A minister On a roundthe-world trip stopped over the Sabbath in our city. In the midst of an excellent sermon he heralded the sad news that an effort had been held in Europe several years ago and "all rejoiced that three hundred people were baptized." He added, "But there is hardly one left today of the three hundred. And now another evangelist is preparing to hold a meeting in this same place. Why hold another? One wonders!"
A member sitting in the congregation had been pondering the earnest plea of his pastor to attend the evangelistic meeting then in progress. But hot and tired after a hard day's work and preferring the easy chair to putting forth the effort to attend an evangelistic meeting, the member found in this choice story just the excuse he had been waiting for. From now on he would not allow his conscience to spoil his evening hours in the easy chair. Evangelism is not worth the trouble. People come in the front door and go out the back door anyway.
Crack in the Brain
Discouraged and exhausted from the grueling task of winning souls through public evangelism, a pastor-evangelist in the congregation did some serious thinking. The speaker had opened a crack in his brain, just the crack for which the devil had been waiting to plant his seed of doubt. For many years the pastor-evangelist had heard the statement made again and again, "We have more people going out the back door than we are saving through public evangelism."
So, with the devil's help, the pastor-evangelist decided, now is the time to close the door—the back door. We must nip this thing in the bud, he thought, stop it at its source. We must close the door, all the doors. If we stop bringing people into the church by public evangelism then we won't have to worry about their going out the back door.
The church pastor who was sitting on the platform pondered what the guest speaker had to say. He thought, "Our union president was certainly right when he told us at the Sabbath school rally that public evangelism is not the answer, that we can finish the work through branch Sabbath schools." A slight ripple ruffled his train of thought when he remembered a woman who had come into the message through a branch Sabbath school and had soon dropped away. But the ripple soon passed, and he set his feet firmly against the back door with the firm resolve to close the front door to any future converts from public evangelism.
Front Open—Back Closed
Another pastor heard about this shameful loss in Europe. He too began to ponder over closing the door—the back door, of course. But the more he thought about it, the more he began to realize that a closed back door and an open front door are incongruous. As he thought over his eighteen years of soul-winning work in the various churches where he had been the pastor and done various types of public and personal evangelism he became exceedingly troubled.
He thought of that lovely family he had labored so long and hard for by giving Bible studies week after week for more than a year. They showed every promise of being model church members when they were baptized. But lo, through a sad chain of circumstances several months after they were baptized, they went out the back door of the church.
Then there was that woman bubbling with enthusiasm who had found the message through enrolling in the Bible correspondence course advertised in the Signs of the Times. A layman had studied with her and prepared her for baptism. Our pastor had personally examined her before her baptism and found her to be sound in every way. But several years later when she moved away, she failed to send for her church letter and eventually had to be dropped as missing.
As case after case flashed through his mind, this pastor-evangelist became more and more agitated. There was that neighbor of one of the members who had been baptized and had dropped away. Even some of the members' children who were baptized as a result of a Week of Prayer and a baptismal class in the church school were now outside the fold.
Many times the pastor had heard the comparison: "We are losing more of our young people by the back door than we are bringing in the front door through public evangelism. If we would save all the young people in our church we would be growing at a more rapid rate than at present."
As these thoughts raced through his mind, his decision was made. We must shut the door—shut all of the doors! From now on I'm going to be a pastor to my flock. If I can keep the doors shut and hold on to the members I have, and make them the kind of members they ought to be. . . .
While he thought, the devil rejoiced. And with good reason, for was not the man in Jesus' parable of the buried talents one of the devil's converts to the shut-door policy? Had he not enticed the Jews with the shut-door policy and won them firmly to his side? If the devil can only convince all of God's children and all of God's ministers to close the door to church membership through branch Sabbath school evangelism, Vacation Bible School evangelism, fireside evangelism, youth evangelism, literature evangelism, lay evangelism, radio evangelism, television evangelism, and every other kind of evangelism, as well as public evangelism, he can make Pharisees of us all.
Why Attack Public Evangelism
Let us return from this imaginary interlude to our first paragraph. Is there not danger that in our enthusiasm to make a point, we are likely to join forces with the devil in extinguishing a God-given means of saving men? Is it safe to attack methods of evangelism that are God ordained in order to promote the type of evangelism God may have called us to do? Are not comparisons that downgrade what is good to promote something else that is good a rather risky type of emphasis?
If we close the door to all types of public and personal evangelism, then what? Would the back door be closed? It might be closed to apostate members leaving the church, but are not Pharisees inside the church as dangerous as apostates outside the church? Might there be more hope of an apostate mending his ways before Jesus comes than there is of a Pharisee finding real religion?
