WILLIAM K. FLOYD has served as minister for fifteen congregations of the Church of Christ, sometimes working full-time for them in the summers. He is presently a member of and teacher at the Broad Street Church of Christ, Cookeville, Tennessee, and is actively engaged in preaching for Churches of Christ in the area.

As a student at Harding College, Mr. Floyd was president of the student body, an outstanding intercollegiate debater and a member of Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges. He majored in Bible and Speech, receiving his B.A. degree in 1958. He took his M.A. degree in Speech from the University of Oklahoma and has done graduate work toward his doctorate at Pennsylvania State, Wichita State, and the University of Tennessee.

Mr. Floyd has taught at the University of Oklahoma, at Southwestern State College in Oklahoma, at Pennsylvania State and is now on the faculty of Tennessee Technological University as director of Forensics. He has been president of both th Tennessee Speech. Association and the Tennessee Intercollegiate Forensic Association. He has sponsored many academic and church youth organizations, He is 29, married and has two children.


By William K. Floyd

Before I went to the Church of Christ college I chose, I had planned to be a minister. This was partly due to the inspiration of my father, who is himself a career minister in the Church of Christ. He had long ago won my admiration for his courage to think and speak straightforwardly, for his love of people even when it cost him, and for his interest in a cause above a career. But the inspiration waned during my years in that college and I am now a teacher in a secular university. My interest in the ministry remains high and I believe it can be a worthy calling. Still, I chose another means of service, as have hundreds who once felt as I did. The reason undoubtedly lies in part within my personality and theirs, but it also lies in great measure within the very nature of the Church of Christ and its schools. I want to explore this problem.

Church of Christ journals have been decrying the preacher shortage for several years. While college enrollments have gone up, the number of preaching students has gone down. Both the Church of Christ and the general population are increasing faster than are the ranks of preachers. It is estimated that there are fewer than half as many preachers as there are congregations in the Churches of Christ. The problem worsens and demands our concern, but concern is not enough. Nor is exhortation. There must be some analysis of the situation in the Church of Christ which causes the problem.

The articles so far published have made only superficial explorations of the problem. One man of repute among us writes that what we need is more “men’s training classes!” An editor of one of our most influential papers lays out his solution: encourage our young men to lead in prayer, to read publicly, and to make announcements. Another writer suggests that materialism is drawing young men away, even though he must know with the rest of us that salaries for preachers are better than they have ever been. Still another says that in spite of ample support it is hard to find ministers who have adequately prepared themselves. The unprepared are being used, he laments; the qualified are turning to other forms of service.

A Church of Christ college president lays the blame elsewhere: “The picture of the preacher as presented in modern literature and in movies, on television, and on radio has certainly been less than noble …. This image of God’s man has been so debased as to cause many young people not to desire the work of the minister.” He does not mention, though he might, that many bright young ministerial hopefuls are appalled to learn that in the larger academic world they are viewed as men committed to dogma rather than truth. Painful as it is, we must confess that the images portrayed are not altogether untrue.

The Gospel Advocate, a Church of Christ publication, has finally hinted at one of the basic causes of our preacher shortage. It notes that there is too much politicking in the church, too many closed minds, and too much apathy to challenge either of these evils. Perhaps the problem of the closed mind is best illustrated, albeit unconsciously, by the editor of the Firm Foundation, another such paper. He made this amazing admission:

“We have often said that among the greatest dangers we face is that of having to send our brightest young men off to sectarian schools for their doctorate work. Most of the work in the doctorate area is under the domination of very liberal forces. We cannot expect to keep it from affecting our own teaching in our schools. I am personally more interested in at least one of our schools becoming able to train teachers to the level of a doctor’s degree, so that it may supply sound teachers for at least the other schools supported by brethren, than I am in any other phase of their development …. The church can always profit from a better trained minister. Until recently they have had to go to sectarian schools for any such training. In these schools they must constantly be on guard against teaching which would undermine their faith. We have lost any number of good men because they could not stand up under the strain.”

Why do our “brightest” leave? The answer is inherent in this editor’s view of education as propaganda! The bright young men, sooner or later, begin to wonder what there is to a faith that needs such cloistered protection.

