to realize that an unconsidered and undeveloped personality may militate against all that they have sought to develop in their students. Today, in the midst of terrific competition for the minds, bodies, and souls of people, serious attention should be given to the person and the presence of the minister. For the man of God, it may be a time for soul culture—a big, personal landscaping operation.

“You either have it or you don’t!” is far too simple an appraisal of the personality. “Either a preacher’s got it, or he hasn’t” fails to consider that many ministers are not only making the most of what they have, but are zealously building personalities which enrich the trust given to them. Beecher admonished the young man with ministerial aspirations that the vision of “P.C.” which he claimed to have seen in the sky may have meant “Plow corn,” rather than “Preach Christ,” but plowing corn might be the foundation upon which to build a distinguished ministry. Memorable, enduring personalities are made.

Prima donnas exist, those who fulfill every whim of the congregation—that is, for a time—but these have no lasting place in the ministry. We are not pleading that the church raise up a breed of these. But men with marked identifying traits, whose gracious manners match their devotional life, whose bearing and presence bring dignity and honor to any occasion, whose physical appearance and strength of being bring confidence and hope—these are the need of the churches today.

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Developing Desirable Traits

The theme of this article, however, is here: this inestimable, important characteristic in a minister—a balanced, attractive personality that appeals to, and impresses others—can be developed. If it is true that “life is a landscaping job,” then a minister’s life is a total of qualities that have been carved out of rugged and often unyielding terrain. The difficulty lies in the fact that no one seems to tell the preacher so. No institution attempts to provide the pastor with a training-school for this important phase of life.

The pastor steps into his field with high hopes, only to stumble upon such distressing appraisals as, “Oh, if he’d only have his clothes pressed,” or “Where was he brought up? His conduct is so crude,” or “People quit coming to hear him; his pulpit manners are atrocious,” or “He expects us to send for him when his bedside presence is obnoxious.” How many have been offended for whom Christ died!

It is dead wrong to conceive that personality traits cannot be improved on the part of those who have been long in the ministry. Perhaps it is a little more difficult to alter those ingrained traits which distress a congregation. Even here, however, one can be made a new creature in Christ Jesus. It is true that some of the brethren come from such crude backgrounds that they have considerably more improving to do, but there are often qualities so precious that the greater effort to uncover them is rewarding.

Members of a congregation often pause before calling attention to a minister’s fault because of his sensitivity. One obvious reason why personality limitations are not brought to the attention of the pastor is the member’s fear that the minister will think the person to be “against the program.” Furthermore, too often the pastor will shut off all channels for personal improvement by little but quite vicious defense mechanisms. These only penalize those who are near to him and who would seek to befriend him by a suggestion. He becomes “conditioned” to his unhappy patterns of action and behavior, and woe be to the one who would help him.

How fortunate is that man of God who comes from a background that is steeped in good manners! Such homes, where gentle ways are expected and practiced, make their basic contribution to the Kingdom of God. But since so many of the brethren, as is expected, come from backgrounds which are unacquainted with the qualities essential to a minister’s effectiveness, the average pastor has a lot of soul-sculpturing to do. And since these unfortunate traits are unrecognized by the man himself, indeed are often held to tenaciously, their uprooting is difficult at the least.

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“He’ll always be crude, because he won’t put forth the effort to replace his graceless, tactless ways with manners which mark a gentleman,” was said with such finality that a pulpit committee went to the next name. Pathetically enough, here was a man who might have given to that field a magnificent service. And just as pathetic was the fact that nowhere along the line of the man’s training was he taught the laborious task of substituting gentle virtues for crude ones. It is as though those influences which build men for the ministry had conspired to withhold the disciplines and corrective measures which might have made brilliant a diamond from the rough.

Said one of the most prominent ministers of this generation, “It seems that I make the same grammatical errors my mother made before me, and, believe it or not, down the years of my preparation no one, or no class work, either pointed these out or impressed upon me the importance of their correction. And what pains me is that my entire ministry has been adversely affected.”

Many people—for whom Christ also died—simply do not like and will not tolerate a crude minister. Tragically enough, the minister who gives every evidence of poor breeding can’t interpret his own plight. Moreover, he interprets his rejection as something far remote from anything displeasing in his nature.

If only a fraction of the time that a theological student spent on his Greek or his mathematics could have been given to structuring his personality, so much of what now offends congregations would have been eliminated.

As a result, if a preacher is to learn the more beautiful and attractive qualities which will enhance his ministry, he must do it the hard way: wrest it out by himself. By God’s help, and through ruthless searching, this tool of the spirit may be made more worthy. Where, then, are the areas of the personality which may be in need of landscaping?

A List of Virtues

Pulpit Manners. How often should one be told by his instructors in speech that a minister should keep his feet on the floor! Fidgeting and wiggling are inexcusable. The gestures should be deliberate, measured, and eloquent. In the pulpit—as everywhere—the minister should be a gentleman.

Speech. The minister must deliberately take himself in hand and weed offensiveness from his conversation and public speech. The task is not an easy one.

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Appearance. People like to be proud of their pastor. They will not tolerate an inexcusable appearance for long.

Bedside Manner. A gracious, well-mannered call will be a blessing to the sick. The fitting, cheerful word will be in order, and brevity will be the rule.

Conversation. If there is one thing psychology may teach the minister in human relationships, it is to let the other person do the talking. There is enormous skill in drawing the other person out, that he may be at his best in expression.

Emotions. There are some who wear their emotions on their sleeves. Let us learn the beauty to be found in restraint.

Friendliness. If all these personality hallmarks demand discipline, certainly this one does: the art of being friendly. It is a beautiful trait.

Mood. “Be of good cheer!” is the theme of the Gospels. The negative mood, with its attendant attitude, can be a devastating influence upon a whole congregation.

Snobbery. Of all of the personality characteristics attributable to certain ministers, this one is most difficult to whip.

These are some of the negative characteristics which have unbecomingly clung to ministers. They have not only hurt the man but the cause he represents. Unfortunately, their opposites are not learned in the divinity school. They have to be wrought out on the hard anvil of experience. It is, however, a part of soul cultivation and a place where the man of God may set the example for his flock and for his fellows. F. B. MCALLISTER Cincinnati, Ohio (Retired Baptist pastor)

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