I am seriously thinking of leaving the ministry. I am a failure."
I turned off my electric razor and looked in utter disbelief at the pastor who had come to my motel room this rainy Monday morning. He wasn't looking at me; he was staring at the floor. Then he continued: "For the past two years I have been working with many of the finest people in this city. There is a genuine interest here in our message. I bring them along, step by step, until I am positive they will accept baptism and join the church, then for some reason they hold back. They believe the Sabbath, the soon coming of Jesus, tithing, state of the dead—everything. But to this time not one of them has put a foot in the baptismal font. I'm sure it must be me. I must be a failure."
This was no Monday morning type of dejection. This was genuine, based on a discouragement that had been growing for some time.
"Why don't you look at the tithe records of your members?" I suggested.
There was genuine surprise on his face as he asked, "Why?"
"I just thought it might prove interesting," I replied.
He left. I didn't see him until the following morning, when he knocked, entered, seated himself, and once more studied the floor. Finally he looked up and slowly shaking his head began, "I still can't believe it! Sixty-five per cent of my members have not placed their names on a tithe envelope for the past two years! Sixty-five per cent!"
"Could this be the reason for your failure in bringing these 'influential' folk into the church?" I asked him. "Do you remember the quotation which says:
"The Lord does not now work to bring many souls into the truth, because of the church members who have never been converted and those who were once converted but who have backslidden. What influence would these unconverted members have on new converts?—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 371."
No one can question the fact that few, if any, of our churches here in America are experiencing the growth that should be expected in these critical closing hours just preceding the second coming of our Lord. Too often if the additions from baptisms and transfers exceed the losses from apostasy and transfers, we appear to be satisfied. But the day has come when it is suicidal to be satisfied. Amos cried out, "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion" (Amos 6:1).
God's great clock is nearly ready to strike the hour, and our task is not finished. Paul sounded the keynote in his letter to the Romans, "Besides this you know what [a critical] hour this is, how it is high time now for you to wake up out of your sleep—rouse to reality" (chap. 13:11, Amplified).* Indeed, the very urgency of the time demands greater vigor, deeper study of the blueprint, more earnest and fervent prayer, "for the night cometh, when no man can work."
The church cannot expect to receive an influx of new converts until she is prepared to receive them. God can't take an honest soul, seeking for truth, and subject him to an association with dishonest professors.
What is our true condition?
Selfishness, the sin of the world, has become the prevailing sin of the church.—Ibid., vol. 5, p. 204.
Covetousness, selfishness, love of money, and the love of the world, are all through the ranks of Sabbathkeepers.—Ibid., vol. 1, p. 140.
Is it possible that we are hiding our heads, as it were, from the alarming statistics that show widespread unfaithfulness in tithing and the lowest mission giving, per tithe dollar, in our history? If this is so, then we are practicing the most primitive form of self-deception. For no matter how many approaches or procedures we may devise to promote a greater evangelistic thrust, none of these will ever prove effective until we remove the greatest hindrance to success, which is selfishness.
Note carefully how effective a roadblock is selfishness to evangelism.
1. Selfishness in the church prevents the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. "God cannot pour out His Spirit when selfishness and self-indulgence are so manifest."—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 52.
The church is powerless without the efficacy of the Spirit of God. This gift is absolutely essential to soul winning. It gives results to efforts and appeals. It opens hearts and minds to receive the rays of light. It convinces the soul of the need for Christ. It qualifies the laborers by its unction.
Learning, talent, eloquence, every natural or acquired endowment, may be possessed; but, without the presence of the Spirit of God, no heart will be touched, no sinner won to Christ.—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 21. (Italics supplied.)
No amount of education, no advantages, however great, can make one a channel of light without the cooperation of the Spirit of God.—The Desire of Ages, p. 672.
Thus it can be readily seen that anything that is preventing the outpouring of God's Spirit must be removed before successful soul winning can be accomplished.
Church Support—Not Government Aid
2. Selfishness is robbing God's cause of the means it desperately needs to carry on and complete its task.
The work of God, which should be going forward with tenfold its present strength and efficiency, is kept back, like a spring season held back by the chilling blasts of winter, because some of God's professed people are appropriating to themselves the means that should be dedicated to His service.—Counsels on Stewardship, p. 54.
There are ample means in the hands of professing Christians to carry on the work without any embarrassment in any department. But selfishness lies across the road like a great fallen tree. Today the work of God needs church support, not government aid!
3. Selfishness is preventing God's people from developing the characters they must have if they are to stand faithful to the end of this present world and inherit the world to come. No man can enter heaven who has the least thread of selfishness woven into his character. God gave man the great plan of benevolence and systematic stewardship in order for him to develop a character like that of his Creator—completely unselfish. Selfishness is preventing the people of God from the development of this character. "While physical disease prostrates the body, the disease of selfishness and covetousness blasts the soul."—Selected Messages, book 2, p. 186.
4. Selfishness and love of the world are faith destroyers. The accumulation and retention of material wealth tend to replace faith in God with faith in possessions. It is far easier to trust a god that can be seen than God who is unseen. Materialism is eating out the vitals of a Christian experience in the lives of many who profess to be looking for their Lord's soon return. It is impossible to be preparing for another world while at the same time becoming engrossed with the present one. One can't develop an unselfish character while living for self.
"Return Unto Me"
God's last message to the church prior to the first appearing of His Son was, "Return unto me and I will return unto you" (Mal. 3:7). This is His message to the church living just prior to the Second Coming. But like Israel of old, some may ask, "Wherein shall we return?" The answer is the same, "Will a man rob God?"
Then God repeats His offer to covenant with those who "return." The great promise of material and spiritual blessings is the reward of anyone who will choose to become a faithful steward. And what will this "return" do for the soul-winning program of the church?
Suppose Christ should abide in every heart and selfishness in all its forms should be banished from the church, what would be the result? Harmony, unity, and brotherly love would be seen as verily as in the church which Christ first established.—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 206. (Italics supplied.)
When selfishness is banished, then God's Spirit can be poured out. The church filled with harmony, unity, and brotherly love will then present the true picture of Christianity to the world. Multitudes will then join the ranks of the believers and the great plan of redemption will find its fulfillment. Christ's followers, those who have "made a covenant with" Him "by sacrifice"; those who have developed characters like His—completely unselfish—will be able to look with confidence to the heavens for their deliverance, for He will come quickly.
The fields are white unto the harvest. Only selfishness, the roadblock to evangelism, stands in the way.