My own college responsibilities gave me unique opportunity to know the preacher boys and those who had meant to be, and were able, but who had rejected the ministry. It always seemed to me, even before I made my own decision, that those who decided not to be full time preachers were the most capable students. Those who chose to stick were, all too often, the pastoral lackeys who were short on imagination. They could speak glibly to little congregations which were dead in their pews. They warmed over sermons from sermon outline books which they purchased in the college bookstore. Their creativity consisted in thinking up new word gimmicks for outlines. They impressed their parishioners by regurgitating revered and stock patterns, and they enjoyed the inevitable praise. They played the sycophant without qualms. They accepted without question. Was it a clear vision of this kind of life that made the others forsake the ministry?

Since there is a crucial shortage of preachers, my analysis may be helpful. It can do service even for those who disagree with, or deplore, my point of view, for it will acquaint them with the way many young people think today. If some do not agree that the Church of Christ is as I describe it, they may at least become aware that many view it this way and so have not given themselves to the ministry.

We cannot understand our problems in the church without seeing what is happening in our world. We are in the midst of social and cultural revolutions more drastic and rapid than any generation has experienced. Some of the major problems which have resulted are these: technological and scientific innovations so wide-ranging that we are unable to keep up, new sources of power that demand controls we have not yet devised, new social and ethical values we have not yet tested adequately, the nearing end of white supremacy and the consequent necessity for new modes of thought, disturbing new patterns of work and living habits, loss of the church and the family as sources of authority, and the loss of a sense of identity and belonging as a result of our amazing physical mobility.

The world of 2000 A. D. (I shall be 63 years old) will not be merely 1966 with more gadgets. Basic concepts of society will be radically different. There will be new modes of thought. That our religious concepts will be greatly affected should go without saying if we recall the modes of thought and action in our own group fifty or one hundred years ago.

Young people today read the future by their knowledge of history. They are aware of the larger patterns of change and they put their world in new perspective. They want little part of any movement that is not cognizant of change and progress. Any reverence for the past which seems to them an obvious attempt to maintain the status quo will fill them with disgust. And when they see that their church interprets the ancient message via a nineteenth century mode of thought, they will conclude that it is out of touch with reality.

Those my age and younger have not despaired of idealism, only of institutions that have surrendered to traditionalism and the status quo. Unfortunately, this has often included the church, so we are finding and creating new forms for the expression of our idealism: civil rights groups, benevolent enterprises, the Peace Corps. In these activities we are not obliged to sit silently while our Church of Christ teachers tell us that the world is only six thousand years old, that there are no textual or canonical problems in the Bible which should worry us, or that biology textbooks are naughty because they present frank and objective truth about human anatomy and procreation.

The last comment above is no fiction. The editor of a most influential Church of Christ paper indicted biology texts in his state because of their “graphic descriptions of the male reproductive system, the female reproductive system, stages of human birth” and the like. He said that all this constituted “Godless, materialistic, atheistic preaching.” It is astonishing how far removed from young men and women this editor is. In or out of the church, young people will not take seriously a high school biology text that has for its section on sex a photograph of a bird, a bee, and a stork. Nor will they kindle to any spirit represented in so patronizing a way. When they see church leaders react this way, they lose respect for them, and because they equate (with the abrupt conclusions of the young) the church with its leaders, they lose respect for the church too.

A Gallup poll in 1965 showed that since 1957 three times as many adults as formerly are saying that religion is losing its influence upon American life. Younger adults (21-29) are even more inclined to take a pessimistic view of the influence of religion upon American society. And among persons now attending colleges, belief in the power of religion is waning even more. These last claim that religion fails to meet the challenge of science and the intellect; that it fails to solve contemporary moral, social, and economic problems; and that church involvement has not proved itself necessary to the fulfillment of life.

But it is institutional Christianity that has brought the greatest dismay. The church’s introversion, her preoccupation with outmoded forms, her use of embalmed theological jargon, her hair-splitting over dogmas, and her refusal to re-examine interpretations in the light of twentieth century knowledge—these are the failures bright young men and women quickly point to. Significantly, religion which expresses itself in terms of social action and improved interpersonal relations is increasing its influence.

