Asked what is the greatest single need in his church, the average pastor would probably say, "Consecrated, competent, dedicated, and dependable adult leaders." So often we see leadership of an inferior quality in our churches because no one else is available. There is abundant leadership material in our churches, but it has not been brought under the rule of Christ and dedicated to the service of the church. The church is thus crippled. Why the hesitancy, the reticence on the part of so large a segment of our membership when asked to make a soul-winning visit, teach a Sabbath school class, or give a Bible study? People know that church leadership and soul winning demand certain skills, and being afraid of failure, they demur. People like to do things they can do well, but they tend to avoid tasks in which they might fail. All their lives our people listen while we speak. But "preaching is not teaching and listening is not learning."
The Static Level
Are adults doomed to remain on a static level simply because they are adults and have completed their formal education? As leaders in the church of God we have an inescapable responsibility for training our people for effective, efficient service. It was the intent of Christ that His church should not only be a center for worship, Bible study, and fellowship, but that it should be a training center for organized evangelism.
Whitefield or Wesley?
We are told that one reason why Paul was so successful in building great evangelistic churches was because he took time to teach and train the members for acceptable service. He gathered his converts into schools of training and sent them out and "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord." This record would have been impossible had Paul depended on his preaching alone. It is generally agreed that Whitefield was a greater preacher than John Wesley. But Wesley organized his laymen into societies and trained them. It has been Wesley's work that has lasted.
Was It Time Wasted?
What was the method Jesus used? What was His basic approach to the task of winning a lost, hostile world? Three words summarize His strategy. They are enlist, train, and send. Jesus was the prince of preachers. He was the greatest leader of all time; but His method was enlisting and training men, and sending them to enlist, train, and send others,
A careful study of the synoptics and Gospel of John reveals many gaps in chronology. Jesus and the disciples seemed to disappear for weeks at a time. Where were they? He was teaching His disciples, training for effective service. Four such withdrawals from His Galilean ministry are recorded. A waste of time, some might say. He might have held many more evangelistic meetings in place of these training sessions. But in a few years there were thousands giving His message. Jerusalem was filled with evangelists; they "went everywhere preaching the word." "Christ intends that His ministers shall be educators of the church in gospel work. They are to teach the people how to seek and save the lost." "To neglect this work is surely to invite spiritual feebleness and decay."—The Desire of Ages, p. 825.
Every recruit into our armed services receives intensive basic training before he is sent to the battlefields. How many of our new members are we training for service in the army of the Lord? "The strength of an army is measured largely by the efficiency of the men in the ranks. A wise general instructs his officers to train every soldier for active service. He seeks to develop the highest efficiency."—Christian Service, p. 74. Have we as responsible leaders of God's remnant people seriously undertaken the task of training our members in the "how" of soul winning? How many of our churches have a consistent program of training where adults learn skills in soul winning and church leadership? Are we developing strong personal workers? There is a need for Christian competency as well as consecration. The apostle said, "Neglect not the gift that is in thee." If we are to follow the New Testament pattern we must place a new emphasis on this facet of church life.
Our denominational leaders have provided some excellent materials for training. Perhaps the most consistent efforts in this regard have been for our children and youth in their progressive classwork and Master Guide program. Our Sabbath school workers now have available some fine training material. Also, at hand are training courses in home nursing and nutrition. "Lift Him Up" and "Training Light Bearers" provided by the Home Missionary Department are two excellent training courses in soul winning. But notwithstanding this good material, training opportunities for our members throughout the field are very few. In some churches years go by before a single training course is offered. The problem, as I see it, is that the whole area of training is left up to the decision of the pastor or the leaders of the various departments in our churches. If the pastor or the leader of a given department happens to sense the need of training, it may be offered. Sometimes the members request training and it is provided, if it fits the schedule. Then, there is the problem of securing a proper balance. The pastor may sense the need for training in health and nutrition and neglect other vital areas. This is not true in other parts of church life. A consistent program of Bible study is not left up to the whim of the pastor or Sabbath school superintendent. There is a special place provided in our schedule for this most important function. Why should we not do the same for training? There is no place in our church year where training is specified, and no department committed to its promotion. Are we not instructed by the Lord that "every church should be a training school for Christian workers"? (ibid., p. 59).
The Tail Again?
Other denominational groups have forged ahead and are seriously undertaking this responsibility. Southern Baptists have a department to foster this vital part of church life. More than one million Southern Baptists meet every Sunday evening at six-thirty for Training Union. "The . . . Training Union is recognized . . . as the church program for training church members. It is an essential part of the total educational program of the church. The aim is training for church membership. No other department has this distinctive aim," declares J. E. Lambdin. The denomination has more than one hundred study courses available in nineteen categories. A graded series of diplomas is offered upon completion of specified books.
