A Plea for Efficiency

Transcription of Article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by R.N. Wycherley

AT the present time this plea is heard in all directions. It represents the irreducible minimum of qualification. There is no room for those who cannot satisfy it. Our business houses look for efficiency in their staff, from the overseer to the office-boy. The professions tolerate only those who give full proof of their fitness. Inefficient doctors are crowded out; slovenly teachers are not required, and the mediocre literary aspirant becomes flotsam on the restless sea of life. And the public services insist more than ever that this condition shall be met.

The plea has even reached the Church and none too soon. Those who are interested in the well-being of the Church, who desire to see its manifold ministries made more effective, who mourn over its failure to win the confidence of the masses, have awakened to the fact that inefficiency is as much out of place here as elsewhere. Indeed, if we measure things by their intrinsic value we shall be safe in saying that inefficiency is less excusable in the Church than in matters of secular interest. Lack in the Church does not mean loss of money and ruin of ancient industries, but worse. It means the shipwreck of immortal souls and the weakening of that glorious cause which has its spring in the eternal purpose of the Son of God. Whatever else the Church may forego, efficiency is imperative. Only by having fully qualified workers can we hope to meet the enormous and subtle influences of evil, overcome the difficulties of dissolute lives, and lead the kingdom into the realisation of more triumphant power.

Therefore I enter the plea for efficiency among the chief workers of Primitive Methodism. There is at present plenty of inefficiency. And this is the explanation of much of the distressing weakness which meets us. It may be that the sphere of choice has not been very wide. Societies and circuits have been compelled to raise men of moderate calibre to leading positions, because they had none better within reach. I recognise the difficulty and sympathise with these particular societies. But the trouble is that makeshift appointments very soon strike new standards and cause people to think that what should always be regarded as an exceptional arrangement may be accepted as a precedent or guiding rule. And then our makeshifts become a curse and lower our ideals and neutralise our best intentions. This is the tragedy of many of our societies and the real explanation of their present deplorable condition.

But the time has come for us to call a halt and to spend time in vigilant and prayerful self-examination. We cannot with impunity ride rough-shod over the accepted principles of true success. We cannot sow tares and gather in a crop of wheat. Efficiency in those who lead is the essential forerunner of the best results that can crown our labours for God. And, therefore, efficiency must be enthroned. Only those who are prepared to give themselves fully and unreservedly, who are willing to study to show themselves “approved unto God ,a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” must be allowed to assume places of influence and authority.

I plead for efficiency in the pulpit. This is most important. The power of the pulpit is past finding out. Some would have us believe that the pulpit has become a negligible quantity. But where the charge is true, it is because the claims of efficiency have been ignored. A pulpit from which a living message is delivered by a living man is as potential as ever. We can easily call to mind present-day proofs of this.

Methodist ministers, however, suffer a peculiar temptation here. The itinerant system makes it possible for a man to go through the whole of his ministry upon the strength of a set of sermons he prepared while on probation. Even where the temptation is not victorious, ministers suffer in their work by reason of it. How easy it is to fall back upon an old sermon when the business cares of the circuit have been especially trying or the flesh is weak! But old sermons are generally preached at the expense of freshness. Congregations feel that there has been no hard and diligent preparation, no sweating of the brain, and they are listless. Moreover, the man himself is not fully alert. He is simply repeating himself, and that is always tedious.

Local preachers are not immaculate in this respect. Sometimes repetition of sermons plays havoc with their best talents. I have known local preachers who had only one short list of texts, and they retailed their sermons based upon these, until they became a positive weariness to the people. 

Efficiency in the pulpit, that is the plea. Both ministers and local preachers must put their best into their preaching. Nothing else really compensates for failure here. They are the prophets of God, the expositors of His will concerning men. “There are some pursuits which do not deserve to be called a business. Aeropus was the king of Macedonia, and it was his favourite pursuit to make lanterns. Probably he was very good at making them; but his proper business was to be a king, and therefore the more lanterns he made the worse king he was. And if your work be a high calling you must not dissipate your energies on trifles, on things which, lawful in themselves, are still as irrelevant to you as lamp-making is irrelevant to a king.”

