The Mental Health Ministry of the Local Church by Howard J. Clinebell, Jr.
Howard J. Clinebell, Jr. Is Professor of Pastoral Counseling at the School of Theology at Claremont, California (1977). He is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, and the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. He is a licensed marriage, child and family counselor in the State of California. His personal website is http://members.aol.com/clinebellh/index.htm, and his email address is clinebellH@aol.com. Originally published as Mental Health Through Christian Community Copyright © 1965,1972 by Abingdon Press Apex Edition published 1972. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 8: Creative Church Administration and Mental Health
It all started some years ago when Mr. Wahlstrom bought an old bombsight and took it apart just for the fun of it. When he began to put it together he found in his workshop some parts of an old alarm clock. He became fascinated to see how he could add these to the bombsight. Thus it began, and in the years since he has been adding wheels, belts, bells, and cogs until today there are some ten thousand parts in Wahlstrom's wonder. When he throws the switch three thousand of them move while the whole apparatus revolves on a turntable. Bells ring, lights flash, and hundreds of wheels go round. It is an awesome sight! The only thing about it is Mr. Wahlstrom's wonder doesn't do anything. It just runs! Wheels within wheels, cogs within cogs.( "The Minister: Pastor or Promoter," Pastoral Psychology [September, 1957], p. 13.)
-- -- Gene E. Bartlett
And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them . . . for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels
Friend or Foe of Mental Health?
For better or for worse, organizational work and administration are involved, to some degree, in everything a church does. Many ministers see such activities as burdensome necessary evils which must be tolerated. Frequently, the recent seminary graduate collides head-on with an unpleasant fact -- that he is the executive and administrator of a complex organization. This role greedily gobbles huge chunks of his time and energy. Having entered the ministry to "help people" and/or "serve God" through preaching, teaching, counseling, and pastoral work, he finds to his dismay that he is expected to "keep the machine running." He spends hour after hour each week in administrative chores -- attending meetings, raising the budget, recruiting youth leaders, pushing the latest "emphasis" from headquarters, pouring oil on a leader's ruffled feelings, arranging to get the church roof fixed, and helping to plan for the community 4th of July celebration.
"How," the harassed young minister asks himself, "can I do all these things and still find time to prepare inspiring sermons, minister to a host of sick and disturbed persons, keep 'spiritually ready' through reading and prayer, and still be a reasonably adequate husband and father?" Emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted at the end of a typical week, he sees the ministry as a reflection of Ezekiel's vision -- wheels within wheels. In response to the administrative rat race, some men leave the ministry. Others grit their teeth, get a larger appointment book, and endure the whirl. Fortunately, others find ways of decreasing the frustrations of administration by streamlining their efficiency as executives and utilizing the pastoral opportunities which inhere in every situation involving people.
In his study of Protestant clergymen ("The Minister's Dilemma," The Christian Century (April 25, 1956), pp. 508-9.) sociologist Samuel Blizzard found that the average minister spends nearly two-fifths of his time in administration and another tenth on organization (working with organizations, recruiting leaders, and so forth.) The study indicated that these were the functions which the ministers enjoyed least and felt most inadequately prepared to handle. Think of it -- spending half one's time doing things which are unsatisfying, if not distasteful! Given these feelings, administrative work is done without enthusiasm and often with mediocre results which serve to confirm the negative evaluation attached to this work at the outset.
Considering how much time ministers and lay leaders invest in administrative activities it is important that whatever creative potential they hold be realized in practice. The way a church is organized and administered actually has a great deal to do with its impact on mental health. Contrast the experiences which members of a failing, fragmented church have with those in a vigorous, united congregation. The minister's leadership in guiding, inspiring, and stimulating the growth of vibrant organizational life geared to meeting the needs of the maximum number of people is one of his major contributions to mental health. By providing effective leadership, he can help increase the overall vitality of the church organism which, in turn, gives each member a lift. Through counseling, a minister can help a maximum of several score individuals in a given year. Through creative leadership of the total church, he can help enrich the lives of several hundreds or more in the same period. A minister who neglects his role as leader of a religious community is sacrificing an opportunity to help create a redemptive fellowship which, as an organism, can become the instrument of healing and growth. If, on the other hand, he makes the concept of the church as " a vital outpost of the Kingdom" (I am indebted to James Ashbrook for this phrase.) operational in his ministry, he discovers that the most effective way of meeting the personality needs of the majority of his flock is through vital activities and program. In leading the church program, he finds abundant opportunities to utilize his pastoral skills. The same is true of the laymen who lead church groups.
