Time-tested rules for non-success

You have invited me to charge you on the occasion of your ordination to the Christian ministry. What can I say in six minutes that my colleagues and I have been unable to impart in six semesters? There are no more didactic pearls to cast. The theological cupboard is bare.

Since I cannot say anything about how to succeed in the ministry without repeating my colleagues or myself, I have chosen to speak on how to fail in it. There are experts on this platform on how to fail in specialized ministries—how to fail as a minister of Christian education; how to fail as the moderator of an association; how to fail as a preacher; how to fail as a pastoral counselor. But thirty years of experience on various theological faculties have made me a kind of general-purpose expert on ministerial failure. Let me share a few observations with you.

One royal road to failure is to get rid of all your salable books on theology a few weeks after you are ordained, forget all about the libraries, subscribe to some book-a-month club for appearance sake, and read avidly only in the morning newspaper, Time, and Look, and the monthly journals of canned homilies.

It will help too, if you never write your sermons, think through your pastoral prayers, or plan your worship services. If you depend on the inspiration of the evening before, you can, as you will soon find, mix metaphors, split infinitives, dangle participles, bury ideas under a mass of verbiage, bring the Lord up-to-date on the latest developments in the world and in the parish, and generally say nothing and accomplish nothing with much greater effect than you could by spending fifteen or twenty hours with your pen or typewriter.

There are several other ways to fail ...

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