Founders Journal

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How Can We Help Our Pastor?

John A. Broadus

When ever your pastor may stand before the gathered assembly he can speak with more power because of you, if you do your duty to him and through him.

May I mention some of the ways in which we may help our pastor? I speak as one who at home sits for the most part, a private member of the church in the pew, toiling all the week, and often unable to preach on Sunday, and yet as one whose heart is all in sympathy with the pastor's heart, and perhaps a little better able than common to sympathize with both sides.

We can help him to draw a congregation. You know we always say now a days, that it is very important to get a man who can draw a congregation. So it is, though it is very important to consider what he draws them there for, and what he does with them after he gets them there; and sometimes it does seem to me that it would be better for some people to remain not drawn than to be drawn merely to hear and to witness that which does them harm rather than good. But we do want a man who can draw a congregation; and we can help our pastor to draw a congregation. How? Well, by taking care that we are always drawn ourselves, by occupying our own place, sometimes when we do not feel like it, on Sunday evening; because it is our duty to our pastor, our duty to the congregation, and our duty to the world.

And we can do something to bring others. I recall a story, that a few years after the war (which is the great chronological epoch in a large part of our country), at the white Sulphur Springs, in Virginia, was a venerable man at whom all the people looked with profound admiration, whose name was Robert E. Lee. He was a devout Episcopalian. One day a Presbyterian minister came to preach in the ballroom, according to custom, and he told me this story. He noticed that General Lee, who was a very particular man about all the proprieties of life, came in late, and he thought it was rather strange. He learned afterwards that the General had waited until all the people who were likely to attend the service had entered the room, and then he walked very quietly around in the corridors and parlors, and out under the trees, and wherever he saw a man or two standing he would go up and say gently: "We are going to have divine service this morning in the ball-room; won't you come?" And they all went. To me it was very touching that that grand old man, whose name was known all over the world and before whom all the people wanted to bow, should so quietly go around, and for a minister of another denomination also, and persuade them to go. Should not we take means to help our pastor to draw a congregation?

And when he begins to preach, cannot we help him to preach? Demosthenes is reported to have said (and he ought to have known something about it), that eloquence lies as much in the ear as in the tongue. Everybody who can speak effectively knows that the power of speaking depends very largely upon the way it is heard, upon the sympathy which one succeeds in gaining from those he addressed. If I were asked what is the first thing in effective preaching, I should say, sympathy; and what is the second thing, I should say, sympathy; and what is the third thing, sympathy. We should give our pastor sympathy when he preaches.

Sometimes one good listener who does not care much about the gospel can put the sermon all out of harmony. The soul of a man who can speak effectively is a very sensitive soul, easily repelled and chilled by what is unfavorable, and easily helped by the manifestation of simple and unpretentious sympathy.

How can we help our pastor? We can help him by talking about what he says; not talking about the performance and about the per-former, and all that, which, if it is appropriate anywhere, is surely all inappropriate when we turn away from the solemn worship of God, and from listening to sermons intended to do us good--but talking about the thoughts that he has given us, recalling them sometimes to one who has heard them like ourselves, repeating them sometimes to some one who has not had the opportunity of hearing them. Thus may we multiply whatever good thoughts the preacher is able to present, and keep them alive in our own minds and the minds of fellow-Christians.

Will you pardon an illustration here, even if it be a personal one? Last year in a city in Texas, I was told of the desire on the part of a lady for conversation, and when we met by arrangement she came in widow's [clothes], with a little boy of ten or twelve years old, and began to tell this story: Her husband was once a student at the University of Virginia, when the person she was talking to was the chaplain there, more than twenty-five years ago. He was of a Presbyterian family from Alabama, and said he never got acquainted with the chaplain, for the students were numerous, but that he heard the preaching a great deal, and in consequence of it, by God's blessing upon it, he was led to take hold as a Christian, and went home and joined the church of his parents.

After the war he married this lady, and a few years ago he passed away. She said he was in the habit, before she knew him, she learned, of talking often in the family about things he used to hear the preacher say; the preacher's words had gotten to be household words in the family. And then when they were married he taught some of them to her, and was often repeating things he used to hear the preacher say. Since he died she had been teaching them to the little boy--the preacher's words.

The heart of the preacher might well melt in his bosom at the story. To think that your poor words, which you yourself had wholly forgotten, which you could never have imagined had vitality enough for that, had been repeated among strangers, had been repeated by the young man to his mother, repeated by the young widow to the child--your poor words, thus mighty because they were God's truth you were trying to speak and because you had humbly sought God's blessing! And through all the years it went on, and the man knew not, for more than a quarter of a century, of all that story.

Ah, we never know when we are doing good. Sometimes we may think we are going to do great things, and so far as can ever be ascertained, we do nothing; and sometimes when we think we have done nothing, yet, by the blessing of God, some truth has been lodged in a mind here and there, to bear fruit after many days.

How can we help our pastor? We can furnish him illustrations. Mr. Spurgeon tells us that he requests his teachers, and his wife, and various other friends to hunt up illustrations for him. He asks them whenever they have come across anything in reading or in conversation that strikes them as good, to write it down and let him have it, and whenever he sees a fit opportunity he makes a point of it. We can all furnish our pastors with illustrations. In that very way, perhaps, we might give a preacher many things that would be useful to him.

In other ways we can all do so. Ah, when the preacher tells how it ought to be, if you can sometimes humbly testify, in the next meeting on Tuesday or Friday evening, how it has been in your experience, you are illustrating for the preacher. When the preacher tells what Christianity can do for people, if your life illustrates it for all around, there is a power that no speech can ever have.

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