IT IS almost an awesome phenomenon the way the movement of the Spirit of God in our public meetings is dependent upon the spiritual condition of our church members. Our campaigns are either fruitful or mediocre in a church, usually in direct proportion to the zeal, interest, and dedication of the church members.
When an evangelist goes to a city to conduct a series of meetings and meets a sophisticated business-as-usual attitude on the part of the members, he can pretty well predict the pattern the meetings will follow. Of course, many of the members will not attend. Some nonmembers will attend. The nonmembers will be thrilled with what they hear, and will be convinced of the truth, but few of them will take their stand. They will come face to face with a decision, but their hearts will not break. In their spiritual blindness they will consider the cost of giving up tobacco, facing opposition of loved ones, or losing a job as really too big a price to pay for what is offered. The evangelist will visit with them and will pray with them, but he cannot force them. Eventually he is compelled to go on and leave them outside the church.
The above picture is not one hundred per cent true because we evangelists always win some. Conversely we always lose some, even when the spiritual life of the church is high. But the difference lies in the fact that we lose a larger number of these good interests when the church is asleep. We are thrilled with success in our soul-winning efforts when the church is alive and vibrant. The Spirit of Prophecy states this principle in clear words:
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. Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 371.
What Can Be
When we go to church where the members are enthusiastic and eager for the meetings, where they have loved ones and friends that weigh heavily on their hearts and they are anxious for us to visit them, where they join with us in fervent prayer for these loved ones, it is amazing the difference we feel in the public meetings. There is a freedom and power in the preaching that is unmistakable. The audience is alive and responsive. Even the visitation in the homes is different. People come under conviction more often when we visit. Some, we find, are laboring under conviction before we even get to them and before they attend the meetings. There is a wonderful power that envelops an entire city where our members are bubbling and enthusiastic and burdened.
Somehow God seems to have geared His work to the members of His church. Ellen White expressed it thus:
The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers. Ibid., vol. 9, p. 117.
In proportion to the enthusiasm and perseverance with which the work is carried forward will be the success given. Prophets and Kings, p. 263.
When divine power is combined with human effort, the work will spread like fire in the stubble. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 118.
I Didn't Want to Go
I have just completed a series of meetings in Georgia in the Macon-Warner the sixth, making a total of seven campaigns there in less than three years. I had no doubt but that any interests found there would be worked-over interests, made up of folks who had been visited and re visited in previous campaigns and who had gone through countless calls for surrender and who had learned well how to resist. However, I am glad to confess I had a wonderful surprise awaiting me.
Since our first campaign three years be fore, the Macon church had swarmed and organized a new church of forty members in the adjoining city of Warner Robins. A number of members in both of these churches dentists, housewives, and day laborers find a satisfying recreation from their normal routine by conducting Bible studies or cottage meetings. They have a wide-awake pastor who has a vision and burden for soul winning. Every Thursday night he meets with his members at the church at about five-thirty for supper. They come directly to the church from their place of work or from their home. After supper (usually soup of some kind) they have a devotional and prayer service, and then branch out over the city for visitation.
A Happy Surprise
When our group arrived in town to con duct the series, instead of finding a lot of worked-over interests and rejects from previous meetings, we had a wonderful group of brand-new interests handed us to visit. These interests had already been studied with by our members and had been visited by the pastor. They already believed the message. They needed only the impetus and inspiration of the meetings to bring them over the line. This was the most successful series of all the previous ones in that area. Twenty-five were baptized at the close of the three weeks, most of them adults. By the time this is read the total will be well over thirty.
I don't think this is an out-of-the-ordinary experience. A similar story with even better statistics could be told in almost any city where the minister and members throw themselves into the task of soul winning with the same zeal and determination as they do for instance in disaster relief when a tornado hits an area. Or even the way they join forces to go over their Ingathering goal.
When soul winning becomes the goal, the burden, and even the obsession of our church program, we will see the Spirit of God move in our midst with power. We might possibly bring more quickly the day of persecution, but we will certainly hasten the day of Jesus' coming.
It was through personal conversation and personal contact that the gospel had its beginning. Jesus used this method and He taught His disciples to use it. It is interesting to read in Luke 10 how amazed and delighted the disciples were with their success.
The Scripture states that "daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42).
This was the way the gospel had its be ginning and at the risk of expressing a truism, I believe it is evident that this is the way it is going to close. But even as public evangelism continues, its success is dependent upon the amount of personal work that is done in the homes. And where do we find the personnel for this prodigious job except in the capable hands of our laity? God's work is tied to them, and His work moves forward or lags in the earth in exact ratio to their spiritual life and labor.