Evangelistic Conservation

THERE is the possibility that one fourth of your church members will apostatize in the next ten years if the trend of the past ten years continues. According to recent statements by a General Conference leader more than 325,000 persons have left our worldwide church in apostasy since 1958.

THERE is the possibility that one fourth of your church members will apostatize in the next ten years if the trend of the past ten years continues. According to recent statements by a General Conference leader more than 325,000 persons have left our worldwide church in apostasy since 1958.

Add to these, losses by death, youth who are never baptized, and the magnitude of the problem compounds itself. Consider the tremendous amount of effort that must be expended to recoup these losses through intensified evangelism before net gain occurs.

But, since we are called of God to save souls, the most disturbing aspect of the problem is the individual soul that has separated itself from the avenues of salvation. The challenge is not only in evangelizing for new souls but in conserving the losses from within by a strengthened pastoral ministry.

Why Apostasies Occur

Why apostasies occur cannot always be explained in clearly defined events or attitudes. Several broad categories do present themselves: (1) Doctrinal disagreements; (2) unstable personalities; (3) personality conflicts; (4) lack of pastoral contact; (5) marital (moral) problems; (6) general apathy (indifference). Let us examine these six general categories for possible common denominators.

1. Doctrinal disagreements often find root in hearts that are not fed strong diets of spiritual food. The nature of the food provided for the people by the pastor determines to a large degree their fidelity to Bible doctrine. The pastor must determine the needs of his people and seek the grace of God with the leading of the Holy Spirit to meet these needs by the word he preaches. He needs to continue doctrinal "feeding" long after the last Bible study or evangelistic sermon before baptism. The Sabbath school helps, the church-operated school helps, the midweek service helps, but it is the pastor's duty to feed person ally and build doctrinal confidence in new and old members alike.

2. Unstable personalities can be a burden upon the pastor. Christianity can bring people to maturity and develop their self-identity and ability to function as independent units. In lifting people to a higher plane of living, the Holy Spirit often speaks to unstable personalities who may respond with longing in their hearts to be totally functional persons. Great patience, love, and tenderness must be exerted as the pastor in his supportive ministry aids these souls through trial and tribulation. Only if he himself possesses a functional personality can he survive the tedious nature of the task.

3. Wherever two or more people gather together in any kind of organization, personality conflicts can arise. The legalistic pastor hews to absolutes and lets the chips fall where they may in any conflict situation. Souls can thus be alienated from one another, from the organization, and then from the message. The Christlike pastor leads parties in conflict through the difficult phases to resolution of conflict, for this is the way of love. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9).

4. Pastoral contact at regular intervals is an essential in conserving losses by apostasy. How often the evangelist, or new pas tor, visiting members in a new area will hear these words, "You are the first pastor to visit me for years." A basic human need is to feel that someone cares. In pastoral visiting many problems can be worked out before they grow to apostasy dimension.

5. Surprisingly, moral transgression presents a growing problem in the church to day. It is assumed that church members have some type of immunity to this kind of temptation. When such sins occur many pastors hasten to administer the discipline rather than the redemptive nature of the gospel. Christ never punished before He offered opportunity for repentance and restitution. "Go, and sin no more" was His credo and message. The pastoral task is to aid the sinner in obtaining victory over sin. Pastors are ever more frequently faced with marriage and divorce problems arising from moral transgressions. A disproportionate number of these problems seem to lead to or end in apostasy.

6. General apathy is a handy catchall phrase for a multitude of situations. Perhaps the most evident example of this type of loss to the church is found in our youth and their problems. Many youth born and reared as Seventh-day Adventists feel no attachment, but rather resentment, to the church. In close proximity to the church all their lives, they have never made a clear-cut decision about it. If they mature without a clear decision, they fall victim to the spiritual disease of apathy. They feel the church is unrealistic and the pastor uncomprehending of their situation. They seek to be "independently dependent" and they often become just independent. The turbulent years of adolescence and youth demand great love and understanding, with concern, by pastors. Every pastor needs to be a youth pastor, for studies show that approximately 65 percent of youth born and reared in the church leave it be fore they are twenty-one.

Successful youth pastors who realize only personal contact that accepts criticism of the church, that accepts doubts as a normal part of the maturation process and re directs them to positive channels, can prevent apathy development. Understanding, not condemnation of "radical" reactions, will build strong Christians through redirection of energies by the pastor. This takes time. However, if we are to reach our youth, we must take this kind of time and expend this kind of effort.

Apathy also affects older members. Many who felt stimulated by their initial con tact with the truth of God's message are left with their old Christian nurture. Their transfer soon becomes meaningless, and apathy sets in. This underscores our need for consistent pastoral visitation, as well as pulpit and study stimulation, on a continuing basis.

