Archive: Can the Clergy be Converted?

By C. Philip Hinerman, Pastor, Park Avenue Methodist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Can we expect that the Protestant man of God will live out his professional career free from divine grace, and still fulfill his high office? Or, to phrase this all differently, what about the possibility of the clergy being converted? Is this at all possible? Is it even desirable?

Recently a special committee made a survey on future goals within an annual conference. Here is how one pastor answered the question, “What are the goals of this annual conference, and what achievements should we seek?” He replied, “the deepest spiritual need that I feel in the life of the conference is a sense of genuine loyalty to Jesus Christ, and to His Kingdom. This loyalty should transcend the denominational program of The Methodist Church. I always come back to this wistful longing for a Spirit that is greater than denominational loyalty, and denominational programming that I receive so constantly.”

Is it possible, or practical, to have a stronger emphasis on the work and person of the Holy Spirit (to use a terribly old fashioned phrase)? Can there be a Pentecostal life within the life of the Church? Can Jesus Christ be so glorified that even the clergy would begin to possess a higher fixed loyalty than to the denomination and its program? How long has it really been since we have gone to an annual conference and heard anything about the possibility of ministers being converted? Or anything about the deeper life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within a man? The day may be upon us when we could afford to shift our emphasis. Suppose the conference board of evangelism’s annual report would fail to exhort faithful pastors to renewed effort in recruiting new members (“conversion of the layman”). Instead, suppose the Church began talking about the real priority: conversion of the clergy. Could the walls of the conference stand the shock?

There are some who have said that clergymen are neither male nor female. Turning their collars around, dressing soberly in black, chanting the liturgy, clergymen become a new thing in creation, a kind of Third Sex. Some of us deny this calumny. If we clergy­ men really are men, then perhaps we clergymen are also sinners, and are lost in our ways. Is it possible that even a clergyman can be saved?

Recently I read an article in a denominational paper. It was written by a famous and successful pastor on the subject, “How I Use Lent.” He spoke out about the limitless possibilities of using Lent to increase attendance at all the services (even at that crippled and malformed child, the midweek service), to increase benevolences, and generally to “increase the spiritual life of the church.”

Now what could be more sublime or pragmatic than that? Nothing. And nothing is wrong with the article – except this terrible and blasphemous using Lent, using prayer, using the Week of Dedication, using God; and all in the name of an expanded denominationalism, and increased offerings into the coffers of the church.

We seem to be flogging the minister constantly to carry out the program of the denomination. It is drive upon drive, campaign upon campaign, and increased askings every year. When shall the minister find time to save his own soul? Or to see that he is properly fed in the deepest areas of his own being?

In referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus spoke of the wells of living water that can spring up and overflow in a man’s life. What a vivid picture of speech! And how altogether necessary for the life of that man who would be God’s man in deed and in truth!

My real concern is that the sacred program of the denomination shall not become the supreme goal of our ministerial living. Is it not possible that the program of the conference shall eventually find itself flogging a starving and dying ministerial servant? Conversion and new life for each person – this was the concern of the primitive church. This is the central message of the apostolic kerygma (the good news of a Savior who offers par­ don and eternal life to sinners). “What then must I do to be saved” – even if I happen to be a minister of the Gospel?

I am tempted to suggest that once the man of God has been born from Above, once a man has become a new creation in the Spirit, then the ecclesiastical machinery shall be lubricated as never before. I am tempted to suggest that when this happens, the apportionments will be the more easily met, many new members will be taken in, and World Service will take a great leap forward! But I shall resist this subtle temptation. I shall resist because I cannot prove that it is so. I shall also resist it because I need new life in Jesus Christ. I need it even if this is not practical, or pragmatic. Even if it does not guarantee “success” for me in the daily conduct of my parish ministry.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that when Martin Luther went into the monastery, he gave up every­thing in the world except his own religious pride and hjs own stubborn will. But, Bonhoeffer says, when Martin Luther came out of the monastery and entered into the world, he surrendered even this, even himself to his Lord Jesus Christ!

One day Jesus had been talking about how difficult it is for those who trust in riches to be saved. The listeners were astonished. They said to him, “Who then can be saved?” And our Lord replied, “With men it is impossible.” But Jesus concluded with the great positive, “With God all things are possible.” Even the conversion of the clergy! Perhaps even I.

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