The focal concern of this chapter is this -- How can the organizational structure and administrative methods of a local church have the maximum positive influence on the growth and health of persons? This is an extension of the concern of the preceding chapter. Organization and administration have to do with the group life of the church, particularly work and service groups.
The Heart and Goal of Church Administration
Unfortunately the terms "administrator" and "executive" have a metallic, manipulative ring, suggesting for most people the image of the organization man in a gray flannel suit. Even the term "pastoral director," in contrast to the intent of its originators, has a manipulative, managerial flavor. Because of the ubiquity of the big business image in our culture, administrative words in general carry a freight of negative overtones. Somehow, in the church, we must transcend the verbal symbols to capture a rich appreciation of the office of leader, builder, and shepherd of a redemptive community.
The heart and essence of church administration are interpersonal relationships! Church "machinery" is simply the organizational vehicle through which people relate with a certain continuity. The jaundiced look which some people cast at the church institution is appropriate only if the institution's fundamental purpose -- to provide channels for serving individuals -- has been forgotten and the institution has become an end in itself. Since the church "majors" in people, it needs to be keenly alert to the influence on personality of the way its machinery operates. Methods, programs, goals, and structures should be continually reevaluated in the light of the ultimate purpose of a church's organizational-administrative activities: The development of a redemptive fellowship in which the maximum number of persons can grow in their love of God and neighbor! "Organization exists to help the church in its work of developing Christian persons and a Christian society." (Lee J. Gable (ed.), Encyclopedia for Church Group Leaders (New York: Association Press, 1959), p. 541.)
In all social movements, organizational values tend to replace original goals. This hardening of institutional arteries has occurred repeatedly in the history of the church. As Robert Lee puts it, after doxology (the initial religious experience) comes theology (systematic teachings about the experience) and then sociology (the attempt to preserve the experience through organization). As he sees it, the organizational dilemma of the church is that the very institutional forms necessary for the church to carry on its work continually threaten to distort and obscure the fundamental purpose for which the institution was founded.( "The Organizational Dilemma in American Protestantism," Union Seminary Quarterly Review (November, 1960), pp. 9-10.)
In evaluating church machinery, it is useful to distinguish means and ends. Organizations, programs, and committees are means which should be evaluated in terms of the degree to which they contribute to or detract from the ends of fulfillment of persons and redemption of society. Certain administrative approaches actually contradict these basic purposes of the church. For example, a Madison-Avenue type professional fund-raiser used high-pressure, coercive techniques in a certain church's building-fund drive. These methods were in direct conflict with the respect-for-persons orientation of a Christian church's philosophy. Another example is the contradiction between a church's goal of enhancing family life and its organizational tendency to fragment families through the many family-separating activities in its program.
The Need for Person-Respecting Efficiency
If the kingdom were going to come by way of committee meetings, it would have arrived long ago. The weekly schedule of many churches mirrors the frantic activism of American life in general. Thoreau's sage advice to his readers regarding the overall patterns of their lives -- "simplify, simplify!" -- could be applied to church organizational structures with salutary effects. One reason church administration is frustrating is that many churches are organizational monstrosities -- ecclesiastical Wahlstrom's wonders. Streamlining the church's program and machinery is the job of a planning conference composed of top-level laymen and the minister. Their guiding principle should be to have the least amount of machinery necessary to achieve their church's goal. They should apply this test with incisiveness: Does this administrative procedure or this part of our organizational structure contribute to our church's effectiveness in increasing love of God and neighbor and in redeeming society?
