I came across something today that referenced a concept Charles Bridges wrote about concerning pastoral ministry. Bridges was a pastor and author in 19th century England. He was a leader in the Evangelical Party of the Church of England and highly respected by his peers. The Rev. B. Philpot, Rector of Lydney, Gloucestershire, wrote in the Preface to a collection of Bridges’ letters: “I never remember any one in whose presence it was more difficult to be irreligious, or even frivolous. His whole life was a spiritualized humanity in its healthiest and most lovely exhibition.”
Bridges made reference to this quote from a work by Isaac Watts:
“A Minister, whose Business and known Employment is to speak of the Things of God, should never be ashamed to impart divine Knowledge, or to exhort to Holiness with his Lips, and to preach the Word of the Gospel of Grace, whether the World calls it in Season or out of Season, 2 Tim. iv. i. He that has the happy Talent of Parlour Preaching has sometimes done more for Christ and Souls in the space of a few Minutes, than by the Labour of many Hours and Days in the usual Course of Preaching in the Pulpit. Our Character should be ail of a piece, and we should help forward the Success of our publick Ministrations by our private Addresses to the Hearts and Consciences of Men, where Providence favours us with just Occasions.”1
Bridges then added his own contribution to Watts’ remarks:
“Social visits to our people for the purpose of spreading a general spiritual atmosphere, are also a highly important part of the Pastoral work. What Dr. Watts aptly calls “parlour preaching” — that is, the ability to introduce the subject of religion seasonably and acceptably into social intercourse — is one of the most valuable talents to the Church. If it be in part a natural gift; yet its lowest exercise is capable of unlimited improvement; and they who have attained the highest excellence in this way, are not those, who were most richly endowed by nature, but those who have ” stirred up this gift of God that is in them” with the most assiduous diligence. We do not indeed recommend that sententious and authoritative tone, which carries with it the air of solemn affectation. Let the great subject rather blend with the habit of Christian cheerfulness: only taking care not to diverge from the main object, so as to preclude a natural and graceful return: and remembering that seriousness is as essential to unction, as unction is to edification. Nor would we always open the subject formally, or in the way of abrupt commencement. If no direct method offers itself, an intelligent readiness of address, and the expression of a glowing heart, will turn some incident or topic of conversation to good account. When the obligation is deeply felt, opportunities generally will be found, or a watchful spirit of love will make them; and if the character of the preacher is put off, the man of God will engage himself in close, affectionate, vigorous conversation upon matters of eternal moment.
An adaptation of topics is, however, necessary to give effect to the exercise of this talent. Matters of general interest will always afford subjects of instruction. In mixed society, two or more real Christians, interchanging their sentiments on any interesting topic, will furnish a vehicle of profitable communication with the rest. Intercourse with the higher classes is often attended with considerable difficulty. Yet even here the introduction of truth “in the meekness of wisdom” will accomplish much; and the Pastor never appears in greater dignity, or speaks with greater effectiveness to the rich, than when his mild decision of heavenly character exhibits the determination to “obey God rather than man,” and to honour the authority of his commission with preeminent regard. We must not forget the strict account that will be required of this weighty burden of the souls of the rich; and with an eye to this account, we must wisely and diligently search out the avenues, by which to convey to them the most enduring treasure.
For the improvement of this conversational intercourse, a store of materials, drawn from an acquaintance with the best practical writers, or from our religious biographies, will prove of essential service. A readiness to produce the circulating medium — added to a recollected habit for the most suitable disposition of the topics, for the study of proper variety, and above all, for exercising our dependence upon Almighty aid — will be most important. In this spirit of consideration, diligence, and faith, the feeblest efforts will be abundantly honoured; while the best-ordered conversation, in our own spirit, will prove ineffectual for the desired ends.”2
Both these authors were writing primarily to those in pastoral ministry. However, their remarks are both useful and applicable to any follower of Christ.
1Watts, Isaac. “3. Of His Publick Ministrations.” An Humble Attempt Towards the Revival of Practical Religion Among Christians, by a Serious Address to Ministers and People, In Some Occasional Discourses. Cornhill: Globe, 1742. 90-91. Print.
2Bridges, Charles. “Part V. I. The Nature and importance of the Pastoral work.” The Christian Ministry; with an inquiry into the causes of its inefficiency. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1850. 316-318. Print.