Elmer Gantry

In Sinclair Lewis’ fantastic satirical novel “Elmer Gantry”, he tells the story of a young man who pursued ministry for all the wrong reasons and ended up getting booted (initially) because he was sleeping around.  But as he worked as a salesman he noticed…

“…he missed leading the old hymns, and the sound of his own voice, the sense of his own power, as he held an audience by his sermon.  Always on Sunday evenings (except when he had an engagement with a waitress or a chambermaid) he went to the evangelical church nearest his hotel.  He enjoyed criticizing the sermon professionally….When he encountered really successful churches, his devotion to the business became a definite longing to return to preaching: he ached to step up, push the minister out of the pulpit, and take charge, instead of sitting back there unnoticed and unadmired, as though he were an ordinary layman. ‘These chumps would be astonished if they knew what I am!’ he reflected.”

Usually when someone attends Evergreen and tells me, “I used to be in ministry” I think “oh no, this is trouble” because many times (not always) the individual feels some kind of sense of self-importance, or wants to desperately prove they are a peer and understand what it is like to “do ministry.”  They want you to know that they have experience in this and want to be recognized not just as a “layman”.  This of course is a misunderstanding of “ministry” and who is “called to do it” (everyone!).  But it’s also very frustrating. We have also had individuals who used to be doing full-time ministry come and be very humble and helpful at Evergreen.  But these seem to be more rare.

What is it about positions of ministry that can make us such prideful, arrogant people?

(I have a LOT more to say about Elmer Gantry, which will come in time!)


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