Institutionalism Must Not Supplant Individualism

Institutionalism Must Not Supplant Individualism*

It has been said that every religious movement has developed along the line of individualism or institutional­ism. When a movement gets large, its natural tendency is to lose the per­sonal intensity of its pioneers, to be­come formal.

By M.E. Kern

(Texts: John 17 :18 ; John 3 :16 ; 1 John 3 :16) 

It has been said that every religious movement has developed along the line of individualism or institutional­ism. When a movement gets large, its natural tendency is to lose the per­sonal intensity of its pioneers, to be­come formal. As necessary institu­tions and departments develop, and rigid plans and policies are formulated, when drives and campaigns are the order of the day, there is the greatest danger that the driving power of machinery will be substituted for the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. There is danger that the subconscious ideal shall become a per­fected organization rather than a living or­ganism.

But such a catastrophe is not necessary. There are even great business organizations that are very human in their operation, be­cause there are warm-blooded personal contacts from the personalities at the head right down through to the prospective customers. If that can be true in a great secular organization, it can be a hundredfold true of the church of God, for divine energy is promised to the church. Besides, the very life of the church depends upon these close personal contacts, for the gos­pel is a message to every individual soul, to be accepted personally, and not en masse, and the commission is to carry the message to every creature.

God has given us an efficient, workable or­ganization, adaptable to the whole world, from the highest cultured peoples of civilized lands to the untutored savages that roam the forest. If, as in Ezekiel's vision, the Spirit of the liv­ing God is within the wheels of our organiza­tion, the Holy Spirit can use this people mightily to do His glorious work. If, however, we become lethargic, trusting in our institu­tions and in our organizations, and if our work­ers become professional in their attitudes; yea, morel if the individual members of this move­ment lose out of their lives a holy zeal for personal soul winning, then we become just another denomination, and the movement has failed of the divine purpose.

We are assembled here as a body of adminis­trative and departmental leaders to plan for God's work. To my mind there is nothing more important than a re-emphasis in our hearts of the absolute necessity of personal soul winning on the part of every believer, and that this idea, this doctrine, this method, should go out from our leadership to all our workers, and to all our people far and near. If formality, professionalism, and institutional­ism predominate, we are lost. If living faith, holy zeal, and individualism prevail, we shall soon see the message carried to every creature in this world.

Personal Work Christ's Method

"The Lord desires that His word of grace shall be brought home to every soul. To a great degree this must be accomplished by per­sonal labor. This was Christ's method. His work was largely made up of personal inter­views. He had a faithful regard for the one-soul audience."—"Christ's Object Lessons," p. 229.

We need only to think through that busy life that breathed beneath the Syrian blue, to real­ize that personal work was the supreme method of the Master. We think of His first disciples, of Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, the Syrophcenician woman, the man at the pool of Bethesda, the woman taken in adultery, and a host of others, and we realize that Jesus' min­istry was very largely made up of individual contacts.

"Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Follow Me.'

"There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in per­sonal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced coun­seled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accom­panied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit."—"Gos­pel Workers," p. 363.

The measure of a man's success in the min­istry is his power to reach and to win men to God, and that art can be best learned under the tutorship of the Holy Spirit, in personal dealing with individual souls.

I venture to assert that there are no great soul winners who are not personal workers. A man who does not do personal work may be an eloquent preacher, but not a soul magnet; he may be wordy, but not mighty. I am not saying that God cannot use men whose chief value is enthusiastic promotion, but I verily believe that our cause, the one object of which is soul saving, is safer under the leadership of men who are experienced practitioners in the healing of soul maladies.

Necessary to Successful Preaching

Personal work is essential to effective min­istry. There is peril in preaching theories that we have not applied to sin-sick souls, just as there is peril in a physician's making his diagnosis or writing his prescriptions from textbook and classroom theories. The clinic and interneship are prerequisites to medical license today. There is peril in preaching theory that we do not know will work.

As I see how much I draw upon the experi­ences of others for whom I have labored, I sometimes wonder how I got on in my early ministry. Without the groundwork and expe­rience in applying the gospel message to indi­viduals, we are tempted to express our message in terms of our own peculiar circumstances. The people see the preacher's perils and con­flicts rather than their own, but the minister who has entered into the personal conflicts of other souls with the powers of darkness, can shape his sermons to meet the individual needs. How many times, when we preached with cer­tain individuals in mind and drew our illustra­tions from their experiences, we have had per­sons come and say, "What you said meets my case exactly."

Without this constant, individual effort to seek and save the lost, our work tends more and more to become theoretical. One reason why so many sermons do not grip young peo­ple is that the preacher is unacquainted with the temptations of youth, and does not bring them to grips with their own vital problems. Then, too, when we lack a vivid conception of personal experiences of people, we are likely to fall into the habit of trusting to flights of oratory or overdrawn emotionalism to move our audience. This impersonal kind of preach­ing, too, leads us beyond our own personal ex­perience, and we recommend to the people George MiiIler's or someone else's experiences into which we have never entered. And, fellow workers, while ministers must be idealists, we discourage people when we speak airily of heights we have never climbed. We do not help the people when we profess experiences which are to us only illusory dreams.

There are many people in the world who are public successes and private failures. Unfor­tunately, some such are in the gospel ministry. So let us take to ourselves these admonitions from the Spirit of prophecy:

"In the work of many ministers there is too much sermonizing and too little real heart-to-heart work. There is need of more personal labor for souls. In Christlike sympathy the minister should come close to men individually, and seek to awaken their interest in the great things of eternal life. Their hearts may be as hard as the beaten highway, and apparently it may be a useless effort to present the Saviour to them; but while logic may fail to move, and argument be powerless to convince, the love of Christ, revealed in personal ministry, may soften the stony heart, so that the seed of truth can take root."—"Gospel Workers," p. 185.

Washington, D. C.

*Portion of an address given at the Autumn Coun­cil. Other sections of the study dealing with the technique of personal work—the field of Professor Kern's special study—will be given in a subsequent issue, and should prove of practical worth.—Editors

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By M.E. Kern

February 1933

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