"We Went to a Circus"

She became SDA at the circus. Hear her story.

DANIEL R. GUILD, Pastor-Evangelist, Southern California Conference

In making our first call to each of the  homes in a new district, my wife and I gen­erally ask the question, "How did you become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?" In response to this question a woman who is a member of our present congregation said with a smile, "We went to a circus." A wrinkle of amazement crossed my forehead as she continued her story.

"We were living in a town in the Middle West when one day the children came running home with a tale that would arouse the curiosity of almost anyone in a small town. They told of a tent's being pitched and of men carrying huge wild animals into the tent. They brought home the report that the meeting would start that night and that it would be free. We thought it was to be some type of circus, and we all dressed to join in the fun. When we arrived and heard singing in the tent we became skeptical. Slip­ping in, we sat down on the back row. Curiosity deepened into interest. I went again and again, and it wasn't long until I was a baptized Sev­enth-day Adventist."

On leaving that home I said to my wife, "What we need is more circuses!" As we went about from home to home in this district and listened to the stories of how our members be­came a part of God's great remnant, we found more than a usual percentage who had found the truth through evangelism, under the efforts of such men as B. R. Spear, J. W. Rich, and H. M. S. Richards.

The present immediate fruitage from evange­listic meetings is not so great as it was in former days, but there is some fruitage immediately. And of the seed sown in the hearts of those who attend regularly, yet do not accept the message at the present, and of those who come and go during a meeting and hear only part of the message, who but God knows how much will bear fruit in the future? Many of these people will be among those spoken of by the servant of the Lord: "Family connections, church rela­tions, are powerless to stay them now. Truth is more precious than all besides."—Evangelism, p. 701.

Prolonged Harvest

In 1949 J. L. Shuler held an evangelistic meet­ing in the city of Oakland, California, and we had the privilege of working with him as evan­gelistic visitors. Thousands heard the message, and hundreds accepted it. Hundreds more who heard almost the complete message did not accept it. While on vacation last summer we vis­ited the East Oakland church on Sabbath morning. After the service I noticed a familiar face and went over and took the man by the arm. "Say, your name is Gonzalves, isn't it? And you live out on Foothill Boulevard." "Yes, I do," he said. I countered, "Do you remember me? I visited you each week during the Shuler meeting." "Well," he said, "I remember that someone did." I remembered this man well; he had attended every meeting and received the books for a perfect record in attendance. He had been a Catholic, and was slow to accept. He told me that Sabbath day as we stood on the steps of the church that he had studied the books, and after about two years' time was finally baptized into the church.

No doubt each reader of this article has heard the remark that a certain number were baptized in an evangelistic campaign, but that half of them were ready before the meeting began. One man told me of an evangelistic meeting that he felt had been a failure. He told of the number baptized, and then said that eight of these had come up the opening night and asked for baptism, saying that they had heard the message in an evangelistic meet­ing in California. To my mind both of these meetings were a success. It is barely possible that the man in California closed down his meeting a discouraged man, because he had not baptized a single soul and his best prospects had moved back to Oklahoma. But what if he had not held the meeting? How long would it have been before these eight people would have heard the message? And what if the man in the Middle West hadn't held his meeting? How long would it have been before these eight people would have been gathered into God's remnant church?

All of us recognize that some of those who come in through public evangelism, and for that matter through any type of evangelism, will drop out. Does not the parable of the sower teach the soul winner this lesson, among others? We must remind ourselves of the others who come in through public evangelism and bring as many as ten or even more of their relatives and friends in during the months immedi­ately following baptism. These additional ones who are brought into the truth in most cases make up more than the loss.

One man said, "I can't get into an effort now because we are building a school." But isn't it the work of the deacons and church officers to care for these things so that they will not hinder us from an aggressive soul-winning program? Another said that he could not enter into an evangelistic campaign because Ingath­ering was coming, and he wouldn't have time to visit the interested ones. But did God ever in­tend for ministers generally to spend from six weeks to three months soliciting money? If the members see that their minister is busy winning souls, they will rally behind him and carry on the Ingathering and the other details of church work, leaving him free for soul-winning work. He will need to organize the membership in the proper way, however.