Churches must also keep their eyes upon their most gifted sons, and encourage them to aspire to the cure of souls. The best for the Highest – that is the abiding motto. Only the best is worthy to be offered to the Highest. And the pulpit must be zealously guarded, as with a flaming sword, against perilous intrusions.

But I plead for efficiency in the governing officials of our Church. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this honoured class. The officials are the repository of our highest interests, They receive an immense lease of power. Is there not some truth in the suggestion that Church usefulness never outruns official efficiency? As our officials, so our Church. They impress themselves upon every department of the work. Their qualifications operate like unseen forces, determining the character of the whole and deciding the question as between success and failure.

It cannot be said that our governing officials are always chosen because of their particular fitness. Indeed, I am afraid that very often this is regarded as of secondary importance. I have known men to be appointed to official position because they were intimate friends of the minister. There are cases where men have been elected because they happened to be related to other officials. A post has fallen vacant by reason of death or removal. Whois better qualified to be selected for it than the son or the nephew of the Society Steward? It matters nothing that he is very young and has shown no particular aptitude for office. His father will make up for his deficiencies, and his appointment will prevent the inclusion of undesirables!

Sometimes men are chosen as a recognition of years of loyal membership. This is an admirable motive, and where other conditions are satisfactory, it should be allowed great weight. But of itself it is not sufficient. There are members in our Church who have been honourably associated with us for years, but they have not an atom of qualification to govern. Place them in authority, and you not only create confusion, but do the men themselves a serious injury. Their mistakes raise repeated smiles: authority becomes a bye-word, and they take keenly to heart what they conceive to be the unkindness of their friends.

There is need, therefore, for more deliberation in the choice of officials. The motto here as elsewhere must be “the best for the Highest.” Leaders’ Meetings must be prepared to spend more time in considering the requirements of an office and the respective qualifications of those who are nominated. Quarterly meetings must show less haste in determining such fateful questions.

Also I plead for efficiency among the rank-and-file workers. It is a most pernicious fallacy for anyone to fall into to say that anyone will do for religious work. That is precisely the reason why so little progress has been made in certain parts of the country. Let any unbiassed person take a tour of inspection through some of our societies and meet some of the people who occupy these minor offices, and I will venture the remark that he will no longer marvel why advance has been so slow. The marvel is that there has been any advance at all.

Take, for instance, the question of our Class Meetings. Can anyone be surprised that they have fallen on evil days? Men have been made class leaders on the assumption that their first duty was to collect the quarterages. They had neither gifts nor graces to lead a company of believers into the blessings of a sanctified life. They did not know over much of the sanctified life, and therefore could not say a great deal about it. These are cases of absolute and glaring unfitness. Such leaders would speedily ruin the most prosperous class.

Take, again, the question of Sunday School Teaching. “Wanted a Teacher!” “There is Brother So-and-So.” “But he is not a member of our Church. He has not even aptness for teaching.” “Never mind. He is not a bad fellow and will keep the children quiet.” Am I exaggerating? I think not. This is much the way in which many of our Sunday School classes are supplied with teachers. But is it not distressing? Our Sunday Schools might well lie bleeding. It seems to me that we should consider the highest interests both of the children and the schools if we had fewer teachers and better. It is not quantity we want. The first essential is quality. One efficient teacher will accomplish much more lasting good with thirty scholars than five incompetent ones spread over as many classes.

“Efficiency” is the declamation on our banner, the burden of this plea. We ask for the highest efficiency among our preachers, whether itinerant or lay, efficiency in our governing officials, efficiency in those who aspire to become even ordinary toilers in the harvest-field of Jesus Christ. Commercial life demands it. Political will not excuse its absence. Professional life fails without it. And the Vox Populi insist that it shall characterise every department of the public services. Therefore we of the Church, of the buoyant and aggressive Primitive Methodist Church, refuse else to be satisfied.

“To arms! the martial shout prolong,
Unfurl the flag again:
Give battle to the false and wrong;
God needs efficient men.”


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908/451

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