The evangelistic methods section of the Ministry provides the evangelistic workers of this movement with an effective medium for the interchange of experiences, observations, and personal convictions in the wide field of evangelistic method. It partakes largely of the nature of a forum, and properly so. Here men of varied experience and success share with their brethren the methods they have demonstrated personally as successful in their own efforts. The range covered is wide, and many of these contributions have marked excellence. Differing and sometimes almost opposite methods very properly appear here, for through comparison, evaluation, and elimination, we gather and retain much of permanent value. Such is the sound historic method of growth and advance in this movement.
We have become increasingly method-conscious in recent years, and that is not without its advantages. Occasionally, however, someone, in his earnestness and ardor, becomes somewhat dogmatic and tends to insist, or at least to imply, that there is only one "best" method for a given objective—the one, naturally, that he is projecting. It is well, of course, for a man to find the method that is "best" for himself. (But even that achievement should not be static. He who ceases to grow and to improve is on the road to stagnation or oblivion.) This "best" method, however, that someone has discovered for himself, should not be adapted or applied to all other brethren as best for them. There is no one best method for all in evangelism. There are many good methods—perhaps as many as there are strong and virile personalities. These methods necessarily differ according to the training, education, location, experience, and outlook of our various men.
What may be best for one is not necessarily best for another. And what may be best for one in one place, or under one set of circumstances, often proves a disappointment and perhaps a failure when applied by the same individual to a different location, or to different circumstances. Even Christ Himself did not achieve uniform results. In some places the prevailing unbelief of the community prevented outstanding success. This is a fact and a principle that we should never forget. No man can fabricate a method that will work uniformly for all or under all conditions.
As personalities differ, so methods are bound to vary. The range is astonishing, and presents a series of virtual opposites. One man's strength lies in the effectiveness of his work in the pulpit; another's is to be found in his studies, appeals, and prayers in the homes of the people. One man's success hinges principally upon his personal efforts; another's on the effective use of his associates and the laity. One man lays down a heavy barrage of precanipaign literature; another waits until the interest creates a demand for further information. One man preaches his way into the hearts of the people; another successfully employs the teaching method. One man reads all his texts from the open Bible ; another merely quotes the supporting scriptures. One man uses screen pictures constantly throughout his series ; another rarely or never employs them. One man rigidly holds himself down to thirty or thirty-five minute sermons ; another seems able to hold his congregation night after night for an hour.
Some men are sober and always tremendously in earnest; others have a smile and a vein of wholesome humor. (A few make clowns of themselves, to the distress of their brethren and the disregard of the Spirit of prophecy counsels ; but that is outside our present consideration.) One man capitalizes effective music with his appeals ; another seems unable to use music to any particular advantage. One man uses charts and other devices with marked success ; another disdains all such. One man ties his effort in with a local radio broadcast; another never employs the air waves. One man capitalizes the news columns of the public press ; another ignores the possibilities of the press. One man uses large, dignified handbills; another utilizes small, highly colored cards. One man presents the exalted message with excellent language and accurate pronunciation ; another disregards grammar and pronunciation, to the mortification of the friends of truth, yet holds his hearers by the very earnestness and the helpfulness of his message. One man uses the question box constantly and with success, almost from the first night ; another uses it only occasionally, and that after the meetings are well under way.
One man comes onto the platform with his associates and kneels in silent prayer, the associates remaining on the platform throughout the service; another enters at the conclusion of the song service, in time to lead in the evening prayer ; yet another never appears on the platform until after the prayer has been offered by an associate, who simply enters, prays, and retires. One man preaches winter and summer in a white or cream suit; another always appears in a black or dark suit. One man introduces illustrations at intervals throughout his discourse, as windows to let in the light; another drives along in ponderous, factual form, the heavy weight of which is felt by all. One man mingles with his congregation after the dismissal ; another abruptly disappears from sight. One man uses "aftermeetings" constantly-; another seldom if ever employs them. One man uses Bible instructors to teach and do personal work in the homes of the people; another restricts their activities to ringing doorbells, distributing literature, and routine duties.
