It has been my conviction for some time that we have barely touched with our finger tips this matter of securing the maximum results from our evangelistic music program. True, some of our larger evangelistic teams in full-time evangelism are putting on an excellent program, but such a condition is all too rare.
We need more evangelistic teams. The more a group of workers are privileged to labor together, the greater success will attend their efforts. Too often a few days before the evangelist is ready to launch a city campaign, he begins to search around for someone to lead his singing, someone to play the piano, and someone for his Bible instructor. Indeed, some conferences do not even employ a full-time singing evangelist. As a result of such poorly planned endeavor, much of our city evangelism has made little or no impression upon the public.
Seven years ago I was new in conference work, but not new as a singer in other organizations. After laboring one summer as a singing evangelist, I was asked by the conference president to take up the colporteur work inasmuch as there were to be no more efforts until the next spring, and then I could be taken on again with a new effort. And yet we sometimes ask, "Why the great scarcity of singing evangelists?" Why is it that so many of our young men who are talented along musical lines prefer to become ministers of the Word? If perchance they are persuaded to go in for singing evangelism, almost invariably they forsake it to become pastors or evangelists.
I believe there is a reason for this. The importance of Music leadership has not been stressed enough in our schools, churches, workers' meetings, and camp meetings. True, we‘ have had music departments in our colleges, but they are not headed by men with evangelistic experience. I have talked with a number of these professors, who have not so much as one city effort to add to their experience. We have the same weakness in some of our theological departments. I have observed in many cases that there is a tendency to minimize the importance of the gospel songs, and substitute the more majestic and stately hymns, which are all right, in their place. Often when I have asked theological or music students to sing in our public meetings, I have discovered to my sorrow that they were reluctant to sing a simple gospel song, but were more concerned about selecting a number that would display their musicianship.
The singing evangelist should be a man of God, fully consecrated to his work, well trained as a soloist and director, and educated along general musical lines. It is reasonable to say that the gospel musician should be as efficient in his field as the evangelist is in his, versatile, and equal to any task. It is well, though not absolutely essential, for the singing evangelist to have some theological training. At any rate he should be a thorough student of the Word, able to give Bible studies, able to fill in should the evangelist be unavoidably late, either for the radio broadcast or for the evening meeting, or suddenly find it impossible to be there.
One Sunday evening the evangelist's wife rushed into my house about ten minutes before time to start the song service, stating that the elder had just collapsed with a heart attack. With the Lord's help, I was able to proceed with the subject that had been announced for the evening. Since that time I have prepared for every topic that I was not already reasonably acquainted with.
Although the singing evangelist is primarily responsible for the music, he should also be concerned with the success of the campaign as a whole, just as much as if it were his over-all responsibility. If he is a man of experience, he should be able to offer many helpful suggestions to the evangelist. Two heads are always better than one. I find that most ministers welcome such counsel. And likewise, the singing evangelist should be ever mindful of the preference and counsel of the evangelist.
It is a mistake for any evangelist to overload his assistant with pastoral visitation and other duties so that he has little or no time to devote to his music. As the minister spends long hours in the preparation of sermons, so must the singer have time for planning his program and drilling his singers, forming and training quartets, a choir, and various ensembles. And equally important, he should not neglect to vocalize daily, and keep his own solo voice in good shape. If all of this is kept in mind by the evangelist, he will not expect the song leader to have as much time for daily visitation as the other workers, who have their entire time to devote to this phase of the work.
I would also mention the matter of proper consideration of music in our advertising. I have in my files sets of handbills and newspaper ads from many of our leading evangelists, and those less prominent. As I scan over these I find that music is scarcely mentioned, and in many cases not mentioned at all. And when it is mentioned it is usually placed in small letters off to one side, or in a bottom corner, positions which reveal the estimated importance of music in the eyes of the advertiser. The picture of the evangelist is displayed day after day. Usually the singer's picture is used only once or twice in the whole series. Not that any man should be exalted or magnified, but rather as the apostle Paul stated, "I magnify mine office."
Homer Rodeheaver and Billy Sunday were perhaps the most outstanding team of their day. We find by studying the facts in the case that each made the other famous. And to this day wherever Homer Rodeheaver goes, he draws a crowd, not so much for any outstanding ability as a singer, but for his wonderful personality and love of God. And so it was with Moody and Sankey. Their names are inseparable. When one is mentioned, we automatically think of the other.
To my mind, music has no equal in moving upon hearts while the evangelist is making an appeal. I do not believe that the appeal should be so cut and dried that there is no room for the Holy Spirit to direct in it. It has always been my practice to have three or four selected gospel songs, especially appropriate for this purpose, well prepared either by the choir or by a quartet, or if neither is ready, I sing them softly as a solo, as the appeal is being made. Of course, the evangelist must know what these songs are.
There is a tendency to make our programs too stereotyped, with too much formality. To illustrate what I mean, at the proper time in the sermon the minister can turn slightly and say, "While we are thus bowed in prayer, I wonder if Brother___________ would have the choir sing softly that glorious old song "Softly and Tenderly," while Jesus speaks to our hearts." I like the way H. M. S. Richards often stops in the midst of a sermon, as if he were thinking of a song that would drive the truth home to the soul better than his words. And like clockwork the quartet is right on the job. Perhaps it is all planned, but it gives the effect of being extemporaneous.
Some appeal songs that we have used with good success are, "Almost Persuaded," "Just as I Am," "Follow All the Way," "Have You Counted the Cost?" and "Why Not Now?"
Some have followed the practice of having the audience sing one of these songs as the appeal is being made. But to my mind this is a mistake. The evangelist should have the eye and the undivided attention of the audience in his appeal. If the audience sings at this time, the songbook serves as a barrier or something to hide behind, and much is lost in this way. But with the choir singing as a background and the minister pleading with earnestness and pathos in his voice, souls are stirred to their depths, and decisions are made for eternity. I have seen great throngs of people take their stand in this way progressively from the first of the meetings. Later, when the Sabbath and the testing truths are presented, it is much easier to get decisions when we have first moved hearts to accept the Saviour. In an old number of the Review and Herald we find this interesting statement:
"There should be much more interest in voice culture than is now generally manifested. Students who have learned to sing sweet gospel songs with melody and distinctness, can do much good as singing evangelists. They will find many opportunities to use the talent that God has given them, carrying melody and sunshine into many lonely places darkened by sin and sorrow and affliction, singing to those who seldom have church privileges."—August 27, 5903.
I am always alert to offer my services in singing for various non-Adventist organizations, such as men's business clubs, women's clubs, and churches, or in any other legitimate cause where I can thus break down prejudice and let people know about our work. On some radio stations a good gospel singer can secure free time for hymns and gospel songs, and thus bring his name and work before the public.
With these thoughts in mind let us, as gospel musicians, devote more attention to this vital part in our work of bringing God's last message to the world.