Postmodernism - Part 3: The Ministers Social Life

Postmodernists recognize the importance of social relationships in shaping one's worldview. For them one's concept of reality is mediated through the community in which he or she grows up. Meaning is determined within an interpretive framework. Concerning postmodernism as a movement, Carl Henry says, "It reduces language to but a social construct mirroring the interpreter's personal perspective." For these reasons a strong, caring community of people may attract postmodernists. Ravi Zacharias declares, "One of the most powerful appeals to the postmodern mind is a worshiping community."

Some time ago I did a study of the graduates of a certain Bible college through an eight-year period of its history. The design of the research required categorizing the students as to their degree of success in the ministry. The results of the project indicated that the ability to relate to people is one of the most important qualities that make for success in Christian ministry.  Among twelve significant variables in the study, the most powerful indicator of success in ministry was pinpointed through the use of the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire.  That attribute was consideration, defined by Andrew Halpin as "behavior which is indicative of mutual trust, respect and warmth between leader and follower."

Of course, the final authority on the subject of qualifications for ministry is the Bible. Its two basic passages on the requirements for success as a preacher of the Gospel are 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9. In this article, however, I want to present a confirmation of the truth that is there by sharing what the experts in church leadership today have to say on the matter as well as turning to what experience teaches about it. For example, careful observation teaches that failures in the ministry are not as often due to the lack of moral integrity as some may conclude. Nor does lack of ministerial success often stem from theological errors. Most of those who drop out of the ministry do so because they fail in the area of human relationships. The research that I discuss in this article substantiates that fact.

Here, then, I want to consider with you the results of my efforts to develop a ministerial rating scale intended to serve as a counseling tool to assist students to examine their potential for church work. This will include a review of the list of specific attributes needed for success in ministry that I compiled with the aid of a selected group of noted church leaders. Along the way I will suggest some practical applications of these facts in our postmodern world.

One of the instruments to be used in the project was the previously mentioned ministerial rating scale. After a careful review of the literature, I found no existing scale to be suitable as a criterion measure. In order to estimate the success of a minister then, I generated the scale used in this study. This involved the development of a criterion model to assist in the preparation of a Likert type rating scale.

In the first step I asked each member of the faculty of a Bible college, plus a selected group of pastors and lay secretaries of local churches, to submit a list of personal characteristics that they thought one would find in an effective minister. From the responses of the three groups, I collected a list of 331 statements.

In the second step, I gave copies of the statements to three of the administrators of the college for sorting. I asked each administrator to group the items into categories of similar content. Each worked independently, tentatively named his own categories by stating the personality characteristic that each seemed to describe, and then placed the items into the appropriate group.

In the third step, the three administrators joined with me in comparing the sortings. During this session the group consolidated the three lists of categories into one and assigned permanent names to the categories. Sixteen such categories were thus established. Then each of the 331 statements or items was placed in the appropriate category. The sixteen categories, along with a detailed description of each, appear below.

Social Adjustment

Successful ministers are those who project a warm, outgoing personality. They are patient, kind, gentle, hospitable, and tactful in their relationships with others. They give of themselves and their time unselfishly for the welfare of others. They manifest a forgiving attitude and are willing to go the second mile with offenders.

Further, successful ministers are able to work with all types of people. They are impartial in their treatment of others. They do not play favorites. They are not quarrelsome or overbearing in relating to others. They are approachable, yet not too familiar, tender and compassionate, yet firm if need be, in their associations with others.

Such ministers express an interest in, a recognition of, and an appreciation for others as unique human beings. They work at having the right feelings toward, as well as having the right words to say to, those with whom they associate.

In their relationships with postmodernists, for example, they may recognize with John MacArthur that, "Postmodernists often suggest that every opinion should be shown equal respect. And therefore on the surface, postmodernism seems driven by a broad-minded concern for harmony and tolerance. It all sounds very charitable and altruistic. But what really underlies the postmodernist belief system is an utter intolerance for every worldview that makes any universal truth-claims−particularly biblical Christianity."  Yet, successful ministers avoid being confrontational with them over this inconsistency. Those ministers know that "the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful" (2 Timothy 2:24).