Just as there is no justification for administrative top-heaviness, there is no excuse for slovenly methods. Efficient administration requires less energy and leaves more time for other pastoral duties than inefficient administration. To illustrate, a minister who keeps haphazard pastoral records, triples his headaches and paper work when report time arrives. As churches increase in size, administrative efficiency becomes more and more imperative. Christian laymen who are also efficiency-oriented business executives can render invaluable help in improving their church's fund-raising, record-keeping, and business procedures which often consume an inordinate amount of time. Ministers can well afford to learn from laymen in this area, and to delegate much of the responsibility to those who find satisfaction in making this their lay witness.
In the church, efficiency should never become an end in itself at the expense of persons. The "efficient" methods of the professional fund-raising mentioned above were not really efficient from the church's standpoint, since they conflicted with the very values for which a church exists.
Good administration includes seven functions.( Adapted from Lce J. Gable, Encyclopedia for Church Group Leaders, pp. 546-48.) Ineffectiveness is usually the result of faulty work in one or more of these areas:
(a) Planning. This includes choosing goals and developing the means by which the goals can be achieved. Many church groups short-circuit this process. Broad sharing in planning is important. (b) Organizing. It is wise to use existing organization in implementing plans whenever feasible. (c) Executing. Someone must see that the plans, as formulated, are carried out through the appropriate organizational structure. (d) Supervising. This includes training workers, boosting morale, coaching, and revising plans which prove to be faulty. (e) Coordinating. Communication is essential in coordinating the many facets of church activity. Morale will suffer if groups work at cross purposes. In larger churches it is especially crucial to keep communication lines open and coordination procedures operative. (f) Publicizing. The goal should be that of interpreting the church's program so that the maximum number will know about it, understand it, and be attracted to support it. Many churches hide their lights under the bushel of poor publicity. Skilled laymen in the communication arts can help here. (g) Evaluating. Opportunity for grass-roots participation in the evaluation and replanning process can do wonders for the spirit of a church group. Taking an active part in such a process is good for the mental health of members. The use of post-meeting evaluation sheets following a Lenten study series, for example, permits broad participation and helps keep program planning relevant to the needs and interests of the members.
Gene E. Bartlett tells of a conversation years ago with his father who, at that time, had completed twenty-five years in the ministry. His father said: " 'In these years I have discovered that the number of people who will be changed by an idea inculcated through my preaching is comparatively small. But the number of people who will grow when they are put to work in the church is comparatively large.' " (Bartlett, "The Minister: Pastor or Promoter," p. 12.) Committee meetings may be, as James Ashbrook points out, "oases of fellowship in deserts of loneliness" for some people. Sharing with others in significant projects often develops as a byproduct a deeper sense of Christian community than do direct efforts to create "fellowship." A person-centered committee or organization has an esteem-enhancing effect on its members. For persons caught in routine occupations with little or no opportunity to take initiative or express their personalities the opportunity to "speak their piece" and participate in "running the show," is deeply satisfying.( James B. Ashbrook. "Creative Church Administration," Pastoral Psychology (October, 1957). pp. 12-13.)
This helps immeasurably to overcome the depersonalized feelings of our mass culture. Growth, like learning, occurs through participation.
Church Administration as Pastoral Care
At a meeting of professors of pastoral care in Berkeley, California, in 1960, Paul Morentz, a psychiatrist, Lutheran minister, and seminary teacher suggested that the future of pastoral care is in creative church administration. I find a good deal of validity in this assertion. A minister (or lay group leader) should utilize a pastoral (shepherding) approach to every phase of his work. If he does this, administration becomes an important form of pastoral care affording him frequent opportunities to touch the lives of persons in helping, healing ways. Bartlett puts his finger on the key issue:
The question is whether the minister becomes an executive who occasionally functions as a pastor, or remains a pastor who also functions as an executive.... As long as a man remains a pastor in all his relationships, whether preaching, or calling or sitting on a committee, he will find that all of these things can become means of ministry. (Bartlett, "The Minister. Pastor or Promoter," p. 15.)
A pastoral administrator (or lay leader) can employ profitably whatever sensitivity he has derived from counseling training. His awareness of interpersonal dynamics is a distinct asset in selecting leaders and in the constructive handling of situations involving conflict. His knowledge of group dynamics can be used in leadership training and in assisting groups which are stalemated because of personality factors. The wise pastoral administrator gives moral support and is available as a resource person, but he avoids "carrying the ball" for a group.
