THERE were two churches, or should I say one church with two different pastors.
Pastor Brown, as we shall call him, served the congregation for about ten years. He was a loving pastor to his people, a good administrator of church affairs, and he conducted the various organizations of the church in a commendable way. He never failed to reach his Ingathering goal. Often he would be present to assist the ladies of the Dorcas Welfare Society. He visited the various divisions of the Sabbath school to greet the children.
He had little knowledge of pastoral psychology, that is from the book standpoint. If one went to him with a problem, he would scratch his head a moment, furrow his brow, then smile as he quoted a Bible text. It seemed he had a verse of Scripture for every need, and the kind and loving way he administered the Bible prescription always seemed to heal the wound.
One thing was certain: if a member was absent very long from services, Pastor Brown would be seeking him out to inquire about his physical and spiritual health. He was a faithful, indefatigable visitor, calling upon his flock at regular intervals to talk of Jesus and His love and to have prayer, showing a warm interest in the welfare of all the family.
His normal program was to study and care for church business in the morning— that is, as many mornings as he could save for that—and then to give Bible studies and to visit in the afternoon and evening hours.
The church membership grew year after year. The Sabbath school was always full and happy, mission offerings were the highest per capita in the conference, and the church and church school prospered. True, Pastor Brown was not a pulpit orator, but the congregation knew he loved them, served them, and really was about the finest pastor any church could have.
Then it happened—a change of pastors.
The new man was young, vigorous, and full of fresh ideas. Brother White, as we shall call him, was a very fine speaker. His sermons were short, carefully prepared, and laced with illustrations that kept the congregation wide awake. There was no question about it; he was a gifted "pulpit" man. He introduced innovations in the church program, conducted a profitable teachers' training class, organized social activities for the young people, put the church administration in the hands of capable committees, and streamlined the church business meetings. With all these progressive actions we surely could expect this church to prosper.
Beside all this, Brother White was eager to place his training in counseling techniques at the service of his people. This was indeed commendable. He announced from the pulpit that he would have regular office hours in the pastor's study several afternoons and two evenings a week. He welcomed anyone with a problem to make an appointment for a private talk. "Please keep me informed of those that are sick among us, discouraged, or drifting from the church. I want to serve the congregation; however, I see no point in barging into people's homes for a chat when under most circumstances it becomes embarrassing to the family and to me. I'm here if you need me." "That's fine," said the congregation.
Yes, some did come to the office for counsel, and he did the best he could to guide them in their problems, but a marriage was already broken, a young girl was involved in a moral problem, and a boy had already left the church by the time the pastor got "into the case." He had no early-knowledge of the irritations and difficulties that were bringing a cleavage between husband and wife, of the girl who was beginning to be promiscuous in her associations, or the boy who was influenced by bad companions to doubt God, the Bible, and his church.
Brother White's sermons were masterpieces of eloquence, but very dissimilar from the Christ-centered Bible messages that had brought conversion to the hearts of the congregation in the first place. They did not quite touch the common need. Somehow the pastor did not walk often enough where they walked, he did not eat at their tables, did not seem to know how to rejoice with them in happiness or weep with them in their sorrows.
Within a year the church had lost about ten members. The board and the people were deeply grieved about this and thought perhaps it was due to the times in which we live. The next year the Ingathering goal was not reached, the Sabbath school was failing to reach its proposed achievement, and church expense funds were dropping. Some even complained, "No one from the church ever comes to see me except to ask for money."
"What am I doing wrong?" asked the young minister. He received no answer, for laymen are rather reticent to tell a minister the truth about himself. Finally he became convinced that he was "not the right man for this particular type of congregation. Perhaps I could work out a call to a new place," he thought to himself, "some place where the people are looking for a man of my type."
What a tragedy it will be if somewhere, somehow, this minister does not discover the importance of pastoral visitation in his own experience, the necessity of the warm personal touch. It may seem strange that the simple act of personal contact in the home would make such a great difference in the over-all record of one church in its two phases. Nevertheless this story is true.
When a minister has presented the gospel message from the pulpit, his work is only begun. There is personal work for him to do. He should visit the people in their homes, talking and praying with them in earnestness and humility. . . . To my ministering brethren I would say, By personal labor reach the people where they are. Become acquainted with them. This work cannot be done by proxy. Money loaned or given cannot accomplish it. Sermons from the pulpit cannot do it. Teaching the Scriptures in families,—this is the work of an evangelist, and this work is to be united with preaching. If it is omitted, the preaching will be, to a great extent, a failure.—Gospel Workers, pp. 187, 188.
If one entering upon this work chooses the least self-sacrificing part, contenting himself with preaching, and leaving the work of personal ministry for some one else, his labors will not be acceptable to God.—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 527.
A. C. F.