Successful ministers are ones whose behavior shows self-discipline. They practice self-control in the management of their time. They are prompt in keeping appointments and disciplined with regard to study and their devotional lives. They divide their time and energy with due consideration for their professional responsibilities, family duties, and recreational needs. They plan their work well, generally and specifically, both from a short-term and a long-range view, and then work their plans.

Furthermore, they never give the appearance of being lazy. They are energetic and productive, often going beyond the call of duty to help others. When successful ministers assume a responsibility, they carry it through in detail. They patiently persevere in their work, and they do it without the need of constant encouragement from others.

Social Sensitivity

The behavior of successful ministers indicates a love for people, both inside and outside the church, and a concern for their welfare--spiritual, social, and physical. They manifest an awareness of human need. Their interest in people is genuine. They show unconditional love for others. They are perceptive and sensitive with regard to the feelings of others. Their compassion for men allows them to empathize with their parishioners in their everyday problems.


Successful ministers work always toward self-improvement. They aim at personal development, socially, mentally, and spiritually. They give attention to the growing edges of their lives. They are open minded and teachable, maintaining a willingness and a desire to learn from the experiences of others.

Professionally, they appear as versatile people in the sense that they can adapt to the changing situations in which they find themselves. They are pliable in adjusting to the needs of the various congregations that they serve. They are alert to changing conditions in society and adjust their methods of communication accordingly. They are open to new ideas that will enhance their work. They are not the first to take up the new or the last to lay aside the old.

This does not mean, however, that such ministers lack stability with regard to their theological position. They are certain of their basic beliefs and remain firm in them. On the other hand, they are not so opinionated as to be obnoxious. They stand up for what they believe to be right without striking back in a malicious way at those who disagree with them. They grant latitude to others concerning their own point of view in non-essential matters.

In relating to some in today's culture, successful ministers conclude that one must seek to understand the worldview of the postmodern person and interact with him or her in it as wisely as possible. Yet they agree with D. A. Carson's position: "Nevertheless, faithful worldview evangelism under these circumstances will sooner or later find the evangelist trying to modify or destroy some of the alien worldview and to present another entire structure of thought and conduct that is unimaginably more glorious, coherent, consistent, and finally true."

Sense of Vocation

Successful ministers appear strongly motivated toward service in the church. They have a sense that the ministry is their lifetime vocation. Consequently, they are wholly dedicated to their work. Theirs is a total commitment to the ministry. They do not give themselves to it on a temporary or partial basis. Their single purpose in life is serving the church.

Counseling Qualities

Successful ministers are those with a genuine interest in people, a quality manifested by their being ready to listen, to share in the happiness of others, and to experience other people's sorrows. They empathize with all members of their church and community, both young and old, in such experiences. They are approachable, they invite confession from others, and they respond to persons as individuals, considering each as a unique human being. They are good listeners and do not dominate counseling sessions.

As counselors, successful ministers are not judgmental, but are, instead, sympathetic toward those who know temptation. They are not shocked but listen patiently as parishioners unburden their hearts. They accept others as they are. They realize that acceptance does not necessarily mean approval of action, nor does understanding always mean agreement.

Such ministers can be trusted to keep in confidence the secrets of those who share with them the secrets of their lives. They never talk of one member of the congregation to another.

Emotional Maturity

Successful ministers are those who appear well-adjusted psychologically. Their behavior reflects an emotional security that stems from an inner peace. They manifest a stability of mood and temperament.

They are not threatened by people or circumstances, nor are they overly sensitive to opposition from parishioners. These ministers welcome constructive criticism and can receive negative feedback without being offended by it. They can accept the viewpoint of others though it differs from their own.

Successful ministers remain calm in the face of stressful situations. They do not break under pressure. They are positive and pleasant even in the midst of trouble. They see beyond the problems of the moment. They remain objective when the issues at hand have strong emotional overtones. They show strength when ministering in the face of such crises as severe illness and death.

Intellectual Interest

Successful ministers are ones who seem to maintain an intellectual interest in life. They systematically and intensively study the Holy Scriptures. In addition, they read widely from material in biography, history, theology, and current affairs. They are not lazy at study.

