When our Saviour had passed through the garden and had drunk the bitter dregs of the cup, when He had finished His mission and had risen triumphant over sin and death, He might have fled yearningly to the Father to remain in glorious Paradise without expending any more of His precious energy on such menial earthly tasks as follow-up ministry. Suppose He had reasoned, "I've given them now more than they deserve. Even Peter turned out to be an ungrateful soul, and John's courage was not what I had hoped. Judas bruised me terribly ! I've told them the truth, and there should be some fruit. I certainly have done My part. I must hasten on to more important business in other planets." Had He taken such an attitude and shown sueh a spirit, His work might never have been rightly established upon this earth.
Think of the tragically fatal far-reaching results had there been no personal visit with Mary at the tomb, no Bible study on the road to Emmaus, no missionary visit with a doubting Thomas, no loving admonition to a distressed Peter, no forty-day follow-up work, and consequently no Pentecost ! But thank God, Jesus, our blessed Christ, set the example in true follow-up work, thereby establishing faith and truth in the hearts of men. He did not shrink from that unobtrusive, quiet, less pretentious labor of binding off His work. We find Him seeking out the discouraged disciples and bracing them both materially and spiritually. Unutterable love and pity welled up in His great heart when He whispered to Peter, "Lovest thou Me ? . . . Feed My sheep."
It is a good thing for us to tarry in a place until we know that somebody is capable and willing to feed the sheep and the lambs. How often have we read reports similar to this : "We closed our eight weeks' effort with a good attendance. We ask all to pray that some good fruit will come from this encouraging interest." Or, "Our auditorium effort closed last Sunday night with a full house. There is much interest, and we hope that a goodly number will be baptized later. It will help if a Bible worker can come to bind off the interest." When I read such notices in our church papers, I always feel a burden to pray for the preachers who wrote them. I feel like saying with the apostle Paul, "Watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry." 2 Tim. 4:5. From the pen of inspiration we are admonished:
"The work should not be left prematurely. See that all are intelligent in the truth, established in the faith, and interested in every branch of the work, before leaving them for another field. And then, like the apostle Paul, visit them often to see how they do. Oh, the slack work that is done by many who claim to be commissioned of God to preach His word, makes angels weep."—"Testimonies," Vol. V, l'.256.
"Too often the work is left in an unfinished state, and in many such cases it amounts to nothing. Sometimes, after a company of people has accepted the truth, the minister thinks that he must immediately go to a new field; and sometimes, without proper investigation, he is authorized to go. This is wrong; he should finish the work begun; for in leaving it incomplete, more harm than good is done. No field is so unpromising as one that has been cultivated just enough to give the weeds a more luxuriant growth. By this method of labor many souls have been left to the buffeting of Satan and the opposition of members of other churches -who have rejected the truth; and many are driven where they can never again be reached. A minister might better not engage in the work unless he can bind it off thoroughly."—"Gospel Workers," pp. 367, 368.
Again from "Gospel Workers," we read:
"God's work is not to be done in a bungling, slipshod manner. When a minister enters a field, he should work that field thoroughly. He should not be satisfied with his success until he can, through earnest labor and the blessing of Heaven, present to the Lord converts who have a true sense of their responsibility, and who will do their appointed work. If he has properly instructed those under his care, when he leaves for other fields of labor the work will not ravel out; it will be bound off so firmly as to be secure. . . . A laborer should never leave some portion of the work undone because it is not agreeable to perform."—Page 369.
"Some ministers are easily diverted from their work. They become discouraged, or are drawn away by their home ties, and leave a growing interest to die for want of attention. The loss sustained by the cause in this way can scarcely be estimated. When an effort to proclaim the truth is made, the minister in charge should feel responsible to act his part in faithfully carrying it forward. If his labors appear to be without result, he should seek by earnest prayer to discover if they are what they should be. He should humble his soul before God in self-examination, and by faith cling to the divine promises, humbly continuing his efforts till he is satisfied that he has faithfully discharged his duty, and done everything in his power to gain the desired result."—Id., P. 371.
Asks one, "How can you tell you have sufficient interest of a serious nature to justify some type of definite follow-up work ?" I reply, by the fact that people have come to hear you preach the word of God regularly for a period of weeks. In fact, the follow-up feature of the campaign should be planned to some positive degree before the effort opens.
"But how do you know in advance that the effort will be successful ?" someone wonders. The answer is in Isaiah 55:11, where God declares of His word, "It shall not return unto Me void." The reason some of our bind-off work is so feeble or lacking is that our faith wanes at the opening of the campaign for souls. When the church members ask me during the first week of an effort, "Do you think it is going to be a success, Brother Griffin ?" I say, "I am certain that we shall see a goodly number brought to a saving knowledge of God's truth." By the 60-race of God, I can say that in fifteen years ofal most continuous evangelistic service, I have never held an unsuccessful campaign. I do not remember a single effort in those years without some souls baptized into this wonderful message of truth. This success I attribute to two factors—faith in God's promises at the beginning of each campaign, and stick-to-itiveness in follow-up work. Frequently I have grieved that my labors for Christ have not yielded more fruit for Him. But I actually feel that I could not bear to close an effort without having baptized a soul into God's truth.