Implied in the previous discussion is the idea that there should be a mutually beneficial reciprocity between pastoral counseling and pastoral administration.( This point is discussed illuminatingly in the Bartlet article cited above.) Counseling skills contribute immensely to creative administration. On the other hand, administration opens doors to counseling opportunities, both formal and informal. Precounseling often occurs in administrative contacts and organizational relationships. Working beside the minister on a committee allows a burdened person to size him up and decide whether to approach him for help. The minister whose interpersonal radar is sensitive can often spot subtle distress signals sent up unwittingly in the course of such meetings. If he suspects that a certain individual is hurting, he can make himself more psychologically accessible to that person by means of a series of pastoral calls.
A minister is the leader of a segment of the total Christian community. The question is not whether he will be an executive, but what kind -- weak or strong, rigid or flexible, inhibiting or releasing. The now familiar term "pastoral director" (in spite of the semantic limitations of "director"), is a fruitful one, as it relates to church administration as pastoral care. The minister is a leader of leaders just as he is a teacher of teachers and a counselor of counselors. The term "director" has the advantage of emphasizing the need for active leadership in the mode of a coach or orchestra conductor. (Perhaps "pastoral coach" or "pastoral conductor" would be happy alternatives to pastoral director.) Democratic leadership does not mean indecisive leadership. Studies in industrial psychology have shown that weak executive leadership has a deleterious influence on company morale, as does authoritarian leadership.
The concept "pastoral director" also implies the distribution of leadership. By developing a team of well-trained, dedicated lay leaders, a minister lightens what would otherwise be an unbearable load on himself. He also enhances the growth rate of his people and allows his church to do a better job through utilizing their "diversity of gifts."
The model of the orchestra conductor is a pregnant one for the pastoral director's self-image. By instructing, coordinating, and inspiring, a skilled conductor helps his musicians produce the best music of which they are collectively capable. He must be sensitive to feedback from the players and must provide them with opportunities to express their own unique talents at appropriate times in a production. In addition, he must restrain the prima donnas and help integrate their contributions in ways that enhance the total performance.
The ways in which a minister utilizes his laymen will have an impact on their mental health and his. lf they are treated as pawns to serve ends which he alone or his ecclesiastical superiors have chosen, the minister will soon encounter a psychological barrier of diminishing leadership returns. On the other hand, if laymen are regarded as full partners in the kingdom enterprise, their growing leadership potential will be released. They will sense whether or not their minister really believes in the mutual ministry of all Christians.
The process of distributing the leadership function to help a congregation mature is not easy. As James Ashbook puts it, "The central difficulty is to effect the transition from a dependent relationship to one of mutual interaction and responsibility." ("Creative Church Administration," p. 15.) Many congregations are conditioned by generations of minister-dominated administration to run to the current minister for "the word" on all manner of major and minor issues. This dependence is antithetical to responsible adult behavior. The follow-the-leader pattern tends to be a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle. The more a person succumbs to it, the less adequate he is to function as an adult. To be successful, the transition from dependence to interdependence must occur gradually. The attempt by a minister who is new in a church to introduce the distribution of leadership principle quickly is usually abortive. His efforts encounter a wall of hostility derived from having threatened a long-standing parent-child style of relating.
The personality costs of minister-dominated administration are exorbitant, indeed! By encouraging dependency on himself, a minister decreases his people's ability to function as adult decision-makers and initiators of action. As Ashbrook points out, covert, if not overt hostility will build up under such an approach:
One of the things which depth psychology has taught us is that dependent people resent their dependence. The hostility may be deeply repressed but it is present. As human beings we cannot give up our capacity for self-direction, under coercion or voluntarily, without feeling angry and frustrated. The parishioner may consciously desire the minister to dictate policy and program, but on a deeper level he resents such suppression of the image of God in him.( lbid., p. 14.)