Pastoral Calls

And then there is the devil's charge, "Don't enter into an effort until you have retrieved the backsliders that are in the church." He knows that evangelism is one of God's chief tools in winning backsliders back to the message, whether they be still in the church or already out of it. It sometimes causes a person to won­der, when we see members come to an evange­listic meeting who haven't been in the church for a year or more, if it is because we fail to carry the Bible message into the church on Sabbath morning.

It is easily possible for a minister to visit all of the three hundred members in his district in from ten to twelve weeks—that is, if he cuts everything else to the minimum for this short period. During this visitation he will find many who are weak in the faith and who have not attended church for a long while. He may ask them during this first visit how they became members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The simple telling of their story will cause them to relive this whole experience. Then the pastor may ask if he can be of any spiritual help in any problem. A discussion of the coming evangelistic meetings might follow. Names of relatives and friends for special invitation to the meetings can be gathered on this visit.

Those who are beginning to backslide receive an invitation to the meeting each week. Many of them will respond. An alert pastor's wife can call some of these people from time to time, giving them a personal invitation. A number of those who are beginning to backslide should be won back in each effort that a pastor holds.

In a visit at the home of a couple who had recently moved to this area the wife told me that her husband had just become a member of the church in an evangelistic meeting held by Stanley Harris in Houston, Texas. And as for herself, she had attended church occasionally, for her name was on the church book, but she stated that while going through this series of meetings she had really found the Lord.

This brings us to another subject—that of building the church through evangelism by reaching the husbands of women who are mem­bers of the church. This first call by the pastor should be made at a time when the husband is at home. This is followed by the mailing of an invitation to the meeting, addressed to both hus­band and wife. If the invitation is not successful, a telephone call or a casual visit and personal invitation to the meetings are often fruitful. Evangelism such as this surely builds the church. In a recent campaign by one of our men seven husbands were won to the message by the em­ployment of these simple means.

Increasing Difficulties

We are living in a day when there are many problems in reaching the multitudes. But is this not what we should expect? Were we not told years ago that the Spirit of God is gradually being withdrawn from the earth, and that the work, especially in the cities, would become more difficult? Should this discourage us, or should it cause us to launch out and do greater things for God?

The problems that confront us in evangelism in this modern world may lead some to say that the day of evangelism in a public way is past and that now personal work is the thing that will finish the work. A careful study of the Spirit of prophecy leads to the conclusion that while personal work is effective and public work is also effective, the combination of personal with public work is more effective than either method used separately. Many members who could never give a Bible study or teach the truth to a neighbor can bring a neighbor or friend to an evangelistic meeting and share in winning a soul. What a thrill it is for a church member to see a person baptized to whom he has given literature and whom he has invited to the meetings and seen make a decision in the evangelistic campaign—a decision that the member himself might have spent years getting.

How it thrills the pastor of a church to see the members busy winning souls! What a joy to see thousands of invitations to enroll in a Bible course and thousands of pieces of litera­ture being given out in preparation for an evangelistic campaign! It has been my experi­ence that the members will distribute more lit­erature and enroll more people in a Bible course in three months preceding an evangelistic campaign than they will in a whole year otherwise. It appeals to the members to enter into a program that has a purpose, that will bring immediate as well as future results. A personal evangelism crusade followed by an evangelistic campaign invariably brings results, and the members are enthusiastic about it. They watch during a campaign for those who had their interest aroused during the pre-effort lit­erature or Bible course distribution. And what a joy it is for a member to see someone come up from the baptismal pool and know that the person had his first contact with the truth through the literature that the member placed at his door!

The Day of Evangelism Not Past!

