Possibilities and Drawbacks

Paper presented at Columbia Union ministerial institute.

By WILLIAM A. FAGAL, Pastor-Evangelist, Brooklyn, New York

 

 

Radio evangelism is a tremendously ap­pealing form of soul winning. The possi­bility of presenting a sermon and having an audience, even though unseen, which num­bers into the thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands, will always be thrilling to the evan­gelist with such an opportunity. He can thus, all at the same time, speak to people in their homes, at work, and riding in their cars, to the sick and suffering in hospitals, to family groups who are worshiping God through the medium of his broadcast, and to single—perhaps lonely —individuals. The privilege of bringing a mes­sage of hope to so many at a time when it is most needed is indeed stimulating and invigor­ating.

Without doubt the radio is one of the medi­ums that God has provided in the last days to herald the message of the return of the Lord in a way heretofore undreamed of and unparal­leled. One can picture the radio as being, in part at least, a physical fulfillment of that prophecy so peculiar to the Advent people : "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven"—the radio carrying the message with the speed of an angel through the midst of heaven—"having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth." The list of those who first came in contact with the message through an unseen messenger is grow­ing day by day. Thrilling indeed it is to meet a soul who is rejoicing in the truth as the re­sult of one's radio labors. The same Holy Spirit that used the broadcaster as he was speaking the Word was also present in the home many miles away to impress truth upon the heart of an honest soul longing and looking for light.

Almost everyone recognizes the tremendous advantages of the use of the radio, but there is danger that some might not see its limitations. There is perhaps no other form of evangelism that can keep a man so happy and make him feel that he is accomplishing so much, while in reality he may be producing but little. Alto­gether too many apparently feel that just being on the air is the end result of the use of this medium. Such comfort themselves in the fact that they are sowing seed that surely will spring forth a hundredfold someday. Because of limi­tations of material, it sometimes happens that a broadcaster is not even preaching our dis­tinctive message. There is danger that in radio evangelism we lose sight of the real goal of souls saved, while we strive for other aims, such as the number of times or hours that we are on the air.

Without doubt the only reason for Seventh-day Adventist ministers being on the air is to make other Seventh-day Adventists. The ulti­mate goal of all our work always has been and always must be souls! This thought should run like a silver thread through all our planning. Every part of our sermon and our public prayer, every announcement and every bit of music or poetry, should be included only if it has a contribution to make to this end. We must not feel that a radio program has justified its existence just because it is self-supporting, or because it has a large response in correspond­ence, or because it is popular. The only thing that justifies our being on the air is the con­tinual and relentless search for souls.

Preaching Our Distinctive Message

And now for some practical plans. How can we best accomplish our recognized and avowed aims of making our radio broadcasts real soul-winning agencies ? The material that is pre­sented over the air should carry our distinctive message. However, it would be wrong to make such a statement without giving due considera­tion to the fact that the too-zealous promulga­tion of some of our more testing truths might very well result in the station's cancellation of our contract. A presentation of the beast and his image or even an unadulterated attack on the mark of the beast might very well be the last Seventh-day Adventist sermon that an al­ready unenthusiastic manager might care to have sent out from his station towers.

What do we mean, then, by preaching our distinctive message? First of all, our broad­casts must carry some powerful sermons about the person and office of Jesus Christ. But it is not enough to stop at that. It would be well if every broadcast made mention of the new birth, and invited sinners to take their stand for Jesus Christ and accept His atoning blood. There are several reasons for this. There is power in the name of Jesus, and all souls who are to hear of the reformatory teachings of Seventh-day Ad­ventists must first have a living knowledge of Jesus.

A second reason is that in every audience there are persons who are hearing us for the first time, and they are listening to see whether we are believers in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They will know by our attitude toward Jesus that we stand on the Bible alone as the sole rule of faith.

A third reason is that Seventh-day Advent­ists are most unjustly accused of being unbe­lievers in the new birth and the atoning sacri­fice of Calvary. It is well to meet such an objection before it ever arises.

Wide Range of Topics to Present

It is surprising what can be presented over the air if a little tact and discretion are used. I have been following the plan of presenting my radio sermons in series of four to each gen­eral topic. Then at the end of the month we have these radio sermons printed, and offer them to the public. Within the past two years in our New York City broadcast I have pre­sented the following doctrines of the faith: in­spiration of the Bible; the divinity of Christ; the work of the Holy Spirit; the second com­ing of Christ; the resurrection; tithing; the communion service; the place of anointing and prayer in the healing of the sick; the ordinances of humility and baptism; the attitude Christians should take toward motion pictures, cigarettes, intoxicants, the modern dance, stage plays, and the reading of improper literature; the state of the dead; and the punishment of the wicked. It will be noted that this leaves very little of our truth that has not been touched upon in some way.

We preached four sermons on the state of the dead and gave the subject in its essential fullness. Perhaps because of little faith we ex­pected a deluge of unfavorable mail. During the four weeks that these sermons were being pre­sented; over three thousand pieces of mail came to our office. Only two letters were against our stand on this great subject. After preaching on the ordinance of humility, we received no un­favorable letters, and scores of people wrote in that they saw this service in a new light.

