In my work as publishing department director, one of my responsibilities is the training of literature evangelists in the art of gospel salesmanship. Among other things, we point out the importance of a good personality, the need for courtesy, and the necessity of avoiding distracting mannerisms. Ministers and local elders are salespeople too. We are selling the greatest product of service in all the world, and our habits and appearance decidedly help or hurt our chances of success.
I have been thinking about some habits that greatly affect a minister’s usefulness. Some of them may seem small and insignificant, but if they influence the hearers unfavorably, we ought to avoid them.
People begin to judge you at their first glance, and the way you dress speaks to them before you say a word. Certainly ministers ought to give careful thought to make sure that they dress in keeping with their profession. Gospel Workers offers this counsel regarding the minister’s dress: “Carefulness in dress is an important consideration. The minister should be clothed in a manner befitting the dignity of his position.”1 Of course, customs vary in different climates and countries, but we feel that sport clothing or loud ties are not appropriate for pulpit wear in any city church.
Again we are told that “untidiness in dress brings a reproach against the truth we profess to believe. . . . This is not a matter of little consequence, for it affects your influence over others for time and for eternity.”2
When you are seated on the platform, keep both feet flat on the floor. Look alert, interested, and not too relaxed. Do not cross your legs; some who do this expose short socks or worn shoe soles. This informal attitude does not reveal the best platform manners. Don’t whisper. There may be occasions for some brief question or a word of explanation, but it should be done quickly and as inconspicuously as possible, because whispering can be very disturbing to the one who is speaking from the pulpit, as well as being distracting to the audience. If you are one of those seated on the platform, avoid distracting mannerisms, such as repeatedly clicking a pencil, which can be extremely annoying to the person addressing the congregation, as well as disturbing to the people in the first few rows of the church.
Participate in the congregational singing. Follow the text as the worship leader reads. Don’t just sit and read your Bible during the service. Look at the speaker. Look at the congregation. Stay alert. Whether you are giving the message or seated on the platform, don’t obviously look at your watch during the service. It may cause others to do the same thing and thereby divert their minds from the message being delivered. It will start them thinking about how much time remains in the service and what they may do following the sermon. Speakers should be aware of the time they are taking and be certain to finish at the correct hour, but they should not call attention to the time.
In announcing songs, some leaders say, “We will now sing page 163” when they actually mean “hymn number 163.” There is a difference! Occasionally the most experienced speaker may misuse or mispronounce a word. The list of such words is long. Here is an example we heard recently: “We’ll send you a little momento.” Of course he meant “memento.” Such errors are as distracting to some people as a discordant note is to the ear of a musician.
“By the atmosphere surrounding us, every person with whom we come in contact is consciously or unconsciously affected. This is a responsibility from which we cannot free ourselves. Our words, our acts, our dress, our deportment, even the expression of the countenance, have an influence. Upon the impression thus made there hang results for good or evil which no man can measure.”3
If your personality, dress, speech, or habits offend people, you make it difficult for them to accept your message. Check up on yourself. Be the best person possible to deliver the greatest message and invitation in all the world.
“The minister must remember that favorable or unfavorable impressions are made upon his hearers by his deportment in the pulpit, his attitude, his manner of speaking, his dress. He should cultivate courtesy and refinement of manner, and should carry himself with a quiet dignity becoming to his high calling.”4
What do people think of you on Sabbath when you are seated on the platform or standing behind the desk? Remember, great characters are formed by little acts and efforts, and ministers who are constantly before the people are judged by the way they look, act, and talk.
How about your platform appearance and manners?
1. Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 173.
2. White, Colporteur Ministry, p. 65.
3. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 339, 340.
4. White, Gospel Workers, p. 172.
W. A. Higgins Former Associate Director, Publishing Department, General Conference