Just as we distribute literature many times without immediate results, carry on radio and television work, release news stories for the press, and do medical missionary work and many other lines of endeavor without immedi­ate results commensurate to the expenditure of effort and means, so we must educate ourselves not to expect all the results of public evange­lism to be immediate results. It would be all too easy for us to fall into the way of the formal churches of our day and seek to baptize only those who search us out and come to our church door. But should we allow ourselves to do this? Or are we to be aggressively engaged in search­ing for the sheep who are lost in the maze of worldliness and sin?

It is true that people do not respond to our advertising as they once did. But this simply means that we must do much more advertising now to get the same results. More advertising means greater expense. If it costs five thousand dollars to support a worker and his family, and he can baptize ten people in a year through personal effort without public evangelism; and if the same worker could baptize fifteen people in a year if he were to spend a small sum for a public effort in the church, would not the latter plan be more sound? If the same worker were able to hire the best hall in town and spend four or five times the amount of money that he would to hold the effort in the church, and were to baptize even as few as five more converts, would not this be the most profitable thing to do if we take a long-range view and think of the seed being sown that will bear fruit sometime in the future, and think of the tithes and offerings of those who are baptized (which will soon more than repay the added expense), and especially when we think of the value of one soul in the eyes of God?

And there are other problems to evangelism in this modern age. The crowds are not usually so great as they once were. But if we get as few as fifteen non-Adventists out to a meeting, isn't that about as many people as a busy pastor can study with in the homes in one week? And think of the added benefits that are received by the members who attend and are blessed by two or three Spirit-filled evangelistic sermons each week.

Oh, yes, then too, "Our members won't sup­port us, and we can't keep people coming with­out a crowd." Just one look in the door of the majority of the churches of the Protestant faith on a Sunday night will demonstrate the folly of such an assertion. Most of the churches, at least in this area, are three-quarters empty on Sunday night. People are accustomed to going to poorly attended religious services; ours at worst are better than most of the churches have at best.

A Valuable Lesson

Before taking up the ministry I learned a very great lesson on this point. An evangelist of another faith came to our place of business and invited me to his meeting. I was curious, and went to the meeting that night. I arrived first after the evangelist. A woman who entered shortly proved to be the pianist. As the song service began promptly at seven-thirty, we sang lustily, all three of us. As the hour drew on I thought, "There won't be a sermon here to­night." But to my surprise the evangelist opened his Bible to Isaiah 55:1, and how he did preach! As the appeal was given and the altar call was made the pianist went forward. If I was lost, this preacher didn't want to be guilty of my blood being upon his soul. Such enthusiasm under the most discouraging circumstances isn't found in the majority of us, but this experience has proved a great lesson to me, and I have often thought of it when things looked dark.

Many times just after the Sabbath truth is presented in an effort, things become very un­settled for two or three weeks, and during this period we may make the mistake of closing the effort, thinking that we will bind it off in the homes of the people, when, if we would hold on to the strong arm of God, things would settle down again and the decisions of the people would soon be made for the Sabbath and finally for the message. When we close down, generally the interest scatters, and we are never able to bind it off.

The Devil's Temptations

Has Satan ever told you that you are not a good enough speaker to do public evangelistic work? God has given us a message that can be preached by ordinary men. The message itself has great power because it is a message of truth. If preached by a Spirit-filled minister it has greater power. If we are blessed, as few of us are, with many talents for public speaking, God may use us in an even greater way.

In the book Evangelism there is timely coun­sel on how to preach an evangelistic sermon. (See pages 174-193.) All through this chapter principles are presented that can be applied to the speaking of ordinary men.

This is a day of obstacles for evangelism. But may God give us wisdom to be sure that the greatest obstacle to evangelism is not our own mental attitude toward it because of the many fears that press in. There is the fear of failure, the fear to spend money, the fear of their faces, the fear of work. May God grant that we will have more of His grace to preach His mes­sage with greater power than ever before.

Should not our prayer be, "O Lord, give me vision, give me physical endurance, and give me much of the Holy Spirit's power so that I can be a mighty instrument in Thy hand to proclaim this message not only to those who seek after it but to the multitudes"?

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DANIEL R. GUILD, Pastor-Evangelist, Southern California Conference

February 1955

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