Such a series of contrasts could be expanded indefinitely, but these will surely suffice to illustrate. The conclusion is not to be drawn, however, from all this, that all methods are alike good, and that it is merely a matter of choice. There are decided weaknesses in certain of the methods cited. Some are offensive and detrimental and should be weeded out. This journal has consistently maintained that there is no one best method for all and that we should beware of the idea that all should work in one way and follow one supreme method. That would lead to catastrophe. Nothing could be more tragic than to have one evangelistic pattern, with all evangelists cut therefrom ; to have one voice with a thousand echoes ; one originator and hundreds of imitators ; one big evangelist and many little followers of his mannerisms, topics, sequence, setup, and literature. We need infinitely more than copyists.
And there is still another related element that should not be forgotten : When we elevate our own methods by invidious comparison with others' methods—whether it be outright or implied—we thereby derogate our brethren. And we all know that reveals a spirit God cannot bless.
A very simple way to test the validity of the "best method" idea here discussed is to check back over the actual convert records and the abiding results of our most experienced evangelists. Some who violate what others call the "best" methods have actually won and held more souls over a ten-year period than those who contend for a so-called "best" method. And some who feel that they have methods that surpass all others do not have superior results to justify their contention.
There is yet another angle. The concept that by following a certain method, and by holding a certain number of meetings a week for a definite number of weeks, certain results or percentages are assured, is perilous. It denies the very principle upon which our success depends—that of the superhuman power of the Holy Spirit in • preparing hearts to receive the truth. No. method, no matter how good, can ever take the place of Spirit-filled, Spirit-led service, ofttimes devoid of the best-conceived designs of ingenious men. That is why God sometimes uses humble agencies to do a work that the self-sufficient cannot do. We are all in danger of leaning upon methods, equipment, and logical sequences instead of upon God. The concept that the following of a certain method is bound to bring success is a real peril, concerning which a voice needs to be lifted.
The Ministerial Association does not believe in, nor does it advocate, any one "best" method. It contends for multiple methods of excellence, adapted to each individual need or case. There is distinct advantage in such diversity. One very tangible point, among others, is that it enables a second or a third evangelist to follow in close succession in the same community, where anti-Adventist prejudice may be prevalent, without automatic identification or ostracism because of recognized similarity of method. Universality of method, even if possible, would be catastrophic.
To illustrate : If a capable evangelist develops some impressive feature, such as the trial by jury on the Sabbath question, devised years ago by E. L. Cardey (Ministry, September, 1935), and many others adapted and adopted it with success, all users of the plan would be automatically identified as belonging to the same fraternity. Therefore, in a relatively short time, through constancy of use it would become common, and so would lose its distinctiveness and effectiveness. This principle is likewise true of evangelistic sermon topics. Many can detect the Adventist identity of an evangelist from the uniform topics borrowed verbatim from some other successful evangelist, or even from the layout of the handbill. The same is true, to some degree, of standard inquiry or literature cards.
We have inclined to stress better methods rather than better men. But it is better men• who will produce better and varied methods. We need to stimulate individual initiative and creative ingenuity rather than to encourage the unquestioned acceptance of a few master methods. God gave us differing personalities for a purpose. We need to study every method that successful experience has vindicated, and adapt and adopt its advantages to meet our individual needs. We need to be alert, to study, to observe, to experiment, and to apply.
One evangelist reaches a certain type and group of hearers, but fails to interest others.
These his brethren may reach by their different approaches. God pity us if all were to be run through one groove, to be cast in one mold, to employ one set of phrases, to use the same topics, to follow the same schedule. Regimentation of method in evangelism is not in the order of God. There is only one perfect Pattern—Jesus, the Master Evangelist. His work and ways were simple and direct. We need to emulate His simplicity and directness. As the Prince of preachers and the King of soul winners, He lifted ministerial methods and plans from the superficial and restrictive to that lofty plane of profound principle and far-reaching purpose adapted to every circumstance and need. He pushed back the horizons of men's thinking, enabling them to see the infinite possibilities of soul winning in ways that are legion. In the pattern for His church He sent forth men of differing personalities, who, because of their personalities, employed differing methods. We cannot improve upon the Master's plan and provision. Let us of the remnant church follow in His steps.
L. E. F.