How shall we evaluate the church program? To some it is measured only in terms of dollars and cents. There are others who feel the program is a success when and if they can report more than ordinary statistical progress.
The servant of the Lord tells us that the church "is God's appointed agency for the salvation of men" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 9). And again, "The church is the depositary of the wealth of the riches of the grace of Christ, and through the church eventually will be made manifest the final and full display of the love of God to the world that is to be lightened with its glory."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 50.
Since the church is God's appointed agency for the salvation of man, and since the church is also the depositary of the wealth of the riches of the grace of Christ, and SINCE through the church the final and full display of the love of God will eventually be made known to the whole world, then of necessity the church must be a dynamic force. There can be no display of the love of God unless there is life in the church program.
Let me hasten to add, however, that by dynamic I do not mean a program of mere activity only. A hustle and bustle program, a well-organized machine with fast-moving wheels, does not necessarily indicate that the program is dynamic. Church members can be very busy without receiving spiritual benefit from their busyness. They can accumulate a good statistical record and lose their Christian experience in the process. If worth-while activities alone were an indication of a dynamic program, an ordinary Rotary Club could make some churches look rather weak.It is possible, says a certain church leader, that "the organizational beehive of the parish can be so activated, departmentalized, structured and constantly in motion, that the fast-clicking machinery seems to be an end in itself. There is a place for everybody and everybody is in it whether he likes it or not. There is no quietness here, no peace, but lots of activity." He goes on to say that in a town where he once lived there was a local church which served meals at a tremendous clip to numerous groups. The figures were proudly published at the end of the year. They were overwhelming. One of the oldsters of the town remarked, "That's not a church, it's a restaurant."—Lowell Ditzen in the Handbook of Church Administration, pp. 49, 50.
It is possible to have a church program with a lot of activity for the sake of activity. "A good report maketh the bones fat," but let's remember that underneath the fat bones there may be a spiritually undernourished heart. A certain woman came to a pastor and said, "All my life I have been a go-getter. I have gotten what I wanted. Then suddenly it all turned to ashes. I saw it was all done for myself. My religious work all had self-reference. It was to dress me up as pious and devoted. I have never surrendered myself and now today am inwardly limp, my self-confidence is gone, I am in the dust." Later on she said, "I am new. I am resurrected. I am alive again. God is filling every fiber of my being with power."—E. STANLEY JONES, in Power and Poise, p. 70.
The Spirit of Prophecy writings tell us, "Appearance and machinery have been exalted as of power, while the virtue of true goodness, noble piety, and heart-holiness, have been made a secondary consideration. That which should have been made first has been made last and of least importance."—ELLEN G. WHITE in the Review and Herald, Feb. 27, 1894. "There may be an appearance of light in the church; all the machinery—much of it human invention—may appear to be working well, and yet the church may be as destitute of the grace of God as were the hills of Gilboa of dew and rain."—ELLEN G. WHITE in the Review and Herald, Jan. 31, 1893. We repeat that first of all the church program should be dynamic. A Spirit-filled program is a soul-saving program. It is a healing program. It is a progressive program.
Second, to have a Spirit-filled church program there must be a Spirit-filled shepherd. This is the second essential in a strong church program. There is one person who must be the responsible leader. Who is this leader? The pastor might well say, "It's not the elder, or the deacon, but it's 1, 0 Lord." After all is said and done, the true leader must be able to dominate and finally to master the events that surround him. Once he lets them get the best of him, those under him will lose confidence and he will cease to be of value as a leader.
None would want to dispute the fact that nine times out of ten, when the church is weak, it is so because the leadership is weak. Whenever the church is led by able and consecrated men something happens to the church program. It becomes alive. It sparkles with a Spirit-filled activity. It is dynamic because of dynamic leadership. The strength or the weakness of a church program depends upon whether the pastor prayerfully and effectively assumes the inescapable role of administration.
Third, a dynamic church program will be spiritual food for the congregation. Thinking about the church, Jesus said to Peter, "Feed my sheep." This indicates that the church program should build the spiritual muscles of the sheep. Before the world can be saved the cheep must be fed. The first step in evangelizing the world is evangelization of the church. Perhaps the first step in getting many members is to get better members. Before adding new members to the church, we should try to add new life to the old members.
I used to be fireman of a large steam engine. There were times when the fire didn't deliver much heat. I had a hard time to keep the steam up. Usually I could remedy the situation by pushing a long poker into the bottom of the firebox. A nest of clinkers there had kept the draft from coming up through. With my poker (hook on end) I would pull the clinkers apart and scatter them among the live coals in the firebox. Then I got a good draft and in no time had a roaring fire, so that even the clinkers would get hot.
