by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
After the publication of Douglas’s book, Wanted: A Congregation, he continued to write articles for The Christian Century. Over the next three years, he published 18 essays in the Century:
“Mr. Bryan’s New Crusade,” November 25, 1920
“The Music of the Church,” January 13, 1921
“The Demotion of Death,” January 27, 1921
“What About Lent?” February 3, 1921
“Saving the Minister’s Soul,” April 14, 1921
“In RE Sermons on Wages,” May 12, 1921
“The Galilean Psychology,” January 12, 1922
“The Church’s Self-Respect,” January 26, 1922
“The Minister Between Sundays,” October 12, 1922
“The Human Preacher,” November 2, 1922
“The Minister in the Sick Room,” November 9, 1922
“‘Earth to Earth,’” November 30, 1922
“Sweetening Soured Saints”, January 25, 1923
“‘For Better, For Worse,’” March 8, 1923
“The Minister’s Mail,” May 31, 1923
“The Loyalty of the Laity,” June 26, 1923
“The Patriotism of Hatred,” October 25, 1923
“The End of the World,” December 27, 1923
As a cursory glance at this list will show, most of these were about some aspect of the ministry. When writing for the Century, Douglas considered other ministers his audience – particularly younger and less experienced ministers – and he tended to give advice. He gathered these thoughts into a book that was published in 1924 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. It was called, The Minister’s Everyday Life. Sounds fairly predictable, doesn’t it? He’s going to talk about preparing sermons, visiting the sick, etc. Except that Lloyd Douglas never said the expected thing.
The opening chapter compares the ministry to other lines of work, and he offers vivid images of what it’s like, for example, to be a telephone operator or a customer service representative at the local department store. And as someone who has spent years answering customer service calls over the phone, I can tell you that he nailed it. Most ministers wouldn’t have been able to do that.
I’ve been trying to convey to you, through these blog posts, what was distinctive about Douglas. The Minister’s Everyday Life is a good example: he talks about what it’s like to be a minister, and yet he sounds like a normal person with a great sense of humor and lot of common sense. Here are some examples:
If you want to know what hell is like: “…accumulate a miscellaneous assortment of unpaid bills” (p. 87).
On visiting someone in the hospital: “If a prayer can be offered without unduly exciting the patient’s alarm for himself, the minister may make a definite contribution here. It is much better to say, ‘Shall we offer a prayer together – you and I – for courage and strength?’ than to suggest: ‘Would you like to have me say a world of prayer for you?’ If prayer is offered, convince the patient that he is responsible for it, wants it, and is helping to present it” (p. 120).
About raising kids: “…the lot of ‘the preacher’s kid’ is not always an unmixed delight. [Douglas himself was a PK, remember.] The same sort of fawning solicitude which is the minister’s portion by virtue of his position is exhibited, to a degree, toward the whole household of the prophet. If the youngster has any sense at all of the serious obligation he owes his father to walk circumspectly, he is almost sure to develop into what the parish calls ‘a model boy,’ which will make him magnificently despised by his contemporaries. Presently he will face the problem whether he is to be, in very truth, the fine little fellow who will add lustre to his father’s reputation as a prophet, in which position he will live the life of an outcast in his relationship to his natural social group, or decide to show his schoolmates that he is a regular feller, despite his hereditary place in life…. Remember that while your boy is the minister’s son, he is a boy…. Be very sympathetic…. Let him live a normal life, in so far as that is possible” (pp. 24-25).
On living in a parsonage: “Your church is your landlord. You are the tenant…. If you never rented a house and do not know what a tenant’s obligations consist of, you should inquire of your lawyer friend for a lease and study it” (pp. 69-70).
When someone objects to you taking time off because “the Devil never takes a vacation”: “Unless it is presumed that the minister should try, as far as possible, to model his programme after that of the hypothetical person just mentioned, that objection points no moral” (p. 196).
On varying how you end your sermons: “Be careful about falling into the habits which inform the congregation exactly when you are tapering off and making ready to stop. If you do not watch yourself, you will always quit in the same way. The congregation will have come to understand that when you shift your voice to a slightly lower register and achieve a certain degree of fervency in your utterance, it is high time they began to fumble about under the seats, feeling for their over-shoes. Surprise them with the novelty of the sermon’s close, just as you surprise them with the originality of its introduction” (pp. 215-216).
(They don’t tell you any of these things in seminary, by the way.)
The Minister’s Everyday Life was his second book aimed at an audience of clergy. In his next one, he aimed at a wider audience – people who attended church and those who didn’t – and he set out to tell them what it means to follow Jesus. The book was called, These Sayings of Mine, and it will be the subject of my next post.
For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C. Douglas, fill out the form below: