Comment on "The Other Side - Keeping the Preacher"
0. C. Birdwell, Jr.
The articles on "Preachers and Preaching" that have appeared in Truth Magazine over the past several months are being put in book form. Brother James P. Needham did a fine job in presenting this material, and I believe the book to be well worth a place in any library. If you have not ordered your copy you should do so today.
In this article, however, my purpose is not just to advertise brother Needham's book, although I think it is a good one. I would like briefly to deal with some criticism that has been directed toward one of the articles or chapters by Needham. For your reference, the article questioned by the critic was No. XII, and appeared in the May, 1968 issue. The criticism was called "The Other Side - Keeping the Preacher," written by an unnamed preacher's wife, and appeared in the November, 1968 issue.
It is possible and even probable that the unidentified preacher's wife who wrote the critical article is a personal friend of mine. If so, may I suggest that this is not being written to reflect on her sincerity or good intention. I do not want to lose her friendship. But just as she felt free to disagree with Needham's article, I feel free to disagree with her. I believe the "Preacher's Wife" missed the main points of Needham's article.
As I reread "Keeping the Preacher," I found the following to be some of the author's points:
1. Brother Needham said, "Here are some suggestions as to where the preacher can BEST be kept." This surely suggests that he is not making a dogmatic rule for every occasion and every person. But that he, on the other hand, is speaking in general terms.
2. He further states, "Where the preacher shall stay in a meeting is 'church business'." The point is the church invited him; therefore, the church should provide a reasonable place for him to stay. Elders should not timidly acquiesce to the family that insists on keeping the preacher when it is known that they cannot provide what is needed. Brother Needham, in making this point, in no sense reflects on a poor family, but upon the elders and congregations who would fail to provide the needs of a preacher when they readily could do so.
3. Brother Needham also says that a preacher should have some privacy, but that he should not be placed in a home where he would be alone all day with a woman. Surely one can see that this is generally the "best," although in most instances, from the standpoint of questionable conduct, it would make no difference. What I am stressing is brother Needham presents what he believes to be the best. Does the "Preacher's Wife" deny that what he says on this matter is the best?
4. Also brother Needham shows that there is no need for the "finest dishes," constant entertainment, and new linens. Family arguments, problems, gossip and backbiting should be avoided. This is helpful rather that critical, as the "Preacher's Wife" seems to regard it. Many, wanting to provide the best, spend much money for what brother Needham believes not to be the best. Some preachers (and some preacher's wives) may disagree with him and feel the constant entertainment, new linens,' the finest dishes, along with family arguments, problems, gossip and backbiting are fine. But surely there is not enough disagreement with brother Needham's points in these areas to cause one to be "disturbed."
One statement by the "Preacher's Wife" with which I especially disagree is the following: "this article on 'Keeping the Preacher' is of such a nature that I feel that every woman who reads it will hesitate before inviting him to stay in her home for fear that she may not measure up to his ideas of a good hostess."
To me, this is the same as saying that if one should write a book on etiquette he would never be invited to a social gathering unless the hostess observed perfectly his rules of decorum. Also one would hardly be able to ever speak or write on a subject in which something better or the best was pointed out for fear some would not be living up to such a standard. This type thinking is unreasonable. Those who know brother Needham well, or have had him in their home, know that he is trying to help both the preacher and the hostess and in no sense would he ever be intentionally unappreciative of the efforts of a hostess.
The "Preacher's Wife," in the above mentioned article, does admit that the visiting preacher may have to "live out of a suitcase for eight or ten days at a stretch," put up with "poorly disciplined" children, and have his study interfered with. This is exactly the point brother Needham is making, but he does on to show how it can be avoided. I prefer his position.
In closing, the "Preacher's Wife" said, "All preachers need to be able to say with Paul, I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.'" I believe this, and to the best of my ability, I make this statement with Paul. But may I add this. Everyone, who knows anything about Paul's action, knows that there were some states he did his best to avoid getting into! With him I am in complete agreement.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIII: 7, pp. 6-7