Rather than being unduly impressionable, however, successful ministers are analytical when reading these materials. As such, they are not overly alarmed by the wealth of writings today depicting radical changes in culture through the propagation of postmodern philosophy. Concerning culture's reaction to modernism, ministers will ponder carefully what Thomas Oden has to say. He writes "It would be wrongheaded to infer that every aspect of modern consciousness is dead or that all social and political achievements of the last two centuries are lost."  They will note, along with Albert Mohler, that "the modern worldview still prevails in the mass media, the formative educational institutions, and the popular Western consciousness."

Instead of demonstrating intellectual instability by being swept off their feet by reading only authors advocating postmodernist views, they will go on to study others like Carl Henry, who says, "Whether postmodernism is already entrenched as a decisive historical turning time, or is merely an influential episodic phenomenon, is no doubt still a matter of debate."  They may also realize, along with Mohler, that "postmodern philosophy is generally limited in reach to the elite academic circles common to the ideological left and the so-called ‘New Class' of post-World War II intellectuals in the knowledge industry. It is not yet formative in the worldviews of most individuals in mass culture."

They will not give in to panic by hastily making radical changes in their approach to ministry. Instead, they may end up concluding with William Brown, who says, "The more
extreme types of philosophical postmodernism will go the way of all flashes."  Referring to various ideological movements of history, Oden concludes: "Christian spirituality has lived through all of these changes, having accumulated many centuries of historical experience in dealing with various deaths of once emergent forms of modern consciousness. Only the historically illiterate imagine the recent passage of Enlightenment modernity to be the first or unprecedented or absolutely decisive one. . . . Individuals and cultures come and go, but the faithfulness of God endures from everlasting to everlasting."

Proficiency in Communication

Successful minister are ones who are able to express their thoughts well orally. They communicate in a clear, interesting, informative, and helpful manner. They preach enthusiastically and logically so as to reach both mind and heart in moving men and women to action. They communicate in terms of the understanding of the people in their audience, using the audience's frame of reference and keeping in mind their listeners' cultural background.

They will not be influenced by postmodern views that propose a lack of importance of language in communication. Of course, they are aware that some human interaction takes place at the non-verbal level, but they understand that the hub of human expression is words. Through years in the study of communication, they understand how language works. It uses simple, declarative sentences, of course. Yet it also employs many figures of speech to impress more forcefully upon the minds of readers and hearers certain truths that require means more sophisticated than simple statements. One such device is hyperbole, which uses recognizable exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. Jesus declared, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away" (Matthew 5:29). Yet no one took Him to mean it literally. No individuals in either the Gospels or in the Book of Acts actually removed their eyes as a cure for sin. Rather, people readily recognized His exaggeration and understood why He expressed Himself so strongly.

The Master also said, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:25). Again, however, no one accused Him of making a contradictory statement. Rather, they knew that language employs paradox as a figure of speech to enhance communication. Recognizing these characteristics of language could spare postmodernists from their mistake in violating the law of non-contradiction. Gary Phillips notes, "Aristotle's law of noncontradiction, foundational for the concept of absolute truth, has fallen on hard times."  Steve Badger explains, "Many postmodernists have discarded some of the rules of logic−specifically the law of non-contradiction. This says that two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. But some postmodernists reject this."

Leadership Qualities

Successful ministers are recognized as leaders by their peers and subordinates and as cooperative followers by their superiors. In their churches they manifest executive ability. They are apt in stating purposes, setting goals, and trusting individuals to carry through with assignments. They manage the business affairs of the congregation well, setting budgets and abiding by them.

Denominational leaders view the behavior of successful ministers as manifesting loyalty to the group. Those ministers are loyal to its creedal position principally because they have internalized it and are personally convinced of its truth. They are aware of their denomination's objectives, are faithful to its policies, and cooperate with its programs. They work well with other ministers of the denomination. They are amenable to denominational officers. If such successful ministers come to a place where they can no longer be conscientiously loyal to the group, they will tactfully withdraw from it.

Personal Integrity

Successful ministers are people who manifest a high degree of personal honesty and integrity. They are authentically honest with themselves and their fellowmen. They are trustworthy in that they keep their word, pay their debts, and can be depended upon in all circumstances.


Successful ministers also exhibit a strong sense of personal identity. They come to know and understand themselves through healthy introspection. They know their own limitations and accept them without undue self-abasement. Thus, they hold an attitude of humility; though meek, they are not weak. They also know their strengths and capitalize on them.

Value Orientation

Successful ministers have internalized the teachings of the church to the extent that spiritual rather than material things occupy first place in their lives. They are devoutly spiritual in every area of activity.