"But," inquires another, "suppose you had announced just so many weeks for the meeting?" Then on the closing night I would ask for a show of hands on the part of those who would appreciate a few Sunday night meetings if I could stay with them longer. If the place is to be our church building, I would announce Sunday night and Friday night preaching services and Wednesday night prayer meetings.
If the evangelist must leave, the pastor should have a subject ready to announce for the next preaching service. He should repeat the announcement of the place and the times for the services two or three times, get the daily paper to announce them, and place a small display advertisement, letting people know that the services are continuing. The news item to the paper might state that many requests were made for the evangelist to continue lectures on Sunday nights, or to continue his meetings every night for another week or two.
The young preacher asks (and some older ones, too) : "What if you're preached out and have no more sermons to give?" If you can do no better, recast sermon No. t, give it a new title, and preach it again. I used to feel that it would be extremely embarrassing if the people should hear me preach the same sermon twice. Then I fell upon an enlightening experience. While off on an annual vacation trip, I worked up a new sermon. It seemed so good that I preached it for the first time to friends at the old college church of school days. The next Sabbath, by invitation to preach in the church-at my wife's old home place in another State, I gave my new sermon for the second time. It took so well that I decided to preach this "new" sermon in my own church, supposing that none there had ever heard it. Thus, my newest discourse was heard on three consecutive Sabbaths in three different States. After this third service, a strange woman accosted me. She told me that she was the mother of one of my former schoolmates. "This is the third time I've heard you give that sermon," she said. "I was visiting friends, two weeks ago, where you spoke. Last Sabbath I was with relatives where your wife's people live down in Oklahoma, and this week end I am with a sister here in Kansas. But I got more out of that sermon today than ever before. It certainly touched my heart."
Stay by Those Under Deep Conviction
One reason for holding public preaching services after the effort proper is to develop the interest among relatives of new church members, and to help those who became interested in the latter portion of the campaign. But I think the most important reason is that sermons will help those under deep conviction of the truth to make their decision for Christ.
Can it be, brethren, that we have been guilty of deserting the poor people just when they need us most ? It seems that some of us love to leave just when many are begging us to stay longer. But this is cruel when it involves , struggling souls who are truly trying to decide for the truth, but are perplexed and worried because of persecutions or staggering problems.
Remember, hand-picked fruit is usually the best. Often our follow-up work, in which we have time to get a little closer to the people, nets better-quality converts. For one thing, the thinking class of people does not like to decide a serious question quickly. It took me fully six months to lead one of my best-educated converts, a university graduate, to baptism.
It was my privilege once to assist in an effort conducted by one of our most prominent evangelists. When the three months of the effort proper were past, twenty-three had been baptized, nearly all being Adventist young people or backslidden Adventists. With two Bible workers I followed up this interest, holding Friday and Sunday night preaching services for six weeks in our church, with more than sixty baptisms as a result. In the small city of Petersburg, Virginia, when our main effort closed last January 1, more than thirty had been baptized, and by follow-up work sixty-one are now in the faith, with others to be baptized.
Just recently a Presbyterian minister and his wife listened to our radio messages, and he came several times to the auditorium. Our Bible worker gave them studies, and took me to the home one day. The wife, who was very sick, was keeping her husband close to her bedside day and night because all hope was gone. We explained the Scriptures to this beautiful, cultured woman who inquired so eagerly after spiritual things. Then she whispered, "All the preachers of the city here have been to see me, and every one of them told a joke to make me laugh. What good could a joke do one in my condition? Your visit is wonderful. I believe you have the truth." A few weeks later she died. Her husband plans to visit me soon at my home in Richmond to study the truth further.
Let me suggest that when you begin your follow-up meetings you always announce the date for another baptism, two or three weeks away. But suppose none should be ready by such a date? It is easy enough to postpone the date, if that be really necessary. But in most cases, our faith in the matter helps the dear souls to be ready.
Some fifteen years ago, in the Middle West, when I was a young man, I requested my conference president to let me connect with an effort being conducted by Evangelist Robert L. Boothby, who was young in the work too.
We spent six happy months together. I was greatly impressed by his endurance. In the fall, cold weather drove us out of our big tent, and Elder Boothby secured the use of a theater. Then because the multitude soon left us, we went to a small store building. One cold dreary night about twenty-five people ventured out to the meeting. I thought to myself, "He'll give up now. He can't preach to that handful of people." Well, he preached as if there were a thousand people there. I even found myself forgetting the proportion of that almost invisible audience by the warmth of his closing appeal. I pondered this experience much and concluded that, after all, our work centers around the value of one human soul for whom Christ died.