There is a deep inner conviction in the heart of almost every minister that winning souls to this message is his first responsibility and work. When we first begin our service in the Lord's work we all envision ourselves as an evangel for this truth, gathering from the world the honest in heart and bringing them into the fellowship of the remnant church. Most of us can remember when we thought the word evangelism meant primarily to baptize converts into the church!
But this noble if naive vision is soon blurred by the unsuspected intrusion of surprising duties and programs for which ministers are asked to take the responsibility. Our ardor is cooled by fears from within and discouragement from without. Soon disillusionment can come, followed by resignation and hopelessness. It is easy to say, "I guess evangelism isn't my special talent" or "I am making my contribution in this treadmill where I find myself, and anyway, the good old days of evangelism are past; it is no use to fight the realities of TV and public apathy." When we allow ourselves to think in this way we are throwing in the sponge too soon. For-
- It is possible to delegate responsibility, to train laymen to take up much of the work that sidetracks the ministry.
- There are methods of public evangelism that are working for most pastors who are using them. It is a new adventure and a tremendous satisfaction to see baptisms double and triple. And it doesn't take heavy financing. It can be done within the providence of almost any pastorate.
- The golden age of evangelism was not yesterday or generations ago—it is now.
Across America and even around the world there is a new advance on the evangelistic front. Both pastors and evangelists are finding an encouraging reward in the wake of up-to-date public effort.
The experience of our team here in Michigan has, I think, been quite typical of the picture elsewhere. We have had four teams in Michigan in the past two years, and the returns have been encouraging.
Our own team conducted seven campaigns in 1962. We usually spent five weeks in each place. (One week of revival for the church, three weeks of public meetings, and one week of follow-through.)
The Lord blessed us. More than 500 people decided to join the church, and 375 of these were baptized. The rest were followed up by the churches, and possibly most of them have been baptized by this time.
Is Evangelism Expensive?
One of the most encouraging factors to me is the economy of this kind of operation. I sat down with our conference treasurer a few weeks ago and together we figured the cost per convert for this period. We included ALL the costs: The salary and expenses of the team (there are only two families); the cost of all equipment, depreciated on a short-term basis; and the campaign expense budgets. This way of figuring does not charge any of the expense to the good done for the churches, or to ministerial help in a general way. The whole evangelistic burden is charged to the new converts. Yet, the cost per convert for this year was a mere seventy-five dollars. Other teams have done better than this.
A study of the tithe and offering returns from the converts of six campaigns was recently made by Bruce Johnston, of Emmanuel Missionary College (including one campaign we held), in which he established that such an evangelistic operation paid its own way entirely after a short time. Surely, even from a business viewpoint, public evangelism is a profitable way to invest time and money for God.
Guidelines for Successful Soul Winning
I. We must never bypass the first and most vital essential. "And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:48, 49). We must be men of power—but the power must be from above. There are no secrets as to how we may possess the Holy Spirit. Jesus simply says, "Ask Him." So, first we must renew the power of the promised Presence.
2. When God's ministers were thus blessed in the early days of the church, and of this movement, they refused to allow their energies to be consumed by counting in money or counting out doles. They would not be sidetracked to carry on the physical work of the church. While they did not forsake their responsibility to see to it that these good things were cared for, they did find a way to harness the laymen who were capable of caring for these necessary things. Thus they, God's ministers, were free to give their time and strength to their high calling.
3. We are counseled many times to copy the methods of Jesus in our soul-saving endeavors. There are two outstanding characteristics in His work:
a. It is recorded, "The common people heard him gladly." He was in touch with the multitude. He talked their language; He knew where they were. Much of our failure in evangelism today can be traced to our lack of communication with the man in the street. We need desperately to get our thinking and our expressions up to date. We are often preaching to a generation that died about the time we were born. Our arguments fall on ears that wonder whose problems we are talking about! Much of the Bible we quote so glibly is a foreign language in concept and vocabulary to the spiritual illiterates of this generation. We should translate its message into modern thought if we are to communicate anything of its life to the hearer. We have to find out where people are in their thinking today and then preach from that point to where we want them to be. It will take well-chosen reading and a study of people as they are now thinking. Then we can work out a simple, logical way in which to lead them to where we believe they ought to be. If we lose them along the way, the fault is usually ours, not theirs. The most captivating experience we can bring to our hearers is the lucid unfolding of this message. If the darkened mind can be led into the light of the three angels' messages, there are not many anecdotes or gimmicks needed to embellish the adventure. Indeed, sometimes they become an unnecessary distraction.
We need to get our approach, our appeals, our arguments, and our self-expression out of the horse and buggy age—yes, even out of the rumble seat age—and into the space age in which we are living.
The familiar words of Habakkuk apply: "And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it" (chapter 2:2). You may blaze a trail through the forest for two different reasons —to test the skill of those who follow you (as in the Pathfinder track and trail test) and to try desperately to mark the way for a friend who will be in haste to follow. From some of our preaching it appears we are trying to "ditch" our audience. Are we trying to test their ability to follow us in our obscurity? Are we having fun playing a sort of intellectual hide and seek? It really is no great accomplishment to be obscure. But it takes a clever mind to lead other minds from darkness to light without losing a majority along the way.
b. Jesus' method of getting an audience still works the best. He used people to bring people, the crowd to draw the crowd—the disciples, the seventy, the woman at the well, the Gadarene demoniac. Whether we use loaves and fishes or white Bibles and pictures, the basic motivation is the same. Then if people see the miracle of God's grace at work in our meetings, and in their own hearts, they will respond similarly to the experiences growing out of Jesus' visit at Jacob's well and the spectacle at Gadara.
If we are stuck in fruitless methods or bound in the ruts of nonessential activities we may have to take more than one whirl at it to break free. Sometimes we may feel we have failed. When we think this way, the specter of "fear of failure" rears its ugly head, and we run to hide. In a recent Reader's Digest article by Arthur Gordon there is an antidote for this poison. There is no substitute for reading the whole article, but we quote the startling advice that brought success out of failure for him: "Double your rate of failure. . . . Go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that's where you'll find success. On the far side of failure."
4. We may be ordinary men, but we carry an extraordinary message. It is truly a fantastic announcement in the light of what is happening today. We must learn to tell it with such clarity and enthusiasm that people will leave their TV sets and cancel their weekend vacations to hear us proclaim it.
It is being done today. Surely thousands more will soon fairly glow in the thrill and glory of a larger harvest of souls. Who knows? You may be one. For the golden age of evangelism is now!