I believe the first prerequisite for a successful effort in either a small church or a large church is the right relationship of oneself with God. I cannot conceive of any real success in any Christian endeavor unless God gives that success. So the great apostle says unto us as ministers, "Take heed . . . unto yourselves." Acts 20:28. Mrs. E. G. White, in the Review and Herald of December 6, 1906, says:
"When a special effort to win souls is put forth by laborers of experience in a community where our own people live, there rests upon every believer in that field a most solemn obligation to do all in his power to clear the King's highway, by putting away every sin that would hinder him from co-operating with God and with his brethren!"
There is no better way to cleanse one's soul of sin than through prayer. The evangelist ought to give himself to prayer and spiritual preparation for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as the disciples did before Pentecost. The night before Jonathan Edwards preached that wonderful sermon, "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God," starting the revival which stirred New England, he and some others spent the entire night in prayer.
A young man named David Livingstone, in Scotland, was appointed to preach at one of the great asseniblies. Feeling his own weakness, he spent the night in supplication to God. The next day when he preached his sermon, the power of God came upon the congregation, and five hundred people were converted. Daniel says, "The people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits." Dan. 11:32.
Charles G. Finney used to pray until whole communities were put under the spell of the Spirit of God, and men could not resist the mighty influence. Richard Baxter, who wrote A Call to the Unconverted, covered the walls of his study with praying breath and sent a tide of salvation throughout all the land. John Wesley spent whole nights in prayer, and he and his helpers were empowered to rescue England from formalism, sending a revival of pure, aggressive religion throughout whole countries. David Brainerd used to lie on the frozen ground, wrapped in a bear's skin, spitting blood, yet crying to God to save the Indians. God heard him and converted and sanctified these poor, ignorant, drunken creatures by scores and hundreds.
One praying, believing man can gain the victory for a whole city or nation. Elijah did on Mount Carmel, and the ministry of this church is the anti-type of Elijah of old. Moses did for backsliding Israel; and any God-fearing, sin-hating minister today has the same opportunity among his churches. Daniel did in Babylon. How many in this day will again stand as a Daniel among the lions of Babylon? When Abraham prayed for Sodom, God answered until Abraham stopped praying. If more of our ministers can be led to pray as these mighty men have prayed, our victory will be sweeping, and certain, and speedy.
No one would expect much success from a farmer who went out to sow seed with a corn planter that skipped every other hill or failed to plant entire rows; neither can God use rusty, faulty, prayerless church members and ministers. Volume 6 of the Testimonies says, "The Lord does hOt now work to bring many souls into the truth, because of the church members who have never been converted, and those who were once converted but who have backslidden."—Page 371. It is definitely the responsibility of the evangelist to see that both he and his church are in spiritual working order before the first meeting is conducted for the public.
We are exhorted to feed the flock. Right food is very essential. It may be that reproof will be needed. Many a time have our own people stood in the aisles talking before and after meeting, blocking the way of those who wanted to enter or leave. Others have taken their small children and babies to the front for seats, only to take the baby out again in the sight of everyone when it began to cry.
In feeding the flock the evangelist will remember that the true prophet of God brings forth out of his treasure things both new and old. Nothing will so quickly kill a series of meetings as old, stale material. But when the church members, as well as those not of our faith, realize that they are getting things worth having, and that the minister has been faithful in his preparation of the material, they will be back again.
Ask yourself as you give each sermon: "What do I wish to accomplish in this sermon? Is each sermon a step to an end? What is that end—to have as big a crowd on my closing night as on my opening night? to make a special appeal for money the last night and be sure I never preach anything which might be different from what my congregation believes? Or do I have the minister's one motive ever before me—to make disciples of all nations?"
The first night I look intently over the congregation and ask myself, "How many of these people into whose faces I am now looking will be baptized members of the S.D.A. Church three months hence?" The other day I was reading something on possibilities. It ran like this:
Longfellow could take a worthless sheet of paper, write a poem on it, and make it worth $6,000. That was genius. Rockefeller could sign his name to a piece of paper and make it worth millions. That was capital. Uncle Sam can take worthless paper, stamp a picture of Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, or any other President on it and make it worth almost any sum. That is money. A mechanic can take material worth $5 and make an article worth $50. That is skill. An artist can take a fifty-cent piece of canvas, paint a picture on it, and make it worth thousands of dollars. That is art. But much more miraculous than all this—through a Spirit-filled minister God can take a human being, wash him in the blood of Christ, put His Spirit in him, and make him a blessing to all humanity. That is true salvation!