Science in Christian Perspective



Russell Heddendorf, M.A.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 30-31.

One of the most recent areas of concentrated research in the field of sociology is the study of professions. In particular, the newest efforts have been in the areas of law, medicine, and education. The significance of this trend is indicated by the fact that the leading departments at Harvard and Columbia are the forerunners in this work.

The particular reason for the study of professions has varied with the understanding in the field. Initially, professional groups were merely looked upon as elites who controlled change in society. At the same time, studies in professions attempted to understand the common denominator of work as it was distinguished in professional from non -professional roles. Later, the concept of professions was analyzed when the legitimization of some professional functions were questioned. This has been a particularly obscure area for two reasons: 1) the requisite specialization of professions prohibits complete understanding of some functions, 2) there is a need for most professionals to be insulated from the public in order to perform their functions. Finally, the more precise concern has been with the functioning of professions, the steps taken by them to see that society's needs are met and whether or not they actually are met.

Since 1948, there have been several studies of the minister's profession. Probably the largest one, however, was authorized in October 1957 by the National Council of Christian Churches and supported by a Rockefeller grant. The uniqueness of this study is that it apparently does not have any of the above reasons as a primary source of interest, though it is being conducted by a well accepted sociologist. Rather, the explicit objective of the project is "to assist the churches and laymen in developing a better understanding of the remuneration needed by ministers to enable them to provide rnore effective service to their local congregations and communities".* This seems to be an example of the partisan and propagandist views referred to by the National Research Council and discussed in this column's last issue. It is unfortunate when the "popularization" of a discipline requires it to seek immediate data which will confirm the views of an interest group. Nor is sociology alone affected by such corruption of scientific values.

The initial working papers for thi s project make some statements which could be considered further: 1) as a calling, the minister's role is more than a profession, 2) because of the role's nature, there is no sure criteria of effectiveness or success, 3) raising the salary of ministers does not necessarily increase his effectiveness, 4) the adequacy with which a congregation supports its minister is, in part, an index of the importance it attributes to religion in its own life.

The constant problem to be dealt with In the area of the sociology of religion is the overlapping of sacred and secular. Hence, the "calling" dimension of a minister's role is the sacred aspect while the professional connotation develops a more secular note. The critical line between sacred and secular must constantly be clarified by the religious institution. In this case, it would be the seminary, as a representative of the institution, which should have that responsibility. It would seem necessary, therefore, that seminaries give a clear picture of the effective minister's role in terms of a compatible understanding of it as both calling and profession. .

Perhaps the greatest potential incentive for the secularization of the minister's role is the raising of salaries without emphasizing the calling aspect. The teaching profession has had much of a sense of calling. With the current increasing salaries, however, this will undoubtedly be lost and, instead of the quality of teachers improving, it will probably decrease. A sociological study of the minister's role, therefore.should be concerned with those mechanisms strengthening the calling in the role, thereby allowing for these factors to be stressed while salaries are increased. Simply, it would be necessary to find the common denominators which keel) the calling and professional concepts from being entirely contradictory.

The congregation's view of the minister's role will largely depend upon its evaluation of its own need. The congregation may see its need chiefly in secular terms. If so, it may have this need met largely, by non-church agencies. In this case, there would probably be less value placed on the minister's role and the accruing rewards. If the view is one of sacred needs, however, the value placed upon the role is higher. Here again, there is probably a great need to study the degree of compatibility between the minister's role and the congregation's view of it.

In conclusion, it may be stated that the goals of this study seem to miss an opportunity to do some worthwhile work in a little studied field. Perhaps this is because it has established its own objectives instead of following the sociological objective of stu ing the correlation of social facts.

*Working Paper No. 2, Clergy Research Project, Procedural Approach, October 3, 1957, p. 1. (Other references axe tal Working Paper No. 1, Clergy Research Project, May 31, 1956.