Editor's Notes: These are two of the messages presented at the North American Evangelistic Council at Camp Berkshire, New York. They are also two of the many that are included in the Save-a-Second Tape-of-the-Month Club.
As a boy I spent many long, hard days working in the harvest fields of western Alberta. Even now, after more years than I care to admit, scores of sights, smells, and feelings return in a nostalgic wave:
The fragrance of freshly mown hay and its prickly feel through work shirts and levis, for we usually slept in haylofts;
Groping with blistered hands for cold, stiff boots in the pre-dawn darkness into which to gingerly squeeze blistered feet;
Finding and harnessing horses at the crack of dawn and noticing that man and beast left tracks in the frost-covered grass;
The aroma of breakfast, providing motivation for accomplishing prebreakfast tasks with haste;
The food—mountains of it. Cooks for threshing crews were the best in the world and worked harder than anyone else on the crew.
I think of rugged Chuck Henner, spike pitcher, who could feed that hungry threshing machine hour after hour with hardly a moment's break.
The upset racks because of an unexpected rut.
The feel of cool water on hot lips and parched throats.
Eventually day's end. Unhitching the teams, the best meal of the day, and after the exchange of a few yarns and perhaps the tired singing of a few ballads, thankful collapse back into the hay.
So the crisp harvest days were spent under blue Alberta skies. Everyone worked hard, hoping that the last bundle in the last field would be threshed before the snows came.
Then came the marvelous combine. I'll never forget the first time I pulled a sixteen-footer across the field and watched the grain flowing into a waiting truck. This was a life of luxury and ease indeed.
The Care of the Crop
Occasionally we harvested fields in which over half of what we cut was weeds, where drought had reduced the yield to the place it hardly paid the costs of harvesting, where pests had made the grain practically worthless, or where hail had beaten it into the ground.
Very early in life I formed some rather conclusive opinions about harvest. Where sufficient good seed had been planted, where there had been adequate fertilizer, enough moisture, where weeds and pests had been controlled and hail did not happen at harvesttime, a good yield could be depended on.
True, there were certain corners of fields along bush rows or ditches where occasionally volunteer crops would grow on their own, but to have depended completely upon such volunteer crops would have been disastrous for the farmer.
Against the background of this brief autobiographical segment I would like to propose a parable.
A certain pastor was given a city as his field. It was a beautiful city filled with precious souls. He knew that in the fall a great evangelist was coming to help him with the work of harvest.
Now this pastor had many pressing matters that occupied his attention, so during the time of seed sowing he was too busy to plant. A few of his faithful members on their own, however, did scatter a little seed. There were problems with the budget, so only a small amount of seed was used. No funds were available for the purchase of fertilizer. As the weeks passed, the pastor had a nagging concern about the sparse crop, but he did notice that here and there small patches of grain were springing tip, and he had confidence in the miracle-working ability of the great evangelist. So he disregarded the nagging concern.
While he was busy here and there, attending important committee meetings and playing golf, he became vaguely aware that certain pests had invaded his church—criticism, faultfinding, secret sins, love of pleasure, and carelessness. He knew that he should combat these pests, but didn't have time right then, and anyway, when the great evangelist came he would straighten Out the church. Evangelism is good for the church members too, you know, he told his troubled board. He didn't realize that these pests were spreading to the small patches until he noticed certain heads of grain turning black and bending to the ground.
It dawned on the pastor one day that .a period of drought had set in. He decided that one Sabbath soon he should prepare a sermon that would water the thirsty ground with the Holy Spirit's latter rain, but since there were a few more chapters in his psychology book on which he had not yet preached, he decided to postpone the latter rain.
One day on the sixteenth green he was shocked by a reference his companion made regarding the date. Surely the summer couldn't be almost ended! Almost harvest-time!
He rushed home and prepared a sermon intended to arouse the church. With much shouting and desk pounding, he chastised the members for not doing more to prepare for the great evangelistic campaign. He then spent the next few days rushing around to the small patches of grain that still survived and chastened them with cold depredations for not having made better progress and growth. He desperately attempted to beat them into a speedier preparation for harvest. When the hail of his visit was over, even more heads were broken and good grain beaten into the ground.