How balanced the counsel of Fordyce W. Detamore, who when asked by a student in one of his classes if a certain method of soul winning was good, answered with his usual warmth and largeness of heart,
"Every effort for God is good." Let us keep the front door open wide!
We do desperately need to build stronger back doors to our churches, to board them up and nail them tightly shut. As pastors we should make it our business to see that none slip out unawares. But at the same time we must be as realistic as Jesus. According to His own parable of the sower, three of the four who harbored the gospel seed eventually dropped away. One of Jesus' own disciples slipped out the back door and betrayed Him. And Paul wrote of one for whom he no doubt had diligently labored, "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world." When every effort has been made, and all has been said and done, people have the liberty to choose the devil's side.
There is much that we can do to shut the back door. Here are a few concrete suggestions for keeping the back door closed:
1. Begin the program of preventing apostasy before a person is baptized by preparing every baptismal candidate well. Before baptism a candidate should show evidence of conversion, should be instructed in all the distinctive doctrines, should be attending church and Sabbath school, paying tithe, thinking about sending his children to church school, and reading the Spirit of Prophecy books.
2. Visit both new and old members often. "As the shepherd of the flock he [the minister} should care for the sheep and the lambs, searching out the lost and straying, and bringing them back to the fold. He should visit every family, not merely as a guest to enjoy their hospitality, but to inquire into the spiritual condition of every member of the household."—Evangelism, pp. 346, 347.
A pastor with a church of three hundred members or less has adequate time to visit every member at least once each year, and those who are in need many times during the year. A loose-leaf pastoral calling booklet, or a Rol-Dex file, makes keeping the church list up to date easy. Using various colors for those who are sick, for those who are weak and erring, and for new members, the pastor can easily determine which of the members are in more urgent need of pastoral care.
Pastoral visitation can be supplemented by dividing the city into districts and assigning each district to a deacon and deaconess or to an elder and a deaconess.
3. Know your sheep. When a crisis comes, when a baby comes, when an older son is in trouble, when you notice a member missing from church, when you suspect family problems, when financial problems arise, when there is a death or sickness, stay close to your members. These are the times when Satan sows the seed of doubt and members become careless and begin to drift away.
4. Keep a record of attendance on Sabbath morning. This can be done by using a registration card or by an overleaf on the bulletin that can be filled in by each member present. Another method is to divide up the church list and have several deacons or deaconesses appointed to keep an attendance record on Sabbath morning. In some churches attendance can be kept by the Sabbath school teachers. The members who do not generally attend Sabbath school can be assigned to a class and placed on the back of the Sabbath school record cards. A double advantage accrues when a teacher assigns members of his class to make various approaches in inviting these members to attend their class. There are many plans for keeping an attendance record. Each pastor must choose the one that best fits the circumstances.
5. When members move to a new community, communicate with the church in the area and alert them of your members' arrival. Some churches use a printed or mimeographed card for this purpose. Other pastors find a personal letter to the pastor in the new area more effective. When all other means fail, a long-distance call to the pastor in the new area will inevitably bring results.
6. Integrate new members into the church program. This can be done successfully by assigning a secret friend or a buddy to look out for the welfare of a new member and get him acquainted with other members and the total church program. As they become ready for it, giving new members responsibilities in the church and Sabbath school will cement them to the church. Through a "socials to save" program, new members can come to know the older members of the church family.
7. Keep every new member active in missionary work. All members are not extroverts, and the pastor must broaden his horizon of missionary activity to include activities in which even the most timid can participate. When won men go forth to win other men, they cement their own union with Christ.
8. To keep men fit for the kingdom there is no power so great as the revival to the personal spiritual life resulting from attending a Spirit-filled series of evangelistic meetings. To hear the message again, to see souls in the balance making decisions, does something for members both weak and strong. So hold frequent evangelistic campaigns—at least one each year.
9. On Sabbath morning preach the word in such a way that members can apply it to the practical realities of Christian living. As one veteran minister said, "If I could begin my preaching career all over again, I would preach more comforting sermons."
10. See that every member is receiving the union paper, and if at all possible the Review and Herald, and the Signs of the Times, or These Times.
11. Enroll every new member in one of the Bible correspondence courses.
12. Keep new members in your Sabbath school class, or if you are the pastor of more than one church, in a Sabbath school class taught by one of the best teachers, who habitually takes a personal interest in each member of his class.
If you hold a pastor's Bible class for nonmembers, keep new members in your class for at least six months after baptism.
13. In sermons and in personal contacts with them remind new members often that spiritual growth comes only by daily fellowship with Christ in Bible study and prayer, and that spiritual death is certain if these are long neglected.