It is popular to blame higher education for loss of faith. The truth seems rather that certain religious approaches betray the young men and women who accept them. As one minister put it recently in a national magazine: “The problem of fundamentalism is that it cannot withstand critical Biblical scholarship and scientific facts …. And the moment small-town boys go to college, they take a course in biology and their faith is gone. Our great sin is never having offered them a real alternative.” The enrollment in colleges and universities goes ever higher. The time is near when the man in the pew may have an education superior to that of the pulpit speaker. In most Churches of Christ a sizeable number of auditors will have received better educations than their preacher. They tolerate warmed-over sermons and generalizations offensive to their minds only because they still believe that loyalty to this particular denomination will eventually save their souls. When they grumble about the meagre fare they get, the preacher generally stiffens and denounces them as liberals and radicals who are not “sound” in their faith. This tension has already created many serious splits in the Churches of Christ and will create more unless an atmosphere of respect for learning and of insistence upon freedom can be achieved.

This antipathy toward learning and questioning is widespread in the Church of Christ. In an Oklahoma college town the director of the Bible Chair, where college students took courses for credit under the sponsorship of the local Church of Christ, told a friend of mine that he (the director) was familiar with modernists and their ways. He said that he had read a question-and-answer book written by a modernist. “But,” he added, “I only read the questions because I knew his answers wouldn’t be worth reading.” Not many would be so blatantly open, but the arrogance of such a remark is not unusual among some of our leaders.

I had an experience with some of my relatives once which illustrates the same point. Although the adults in this group (a family reunion) liked to avoid controversial religious issues, we always found the children greatly interested in new ideas. Talking to some of the teen-age boys present, I tried to acquaint them with views about a certain issue which are not normally expressed by our church group. One of the teenage girls overheard our talks and became interested. She thought of something she wished to contribute, but needed to ask her mother where the Scriptural passage was that she felt would support her point. Her mother said, “Don’t be disturbed over their discussion; just don’t listen.”

This attitude is still far too common among us and children treated in this way sooner or later realize what is being done to them. Their reactions are often violent when they come. And come they must, to many, because these children will be living far beyond the year 2000 A. D. The revolution of thought now taking place will affect them beyond our foreseeing. To present only one view and to protect them from all else will leave them without the tools or temper to analyze their complex world.

The situation is similar with respect to the cliches spoken so glibly by too many ministers. Today’s students are taught to condemn the meaningless stereotypes. What, then, is their inevitable reaction when they hear their preacher solemnly intone such incrusted platitudes of the party as, “We speak where the Bible speaks and keep silent where it is silent”? It takes little mental exercise for them to see that what the preacher asserts is violated repeatedly by himself and his auditors. And a bit more reflection will bring them to wonder why the principle is valid even when observed. For does not God still speak? he will ask himself. The first century church was one that looked forward. Today the church that claims to partake in the spirit of the early church looks backward. Has God’s revelation in Scriptures called us to a closed system, or liberated us and set us on a new road of discovery? Must we see all religious truth limited to the Bible, or see the Bible rather as a means of pointing us to religion as it is everywhere manifest?

Young men and women of intelligence and sensitivity are not much concerned anymore with the claims of rival sects to be the “true church.” They grapple, instead, with such basic issue as the nature of God, the spirit of Christ, the relevancy of the church’s message in a world of ever shifting values. The kind of legalistic preaching which turns the Bible in upon itself and thrills to an introverted involvement with it will never again capture the finest young minds.

Nor do they want to live in a state of submission and fear. When they raise really significant questions and are met by charges of heresy or “getting out of line,” they quickly lose hope that they can find freedom to grow in the church. With no vested interests to defend, they can afford to put more stress on integrity than on safety; the result is that many of them simply walk out.