We have just finished a series of sermons on the punishment of the wicked. In the fourth sermon the fact that the wicked will not burn eternally was presented. The other sermons in the series had been preparing the ground for this truth by developing the idea that punish­ment will be given out after the second coming rather than at death. Once again I expected a deluge of protests, and went to the office with foreboding. We received the deluge all right, for the mail was twice its ordinary size, but not one single unfavorable comment was received. Literally hundreds of people wrote re­questing copies of the sermon.

I am convinced that more of our truth can be presented over the air waves than we perhaps have hitherto realized. However, I am just as convinced that simply preaching the doctrines by means of radio will never be as productive as our radio evangelism should be. Something else must be done to provide adequate fol­low-up. The radio sermons might give the audi­ence a taste of our truth, but probably very few will be impelled to action by them. Something a bit more personal and compelling must be brought to their attention. It was to meet this need that the Bible correspondence courses were prepared. This is one means of follow-up that has been tested and proved, and has re­sulted in the harvesting of many precious souls that surely would never otherwise have been gathered in.

On every one of our broadcasts we draw at­tention to our correspondence course. Regu­larly, when we circularize our lists for contri­butions to the work, we enclose an enrollment blank and urge our listeners to avail themselves of this free service. But even this course is not personal enough, and there must be a visit to the home by one qualified to answer questions and assist the student in taking his stand for the truths that he has learned. It is unfortunate that this visitation, which is so very important for the success of this method of soul winning, is so often neglected. Ordinarily such a visit is most profitable when a student has passed the Sabbath question.

After a time, when the radio broadcast has gained sufficient prestige in the eyes of the lis­tening audience, it is well to conduct a public meeting where those interested can meet the broadcasting group in person and hear them ex­plain the message. I have become convinced that this is a very important thing to augment the preaching of the radio message. In our work in New York City we have more than doubled our radio baptism each year by this method.

Frequently a radio broadcast in connection with the effort is conducted somewhat as an ap­pendage to it. It seems that a better method would be the reversal of this. In our larger cities a radio broadcast could very well be con­sidered a regular part of the conference pro­gram. It takes 'years to build up a radio con­gregation. It takes time to inspire confidence in one's acceptance of the Bible and the funda­mentals of the Word of God. Why should we not capitalize on the confidence of the people, instead of closing up our work and hurrying off to some greener field, where the process is re­peated?

People who have become accustomed to lis­tening in each week to a religious broadcast will respond when an invitation is given to at­tend a public meeting where the broadcaster is to be the preacher. Then when they come out to a service, they will not approach the truth with an attitude of suspicion. They already feel that they are acquainted with the preacher, and they know his views very well. In all probability they are in sympathy with his ideas or they would not have attended the meeting. What vantage ground this is for one who is watching for sours! After months of meetings it is not difficult to invite these people out to the church on the Sabbath and to include them in the bap­tismal class a little later. Thus the radio has been used to win souls who otherwise might never have been contacted.

It is well to develop a mailing list in connec­tion with the radio broadcast. This can be used to circularize the listening audience in asking for gifts, to invite them to the meeting, to send them free literature, and to establish other con­tacts that will prove fruitful later on. This list should be kept up to date, for when the laborers are few there is no point in carrying the names on an active list of those who long since have lost all interest in the broadcast. We follow the practice of discarding the names of those whom we do not hear from in any way in a year and a half. Our present lists includes the names and addresses of about eleven thousand people who have written to us within the last eighteen months. They are the ones upon whom we con­centrate our endeavor.

The expense of radio work has always been heavy. There are ways of getting funds to help carry on the work, but it is usually not best to make direct appeals over the air. This is done at times, but it never contributes toward the heart appeal of the broadcast. We have followed the practice of informing the people by means of correspondence that we are dependent upon them and their generosity for the continuance of our work, and stopping at that. However, our own people have always stood loyally by the radio program, for they thoroughly believe in this work. There is something about it that cap­tures the imagination.

There are other questions which each evan­gelist must settle for himself. There is, for in­stance, the question of whether we should be identified on the radio as Seventh-day Advent­ists. I am afraid that this question will never positively be answered. There will always be some who will find great success in frankly identifying themselves with the denomination. There are others in more difficult sections of the country who will hesitate to attempt this. In the conservative and prejudiced East, I have always hesitated to identify myself as a Sev­enth-day Adventist minister over the air.

I frequently receive letters asking me for my religious affiliation. I have prepared a statement that has been made into a form letter which I unhesitatingly send out to those who ask this question. In the letter they are reminded that denominations have not been men­tioned in the radio broadcast or in the Bible lessons. They are told that the Bible is above any denomination, and that all of us ought to be able to agree on it and its teachings. Then they are given the information that they have asked for—the broadcaster is a Seventh-day Adventist and all the workers in his office force are members of that church. We never feel it wise to deny this information to one who insists on having it. In two cases just recently I have received replies from persons telling me of their joy in discovering I am a Seventh-day Advent­ist. They had once been Adventists, and had found their hearts becoming warm again to the truth as a result of our broadcast. Both have been rebaptized.

Radio evangelism is the greatest and most re­warding work in the world if it is conducted properly. It borders upon being a waste of en­ergy, time, and money if it is not. The message is being proclaimed to earth's remotest bounds with the speed of light by means of radio. If all who have the opportunity to preach by means of radio are faithful to their sacred trust, the work will soon be finished, and Jesus will come again. May God give us wisdom to complete His work speedily on the earth.


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By WILLIAM A. FAGAL, Pastor-Evangelist, Brooklyn, New York

 

 

August 1947

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