We all long to be more successful soul winners and to baptize scores and hundreds of people each year. Some of our men have experienced the joy of large baptisms, but not all of us have the gift of continuous public evangelism. "When He ascended up on high, . . . and gave gifts unto men. . . . He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets ; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." Eph. 4 :8-11. While those with the gift of evangelist are baptizing men and women in large numbers, those of us who have the gift of pastor can also do a large work in baptizing people and in saving those already in the church. The faithful pastor who leads his flock into a deeper consecration is helping to save souls that have been won through the years, and is doing as great a work as the evangelist who baptizes large numbers.
How can one build the spiritual life of the church? There are many angles, but I have singled out three that to me are paramount. They are: ( I) the minister's experience, (2) the minister's attitude, (3) and the methods used to build the spiritual life of the church.
I. The Minister's Experience
The minister must be a man of God. His experience must be genuine and consistent, and in every circumstance he must exemplify the life of the Master. He must "live in conscious, hourly communion with God through prayer and a study of His word. . . . He must plead with God to strengthen and fortify him for duty and trial." —Acts of the Apostles, pp. 362, 363.
The conduct of the minister, both in private and public, must always be a credit to the Lord and the cause he represents. He must be an example in word and deed, for his members are watching him and will be influenced by his example. His relationship with God will cause them either to feel their own need or to feel satisfied with their spiritual condition.
We must first have a genuine experience in order to build the spiritual life in our churches. For a long time the following words have been in view on the top of my desk, and what a challenge they have been:
"The people will seldom rise higher than their minister. A world-loving spirit in him has a tremendous influence upon others. The people make his deficiencies an excuse to cover their own world-loving spirit. . . . They [the ministers] should manifest an undying love for souls, and the same devotion to the cause which they desire to see in the people."--Gospel Workers, p. 342.
II. The Minister's Attitude
The minister's attitude must be that of love for Jesus and His people. "Without the love of Jesus in the heart, the work of the Christian minister will prove a failure."—Ibid., p. 183. "Pastors are needed . . . who cherish a strong, unselfish love for those for whom they labor." —Ibid., p. 185. The love of Jesus consistently expressed toward the people will soften their hearts.
The heart of the minister must burn with love for sinners. That was the feeling of the apostle Paul, and evidently was the qualification that gave him success in winning souls. "Paul's heart burned with a love for sinners, and he put all his energies into the work of soul-winning. There never lived a more self-denying, persevering worker."—Acts of the Apostles, p. 367. Hear him express his feeling as recorded in Romans 9:2, 3: "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren." That is real love!
Having such a degree of love, the minister is filled with grief and anxiety when the sheep go astray. He immediately climbs the steepest heights and goes to the very edge of the precipice, at the risk of his own life, to find the lost sheep. And when the sheep is found, he does not scold and reprimand it, but in love he pleads for it to return to the fold. Yes, with such love he will "tax his resources to the utmost."—Ibid., p. 370.
"Only through sympathy, faith, and love can men be reached and uplifted."—Education, p. 78. Of Christ we read, "Had it not been for the sweet, sympathetic spirit that shone out of every look and word, He would not have attracted the large congregations that He did." —The Desire of Ages, p. 254. Hearts are won through sympathy.
III. Methods of Building Spiritual Life
The shepherd, being a man of God and having a real love for his sheep, will do everything possible to stimulate a deeper spiritual experience in their lives. And how needful it is that our people have more of a living experience with the living Christ! They will never be able to endure the trials ahead if they fail now to grow into that richer, deeper, daily, constant, experience with the living God.
In the year 1893 the following words were written in the General Conference Bulletin, pp. 132, 133: "It is a solemn statement that I make to the church, that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history. . . . They are professedly serving God, but they are more earnestly serving mammon." Not five out of one hundred were ready to close their earthly history at that time. Could that be true today in our ranks ? If so, what a challenge for us as ministers to build a more spiritual membership. "A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work."—Review and Herald, March 22, 1887.
The minister must in sermon, in personal contact, and in missionary work point the people to Christ. He must help them to turn their eyes upon Jesus and to put full trust in Him, to set their "affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Col. 3 :2. As John the Baptist pointed his disciples to the Lamb of God, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God," and "they followed Jesus," so we must point the people to Jesus and help them to see Him, and thus have a living, growing connection with Him.
After they have been directed to the Son of God and have begun to follow Him, their first impulse is to work for others as did Simon Peter and Philip. But even though this is the desire of the newly converted Christian, he often fails to so act, simply because he does not 'know how to work for others. Therefore, it is the duty of the minister to train the new ones to work.
"Everyone who is added to the ranks by conversion is to be assigned his post of duty."—Testimonies, vol. 7, P. 30.
"The greatest help that can be given our people is to teach them to work for God, and to depend on Him." —Ibid., p. 19.
"The best help that ministers can give the members of our churches is not sermonizing, but planning work for them. Give each one something to do for others." Ibid., vol. 9, p. 82.
Why is this the best work we can do for our people ? It is simply because an active Christian seldom backslides. By helping others, he is constantly helping himself. He feels his need, and continues to grow instead of constantly becoming a religious dwarf. "Many, many are . . . doing nothing, shunning responsibilities, and as the result they are religious dwarfs."—Review and Herald, May 22, 1888. A dwarf has little strength. A spiritual dwarf will not have enough strength to overcome temptation. Therefore we must lead the people into active missionary work, so that they will continue to grow spiritually and be able to resist temptation.
Sometimes one faces trouble within the church, and the spirituality of the members is low. What has caused the trouble, and what must the minister do to lead the people into a deeper consecration? The trouble is caused by those "who are not engaged in this unselfish labor who have a sickly experience . . . and cannot go back to the world, and so they hang on the skirts of Zion, having petty jealousies, envyings, disappointments, and remorse. They are full of fault-finding, and feed upon the mistakes and errors of their brethren. They have only a hopeless, faithless, sunless experience in their religious Sept. 2, 1890.
Where trouble arises because some are inactive, what should the minister do? "In laboring where there are already some in the faith, the minister should first seek not so much to convert unbelievers, as to train the church-members for acceptable co-operation. Let him labor for them individually, endeavoring to arouse them to seek for a deeper experience themselves, and to work for others."—Gospel Workers, p. 196.
The minister's influence is far more effective when he goes into the homes and works with the people individually. He can personally direct them to the Lamb of God, and lead them into a living experience. Individuals are encouraged to live a better life as they receive personal attention from the minister.
In building the spiritual life of the church, the minister will, so far as it is possible, permit no gossip about the members. He will be the pastor of the whole flock and treat them all alike.
It is a noble and solemn work to be a pastor. A heavy responsibility rests upon such a one. There is a mighty challenge for him in soul winning and soulsaving. May God help us lead the people into a deeper spiritual experience, so that they will be able to stand in the days to come.