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The Life and Work of J. L. Shuler

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Archives / 1972 / October



The Life and Work of J. L. Shuler

Daniel R. Guild
-Manager of the Voice of Prophecy at the time this article was written


No doubt, Pastor Shuler, you have been interviewed numerous times. We appreciate your willingness to share your wisdom with us.

In all that is-said here may it be "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory" (Ps. 115:1). In the pulpit it should be "not I, but Christ." It should be as Paul said, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5).

Unfortunately, some ministers use the pronoun I altogether too much in their preaching. If the minister's wife is attractive and his family is beautiful to behold, then let others say it instead of the minister. It is not wise for any minister to refer frequently in his preaching to the many lands he has visited or to his educational attainments or to what he has done. His commission is "Preach the word."

However, every minister and layman should tell what God has done for his soul. The psalmist said, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul" (Ps. 66:16). His true personal testimony for the new birth and the victorious life is effective for helping others.

How long have you been preaching?

Sixty-seven years as of May, 1972.

This sounds like a record in the Advent Movement. Will you explain this service further?

I was ordained as church elder in 1905 at Farmington, Illinois, when I was 18 years of age. I began to preach at the Sabbath morning services and conducted evangelistic services on Sunday nights for the general public.

Recently I celebrated my eighty-fifth birthday when I was conducting a series of nine decision sermons at the Paradise Valley church, National City, California. So you see I've been preaching for sixty-seven years.

I actually began preaching when I was 17. My first sermons were presented in the coal mine where I worked. It was a four-foot vein of coal about 150 feet under the surface. We went down by a cage in a shaft 150 feet deep; then we walked some two miles under the earth to the places where we mined the coal by hand.

The miners stopped at noon to eat their dinner, which they carried in lunch pails. Sometimes I ate my dinner a little before noon. Then on bended knee with an empty powder keg for a pulpit I preached to a group of miners as they ate their lunch.

How did you become a conference minister?

I never had any training from any person on what to preach or how to preach. I spent an entire week studying each doctrinal subject. Then I organized my findings into what seemed the best form for presentation at our church on Sunday nights.

How did you become employed by the conference?

The conference president learned what I was doing at our church. He invited me to conduct a tent meeting in a town during the summer. I sent word that I wasn't qualified for such work, and I refused to go.

He invited me again the next summer. I responded. So it was that on August 31, 1909, I received a license to preach for the Southern Illinois Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

How was the pay in those days?

I had been working in the coal mine for around twelve hours a week. I averaged $ I an hour. When I began to preach for the conference, the committee set my wages at $5 a week.

This wage was a comedown, from $1 an hour to $5 a week! But I was happy about it. This was far better than what the pioneer Adventist ministers received.

How did you get along on so little?

This would require too long an answer. But God intervened in my behalf. He helped me.

The conference president wrote me that my salary was set at $5 per week. Then I asked him to take out one tenth of my salary as the Lord's tithe and place it in the treasury and send me a check for the nine tenths. Thus I would not be tempted to use some of the tithe for my own needs. I bear witness that God has fulfilled Malachi 3:10 for me.

When were you ordained to the ministry?

In August, 1912, at a camp meeting held in Sweet-water, Tennessee.

What led you to transfer from Illinois to Tennessee?

I was deeply moved by what Ellen G. White said about the need for workers in the South.

How long did you remain in the South?

For twenty-eight years without a break---from 1911 to 1939, when I responded to a call to connect with the Theological Seminary at Washington, D.C.

In what different capacities did you serve the work in the South?

First as an evangelist in Tennessee and Florida. Then as president of four different conferences: South Carolina, Cumberland, Florida, and the combined Carolinas. Also I worked eight years as union evangelist.

How long did you serve as General Conference evangelist and instructor in evangelism at the Seminary before you voluntarily resigned?

For thirteen years.

What impact did this experience have on your career?

The time I was connected with the Seminary marked the greatest development in my career. It led me to develop three courses for my teaching at the Seminary: a two-hour graduate credit course in evangelistic methods, a one-hour course in pastoral evangelism, and a two-hour course in securing decisions.

The teaching of these subjects to the ministers inspired me to dig deep in these areas. My association with the talented professors on the Seminary staff had a profound effect on my life for continual improvement.