What Can We Do About It?

What common denominators are seen in these six categories contributing to apostasy?

First emerges the need for pastoral responsibility. Webster defines pastoral as "relating to the care of souls" and pastor as "a spiritual overseer." Apostasy often traces at least a part of its cause to poor or inadequate pastoral care. This does not imply a "cookbook method" of treating every person in the same way, but a creative, vital pastor-to-person approach. For successful, experienced pastors this becomes one of the great joys in the ministry.

Second is the need to promote an application of the principles of this message to daily life, to the solution of problems. Problems are solved in one of two ways: withdrawal or working through. This is seen as Christian maturity using the way of Christ to create personal and spiritual growth. Pastors can never withdraw from problems that arise and be true to their ministry. Loving service demands involvement. You may not win them all, but you must love them all! Christ did!

Third is the need to identify symptoms in an early diagnosis of apostasy. These symptoms may be as obvious as absence from Sabbath services or as subtle as casually caustic remarks toward one's spouse indicating marital conflict and possible susceptibility to moral sins.

Whatever the evident causes of apostasy, it is imperative that we be sensitive to the problems of this fourth of our member ship, exerting creative effort to prevent it. Prevention exceeds cure in rate of survival! We need to practice "creative prevention."

What is "creative prevention"? Let us use the area of marriage problems as an example and explore several creative approaches to preventing the apostasy that so often results.

THE PROBLEM: In our churches there are many who have unhappy marriages and whose problems are brought to our attention, either directly or indirectly. Many of these unhappy situations trace their origin to premature marriage, religiously mixed marriages, premarital or illicit sex experimentation, or divorce of a parent. All of these situations bring the individual into conflict with the standards taught by Christianity, often through the working of the Holy Spirit through the conscience.

THE RESULT OF THIS TYPE OF PROBLEM: Loss of sheep from the flock and often great investment of a pastor's time seeking solutions for saving the parties involved. A not inconsequential result is the misery suffered by the individual himself.


A. First must come analysis of possible causes. What are the general pastoral prime concerns with marriage in our church:

1. Officiating at marriage ceremony, often in the eyes of the persons involved as a necessary but not too important functionary.

2. Dealing with open problems of the marriage relationship.

3. Dealing with church discipline in cases of divorce and remarriage.

4. Aiding the out-of-wedlock mother and her family.

B. Then the pastor must identify possible areas of neglect in his ministry such as:

1. Lack of personal "theology of marriage," clearly understood on a Biblical foundation, including the social structure of the home, family role, and sexuality on equal level of competence with the understanding of Daniel 2 or the doctrine of the Sabbath.

2. Thinking through the true function of the wedding ceremony and rites and teaching each couple the significance and meaning of its parts.

3. Nonexistent, brief, or superficial premarital counseling and preparation.

4. Education of youth for marriage through church ministry at all stages of development.

5. Preventive aid for those already married.

6. Development of sensitive "early warning or detection" abilities, as in cancer control, to increase cure rate of marital discord.

These lists are not meant to be inclusive, but rather to stimulate your analysis of our example area. From this now can emerge ideas for "creative prevention" such as:

1. The minister expending increased study effort to establish a better working base for himself.

2. Attempting to place self in youth's position to understand his thoughts and conflicts. Using this insight to be a "friend." Youth seem surprised that their pastor is interested or capable of really knowing what he faces in this "modern generation."

3. Family-life group discussions perhaps using Facing Life textbook as a guide for youth not in academy. 4. Films, with discussions to follow pastor in background always in pastor's home, perhaps, as an informal setting.

5. Premarital retreats for engaged couples two or more with pastor, wife, and resource couple as avail able; away from everyday setting, if possible.

6. Use of aids such as books, outlines, etc., provided by pastor for youth self-study to ease pastor's direct load.

7. Seek out referral services in community whose programs harmonize with our teachings doctors, teachers in our congregations, counselors, etc.

8. Visitation to "know" members better, at work, at home; "sensitivity" to problems; subtle offers of help availability when needed.

9. Pulpit or prayer meeting studies on the home, using guides now avail able. A youth-oriented class on social development might well be a separate section of the midweek service led by pastor while an elder leads the adults in study.

10. Careful avoidance of merely negative injunctions and a stress on positive values derived from Biblical sources to enhance daily living. Add your own ideas and you begin to understand what creative prevention is and how it can conserve souls and reduce apostasy loss.

The field of creative prevention is wide open. Let us take the time to develop our potential in its use. That one fourth of the membership may leave our church unless we do! We must develop the key factor to conserving members relationship. This takes concerted effort, but it is worth it as we guide weak souls toward strengthened living and the kingdom of God. 'This is our task! This is "evangelistic conservation" at work.

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August 1970

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