A careful study of the chapter entitled "The Church a Training Center" in Christian Service, emphasizes four general areas in which we should provide training. They are: the up building of the church, evangelism, Sabbath school, and health and welfare. Within each of these categories there is room for a vast training program. In the general area of "upbuilding of the church" we could provide training courses in church leadership, church administration, church policy, church music, missions, youth leadership, recreational leadership, and stewardship. Under the category of evangelism we might add to our two present courses, additional courses, such as the ministry of visitation, how to witness, how to lead a soul to Christ, personal soul winning, and lay preaching. In addition to the fine materials now available for training in our Sabbath school, we might offer courses in how to conduct branch Sabbath schools, using the Sabbath school in evangelism, and better Vacation Bible Schools.
Plan for It!
What can the pastor do, then, to fulfill his training ministry? First, he must make room for it in his plans for the year. He could plan a training schedule, including all four areas mentioned above during a year. No matter how earnestly the pastor works at enlisting and assigning missionary tasks to his people, he cannot hope to build a perennial program of evangelism without a parallel program of training. Training makes enlistment and assignment much easier.
In the fall, concurrent with my lay evangelistic thrust through the Sabbath school, I conduct a ten-week class called The Soul-winning Clinic. This is conducted one hour before sundown on Sabbath afternoon. Emphasis is given to such subjects as how to give Bible studies, evangelistic visitation, witnessing, and securing decisions. After the first of the year another class could be conducted in some area of church leadership; then a third class may be offered in Sabbath school training, and this may be followed by training in home nursing, cookery, or some phase of health and welfare work. Thus, during the year the pastor can touch on the four areas mentioned by the servant of the Lord. Obviously, the pastor could not teach all of these himself. I have always the evangelistic training classes; but, there are usually competent, able laymen who can give instruction in most areas of church life and work. One of the elders could be made superintendent of training and be placed in charge of the training program, with responsibility of coordination and carrying forward a balanced yearly program. After a training course it is well to have a commencement and present certificates. A banquet at the end of the year for all of those who won certificates during the year also helps to stimulate interest.
Now, a word about motivation. How can we motivate our people to join training classes, to visit, to give Bible studies, and to win souls? We must admit that this is not within our province. Motivation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Only God can move a man or woman to do loving service. But how can I cooperate with the Spirit in His work of motivating our people to leave the "cult of the comfortable" and join the bank of unselfish workers? First, I can pray. "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest" (Matt. 9:38). Pray for one at a time—your elders, your Sabbath school teachers, your deacons—then enlist them. It is marvelous what this kind of prayer will accomplish.
Second, I can give my example. You will not develop soul winners unless you are one. It is caught more than it is taught. if the pastor is steeped in warmth and concern, if his soul and will are saturated with the evangel, his spirit will work as leaven through the entire church.
Third, I can preach. Through "the foolishness of preaching" we can bring the imperative of the gospel commission home to the minds of the people. They must first be convinced in their minds before they will believe in their hearts. We must keep soul winning—its responsibilities and its joys—before the people. Repetition of an idea tends to bring permanency of conviction. Fourth, I can give recognition. Give honor to whom honor is due. Recognition of work well done, both of groups and individuals, is a motivating factor. Reports to the entire church of outstanding accomplishments in soul-winning activity by a Sabbath school class tend to build enthusiasm and a pride of belonging. Visitation statistics reported in the church bulletin also help.
All we have said in this series of articles in regard to organizing, enlisting, training, and assigning for a perennial program of evangelism is not intended in any sense to downgrade evangelistic preaching in the regular evangelistic series. Public evangelism is "the cutting edge of the harvest." The promise of public meetings gives focus and impetus to lay visitation.
Preach, Pray, Train, Do It!
We enlist our people and organize them for Ingathering—and this is about the only time our people are ever thoroughly organized for any task—then six months later we may engage in public evangelism. But as Gaines Dobbins declares,
"Evangelism, properly conceived, is not the occasional concern of a church, but its continuous concern. Sin and death take no holiday. If the church has the one remedy for sin and the only antidote for death, its guilt would be immeasurably great if it neglected for a single day to make known the salvation for the want of which a soul perished."—Building Better Churches, p. 90.
We, therefore, dare not wait for the conference evangelistic team. Nor dare we wait until we can fit evangelistic meetings into our preaching schedule. The whole church must continually give the whole gospel to the whole world. Thus, the work will be finished.
In view of this late, late hour may God help us to be preachers in the tradition of Wesley, Spurgeon, and James White—powerful preachers. More than this, let us become builders of great evangelistic churches where the soul-winning spirit marches forward throughout the year. Let us organize for a larger work. Let us press every soul into active service. Let us preach it, pray it, train for it, do it ourselves until perennial evangelism becomes a living reality in our churches.