Classical Pastoral Practice for Today: Warning: Pastoral Ministry May Be Hazardous to Your Health -- By: Thomas N. Smith

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:1 (Winter 2003)
Article: Classical Pastoral Practice for Today: Warning: Pastoral Ministry May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Author: Thomas N. Smith


Classical Pastoral Practice for Today: Warning: Pastoral Ministry May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Thomas N. Smith

His name was Clifford. He had pastored several smaller churches in England and the United States. While pastoring in England he suffered from chronic diarrhea. This condition brought him under a physician’s care and pastoral counseling with Dr. Graham Scroggie. Upon returning to his native Oklahoma, he assumed the pastoral role in a Southern Baptist church, a congregation with a notable history of conflict. After a short while, Clifford suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown. If the gossips are to be believed, “the men in the white coats” came for him and he had to be physically subdued. This took place while he verbally assaulted his attackers with language more in line with his military background than his ministerial profession. The men in the white coats and the filthy language were remembered. The reasons for his breakdown were not. The last time I saw him alive he was sitting on the edge of his hospital bed in one of those pathetic gowns that does nothing for human dignity. It was only after I explained who I was that he registered any recognition of me at all. I think he was probably acting.

He must have been in his late fifties when I first met him. I was a twenty-year-old “preacher boy.” We talked long about books and preachers (he had sat under Martyn Lloyd-Jones as well as Scroggie while in London) and preaching. He gave me

avuncular advice and kindly encouraged me in my plans to enter the ministry. Without my knowing it at the time, Clifford also stood as a warning of one of the hazards facing me in my career choice. He never again regained his health after that time in the hospital. After a year or so, he quietly died. For the most part, he has been just as quietly forgotten.

“I may say to him that snatcheth at the ministry, as Henry the Fourth to his son, that hastily snatched at the crown, ‘He little knows what a heap of cares and toils he snatches at,“‘ says the Puritan, John Flavel. “What a heap of cares and toils”! I sometimes think that there ought of be packaged warnings available to men who aspire to the gospel ministry similar to those warnings found on toxic products: “Warning: may be hazardous to your health!” Perhaps we could put on such warnings faded photographs of Clifford and the legion of men like him who have been broken, who have been consumed by the cares and toils of the ministry. Perhaps we could conclude each of these warnings with the terse advice once regularly given to prospective ministerial candidates: “If you can do anything else, do it.”

Before the Reformation, mi...

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