Reclaiming Former Members

Helping Our Flocks to Grow Spiritually

Pastor-Evangelist,  Oregon  Conference

The work of the gospel minister is more than the sounding of a warning to avoid destruction. It is also the work of leading people into the kingdom of glory. It is more than bringing to con version it is leading through sanctification.

The very fact that many are converted who are not successful in the process of sanctification is an indictment of our work as shepherds of the flock. It attracts more notice to do an intense work of bringing people to submit to God in baptism, than to labor faithfully in the home, Sabbath school, missionary organization, and pulpit to help people grow up in Christ, but here is a field of endeavor to challenge the best preacher.

The fact that an average of 6,266 members have been dropped from our records each year for the last fifteen years, for apostasy or as missing members, is a challenge. When we are informed by our Ministerial Association that more people lose their way after ten years in the church than during their earlier relationship, it should cause us to examine our pastoral methods. Some will fall by the way regardless of what may be done, but we should be sure it is not due to failure on our part or on the part of the church we pastor.

Seven Personal Questions

A checkup may help us:

1. Am I interested in my members and their symmetrical development? Spiritual growth has a natural process. We must know how to cooperate as human agents with the Holy Spirit in this process. Too-rapid growth can bring harmful re actions of discouragement. Every advance should be well supported. Too much of one spiritual element can create a distorted character. We should study to be intelligent builders of balanced Christians.

2. Do I learn to know my people Pastoral visiting is vital. It is possible, however, to spend time visiting and yet not accomplish very much. Keeping a record of each family is helpful in larger churches. During the visit one can learn some important facts about the family about conversion, the number of children, books, and magazines in the home, service attendance habits, missionary and church work activities, and abilities. As soon as you get back to the car, fill in the information in your notebook. Refer to it before making the next visit to that family. You can thus make your visits beneficial and personal, besides having valuable information for nominating committee work.

3. Is my personal relationship with my members effective? It is not easy to build a correct relation ship to be not too familiar, or too re served. Some members want you to be their "buddy." Others want no personal friend ship. It is dangerous to be the buddy of some, because you cannot be that with everyone. A plane of personal friendship, respect, and confidence must be built to serve all the members effectively.

4. Does my preaching build? For members to keep growing they must have food beyond the doctrines that brought them into the church. The doctrines are a foundation and framework, but unless a spiritual house of beauty and satisfaction can be erected, the member will soon wish to move out. Sermonic planning by the year over a five-year period will help us feed the people effectively. As progressively stronger meat is given, it may be less emotionally arousing, but it will build sound spiritual sinews and put fat on the inner man.

5. Am I conscious of my next transfer? Would I work differently if I were to stay in my present church for the rest of my

ministry? This is a searching question. Do we ever smooth over a problem till we can be transferred? Do we build as though our work will need to be sufficient to take every member through the gates of pearl? It is easy to skip in, give a pat on the back, and then jump out, believing we have been successful because we received a good farewell party and some nice gifts.

6. Am I organized? Members should feel that the minister is not at loose ends, that his day and week are well planned, that he is available certain days or hours for counsel. Hours for study and research must be maintained in order that the pastor will be able to preach fresh and effective sermons.

7. Is my church fulfilling social needs? Becoming a Christian does not mean that one is no longer a social being, or that everything he does must be of a religious nature. A failure to develop social relationships of a noble type causes many to seek questionable avenues for satisfying this normal inclination. As ministers we must be able to set a proper pace in social relationships, to be friendly without being familiar, to teach Christian courtesy and develop correct social taste. Small group association is valuable home entertainment cannot be replaced. If we can help people to become acquainted with one another and appreciate one another socially, it will be a great holding force in time of spiritual distress and temptation.

We study carefully the best and most effective methods to bring people into the church, and we certainly should, but how much careful effort are we putting into working out effective methods to hold people in the church and make them effective workers for God and their fellow men? May God grant the remnant church largehearted, energetic, and soul-preserving shepherds of the flock in these days of multiplied membership.

The Bible Instructor's Training Capacity

Evangelism will always require a well-planned follow-up program. Today many who accept our message must be helped to be come stanch, self-reliant Christians. Too many have not had to face in their previous experience the trials and tests that become the lot of every Christian warrior. Then when the enemy stirs up opposing forces, or when the new convert must meet various doctrinal confusions without the aid of his minister, he may become unsteady in his deductions. Usually the Bible instructor is the first one to detect an upset or a waning spiritual interest. Although the main responsibility for these new believers should be carried by the evangelist, often he has already begun another campaign that requires his entire concentration. But suppose the Bible instructor has also been assigned to continue with this evangelist; then who will follow up these recent converts? We must give serious attention to this problem if our present records of backsliders are to show marked improvement. We certainly must emphasize this need.

The technique for encouraging people valiantly to face testings, buffetings, and trials for the truth's sake is a skill that should be mastered by every evangelistic worker. Students in our colleges should be receiving an initial training in the art. The very nature of our message suggests that we must know how to battle with our adversary. But our workers must also become trainers of those who will accept our message under their instruction.

Practical Training Needed

At the beginning of the new believer's experience, fellowshiping should include much practical training. Now that the Bible instructor is not rushed with the heavy visitation program that an evangelistic campaign requires in its early stages, she may give more attention to the conducting of Bible and personal-work classes. She may not be teaching health and nutrition, since some of this instruction should be presented by professionally trained workers in the church. It may fall to her lot, however, to or ganize the group and to help with plans to keep a keen interest alive. New members, as well as established Adventists, will continue to grow under such a follow-up program.

Again, this is the right occasion to place our truth-filled literature in the homes of these new Sabbathkeepers. The Bible instructor should be a good saleswoman for God, without any undignified high-pressure methods. She encourages the use of our books because of their true spiritual value. Dollars are merely incidental. She inspires these babes to feed on the Word. She teaches them how and when to find time in their busy lives to do this reading. She also instructs them in the use of our literature in their missionary work to win their loved ones and neighbors.

Where this type of follow-up evangelism is conducted, there we will find a progressive church. Soon we shall see these newer converts shouldering responsibilities for the promotion of the message. Little by little they will learn to lean on God and upon the excellent helps to which they have already been introduced. They will now be willing to let their efficient Bible instructor go on to our less privileged churches, for by means of these training classes they will have learned the art of following up their own evangelistic work. Many laymen have already become well equipped to teach the Bible to others. The messenger of the Lord envisioned just such a work done by our laymen. May our Bible instructors help to lead out in getting it well under way.

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Pastor-Evangelist,  Oregon  Conference

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