Alexander Campbell recognized the pressures which authoritarian religion puts upon men. “It is a rarity seldom to be witnessed,” he said, “to see a person boldly opposing either the doctrinal errors or the unscriptural measures of a people with whom he has identified himself and to whom he looks for support. If such a person appears in any party, he soon falls under the frowns of those who either think themselves wiser than the reprover, or would wish so to appear. Hence it usually happens that such a character must lay his hand upon his mouth or embrace the privilege of walking out of doors.”

Eager to be popular, many Church of Christ ministers must hide their own values and insights, at least until they are convinced of enough support to keep them in service. Some of them find it convenient to learn which side of a controversy has the most influential members, then arm themselves with proof texts and become fearless spokesmen for the “church’s” viewpoint. To act so is to play the hypocrite and to rebel against God by refusing to be the person He would have His minister be—a man of integrity who exemplifies moral courage.

One cannot but wonder what the Churches of Christ would think of Paul were he to speak to us today. He once (at least) preached a sermon on the existence and nature of God without quoting a single verse of Scripture; instead, he cited pagan poets in making his points. Could we tolerate such “liberal” tendencies, we who virtually worship the firing of Biblical prooftexts at the audience? Would we not charge Paul, also, with ineptness in handling race problems? After all, his associations with Gentiles gave the Jews grounds for stirring up mob action against him. We would likely charge him with “poor timing” because he insisted on pushing ahead with his universal religion and antagonizing many Jews. And we would be aghast at his audacity in challenging and exposing a “big preacher” in the “brotherhood” for following the dictates of expediency in this matter. Doesn’t he know, we would wonder, that the “social gospel” has nothing to do with the Christian religion?

In other words, the vibrant, live message of Paul has become a dull, but respectable sermonizing. Ministers in the Churches of Christ find it generally wise to avoid involvements with the great crucial issues of their world. Nationalism, integration, population control, the sexual revolution, war, euthanasia — these and a host of other pressing problems must be ignored lest the congregation brand them as “unsound.” Yet these are the very problems which today’s college student debates vigorously. If his church hides its head from them, he will simply conclude that the church is an embalmed society for the preservation of peace and comfort.

One of these problem areas, that of racial relationships, is especially vital for Christianity. We live in a world where three out of four people are non-white. No amount of money, prayers, or missionaries will counteract the undermining influence of our segregated churches. In the face of our moral cowardice, God may be passing us by to raise up others more willing to fulfill his redemptive purposes. Many young men and women seem to sense this today and they do not intend to be found wanting. As Dante might have put it: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”

The Church of Christ has placed itself on the sidelines of the greatest moral struggle of our times. Without exception, everyone of our southern Christian colleges have waited until it was safe before they integrated. And when they finally integrated (mildly), they blew trumpets and waved flags and sent articles to newspapers announcing their courage and humanitarianism! All this, to their everlasting shame, after they had worked for years to stave off integration as long as possible.

One of our top college presidents told me in private conference that Negroes really want to attend school “with their own people,” and that he had personally contributed to their educational support elsewhere. But, he admonished me, “many Negroes have venereal disease,” and we must protect our present students. God did not intend integration, he said, and it was not expedient, anyway, at present because the school might lose monetary support and not be able to teach “Christian principles” to as many students. Yet when it finally was “safe” to integrate, in fact imperative lest they be exposed in the newspapers, this president publicized the school’s action as an act of Christian witness! One knows little about today’s intelligent youngsters if he thinks they are blind to such hypocrisy or willing to partake of it.

My father ministered to an Alabama congregation during the Birmingham riots. He preached on segregation, his text being: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He was called a “son of a bitch” and a “devil” from the audience while he was delivering the sermon. When the elders defended his right to preach what he believed, the elders were dismissed by the men of the congregation and my father was fired. Why have more Alabama Church of Christ ministers not been fired? Where is the church of our group that is in danger of being burned because of its stand for decency?

In another of our “Christian” colleges, located where all state colleges have been integrated for years and in a city in which other private church-related schools have been integrated for years, segregation has until very recently been an iron-clad policy. At this Church of Christ school, Negroes were excluded from tournament events that involved other schools for on campus participation. And when faculty members were hired it was made a specific condition of employment that they must refrain from making any public statements (even in the capacity of private citizen) favoring integration. This will shock readers who believe in responsible freedom in integrity for faculty members, but it is a fact easily verifiable from men who formerly taught in this college and are now in respected positions in other colleges and universities.

When I was serving as president of the student body at Harding College, some students asked me to help them circulate a petition demanding an end to the de facto policy of racial segregation at the school. I suggested that we were not in a position to make demands and asked for time to draw up a statement of attitude that would indicate clearly the feelings of students and faculty. With the advice and assistance of some faculty members, the statement was readied. Before any signatures were obtained, the administration was told of the contents of the statement and what was about to occur. The administration immediately requested that the action not take place. I met that evening with the student council and told them of the administration order. They voted to go ahead with the circulation of the statement. The administration announced in chapel the following day that it did not favor the statement’s circulation. When an overwhelming majority of people at the college signed the statement, we sent it to each member of the Board of Harding College, along with the following letter:

“November 10, 1957. Attention members of the Board of Harding College: The following is a statement that was circulated on the Harding College campus: To the administration and Board of Trustees of Harding College:

“A number of members of the Harding community are deeply concerned about the problem of racial discrimination. Believing that it is wrong for Christians to make among people distinctions which God has not made, they sincerely desire that Harding College make clear to the world that she firmly believes in the principles of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. To that end, the undersigned individuals wish to state that they are ready to accept as members of the Harding community all academically and morally qualified applicants, without regard to arbitrary distinctions such as color or social level; that they will treat such individuals with the consideration and dignity appropriate to human beings created in the image of God; and that they will at all times face quietly, calmly, patiently, and sympathetically any social pressures intensified by this action.

“Furthermore, the undersigned individuals wish it Clearly understood that this statement of attitude is by no means intended as an attempt to precipitate action by the Administration or Board of Trustees of Harding College, but that it is instead intended entirely as an expression of the internal readiness of the Harding community to end discrimination, such expression being tendered as one factor for the consideration of the Administration and the Board of Trustees when a re-evaluation of the admission policies of Harding College is undertaken.”

“The copies bearing the signatures of those supporting this concept have been sent to the Chairman of the Board and to the Administration of the College requesting consideration of this problem at the next Board meeting.

“Forty-nine faculty members signed, forty-two staff members and eight executive directors. There is a total of nine hundred and forty-six signatures affixed to the statement. There are nine hundred eighty-six regularly enrolled students in the college.

“We appreciate your continued individual thought and expression given to this problem, which is of great concern to us.

“Sincerely, Bill Floyd, President, Student Body.”

In later sessions with the administration I learned a great deal about the power structure of the Church of Christ. The president told students in chapel that the action was improper and that the signatures were not an accurate expression of student feeling. I never understood how he determined this, when such a vast majority signed. His explanation was that “they didn’t understand what they were signing.” Any reader who can believe this does not seem to me to fathom the mind of today’s college student. In the same address, our president explained to us that God made some blue birds and some black birds and that they were not intended to mix, that Negroes in America have more cars than the people in Russia, and that we would lose students and financial support if we were to integrate. I was told in private by one administrator that I had betrayed my trust as student body president, that no employer would ever hire me, that when one works for an institution he should accept all its thinking and keep silent about contrary beliefs, and that if I wanted to crusade for integration I should go where everyone believes in it. Another administrative official told me that the student government should be an agency to indoctrinate the students with the ideas of the administration.

During this time the state of Arkansas was much in the national news because of its racial problems. The Arkansas Gazette, never hesitant to print uncomplimentary stories about Harding College, would have been more than willing to print the story of the student statement and its reception by the administration. Time magazine, I feel sure, would have printed the story of a small southern college whose faculty, staff, and students had voted overwhelmingly to end segregation. But it seemed to me that sending the story to these media would not be the proper response, so it was not done.

So ended the 1957 attempt at Harding to end discrimination. When it was safer, several years later after it had become “the thing to do” around the nation, Harding at last made a mild, token integration and promptly released stories to news media acclaiming its action.

