While traveling in Japan last year, I met the executive secretary of one of the large American mission boards, who was also traveling through the Far East in the interests of the mission work of his church. We spent some time discussing mission problems and policies, and in the course of our conversation he made the following significant statement:
"As long as our church carried on aggressive evangelism, she prospered. But we gave up this method some twenty-five years ago, and now we are losing ground on every field. We have substituted institutionalism for evangelism, and it is not a success. We are helping to educate the rising generation, but we are doing practically nothing for the present generation."
It is easy for us to see how institutionalism has hindered evangelism in mission lands in the case of other mission boards; but are we not in danger of drifting in the same direction? Many of our conference officials are so busy with administrative affairs, and with the responsibilities of large institutions, that they find it difficult to engage personally in evangelistic work. And many ministers who are not in executive work are giving their time so largely to other interests that they, too, are fully occupied without carrying on aggressive public efforts.
In other fields the conference leaders arrange their own work so as to provide some time each year for public evangelism, and every church pastor is a pastor-evangelist, who, with the assistance of his church members, conducts from one to three public efforts each year.
In studying the history of our work we find that the measure of our progress in soul winning has been gauged by our relation to aggressive evangelism. Whenever this work has been neglected, stagnation or even retrogression has followed as the inevitable result. Even a casual survey of our situation today will show that in those fields where there has been a slowing up in evangelistic work, there is a correspondingly low showing in membership gains. During the decade from 1920 to 1930 some union conferences in North America made a gain in membership of from 50 to 62 percent, while other unions increased less than 1 percent. There must be a reason for such divergence in the progress made. This reason, we believe, is to be found in their relation to evangelism.
Surely as we pass through the loud cry of the message, we shall not do less public preaching, but more and more. We are sent to the kindreds, and nations, and tongues of the present generation, and are bidden to search for them in the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in. Comparatively few will search us out and come in of their own accord. We must go after them, and by proclaiming the startling truths for this time arrest their attention. We must "cry aloud," and "spare not." The trumpet must be blown and the alarm sounded so earnestly that the inhabitants of the land will tremble as they are made to realize that the day of the Lord is near at hand. This indicates an aggressive, earnest, and continuous evangelism as long as the people will hear.
Surely no one will contend that the time for public hall and tent efforts has passed, and that people can no longer be reached in this way. Only a few weeks ago word was received at the General Conference that eight such efforts were launched on Sunday night, January 9, in one local conference, and that most of the halls were so crowded that standing room was unavailable. Never was the public more willing or anxious to hear our preachers, and never has the world stood in such dire need of a life-giving message from God, as at this moment. Our message comes to the weary, perplexed soul as a breath from heaven; and surely there should be no delay on our part in getting to a distressed world with it, lest many perish who otherwise might be saved.
In this work the conference presidents and field superintendents should lead. A leader is one who knows the way, and can keep ahead and inspire others to follow. When the conference president is the most successful evangelist in the conference, his example is a mighty incentive. The president should know even better than his men how their work should be done. But his knowledge should not be based entirely upon past experience. He should continually seek for fresh opportunities. He should be active in the evangelistic field, even though the burden of directing the work rests upon him.
Some may argue that this cannot be done, but others are demonstrating that it can. Presidents of conferences and superintendents of large missions are finding time to conduct one or two public efforts annually; even division presidents are making time for such personal effort. It is not, therefore, simply a beautiful idealism that is being advocated, but "a demonstrated policy. Those field leaders who thus engage in evangelistic work each year simply place on others some of the details of administrative work. Most of our conference secretary-treasurers are competent business men, and they are asked to carry more of the business load. Men in the field are made responsible for districts, while at the same time they give the major part of their effort to aggressive evangelism. Thus the burden of administrative work is lightened, and the leader finds time to take an active part in this most important work.
Our work has spread so rapidly over the world, and so many men have been required for field leadership, that a number of those who have been pressed into this service have never had actual experience in evangelistic efforts. Of course, they are in no way to blame for this; nevertheless, this lack is a distinct handicap in their executive duties. We would urge that such lose no time in gaining this experience. It is not too late to secure it, and it is absolutely essential to strong, aggressive leadership of the field forces. What a mighty inspiration it would be to our entire field if all the leaders would actually take an active part in soul-winning work! What an impetus would be given to greater evangelism!
By what has been said it is not the intention to give the impression that there is no need for concern over the spiritual needs of our churches. Far from it. There is much earnest work which our presidents and ministers must do for the churches. Far more should be done for them than has been done in certain sections in the way of conducting definite revival efforts, and in connection therewith planning for definite soul-winning campaigns in their neighborhoods. They should also be rallied to the support of the public efforts of the ministry. In this way they will not only become a mighty asset to the work of the pastor-evangelist, but also grow into strength and leadership themselves. Every talent must be put out to the usurers. Every church member must be enlisted in active service, and missions campaigns must be carried on. But in the doing of all this we should never lose sight of the fact that our great commission is to make disciples. This urge should always be uppermost. Said the Lord's servant:
"Our ministers should now be working for the saving of the lost."—"Testimonies to Ministers," p. 231.
"When the people of God engage in this work with real travail of soul, there will be manifest a decided change in cities and villages. . . . It is time that cities and villages everywhere were hearing the solemn note of warning, 'Behold, He cometh.' Get ready."—Id., pp. 231, 232.
"The parable of the lost sheep should be a lesson to every soul who has been rescued from the snare of Satan. We are . . . to go forth to save the lost, hunting them up in the wilderness of the large cities and towns."—Id., p. 232.
"Time is passing, the perils of the last days are upon us; and how many will say to us in the last great day, when every man shall receive according to his works: Why have you not warned us? You have not told us those things that we should have known."—/d., p. 230.
Washington, D. C.