There are times in our churches when there is a lukewarmness because there are too many clinkers. They help to shut off, as it were, the draft of the Holy Spirit. If we can't pull the clinkers out, let's have such a Spirit-filled church program that they'll get warmed up. It is only through a program permeated by the Holy Spirit that the church members will remain live coals for God. Unless the church program helps to keep the members filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, they will become cold and drift away.
Fourth, Jesus said, "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice" (John 10:16). The church must also have a program that is spiritual food for these "other sheep." This program will either attract or repel them. If they find the pastures green in our churches, if they find the program spiritually edifying, they will come back again. As a young lad taking care of sheep, I never had any trouble getting the sheep back to good pastures. And there was no problem in keeping them there. They would wander off a bit now and then and look around but they would always come back to a good pasture.
Recognizing that the church program must be moving and forceful, that the shepherd must be Spirit filled, that the program must feed both the sheep in the fold and the "other sheep," we ask the important question, How can the program in our churches be kept spiritually aglow?
How, for instance, can the Sabbath school department assist in feeding the sheep? What relationship has the superintendent, his associates, and the teachers to this great spiritual program? What kind of program is necessary? Why is it that there are still many hundreds and thousands who do not attend Sabbath school? Could it be that they are not impressed with the church program and that they receive no spiritual food?
Let us think about the Ingathering for a moment. It, too, is part of the church program. How do the sheep like the Ingathering food? I remember when I was a lad my father and mother would hitch a couple of horses to the buggy and take the day off and go Ingathering. When they came home in the evening their faces were aglow. I never got the impression that they went out to get money. After they returned they usually talked about their experience of sharing their faith with others. They told about visiting the sick. It sounded like a satisfying program.
Could it be that we have desecrated the temple by our effort to get millions of dollars? Are we more eager to count and report dollars than souls? Is the Ingathering still a soul-saving program? The other day I heard a successful worker speaking to a congregation and in the course of his talk he referred to the Ingathering. He brought out the fact that he had to interrupt his evangelistic program to do Ingathering, and then he said, in a sort of facetious manner, "Oh, brethren, I am getting homesick for heaven." Just how can the Ingathering program be made a spiritual blessing to the sheep of the fold and to "the other sheep" which are not of this fold? Personally, I believe it depends quite largely on leadership. If a pastor can lead the church into a spiritual experience through a church building program, he can also make the Ingathering a spiritual exercise.
Now let us look briefly at the eleven o'clock service. This is the key service of the Sabbath day. Is it geared to the winning of souls? Does our preaching feed or bleed the sheep? Does it unite or scatter sheep? Does it strengthen or weaken the sheep? At one time John Wesley was preaching to thousands of people in an open field. In front were a group of ruffians with brickbats in their hands. They were ready to do the great preacher harm. However, the passion and tenderness of this great preacher and shepherd so captured their hearts that one by one they dropped their stones and one of them cried out, "See, he shines, he glistens!" Does the eleven o'clock service captivate the sheep?
We would like to ask, too, whether a church building program can be made soul winning. Again and again in my experience in administrative work I have seen the exact opposite. Sheep had scattered from Dan to Beersheba by the time the church building was completed. At the time of dedication a goodly portion of the congregation was gone. Some had transferred, some had dropped their membership, others were wounded and discouraged and didn't care ever to come back. I have also seen evidence where a building program brought more than ordinary spiritual blessings and unity to the congregation. The church was greatly strengthened as a result of the building program. What makes the difference?
Let us consider another part of the church program, namely, music. What contribution does music make to a soul-winning program? We are told that music "is one of the most effective means of impressing the heart with spiritual truth. . . . As a part of religious service, singing is as much an act of worship as is prayer."—Education, p. 168. Sometimes one gets the impression that certain singers are more interested in the proper function of their vocal chords than they are in the message of the song and the souls of the sheep. I have at times tried my best to understand the words of certain singers but I think they went into orbit and lost all connection with the world.
The "final test comes in the salvation of the lost and the lifting of the redeemed into a closer walk with God. If it fails to convict the sinner and to lift the saints, it fails to meet the standard of good music for the church."—The Ministry, January, 1961, p. 30.
We could go on and mention other facets of the church program, such as the baptismal service, pastoral visitation, weddings, prayer meetings, youth activities, church dedications, dedication of infants, the health program—all these and many others should be channels through which a great blessing can come to the congregation.
Every activity should be an opportunity where the Holy Spirit may breathe new life into the church. Each phase of church activity should be motivated with the idea of bringing men to Christ and interpreting the love of God.