Our feeling about the civil rights struggle is akin to our ideological alliance with the political right wing. This alliance should surprise no one who knows us well. The right wing movement is characterized by intolerance under the name of conviction, by suppression of inquiry for the sake of propaganda, by counting expediency above principle, by the principle that the end justifies the means, and by a basic anti-intellectualism. I have seen far too much of all these traits in the church I grew up in.

One of our colleges is nationally known as a propaganda mill for far-right political groups. It has been called by name by several national publications, including Look, Atlantic Monthly, and Time. It has been described in complete chapters in three books dealing with the far-right movement in America. It has been discussed by name in articles in The New York Times News Service, the Kansas City Star, and the Nashville Tennessean. Yet, amazingly, one of the school’s best known teachers says that when people say this of his school they are bearing “false witness.” He says: “The motives of various individuals who do this may differ-they range all of the way from Communists, socialists, and various other degrees of collectivists to the ignorant and the opportunists ….” This from the Gospel Advocate. I must list myself with those individuals who label his school a far-right propaganda mill. I do not think their witness false, and the only appellation above that comes close to describing me accurately is “ignorant.” But that very kind of name calling is typical of the radical far right.

The right-wing spirit is not found merely in our colleges. It is heard on radio from some of our preachers. It can be found scattered throughout gospel papers. In a Firm Foundation issue of 1964, one of our best-known preachers said: “The founder of the Christian religion said: ‘the POOR ye have always with you’ but these modern pink prophets actually think that the church should launch a campaign to prove that Jesus was a liar. They would turn the sacred hours of the pulpit and holy precincts of the Lord’s Table into a discussion of the political and economic problems that face our troubled world …. Men need to be saved, not from bodily aches and pains; not from poverty and social injustices, but from SIN.”

Not many intelligent potential young ministers want to be part of a church group that not only tolerates but in general approves that kind of approach to social evils. The great political polls show that young people are moving ideologically in the opposite direction. The talent drain away from Church of Christ pulpits is awesome. We are left with many handsome, glib, extroverted young men, but with too few thoughtful ones.

One of my most distressing realizations has been this one: that I am expected as a preacher to be an “answer factory,” rather than a man expected to struggle with problems of life and the relevancy of Biblical principles to them. In my Sunday school classes, too many students think there aren’t really any serious problems. There just seem to be, but answers are available from any good Church of Christ preacher or teacher worth his salt. There is a psychological mania to provide all the answers. Any hesitancy, any deliberation, any confession of alternate possibilities proves that the teacher is not really sound, not really well-prepared with his arsenal of quick answers.

Since I cannot be a man with a bag of answers, I cannot be a career minister for the Church of Christ. To salvage integrity I must turn to other forms of professional activity and be independent of those who would squeeze me into a party mold and rob me of God-given freedom. As a college teacher I can encourage students to think for themselves, something I am not often allowed to do in the party. I can urge them to enter into life and religious experience directly, not vicariously. I can encourage them to be free—a condition fraught with dangers, but glorious beyond all measure.

I confess, too, that I am dismayed by “preacher worship” and the dangers it poses. When I go away from home to meetings and songfests where I am not known and meet strangers, I introduce myself simply as “Bill Floyd.” They give me their names in a bland, uninterested way and prepare to move on (I am not an impressive-looking person). But when a member who attends the church where I preach is with me, he quickly announces with pride: “This is the minister where I go to church.” Then the quick, schizophrenic change invariably takes place. The stranger brightens up, smiles, often regrasps my hand (this time warmly) and shows interest in me.

Am I not worthy to be shown interest and respect as a human being? Can I not be given respect simply as a person, rather than because of some artificial appellation and status assigned to me? It is no credit to me to have an obsequious sycophant fawning at my feet. I am somebody only because God made me. Every other person in the whole world is worthy of every bit as much respect as I am. I glory only in being respected for what makes me respectable—that I am a creature of God.

Preacher worship can be a kind of self worship. If you cannot gain personal status, you give it to your preacher and then identify with him. By insisting that he is intelligent, you can believe that you are intelligent to perceive his intelligence. His rightness makes you right. By and by, this blind worship makes it impossible for one to see clearly that what he has standing before him in the pulpit is, after all, only a man whose words must be evaluated thoughtfully before they are accepted.