Covert hostility is usually expressed in "passive-aggressive," forms. Members quietly sabotage the minister's well-laid plans by dragging their heels, coming late to meetings, "forgetting" essential items, or simply leaving the success of the entire enterprise in the minister's crowded (with dependent parishioners) lap.
The minister's authority role is the key issue in this matter. A Committee member's response to the minister is inevitably colored by the member's previous relationships with authority figures. "Transference feelings" may make him submissive, ingratiating, rebellious, or cooperative. As ministers, we tend to encourage the acquiescent and resent the rebellious. But it is as destructive to foster childish dependence as to reject the persistent resister. The members' responses to the minister's authority role constitute one of the minister's opportunities to help them and himself to mature.
Methods of Distributing Leadership
Like most other people, the typical minister's feelings toward relinquishing a controlling position are ambivalent. Most of us have a little thirst for power somewhere within us. Techniques designed to broaden a church's leadership base will be effective only if the minister's pro-democracy side outweighs his power motives. If he is deriving major (neurotic) satisfactions from "running the show," his use of democratic techniques will be a half-hearted farce, foredoomed to failure.
With the requisite pastoral wholeheartedness, team planning is a valuable means of distributing the leadership function. A planning conference or retreat to which all the leaders of a church are invited is a good way to accomplish this.( Helpful discussion of procedures for developing democratic leaders is found in L. Howard Grimes, The Church Redemptive (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1958), pp. 163ff, and Gable, Encyclopedia for Church Group Leaders, pp. 549ff.) Planning for a planning conference should itself be done on a group basis by key leaders. It is desirable to hold the planning conference at a spot away from the local church to encourage continuity of attendance and the growth of fellowship. The uniqueness of a planning retreat is its perspective -- allowing participants to obtain a wide-angle overview and to gain enough distance from the mundane details of operating a church program to consider fresh ideas and new directions. It should be a "creative conference" in which there is a minimum of agenda items and a maximum opportunity for thinking creatively about the long-range functions and goals of that church. Questions of short-range tactics should be left for monthly meetings. Instead, consideration should be given to long-range aims and strategies.
The motto of a planning retreat might be "Come, let us reason together." Communication is the heart of effective administration and of "creative conferences." If a conference is large, the frequent use of small groups is indicated to encourage maximum participation in the planning process. Techniques such as role-playing can help to bring parish problems to life in the awareness of the participants. By facilitating the maximum participation in the first stage of administration -- planning -- such a conference encourages involvement in the other six. Unless people have an opportunity to take part in policy decisions and planning, they cannot be expected to join enthusiastically in implementation.
The "leadership by default" principle used in group therapy is helpful to a minister desiring to escape from the trap of having committees and meetings ubiquitously minister-centered. The principle is that a group of persons ordinarily will not give up a comfortable dependent posture nor use their own potential until they have to, that is, until the leader stops behaving in a leader-centered manner. When asked in a committee meeting to make a decision which should be a corporate one, a minister can say, "I'm interested in what the group feels should be done about this." He can then facilitate the group process by encouraging them to explore the live options and by fulfilling the "group-centered leader" functions described in the last chapter.
Only by getting out of the center of things and helping laymen learn leadership skills can a minister enable his church to avoid the tragic waste of human capabilities so common in churches. By training and distributing leadership, a pastor can help make the "lay renaissance" a reality in his own parish.
Leadership distributing principles should also be applied in denominational circles. Denominational meetings should be experiences of creative planning and inspiration rather than pipelines which attempt (with mixed success) to transmit prefabricated programs to the local churches. Passive-aggressive techniques are used characteristically by parish ministers to block what they perceive as high-handed approaches "from the top." However, if local churches were more imaginative in creating their own programs, denominational agencies would find it less necessary to initiate so many "emphases." Real value does inhere in cooperative planning on both a denominational and ecumenical basis.
The Troubled Church Leader
C. W. Morris, psychiatrist and active churchman, points out that a ministry of reconciliation is inherent in the constructive handling of church fights.( "The Terror of Good Works." Pastoral Psychology (September, 1957), p. 29.) The minister or lay leader needs to understand something of the neurotic conflicts within the individuals who cause them. Thus he may be able to resolve such altercations with a minimum of damage to the church and with constructive effects on the persons involved.
