rules for a preacher circa 1888, rule 5

“Speak evil of no one, because your word, especially, would eat as doth a canker.  Keep your thoughts within your own breast till you come to the person concerned.”

 When you read this rule, there is an emphasis on the word, “especially.”  This handbook is absolutely reminding the minister of their positional authority in the lives of people. The rule reminds the minister, “if your words are evil, they will be like a flesh eating virus.”  This is a vivid look at the power of the words of a minister.

The danger in speaking evil of someone is that your listener will believe you.  Jesus speaks primarily of transformation of the heart.  He says things like, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” and, “you will be acquitted and condemned by the words you have said.”  Speaking evil of someone is reflective of a heart that is not transformed by the love of Jesus.  There is an even bigger problem; the chief job of the preacher is to proclaim truth.  Speaking evil of a person may cause people to not believe the truth that you have to tell.  When we proclaim evil, we teach others to do the same.

The person who is called to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus has important words.  Therefore, in and out of the pulpit, every word said matters. The moment you begin to speak negatively of others is the moment that your pulpit loses authority.

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rules for a preacher circa 1888, rule 4

Rule 4: “Believe evil of no one without good evidence, unless you see it done take heed how you credit it.  Put the best construction on everything.  You know the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner’s side.”

 Guilty as charged.  I’m not sure about you but I find this rule very difficult. People can be hard to trust and I’ve been in youth ministry a long time.  I know when people are lying through their teethe.  However, ministers of the gospel cannot appear to be un-redemptive in their character or conduct.  I don’t think we can afford to look naive either.  The bottom line is that the preacher needs to maintain integrity in situations when it is far to easy to take sides.

I love the idea, “put the best construction on everything.”  To me this means to handle each situation with grace and to not assume anything of anybody.  The bottom line is that the preacher needs to maintain a seat at the table to speak Biblical truth into the lives of the members of the church.  The preacher who shows everything in a negative light will likely lose their congregation, or have an overly negative congregation.

The idea that the Judge is always on the prisoners’ side is reminiscent of Christ redeeming a world that sinful from birth.  A world that is filled with unredeemed good people.  Jesus was on their side. The tax collector, the prostitute, the adulterer and the drunkard, Jesus came for them.  Jesus came for us.  How great it is to always keep this in perspective. This is a perspective that a preacher can never afford to lose.

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rules for preachers circa 1888, rule 3

Rule 3 Converse yourself sparingly, and conduct yourself prudently with women.

There are two parts to this that line up. To, “converse yourself sparingly” means to be humble and not overly obnoxious or self-promoting.  In other words, in conversation, Jesus should come out of you more than yourself.  Then there is this rule to, “conduct yourself prudently with women.”  In 1888, there were only men ordained to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church, so this manual is written manly to men. These are great rules for any preacher.

The Bible talks about all kinds of temptations and it talks about them in terms of “resisting.”  However, when it talks about sexual temptation it says, “run.”  I think that sexual sin is so seductive that the biblical writers knew that if someone didn’t put physical distance between themselves and the temptation then they would become overwhelmed by it.

Over and over we have seen Christian leaders fall from grace. When I was a kid we went to a church where the pastor had an affair and we left, along with many others.  My parents had to make a decision and they decided that we could have stronger values outside of the church.  While I disagree, I see their point.  I think a lot of people logically reach that conclusion whenever a Christian leader falls from Grace.

The pulpit is an interesting place; I try to talk about how great my wife is and how much I screw up when I use personal examples.  Pastors tend to create the illusion that they have it all together.  Pastors that make it sound like they have it all together might make themselves look attractive.  I think this is what the Methodist Discipline is talking about when it says to “converse sparingly.”

So if you are a pastor, I think the questions are these:

-When you preach does more of Jesus come out than you?

-In conversation, who shines, you or Jesus?

-Do you have healthy boundaries with members of the opposite sex?

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rules for preachers circa 1888, rule 2

Rule 2: “Be serious. Let your motto be, “Holiness unto the Lord.”  Avoid all lightness, jesting and foolish talking.”

I would have been fired in 1888.  The discipline is trying to communicate that their preachers should appear to be serious at all times, but that is simply not the way that God has wired me.  I think Jesus had a wicked sense of humor.

Part of the problem with clergy is that we appear, “holier than thou,” which is not very authentic.  Being “holy” is not the issue, the issue is self righteousness.   In 1888 people looked for authority in culture, authority was a lot more black and white than it is today.  Authority did not joke or speak out of turn.  And while we should never treat the gospel with lightness, I think it is important to build rapport with an audience.  I think one of the best ways to build rapport is if we all laugh together.

I do agree that the motto, “holiness unto the Lord” is a great motto and one that each person should adopt.  It is the recognition that we serve a Holy God who died and rose to life again in order that we might live with him.  He broke the power over of sin so that Holiness is not something that is unattainable.

How do you live out, “Holiness unto the Lord”?

What do you think about, “lightness, jesting & foolish talk”?

 

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rules for a preacher circa 1888, rule 1

Sitting on my bookshelf is an 1888, Methodist Episcopal Discipline.  I find these sorts of things absolutely fascinating.  Every Sunday morning I go through it a little bit and this week I found the subject of my next 11 blog posts.  Within the Discipline are 11 rules for preachers.  They are just as applicable today as they were in 1888 (well, some more than others.)  Enjoy!

Rule 1. Be diligent.  Never be unemployed.  Never be triflingly employed.  Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at one place than is strictly necessary.   

This first time I read this I had to look up the word “trifle,” it is simply has not been in my vocabulary.  It means to waste time or to spend time on things of little importance.  This rule gives a clear picture of how important the task of preaching is and just how high the calling is.  When it is your job & calling to tell the story of redemption, then what could be more important?

This makes me wonder, how many times have I been looking for a sermon illustration on You Tube only to go down the wormhole of random talking animal videos…  This rule reminds me of the seriousness of the task of teaching God’s word.  There are many more rules that will remind the preacher of the prominence of their position.  I can just imagine the older denominational leader talking to the new preacher asking them, “do you realize what you’re called to?”  “Do you even get the importance of what God is calling you to do?”

If you are a young preacher, how do you spend your time?  What are you doing that if you weren’t doing it, you could be far more effective?

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