Too many preachers foster this worship and dote on it. They foster it by talking of preachers as a special breed, by writing the kinds of articles they write, and by the way they praise other preachers at all the big lectureships.

“Even preachers,” one preacher said, “sometimes are competitive and find it hard to be free of envy when one of their colleagues is successful.” We think: “How big of him to admit this; what humility!” But the humility is false; pride looms behind the thin veil of pretense. “Even preachers,” he says, as if preachers are truly a special breed expected to be above the temptations common to ordinary men. Such a comment is not humility; it is merely skillful boasting.

Still, it is hard to blame preachers. They are only responding to the environment created by their members. They want to be prominent and they know how to do it. I once knew a young man who was determined to be president of a Church of Christ college someday. He knew what to do. I have been following his career with much interest. He has the required smooth personality, good looks, and the proper amount of intelligence. He owns the right kind of car, has the right kind of wife, follows the party line. Occasionally he will express an objection to some unimportant party view, to prove that he is a free-thinker and courageous, but he knows exactly how far he dares to walk on this dangerous ground. He supports no controversial programs. He reads the church papers to know what to think about issues and to see what is in vogue. He cultivates the right people. He goes to graduate school, for one must have the educator image. He gets a job as dean of students at a Christian college. Knowing that it is also vital to have the “big preacher” image if one is to become president in our colleges, he gets a job as minister at one of the biggest churches in the brotherhood. He needs the writer image, also, so he blitzes the gospel papers with bland articles (he can write more thoughtfully, but he must get the items published). He holds as many gospel meetings as possible. He will be president someday of a Church of Christ college.

One Church of Christ minister, disfellowshipped long since as a heretic, said candidly that he hoped to see this power structure destroyed. “Disciples are awakening everywhere, and those of us who preach are losing steadily our power to mold audiences into puppets who rubber-stamp all our views. This is long overdue and will be a blessed and wonderful thing when it comes in fullness. Among other things, it will mean that the preacher has a corrective, some intelligent force able to counter his interpretation with others, so that he may be able to check the validity of his own. It is no wonder that so many of us who preach are arrogant and sure of our infallible interpretations when, within our party, there is seldom ever a strong voice to question us.”

Congregations that insist on thoughtful and provocative lessons will get them from a minister worthy of his calling. Such a minister will devote himself to wide reading, careful and arduous study, and contemplative exercises. The sad thing is that there are few congregations who desire deep, honest, free thought from their ministers. The result is that one sees impoverished personal libraries too often. The standard fare on Sundays is still too much stagnant thought and stale sermonizing. Gimmicks are popular, whether in the form of clever little outlines, alliterative sermon titles, or ingenious “object lessons.” This is not surprising; when men are penalized for thinking they will cultivate mediocrity.

I think one of the most penetrating comments I have ever seen about this kind of mental laziness was made by Charles Fort in Wild Talents. He said: “I am in considerable sympathy with conservatives. I am often lazy myself … When I’m somewhat played out, I’m likely to be most conservative … My last utterance will be a platitude, if I’ve been dying long enough. If not, I shall probably laugh … One can’t learn much and also be comfortable. One can’t learn much and let anyone else be comfortable.” The judgment these remarks makes upon our pulpits need not be elaborated upon.

With such views as the foregoing, it must be clear to anyone versed in party politics and party thought that I anticipate no calls to large churches or Church of Christ college jobs. I look with some regrets upon the dead-end street, but I console myself with the thought that the cost of success would be too high. I prefer to see Christianity as a stance, rather than as a system. I think no Christian need guard the faith; I think it needs to be exposed, not protected. I believe the truest disciple must live with the courage of faith: calling prophetically for change before the climate is right or safe, throwing himself on the barbed-wire so that other troops may reach over him to victory, knowing that he may not himself survive to see the glory of triumph. This is the courage of love, this defines for me the genuine “man of God.” I hope that I may find some part of it in my life, despite my failure to see how it can be realized in the present climate of our pulpits.