And then the great evangelist came. He advertised extensively, preached and prayed his heart out. A few came, and a few were converted, but the results were very disappointing and the pastor went about criticizing the evangelist and declaring that the days of evangelism were past.
Key to Greater Success
Perhaps I should apologize for discussing some obvious matters. But I do not apologize, for my years in the ministry have demonstrated that all too often we overlook the obvious. We respond with enthusiasm to the appeal of some new gimmick or some guaranteed" novelty approach. We desperately need to search for new and more effective methods, but must not leave the other undone.
How often have you as an evangelist gone to a city where there has been little or no preparation, where the church was not ready and perhaps was even opposed to the crusade?
May I present some specific suggestions from my own experience and the experience of others which if followed I believe would result in much greater evangelistic success. It takes greater effort and more money to conduct an unsuccessful effort. Nothing succeeds like success. I wish that the time could come when we would seldom conduct an evangelistic campaign in an unprepared area. I well realize that there are instances where a work has been raised up in a brand-new location where there had been practically no groundwork done, but I believe this is the exception rather than the rule. My lather, during homesteading days in Alberta, was able to raise good crops by merely scratching the surface of that rich, virgin land. No fertilizer was required, and there were few if any pests. But those days have long since passed.
I am amazed and mystified by our denominational adeptness in the field of statistics. We can provide records accurate to the last penny and the most recent baptism. I am pleased to read of the number baptized from the Voice of Prophecy, Faith for Today, colporteurs, Ingathering contacts, and MV Weeks of Prayer. I have concluded that no baptisms result from pastoral work or evangelism, for the total already far exceeds the total baptisms for the year. As I say, I am impressed with our ability to carefully count the ninety-nine safe in the fold and stunned by our apparent inability to keep any records of those outside the fold who desperately need saving.
If a vacuum cleaner salesman spent all his time counting and cataloging those to whom he had already made a sale, revisiting and socializing with them, his resources might speedily be reduced to the emptiness of a vacuum. He makes his sales, gets his references for new customers, and concentrates his major energies and record keeping in this direction. Our carelessness in keeping careful records of interests I believe is shameful.
Seldom have I come to a church where there has been kept a careful up-to-date complete record of interested persons. I find them scratched here and there on various scraps of paper, old envelopes, old letters, or assorted report blanks. Inevitably they haven't been visited. Obviously the record of the ones that have been visited has been destroyed. Mission accomplished; no more need for a record.
Standardized Interest Forms
In the Houston area we have standardized our methods of record keeping. Evangelists shouldn't need to compile a new list of interests when they arrive in a field. Not only should it already be compiled but by then much work should have been done.
I wish we could formulate a standard system of record keeping and guard it as carefully, or more carefully, than we do our membership records. Perhaps we should have a clerk of interests who sends in a quarterly report with some method to guarantee that this list is maintained. This is the life line of any soul-winning program.
It should be simple and should be used. I really believe that just this on a national basis would double our results.
How to Use Interest List in Preparation for Evangelism:
Our interest list becomes the basis for all our evangelistic endeavors.
- All interests receive our missionary journal.
- We use a regular literature mail-out program.
- They are contacted regarding the Gift Bible Plan.
- An attempt is made to enroll them in a Bible course.
- I attempt to make at least one brief visit to every interest so that I will have a personal knowledge of the situation.
- From time to time, invitations are sent to all on the list, inviting them to special programs sponsored by the church. Many come.
- Finally, when the invitations to an evangelistic campaign are sent, I usually take the time to write a note by hand to each one. Writing hundreds of such notes takes time, but I feel it is well worth the time and effort. Often at the meeting the note will be mentioned.
A certain pastor was given a city as his field. It was a beautiful city filled with precious souls. He knew that in the fall a great evangelist was coming to help him with the harvest.
Now this pastor had many pressing matters that occupied his attention, but during the time of seed sowing he planted much seed. As the weeks passed the crop was carefully cared for; water was supplied; the crop was protected from pests and disease. It grew thick and lush, and finally the time of harvest arrived. The great evangelist came; he advertised extensively, preached and prayed his heart out. Many came; many were converted. The results were thrilling, and the pastor went about praising God, rejoicing in the success of the evangelistic campaign, and declaring that the greatest days of evangelism are just ahead.