When the church loses its concern, it loses Christ. Our Saviour could aptly be called the Concerned One, for concern is the keynote of His dealings with humanity. The cross, crowning act of His concern, reflects this under-girding quality of His character. "The soul that has given himself to Christ is more precious in His sight than the whole world. The Saviour would have passed through the agony of Calvary that one might be saved in His kingdom."—The Desire of Ages, p. 483.
A pastor must reflect this concern in his ministry, for true ministry is centered in the Concerned One. When he does this he has made an important step toward building concern for others in the hearts of his members. And in the unconcerned world of today this is a needed contribution. This concern is the springboard for the spirit of revival coveted by many congregations. When the sheep detect a concerned shepherd leading the flock, when concern overflows in the Sabbath morning messages, when human need is met through the preaching of the Concerned One in all His fullness, when concern flows through the look and tone and words spoken at the door at the close of the worship hour, when concern drives the pastor to needy homes during the week—a sound beginning has been accomplished.
Gears in Neutral!
As members begin to experience a sense of concern for one another, something must happen. That something can be definite action or, like any spiritual conviction, definite suppression of this renewed interest in the spiritual state of others. Some will, of their own volition, begin visiting the weak, the discouraged, the sick, and the slipping. But, most will not. The seed of action may be there, the determination to do something "next week" may exist but there the vehicle of concern will sit, beautiful in its appearance, powerful in its potential, motor idling smoothly—but gears in neutral! Someone will have to engage those gears! Often it's the pastor's hand that gently, but firmly, makes this key move. The writer had this experience.
More than 20 per cent of our membership was in a definite state of outward spiritual regression. This did not include those who were invalids or who were coming to church spasmodically while experiencing great personal burdens or even spiritual apathy. The pastor's position was clear—by God's grace he must revamp that picture!
Praying for Backsliders
Months of fervent, soul-searching preaching followed. Included in these messages were such human-need fillers as sermons on indifference, Satan's techniques in soul destruction, the folly of crossless religion, spiritual inventory, depression, discouragement, the proper place of self, God's love, Christian balance, sanctification, the Second Coming, the life and ministry of Jesus, the battle for the mind, Christian standards, and others. Through those months and messages ran a thread of concern for the sheep—both in and out of the fold. Constantly we discussed publicly and privately the need for winning back our missing members, encouraging the discouraged, uplifting the invalids, winning our city of half a million for Christ, ever building the im-age of reaching out in Christian concern that every possible person might be saved. Discreet mention was made occasionally of the more than twenty in our church of 160 who would be subject to church discipline unless we became concerned enough to help them. You can imagine the earnest prayers ascending from our small prayer groups in the midweek service each Wednesday evening as our concern grew.
Organization Without Overorganization
When our missionary committee met in December to finalize on plans for 1965, we were ready. Being leaders in the church, they were concerned initially, but now that concern had deepened and we all knew that this seed of New Testament Christianity was going to mature. You can be assured the pastor went to that meeting with a prayer and a plan!
We discussed the plan at length. We needed, and wanted, organization without overorganization. We also knew that we wanted a coordinated program that would take in the major departments of the church all working together instead of overlapping and stumbling over one another. The missionary committee, composed of the home missionary leaders, the elders, the Sabbath school superintendent, and the Missionary Volunteer leader, was an ideal steering committee.
How to Keep Members From Sleeping on Sabbath Afternoon
Here are the major points of the plan we adopted: It was to be a consistent and continuing visitation program every week. We wanted no part of a "flash-in-the-pan" plan of brief life and small accomplishment. Evenings were already so full of church activity that we settled on Sabbath afternoon as the best available time for action. We adopted the plan of a carry-in lunch, which would be an every-Sabbath affair for all who wished to participate in the visitation program. Each family would bring a dish or two and we would pool them for the Sabbath meal right at the church. This fellowship would bind us closer yet and strengthen us for the task of strengthening others. It would tend to assure a larger number of workers in readiness for visitation, since many with excellent intentions never make it past the inviting sofa at home after the Sabbath meal. To provide for those who would have to go home after church we set the time of meeting at 2:00 P.M.
After the lunch together, we would meet in the sanctuary, sing an appropriate hymn or two and pray over the names and situation of our interests. We would then discuss the problems we encountered from week to week in our work. This would involve fifteen to thirty minutes, after which assignments for visitation would be distributed.