The "obsessive-compulsive" type person often gravitates to positions of church leadership simply because he is "willing" (actually driven) to work incessantly. Such persons are hypercritical of the "laziness" of normal individuals who are not driven by the perfectionistic need to earn the acceptance of others. It takes an unusual measure of compassionate understanding on the minister's part to handle the interpersonal conflicts which result. Many ministers fall into the trap of exploiting the obsessive-compulsives' terror-driven need to work. This allows them to gain strategic positions of leadership in which their anger and fear can wreck havoc in interpersonal relationships. Participation in the life of a church does not "cure" the obsessive-compulsive person. However, if he is given a job in which he can channel his problem (keeping precise, detailed records, for instance), with a minimum of interpersonal contacts, it may help both him and the church.
An obsessive-compulsive Bible student began attending a certain church and immediately made himself unpopular by dominating every discussion with an ostentatious display of knowledge.( lbid., pp. 29-31.) He could not understand why others did not accept him. Fortunately, the minister was both insightful and redemptive in his approach. First, he got to know this "problem child" well. Behind the man's contentious use of biblical knowledge the minister sensed a cry for acceptance and help. Then he discussed the case confidentially with several of his strongest laymen, asking their help in integrating the man into the life of that church. He suggested that they give the man ample opportunity to air his views in "private hearings." The minister counseled with the laymen during the process helping them see the necessity, however difficult, of patience and kindness. Gradually the man's neurotic defenses were relaxed and, consequently, his objectionable behavior diminished. He eventually became able to lead productive discussions of the Bible in church groups.
In this case laymen and the pastor cooperated in a redemptive ministry which saved a man from rejection (which his anxiety made him invite) for useful service. That such a ministry of reconciliation is very difficult is obvious. That it is what a church should be doing is equally obvious. What often happens in such cases is that the person's neurotic behavior is increased by the anxiety which rejection arouses. He becomes more domineering and resorts to more pontificating which increases the rejection and isolation. The minister's neurotic defenses become involved in the power struggle and the vicious cycle whirls on. In administration, as in counseling, the people who test one's maturity the most severely are the very ones who need it the most desperately.
The Church Staff: Battleground or Brotherhood
Church relationships in general demonstrate that the treasure of the gospel is carried in some very earthy vessels. At no point is this more painfully obvious than among church staff members. Intrastaff squabbles are unconducive to either the staff's mental health or that of the congregation.
Understanding the dynamics of these conflicts is the place to start. Nonministerial staff members (secretaries, custodians, and so forth) tend to suffer from low morale because they are underpaid, overworked, taken for granted, and manipulated by both the minister and aggressive church members. Elementary principles of good employee relationships such as clear-cut job definitions, adequate pay and vacations, hospitalization insurance, retirement benefits, and appreciation when deserved, constitute the needed treatment. A church's social witness powder is very damp if it exploits its own workers.
Many factors produce friction among the ministerial staff. In those cases in which the head minister is a prima donna who is incapable of relating to peers, being aware of their emotional needs, or sharing the limelight, a parade of "assistant ministers" will come and go in rapid succession. What is needed is to replace the narcissist with a minister who has the maturity, to build a sense of community in the church, beginning with the staff. But since narcissistic ministers often appear to be skilled pulpiteers (as judged by some laymen) and homiletical finesse is usually given top priority by pastoral relations committees, staff effectiveness is frequently sacrificed instead.
If the head minister is reasonably mature several things can be done to build good ministerial staff relations. One is to allow every minister on a staff to preach at least occasionally. This will strengthen his status as a "minister" in the congregation's eyes. It will also distribute more equitably the ego food which comes from preaching. If the personality-hungers of an assistant minister are unmet, he will tend to become very jealous (consciously or unconsciously) of the preaching minister's weekly feast. Satisfying pastoral functions such as weddings and baptisms should also be shared among the ministerial staff, as should the frustrating chores which must be done in any church.
Each minister should have clearly deemed areas of responsibility, with recognition on the congregation's part that he is ministerial leader in those areas. A "minister of education," for example, should be the head minister in that area, directly responsible to the church board. Titles such as "assistant minister" and "associate minister" are incompatible with the development of genuine community within a staff, since they connote an inferior status. Titles which describe the area of primary responsibility are much better.
Frequent staff meetings and occasional staff retreats help build a sense of teamwork and iron out frictions before they grow into full-scale fracases. Communication -- open and honest -- is the pathway to a sense of community. The achievement of this within a staff pays rich dividends. As one experienced minister observed: "The church staff that achieves spiritual maturity infects the congregation with its spirit. Christian insight and practice in a staff lift the life of the church.( J. E. Carothers, "Disciplines for a Church Staff," New Christian Advocate, June, 1959, p. 33.)
The Church's Outreach
Church administration is simply a means of providing channels for the growth of koinonia. A vital aspect of this is the development of ways of reaching and attracting those who need what a church can give. Unfortunately, the word "evangelism" is so loaded with negative connotations for many thoughtful Christians as to limit its usefulness. For them, its overtones are imperialistic (invading the lives of others), revivalistic (connoting intellectual shallowness and emotionalism), and manipulative (pushing people by arousing guilt and fear). For them, the word "evangelist" has lost its root meaning -- "bearer of good news."
But somehow the healthy center of the evangelical thrust must be rescued from the mass manipulator and made a vital part of a church's program. If a church is satisfying heart-hungers and contributing to the growth of persons, it should try to offer its ministry to as many as possible of the spiritually hungry people in its community. Unless a church has the spirit of active outreach and sharing, its springs of creativity will dry up in the drought of ingrownness. A church's circle of active concern should include the whole family of God. As William T. Ham writes, "The Christian church has a secret at her heart and she wants to share it." (Casteel, Spiritual Renewal Through Personal Groups (New York: Association Press, 1957), p. 187).
To reach out in service to persons whether or not they join one's church is a vital aspect of this outward thrust. To make the "good news" good to particular persons in need -- this is the challenge. Paul M. Miller has produced a resource for helping apply mental health principles to a church's outreach activities.( Group Dynamics in Evangelism (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1958); see also Pastoral Evangelism by Samuel Southard (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1962).
He emphasizes the factors which make a Christian group unique and describes methods of preparing a congregation for "fellowship evangelism."
To contribute to mental health a church's outreach emphasis should have these characteristics: (a) It should be motivated by the desire to share what each member has found deeply meaningful and to learn from what others have found significant in their lives. Its spirit should be: "These insights and experiences have brought new life to me and I therefore offer them to you. What have you found that speaks to your condition and from which I can learn?" (b) Its method should be that of establishing depth relationships with others through which mutual growth can occur. It should involve bringing people into meaningful relationship with the church fellowship. (c) It should use attraction rather than coercion, trusting the magnetic power of a need-satisfying fellowship rather than employing guilt-fear motivators. (d) The program to attract new members should be only the beginning of a continuing program of education for personal maturity. By using a modified therapy approach in membership-training groups, new members can become emotionally involved in a meaningful group relationship from the beginning.
Church Administration and the Body of Christ
Anton Boisen, father of the clinical pastoral training movement, points to a "wise observer" who has said in effect that a weakness of psycho-analysis inheres in the fact that it lacks a church -- a fellowship of the faithful to help him carry on. However one views this familiar statement it is unquestionably true that from the standpoint of mental health the existence of the ongoing fellowship of a local church is one of the most significant facts about it. If this fellowship even begins to approximate a quality of relationships which can be described as "Christian," that fellowship becomes an open channel for the living Spirit. The renewal and growth which occurs within its fabric of relationships is clear evidence that that church is, in fact, a part of the Body of Christ, ministering to lonely, troubled persons at their point of greatest need. Creative church administration by ministers and laymen can help to provide such an organism through which the Spirit can be expressed in the world.
Ashbrook, James B. "Creative Church Administration." Pastoral Psychology (October, 1957), p. 11.
Grimes, Howard. The Church Redemptive. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1958. Chaps. X, XI.
Trecker, Harleigh B. New Understandings of Administration. New York: Association Press, 1961.
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