The two great challenges that face the ministry today are (1) the challenge of the unfinished world task, and (2) the challenge of our slumbering congregations. These two phases of our work are embraced by the term evangelism in its broadest sense. To save souls from sin to holiness, both from the pew and from the world, constitutes the alpha and the omega of our calling.
We can, in view of this, divide the pastor's work of preparing for the public campaign into two categories: preparation of the church spiritually, and preparation for launching the effort materially. Let us consider these two divisions separately. Of the condition of the church in relationship to success in the public campaign, Mrs. E. G. White has said:
"A serious and perhaps unsuspected hindrance to the success of the truth is to be found in our churches themselves. . . . For this reason the labor of our most able ministers has been at times productive of little good. The very best sermons may be preached, the message may be just what the people need, and yet no souls be gained as sheaves to present to Christ.
"In laboring where there are already some in the faith, the minister should at 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. When they are prepared to sustain the minister by their prayers and labors, greater success will attend his efforts."—Gospel Workers, p. 196.
"The Lord does not 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."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 371.
The goal to be achieved is to harness the spiritual forces of the great slumbering potential in the pews of our churches. With an awakened congregation, praying daily for the meetings, working faithfully, attending regularly, and carrying an intense interest and a burden for sinners irr their hearts, how can the preaching of the Word possibly fail of penetrating the hearts of worldlings? The Spirit of prophecy has pointed out that the experience of Joshua and his army at Ai, because of the sin of Achan, will be repeated in the last days.
"Achan's sin brought disaster upon the whole nation. For one man's sin, the displeasure of God will rest upon his church till the transgression is searched out and put away. The influence most to be feared by the church is not that of open opposers, infidels, and blasphemers, but of inconsistent professors of Christ. These are the ones that keep back the blessing of the God of Israel, and bring weakness upon his people."— Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 497. (Italics mine.)
Actually we must conclude that the public campaign is merely the second phase of the soul-winning effort, and that by far the most effective preparation for any evangelistic endeavor lies in the hearts of God's leaders and God's people. Effort preparation should be concentrated, not only in methodical precision for smoothly operated meetings and clever propaganda designed to impress the public, but in the heart and soul of believer and leader as well. The impression the public needs is that the Holy Spirit is present, when preacher, pianist, ushers, and members are one with God. Modern Joshuas must pray for wisdom, and for God's Spirit to throw the remnant church into high gear for soul winning.
To set our individual church bodies ablaze for God will definitely pay dividends for eternity in far larger returns than any other means of preparation. And we as pastors must face the fact that it is precisely through our own instrumentality that God wishes to do this. Let us therefore notice several points which bear heavily in the process of rescuing our dear members from the pit of defeatism and indifference into which they have either fallen or been dragged.
Rescuing Members From Indifference
1. Let us set the pulpit on fire. A fire in the pulpit is the best and only way to kindle one in the pew. If our churches are to be nourished back to vibrant health, we cannot serve meals of spiritual food lacking in essential nutrients.
A certain sound must be given the trumpet— a sound that will show God's people their transgressions, and will cause them to seek for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And must we not recognize that the Scripture, while admonishing- us to give the trumpet a certain sound, also beckons the ministers to shed intercessory tears between the porch and the altar, for the transgressions of the people? It causes us to wonder whether the sheep of our folds have yet seen us weeping for them, and to ask the questions "Have we a burden for souls, or for goals? Is our fundamental motive to establish souls for eternity, or records for the committee?" We must preach to arouse the people, to cause them to tremble at their solemn position, and to put to fight the Laodicean phantom by using the spiritual sword.
2. Such a slant in effort preparation means that we as pastors must visit our members, not to speak of the economic situation or other non- essentials, but to diagnose their condition, up hold Jesus, and pray with them. We can, through thoughtful visitation, kindle in their hearts a desire to win souls, providing we have the desire ourselves.
In short, a church rises or falls on the tone of the spiritual experience of its leader. Hundreds of souls are unconsciously patterning their spiritual aspirations after that of their shepherd. We groan as we realize -our position, but this very responsibility is the forebear of progress in elevating our flocks spiritually when we accept the challenge it poses.
3. Let us lead our members into service. Activity is the law of spiritual life as well as of physical, and serves to engage and develop spiritual muscle fiber. Besides adding to the spiritual preparation for the actual campaign, it aids in preparing the field for coming events.
When our members covet the souls of their neighbors and friends, and are praying for God's providential leadings, then and not until then is the time ripe for sharpening our sickles and oiling our harvesting equipment for an evangelistic campaign that cannot and will not fail. Then the walls of modern Jericho will crash before the intercessory cries of God's faithful ones, and the blasts of priestly trumpets. Then will God restore to His people the joy of their salvation, and they will surely rejoice in Him.
Three Phases of Preparation
Concerning the second phase of preparation for public meetings, that of materially readying the various items necessary to its success, experience has dictated proven methods with which every pastor-evangelist is familiar. However, three brief observations may be made in keeping with the purpose of our theme.
F. W. Detamore sets forth the first when he states that individuals who have favorably known Seventh-day Adventists before entering the sphere of our campaign's influence, stand a seven-to-one chance of accepting the truth. This means simply that an evangelistic audknce made up of acquaintances, friends, or relatives of our faithful members multiplies the possible harvest by seven! Such an audience will bear up under the testing truths far better than a promiscuous audience gotten through advertising technique. And when individuals are finally baptized a great joy and sense of partnership with God will be experienced by the member through whose instrumentality they attended the meetings. To encourage and instruct our members in ways of bringing their acquaintances to the meetings is the way to build the finest audience.
Second, study should be given to the making of Christ-centered sermons. Our message must appeal to those who have already tasted that the Lord is good. Our food must be satisfying to the class who are already accustomed to good food, and the proof that our doctrines are not Christless will be seen when real stalwart, honest Christian men and women step out and join the remnant church. No thrill can equal the victory made in just such a person. It is easy to fill our church pews with the uneducated and shallow, but our challenge is to fill them with the finest people in the community. We may well devote one evening each week to a 100 per cent Christ sermon, the only doctrine presented being Christ and Him crucified. Then when interested ones are misinformed by friends that we are not preaching Christ, the first victory will be won, and it will be seen that we are misunderstood .generally.
Finally, in planning our discourses for evangelistic meetings, is it not proper to cater, in a degree, to the needs of our own people? After all, is not at least half of our audience many times made up of our own membership? How often do our people remain away from our evangelistic meetings simply because of boredom! Let us endeavor to present old truths in new ways, and not cause them to shun our evangelistic sermons as old, worn-out material. Who can be blamed for losing his spiritual appetite when leftovers are served or tin cans are opened, sometimes without even being heated? To have our own members, many of whom have been in the message longer than we, exclaim, "I have never seen it in that way before!" means that we are satisfying them.
In conclusion, let us prepare by realizing that the mighty potential which God wishes His servants to use in the finishing of His work lies in the power of a Spirit-filled and awakened membership, and that our efforts .in reviving and utilizing first the lights already aglow will certainly prove the most effective way of reaching the masses for Christ.