A large city map was mounted on a piece of Celotex. The map was divided into large geographical districts and smaller units within those districts, and then every family was indicated by means of a numbered pin. This would allow rapid location of families to be visited by each team driver.
A 3- by 5-inch card file was employed to hold the name cards of those visited. The names and addresses of church families were listed alphabetically on the cards. In the upper right-hand corner, a designating number, such as IV-2- (3), was placed. This code number referred to, respectively: the district number, the unit within that district, and the pin number of the particular family within the unit. Just behind this complete family listing were divisions of particular interest to our visitation teams. These would include: "Nonattending Members," "Shut-ins," "Sabbath School Absentees" and "Evangelistic Interests." Into these divisions we put duplicate cards appropriate to the condition of the persons who were the targets of our concern.
The "Nonattending Members" slot received all names subject to church discipline plus some others who had missed church for several consecutive weeks. "Shut-ins" received names of invalids and elderly folks who never, or only occasionally, attended worship services. In "Sabbath School Absentees" we would put cards on any member who was absent from Sabbath school for two consecutive Sabbaths—that is, they would receive a visit the second Sabbath afternoon after missing the first Sabbath of the period. "Evangelistic Interests" would include nonbelieving companions of members and any other interests appropriate in the pastor's judgment. (However, the visitation program was to begin "In the house of God" with just simple visits of interest and concern, demonstrating in an active way just how much we missed the missing members. This would reveal both the simplicity and the rewards of soul winning in a practical way and would whet the appetite for winning nonmembers.)
Write It Out!
One feature, which was to mean much in comparison to its seeming value, would be the stack of 3- by 5-inch blank paper available each Sabbath. This was to be used for a personal, handwritten note to be left when no one answered the door. We felt this was far superior to any standardized, printed card we might produce. This personalized factor, though small, was to be priceless. Most ministers have found it sometimes a blessing to find no one home in certain instances when a written message left at the door paved the way for the later personal confrontation. The same seemed logical for our visitation program.
Next we named our program. We wanted something that would catch fire in the people's minds while painting an image of our objective. We feel God gave it to us—Operation Outreach.
The past three months have borne out the truth of the following statement: "I sought my God, my God I could not see; I sought my soul, my soul eluded me; I sought my brother and I found all three." Human speech is inadequate to describe the spirit that has resulted from Operation Outreach. In teams of two or three, we have visited two to four homes every Sabbath afternoon since that January 23 beginning. Our attendance at Operation Outreach has remained constant. Some families who have to miss an occasional Sabbath are right back the following week, and when they do miss, it seems someone else is there to take their place. There is a spirit of spiritual repartee that is heart warming. Of the more than twenty who were subject to church disciplinary action, fully one third have been in church as a direct result of our special endeavor. Our shut-ins are receiving the most thorough attention they've ever had—and by a variety of members. The wide area of our membership that has participated in Operation Outreach has a deeper understanding of the spiritual needs of the church. In addition, they have seen firsthand what miracles are wrought through personal concern for persons. We are now widening our reach to include evangelistic interests. Already one man is in regular attendance as a result. By the close of 1965, more than 1,000 personal visits will have been made through Operation Outreach. And when that fateful church business meeting convenes to consider names for disciplinary action how this pastor's heart will thrill at the thought of certain persons who are not on the list because someone was concerned!
Baby-sitters and Outstanding Meals
We have discovered improvement potential in the program and moved to take advantage of such as we could. For example, we now have a woman responsible for providing a competent baby-sitter for the small children of couples who wish to participate —and many couples do. We now promote the idea of every family possible staying for the lunch together, even if they cannot stay for the visitation. There are two reasons for this: (1) We have found the fellowship at the Sabbath meal priceless; and (2) we know it will take only a meal or two for them to get caught up in the spirit of New Testament evangelism pervading Operation Outreach. And we urge all visitors to remain for lunch with us. They not only get an outstanding meal—they also see Seventh-day Adventism at its best.
There are many variations one could build on this sort of program, of course. But whatever they may be—personal concern needs to be the undergirding.
As a young man in college and seminary training, I often wondered what feelings surged within the apostles as they made known to their world the message of the Concerned One. Operation Outreach—personal concern for persons—has provided more than a partial answer.