Operation Outreach

Building Personal Concern for Persons

HAROLD L. WALKER, Associate Pastor, Memphis, Tennessee

 

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.

GodSoulBrother

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.

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HAROLD L. WALKER, Associate Pastor, Memphis, Tennessee

September 1965

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