About twenty-eight years ago C. G. Bellah, a name quite familiar to many of us because of his extensive writing, was pastor of the Covington, Kentucky, church. For a long time he had presented what he felt was a well-rounded diet of spiritual food to meet the needs of his people. One Sabbath, however, he somewhat startled his congregation by suggesting that it hardly seemed fair for the minister to choose all the sermon subjects without giving the members an opportunity to say what they would like to hear, and what theme would benefit them most.
Cards were passed to the people. "You do not need to sign your name," he said. "Feel free to write what is in your heart. Put on the card the subject or subjects you wish to have presented during the coming months, Turn the card in today or take it home for further study and bring it back next Sabbath." In this way he gave the pew a chance to talk to the pulpit.
The congregation responded enthusiastically. When the cards were reviewed, some said they were satisfied, others requested more doctrinal sermons, while the remainder asked for practical subjects. Here is a partial list of the suggestions:
Denominational subjects (They brought us in and will keep us in.)
Preach the message (It has our first love.)
Strong Seventh-day Adventist sermons
The Ten Commandments, using each commandment for a sermon text
What does it mean to be a real Seventh-day Adventist?
Stewardship—tithes and offerings
The sanctuary question
Why do we not receive the latter rain?
Work of the Holy Spirit
How to love God more
"[he unpardonable sin
Speaking in tongues
Confession, private and public
How to receive Christ in the heart
What does it mean to live in Christ?
The second coming and signs
The mark of the beast
Revelation 15The seven last plagues
Things to do and not to do on the Sabbath
How to make the Sabbath interesting to children
and youth and yet keep it holy
Principles of healthful living
Duty to children
Wheat and tares
Bridling the tongue
What is proper recreation for youth?
How can we have love for one another?
Duties of church officers
How to reclaim backsliders
Another church in more recent times under a similar survey added such practical subjects as:
How to be a Christian in business
How can I best study the Bible?
The Spirit of prophecy
What to do when discouraged
How to gain victory over habits of sin
The parables of Jesus
Can God perform miracles for us today?
Lessons from Bible characters
There is no question but that you as a pastor are endeavoring to prepare your flock for eternal life. You wish to strengthen them in the Sacred Scriptures, lift them higher in faith, and guide them tenderly to the side of the Master. You pray for them, you weep for them, you serve them. Yet they may have spiritual needs and longings that have not been satisfied. Offering them the opportunity to express themselves may give to you a sermon challenge for many months to come, and help you to meet their needs.
A response from such a survey would help the pastor as he plans his program for the year. It is wise to plan well in advance. In that way continuity of purpose can be developed for the presentations. There are a number of special days in our denominational program for which a minister will want to prepare. The needs of the youth must be considered. Problems within specific congregations need to be studied. It is necessary to lead the church into a program of greater soul-winning endeavor. Short expository or biographical series may be chosen. Many of our brethren are finding unusual blessing in presenting their discourses by using the book Questions on Doctrine as the basic outline. Another series may be built around the last seven chapters of The Great Controversy.
The minister prepares his complete evangelistic program in advance, so he may move step by step into the full message of the plan of redemption. How beneficial it is to do likewise for the worship services of the church. A well-planned worship program allows for better preparation, more advanced announcements and publicity, and greater opportunity for the Holy Spirit to plant and water the seeds of truth in the heart of the dedicated man. Of course, any program may be changed for a visiting speaker or necessary emergency, but last-minute changes should be avoided whenever possible.
What a privilege it is to be used of the Holy Spirit to tell and to demonstrate the matchless love and grace of our Saviour! What a solemn responsibility to be an ambassador for the Master! We are told: "The minister stands as God's mouthpiece to the people, and in thought, in word, in act, he is to represent His Lord."—Gospel Workers, p. 20.
The following counsel, if accepted in all its completeness, will enable God's servants to be men who need never be ashamed, pastors in whom the Lord will be well pleased, evangelists whose ministry is fruitful:
The servants of God must have the truth in the soul. Said the angel: "They must get it warm from glory, carry it in their bosoms, and pour it out in the warmth and earnestness of the soul to those that hear it."—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 113.
Theoretical discourses are essential, that people may see the chain of truth, link after link, uniting in a perfect whole; but no discourse should ever be preached without presenting Christ and Him crucified as the foundation of the gospel. Ministers would reach more hearts if they would dwell more upon practical godliness.—Evangelism, p. 186.
There are many precious truths contained in the Word of God, but it is "present truth" that the flock needs now. I have seen the danger of the messengers running off from the important points of present truth, to dwell upon subjects that are not calculated to unite the flock and sanctify the soul. Satan will here take every possible advantage to injure the cause.
But such subjects as the sanctuary, in connection with the 2300 days, the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, are perfectly calculated to explain the past Advent movement and show what our present position is, establish the faith of the doubting, and give certainty to the glorious future. These, I have frequently seen, were the principal subjects on which the messengers should dwell.—Early Writings, p. 63.
In unfolding the great truths relating to Christ and His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, we do well to help our congregations realize that our Lord is a priest, not after the Aaronic order but after the order of Melchizedek, and as such He is a King-priest occupying the throne of Deity and yet able to minister on our behalf and to be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. These words of counsel might well guide our thoughts as we bring the living Lord to our congregations.
The uplifted Saviour is to appear in His efficacious work as the Lamb slain, sitting upon the throne. to dispense the priceless covenant blessings, the benefits He died to purchase for every soul who should believe on Him.—Evangelism, p. 191.