One of the gravest perils confronting the church and the ministry today is apathy regarding aggressive evangelism. In too many places ministers have become pastors, immobilized in the service, their time taken up with looking after a company of people, already believing in the Lord. Little or no thought or, effort is devoted, to the greatest of all tasks—the evangelization of the world with our special message for the last day.
Let each minister ask himself, "Am I a pastor or an evangelist? Am I ceasing to be a harvester for the garner of God?" These are pertinent questions, as is also the question asked by Lionel Fletcher in "Effective Evangelism:" "If the churches do not exist for harvesting, and if the preachers are not trained to reap a harvest for the kingdom of God, then what are they there for?"—Page 25. And Oswald Smith comments thus on the slogan, "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation :"
"The fact is we have made a great mistake. For over a hundred years now we have sent out missionaries to be pastors to native churches, and thus God's order has been reversed. Our methods . . . have not been Scriptural; hence the world is still unevangelized, in spite of all our efforts. Paul, the greatest and most successful missionary the world has ever known, did not become a pastor. He traveled, preached, won converts, organized churches, . . . and passed on. . . . He founded no colleges, built no hospitals, and erected no church buildings."
He further comments: "Upon this rock [lack of aggressive evangelization] practically all modern missions have gone down." A similar difficulty confronts us in the advent movement. Our tendency is to settle down, to consolidate and to conserve the gains already won, and when we do that, we begin to slip back. We must ever press on into new places and make every phase of our activity revolve around the great evangelistic urge to seek and to save the souls who know not Christ.
Personal Ambition.—The truly successful preacher is a man of courage. The very nature of his work makes him so. He goes into new places as an unknown man with an unpopular message. He faces new and sometimes hostile crowds, and slowly influences them until they turn to him and believe his word. The danger is that he will grow to love the applause of crowds and the flattery of individuals. When he feels that he is successful, that he is climbing, that he is accomplishing something in life, he comes to the point where his work is egocentric. But all our activities must center in drawing men to Christ. Personal ambition grows out of the very qualities that make successful soul winners, and we must be constantly on guard against it. It has often entered our work and ruined men.
I would say that the man who becomes ambitious to the point where he wants position and prominence in the Lord's work is thereby largely disqualified to carry the responsibility he covets. Often the wives of our workers unwittingly spoil their husbands in this respect, Every woman, by a merciful Providence, has the most capable husband and the cleverest children on earth. Quite often, according to her, her husband ought to be an administrator if he is not one already, We, as preachers, need to guard against perils of this kind. There is a point beyond which a woman should not obtrude in a man's public work, and she should allow divine grace to temper ambitions.
Discouragement and Cynicism.—The work of advancing this message is growing more and more difficult, and the very difficulties we face sometimes bring us into positions where we accept defeat as our inevitable portion. We must all face discouragement, but we must find new courage even through disappointments.
"Into the experience of all there come times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement,—days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earth-horn children ; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God, and are brought into the slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God's providences, we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation more firm than the everlasting hills ; and new faith, new life, would spring into being."—"Prophets and Kings," p. 162.
It has been stated that discouragement and criticism are first cousins. My observation leads me to think that they are blood brothers, and that the elder brother is discouragement. Wherever I have found a critic, I have found a man who has been discouraged. We must keep our eyes upon the Lord who is working all things according to His plan and purpose. As the servant of the Lord has told us, "We must keep close to our great Leader, or we shall become bewildered, and lose sight of the Providence which presides over the church and the world, and over each individual."—"Testimonies to Ministers," '. 432.
Following Our Own Predilections.—In our church, conference, and institutional work we often fall into the natural tendency to be guided by our preferences and partialities. It is one of the great secrets of success in strong leadership not to allow partiality for individuals to influence us in our dealings with men. This peril is very subtle, and much determination and consecration are required to avoid it.
In these times people expect partiality, and they do all in their power to put us, as leaders, in a position in which it is extremely difficult to avoid showing undue preferences. For example, people expect us to stay in their homes when we visit churches, and to do this and to do that, and if we do not, they feel they are slighted. We need to be exceptionally careful in our visiting, in our traveling, in the hospitality we accept, and in the friendly contacts we make from time to time, not to create the impression that one man or one family is our choice above another.
Disappearance of the Pioneer Spirit.—It is difficult to persuade myself that the spirit of the pioneers is always with us. The spirit that animated the men who received the first light of the advent message drove them on from place to place with unceasing energy and indomitable courage. The one dominating motive in their lives was to spread the message. "Spread the Message !" would be a wonderful slogan for us to adopt anew as a people.
It is sometimes a grievous thing to hear men and women say that they cannot go here or they cannot go there. A woman will not marry a man because he wants to become a missionary, or she will not move north because she likes the sunny south; or a preacher will not go into this town because it has only forty thousand inhabitants, etc.
I realize there are conditions that make it necessary for us to be considerate in administration, but I think we need to pray to be spared from what I call "softness in service." This is an age when men like to be comfortable, well shod, well fed, well fixed in life.
But in Christian service we must ever be pioneer builders for the Lord—pressing on, preaching the message, seeking the lost, knowing no rest till the Master comes.