Successful ministers appear to those around them as incurable optimists. They remain cheerful, radiant, and pleasant in their approach to life. They abound with enthusiasm. They tend to see the best there is in people and to look on the bright rather than the dark side of life.

Following this pathway makes it possible for the minister of the Gospel to avoid the pessimism of postmodernists. Gene Veith concludes, "Postmodernism has its origins in a school of thought known as existentialism. Where many philosophies and religions have posed answers to the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?' existentialism solves the problem in a bold way: There is no meaning to life. According to existentialism, life is meaningless, pointless, absurd."  The individual brings meaning into his own world through his choices.

Sense of Humor

Successful ministers are ones who manifest a wholesome sense of humor in life. This allows them to rebound to setbacks and to pass off serious problems in their work that would otherwise get them down. They do not take themselves too seriously but are able to laugh at their own shortcomings and blunders as well as those of others. They accept the fact that there is a difference between the ideal and the real in life.


The resourcefulness of successful ministers appears obvious to others. They are imaginative and creative in their lives and ministries. They are bold and innovative yet not so bizarre as to bring embarrassment to the group. They possess a healthy dose of individual initiative. They are autonomous, rather than being dependent on others.

In conclusion, in the article above I have discussed the results of my efforts to develop a ministerial rating scale intended to serve as a counseling tool to assist students to examine their potential for church work. This included a review of the list of specific social attributes needed for success in ministry that I compiled with the aid of a selected group of noted church leaders. Along the way I have suggested some practical applications of these facts in our postmodern world.

Evangelizing in every generation will always center on preaching the Gospel. That remains true for this one, despite the fact that it declares a dislike for preaching and witnessing. David Dockery says, "Claims to truth, proclamation of that truth, and sharing one's faith are viewed as improper behavior and bad manners."  One can't help but wonder, then, why its proponents seek to convince others to embrace its philosophy of life. At the same time, we keep hearing that to win the lost to Christ, the first thing we must do is to establish a trusting relationship with the individual we desire to point to the Savior. That kind of rapport comes through a display of the social attributes listed above.

Selected Bibliography

Badger, Steve. Witnessing to Our Postmodern World. Springfield, Mo.: by the author, 2003.

Carson, D. A. "Athens Revisited." In The Telling Truth: Evamgelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

Dockery, David S., ed. The Challenge of Postmodernism. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

Halpin, Andrew W. Theory and Research in Administration. New York: Macmillan Company, 1966.

Harris, Charles. "The Use of Selected Leadership, Personality, Motivational, and Demographic Variables in the Identification of Successful Ministers." Ed.D. diss., University of Tulsa, 1972.

Henry, Carl F. H. "Postmodernism: The New Spectre?" In The Challenge of Postmodernism, ed. David S. Dockery. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

MacArthur, John. Why One Way: Defending an Exclusive Claim in an Inclusive World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002.

Murphy, Gardner, and Resis Likert. Public Opinion and the Individual. New York: Harper, 1938.

Oden, Thomas C. "So What Happens after Modernity? A Postmodern Agenda for Evangelical Theology." In The Challenge of Postmodernism, ed. David S. Dockery. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

Phillips, Gary. "Religious Pluralism in a Postmodern World." In The Challenge of Postmodernism, ed. David S. Dockery. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. Loving God with All Your Mind, rev. ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2003.

Zacharias, Ravi. "An Ancient Message through Modern Means, to a Postmodern Mind." In The Telling Truth: Evamgelizing Postmoderns, ed. D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.

About the Author

Dr. Charles Harris is a recently retired Professor of Bible and Pastoral Ministries as well as Chairman of the Division of Church Ministries at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He was associated with the college for thirty-eight years. 

In addition to his career as an educator, Dr. Harris is also an author. His writings have appeared in the Sunday School Counselor, God's Word for Today, and the Adult Teacher. Among his works are three books--What's Ahead, Proofs of Christianity, and Under the Glass: An Analysis of Church Structure--as well as a commentary on the Book of Second Corinthians in the Complete Biblical Library. He was a contributing author of Power Encounter: A Pentecostal Perspective.

Dr. Harris holds a bachelor's degree in Bible, a master's degree in counseling, and a doctorate in education.