A minister of forty years indulges in a bit of fantasy, sits in a pew, and surveys the church.…

Some time ago a religious journal ran a series of intriguing articles under the general title, “If I Were a Minister.” Every article was written by a layman whose privilege it was to “sit under” a particular preacher Sunday by Sunday. Ministers were told firmly, yet kindly, all sorts of useful things—how to preach, how to pray in public, how to visit the sick, how to counsel the perplexed, how to work happily with all sorts of people, how to look after the young and the middle-aged and the old, how to deal with the strong-willed and with the tenderhearted members of the flock, how to manage the cranks who come along, and so on. They were urged to be tactful without being insincere, to be patient without being slack, to be interesting without being sensational, to be up-to-date without being disloyal to the historic faith. Altogether the articles were a compendium of first-rate advice to which all preachers might well give earnest heed.

I have since been on the lookout for a complementary series—this time by ministers—entitled, “If I Were a Church Member.” So far this series has not appeared, but I feel quite well qualified to offer some suggestions for a first article. It is now half a century since, while yet a boy, I was received into church membership, and forty years since I was ordained to the gospel ministry. Suppose I had not become a preacher! Suppose I had remained all through the years just a church member, or had become an elder or deacon or steward—what then? How should I have shaped up to my responsibilities, met my obligations, performed my duties, and regarded my privileges as a member of Christ’s Church?

Well, I think that, first of all, I should be quite happy about my place in the church. Even if I were only an obscure member of a small congregation, I should nevertheless magnify my office and rejoice in my good fortune as one of Christ’s “little ones.” I should often remind myself of the wonder of church membership. Every Sunday as I joined in the worship and witness of the congregation, I should devoutly thank God for the high and holy privilege of being part of “the household of faith” and of “the ground and pillar of truth.” I should rejoice in the fact that I belonged to “the flock of God.”

Not that I should detract from membership in any other group to which I might belong. If I were a member of a basketball team, or a literary society, or a professional association, I should strive to be a worthy member. But I should seek to put the church first all the time, knowing that despite its human characteristics—indeed, its faults and failings—it is in its wholeness no mere human association but the very “Body of Christ.” I should sometimes say to myself, with St. Augustine, “Let others wrangle; I shall wonder.”

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And with this never-ceasing wonder in my heart, I should strive to be an active member of “the household of faith,” and not merely a sleeping partner. I should realize that my pastor is much happier about people who are usefully engaged in church activities than about those who remain on the sidelines, and that for the most part such people are too happy to be complainers. It is those members who do nothing, save look on critically at those who do something, who are the troublemakers; and that is the last thing I should want to be. In every church, as in other groups, there are people willing to work and people willing to let them. I should want to be among the former, knowingfull well that it is those members who work for Christ in the church who most truly know the blessedness of Christian living.

Secondly, if I were a church member, I should do my utmost to engender the spirit of harmony in the congregation, knowing that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” Not that I should always expect unanimity of opinion or uniformity of action; it takes all sorts of people to make a church, and differences of opinion are bound to occur. But I should try to remember that differences of opinion are but the division of labor in the search for truth and in the effort to discover the will of God in a given situation. Hearts touched by the Holy Spirit can agree, even though heads may differ, in seeking the solution to a difficult church problem. And so long as my fellow members agreed on the main points of the church’s life and witness, I should not be unduly disturbed by minor disagreements.

Hence I should pray for my pastor, for the congregation, and for myself, knowing that prayer is not only “the sword of the saints” (as Francis Thompson put it) but also the solvent of difficulties. At every worship service I should seek, through intercession and thanksgiving, to help create that atmosphere in which man’s work for God can best be done. I should ask for grace to love everybody, even those whom I found it hard to like. I should do my best to be on good working terms with the awkward, the touchy, the disgruntled, the people who think they should get more attention than they do. I should try to keep always in mind the proved spiritual fact that an atmosphere of prayer is far more effective than a barrage of criticism; and I should let prayer win.

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In the third place, if I were a church member, I should seek to encourage my fellow travelers in the Christian way. There are many disappointments in church life; there are things that depress us in our dealings with fellow believers. But knowing how easily we influence one another, I should say to my fellow workers in Christ’s cause: “Be of good courage. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” And I should look as if I meant it.

I should speak words of appreciation to my pastor, to the church officials, to the choir members, to church school teachers, to my fellow members, even to the janitor, whenever possible. Although we sometimes sing, “The Master praises; what are men?,” the human word of cheer helps mightily and can even save some despairing worker from giving up.

Fourthly, if I were a church member, I should realize that not one of us is infallible, not even the youngest; and so I should graciously submit to the will of the majority, even though I might believe a majority decision to be wrong. I should not be over-fond of having my own way. If I gave offense, even unwittingly, I should be willing to apologize; and I should be equally willing to forgive anyone who might have offended me, even deliberately. When I came across a tangle in church life I should do what I could to straighten it out, recalling that our Lord pronounced his blessing on the peacemakers.

I should set a watch on my tongue, thereby escaping the dangers of irresponsible gossip. I should especially refrain from criticizing the church and its members before children, before young people, before outsiders. I should “talk it up” wisely and enthusiastically, hoping to commend it to people who sit lightly to the things of God.

Fifthly, if I were a church member, I should support my church in every possible way, by my attendance and by my contributions, even to the point of sacrificial giving of time and money and energy. I should seek to interest my non-churchgoing friends and neighbors in the church, and should always speak of Christ’s Church as if it were (as indeed it is) the most wonderful association of people upon earth.

I should look up absentees, and inform the minister of any whom I know to be sick or in trouble. I should welcome visitors so that they would not feel strangers in God’s house, giving them my seat if necessary, or my hymnbook.

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I should strive to make my church the most sympathetic and understanding group in the community, a place where poor sinners and puzzled saints could find sympathy, fellowship, and inspiration, a place of forgiveness and healing and hope and assurance. In fact, I should do all in my power to bring about the answer to the oft-said prayer: “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” recognizing that I could do this only as I depended upon the enabling grace of Christ Jesus my Lord.

Finally, if I were a church member, I should try to keep ever before me my duty to bear witness, in daily character and conduct, to the redeeming grace of the Saviour. Sometimes I should remind myself of the old Roman proverb, “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine.” And always I should seek to implement in speech and action the saving truth in our Lord’s word to all his disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” “Ye are the light of the world”—salt to save men from moral decay, light to deliver men from spiritual darkness. Thus I should know the close connection between worship and witness; my place in the worshiping congregation would keep the salt from losing its savor and prevent the light from being hidden under a bushel.

Having read all that I have written you may well exclaim: “What a pity you ever became a minister! What a pity you did not remain a church member!” Alas! I fear that had I remained a church member I should often have failed grievously, for it is a very high ideal I have set forth. But “not failure, but low aim is crime,” and “who aims a star shoots higher far than he who aims a tree.” What a difference it would make to the Church—and to the world—if only our spiritual aims were higher! How much faster would God’s saving purpose for mankind be realized, if only every one of us strove more earnestly in Christ’s strength to be a worthy member of his Body, the Church!

T. Leo Brannon is pastor of the First Methodist Church of Samson, Alabama. He received the B.S. degree from Troy State College and the B.D. from Emory University.

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