In Luke 15 we find three parables emphasizing three aspects of the same theme—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. All three were lost. The sheep knew it was lost and kept on bleating, thus enabling the good shepherd to find it. The piece of silver was equally lost, but silent, illustrating those lost in trespasses and sins who do not know it or are indifferent to that condition. The prodigal son represents those who are lost in trespasses and sins and who realize it before it is too late. They turn toward home and are saved.
The primary purpose of all ministerial work is seeking and saving the lost. Preaching reaches the few who attend the services, but does not reach the multitudes. How are we to awaken them from the lethargy that infolds them? It is through personal work after contact has been made in the homes. We are told:
"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.
To some, the hardest part of the ministry is visiting the people. Mrs. White recognized this, and over and over again in the volumes of the Testimonies she urged more earnest personal labor.
Paul taught publicly and from house to house. "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house." Acts 20:20. Jesus also "went from house to house." (Gospel Workers, p. 188.) It is while visiting in the home that we learn whether something we have said in the sermon has wounded or stimulated, as the case may be.
There is need for personal ministry in the homes of regular church members as well as those we seek to convert. Alienation, bitterness, envy, and jealousy are to be eliminated from the characters of the older Adventists if they are to be prepared for the kingdom of God. "Faithful warnings are to be given, sins rebuked, wrongs made right, both by the minister's work in the pulpit and by personal labor."—Ibid., pp. 185, 186. (Italics mine. See also page 191.) How are we to hold our members unless we get near them in their own homes? All men are alike at a distance. A minister in the pulpit is a different man from one in the home. God's messenger goes so far as to say that those who fail in this duty have mistaken their calling. We read further:
"If one entering upon this work chooses the least self-sacrificing part, contenting himself with preaching, and leaving the work of personal ministry for someone else to do, his labors will not be accePtable to God."Ibid., p. 186. (Italics mine.)
"To my ministering brethren I would say, By personal labor reach the people where they are. Become acquainted with them. This work cannot be done by proxy. Money loaned or given cannot accomplish it. Sermons from the pulpit cannot do it. Teaching the Scriptures in families,—this is the work of an evangelist, and this work is to be united with preaching. If it is omitted, the preaching will be, to a great extent, a
In Christlike sympathy come close to men with their problems. This requires great adaptability. Mrs. White calls it tactfulness. It is one of the most valuable assets a worker can possess. Never argue with, nor contradict openly, the person you hope to win for Christ. "Argument, even when unanswerable, may provoke only opposition."Ibid., p. 59. It is a good plan to maintain a neutral attitude and to make a mental resolution to present the truth on the controverted point of doctrine on a future occasion. If in giving Bible studies we antagonize the prospect, we have little hope of winning his allegiance to Christ. That is the first and foremost purpose of all our efforts as laborers in the Lord's vineyard.
We should educate more and find the way to people's hearts. By personal work we learn the objections which exist in their minds, and are able to help them. Many have to unlearn theories which they have long believed as truth.
"Do not think that the only work you can do, the only way you can labor for souls, is to give discourses. The best work you can do is to teach, to educate. . . Preach less, and educate more, by holding Bible readings, and by praying with families and little companies. . . The presentation of Christ in the family, by the fireside, and in small gatherings in private houses, is often more successful in winning souls to Jesus than are sermons delivered in the open air, to the moving throng, or even in halls or churches."—/bid., p. 193.
To make the most of every visit, we should leave a tract on the subject presented. For this purpose we should carry with us a selection of tracts on many subjects. If no literature is available on the subject, it is a good plan to jot down the Scriptures quoted, so that the interested one may be able to look up the subject at his or her leisure.
Do not be afraid to utter words of commendation. Jesus commended Nathanael and the Roman centurion for opposite virtues. In the providence of God the results of Bible studies and personal visits will be souls converted for the kingdom of God.