The large city campaigns of six months' duration that I conducted yearly while connected with the Seminary gave me a good opportunity to broaden and improve my methods. It was also an opportunity to place an evangelistic mold on the lives of hundreds of ministers who were members of the team in these large campaigns.

This was the most significant time in my career. While I was helping hundreds of others I was being helped myself most of all, because I continually revised and improved my methods, sermons, and techniques.

Including your classes at the Seminary, Extension Schools, field schools, seminars, and ministerial institutes, how many ministers have sat under your instruction?

No exact figures can be cited. How ever, the total is about three thousand. Some of them are well known today. Among these former students are men such as yourself; Neal Wilson, vice-president of the General Conference for North America; Kenneth Wood, editor of the Review and Herald; William Fagal, director of Faith for Today; George Vandeman, director of It Is Written; Fordyce Detamore, well-known evangelist; E. C. Banks, director of field schools for Andrews University; J. F. Coltheart, Ministerial secretary for the Northern European-West Africa Division; W. T. Clark, secretary of the Far Eastern Division; A. E. Cook, Ministerial secretary of the Trans-Africa Division; Orley Berg, managing editor of The Ministry. I could go on naming others who are well known, but time will not permit.

I have given the largest part of my life to helping young ministers. This work has brought great joy to my soul.

I have abundant reasons to praise God for the privilege of touching such a large number of lives among non-Adventists, Adventists, and ministers.

What successful firsts has the Lord helped you to introduce into Seventh-day Adventist evangelism?

1. Reducing a public evangelistic campaign into step-by-step procedures. No one had attempted to do this until it was outlined in my Seminary course in evangelistic methods.

2. This plan was incorporated in my book Public Evangelism, published in 1939. This was the first published how-to book for public evangelism.

3. The field-school plan of evangelism, which now is an effective worldwide plan. It is currently an out reach of Andrews University. This plan had its origin in 1937, when I conducted the first field school in conjunction with a tabernacle campaign in Greensboro, North Carolina. (See page 47 of The Ministry magazine, February, 1972.)

4. The Bible correspondence course plan. In the first field school we introduced the first printed Bible course for teaching the truth. It was called the Home Bible Course. It was this course that led to the worldwide use of the Bible correspondence course plan, which has won thousands all over the world.

What impact have you had on the evangelism of the church?

This is for others to say. These firsts speak for themselves. I frequently receive unsolicited statement's as to how others evaluate my contribution in evangelism. On January 17, 1972, Elder J. W. Osborn, Ministerial secretary for the Pacific Union, said in a letter: "If I were to name the one evangelist in the denomination whom I feel to have made the greatest contribution toward training other evangelists I would have to say, It is John L. Shuler."

Elder W. A. Fagal in a letter to me stated:

I never can see your name or hear about you without feeling gratitude in my heart for all that you did for me back in the early days of my ministry. My experience at the Seminary was most rewarding. I went there specifically to study with you so as to be able to do a better job in evangelism. You did not disappoint me in any way. I will always feel a great deal of love and appreciation in my heart for you and what you have meant to me through the years. May God bless and guide you always in your service for Him.

What are some of the greatest sights you have seen in the course of your evangelistic work?

We had a campaign in the Masonic Temple in Detroit. On the thirteenth Sunday night I presented a lecture on the mark of the beast. At the close I invited all the non-Adventists who were determined from henceforth to keep Saturday as the Sabbath of Christ to come forward. Without any hesitation on their part or pleading on my part, 250 non-Adventists came forward. Three of this number, I believe, became Adventist ministers.

In Oakland, California, in the fifth week of our meetings eighty-nine non-Adventists (all of them adults and young people) came forward on a call to keep the true Sabbath henceforth. As the meetings continued, this number of decisions almost doubled.

What are the major differences between today's evangelistic procedures and those of the past?

The evangelistic campaigns of two decades or more ago gave the interested people a broader and better concept of what we call the truth. Why? Because we conducted five meetings a week for three or four months.

This time gave us the opportunity to present sixty or seventy Biblical expositions on the various phases of God's message. Now men are at tempting to present the truth in twenty-two or twenty-five meetings. This short campaign does fit better into the tempo of these speeded-up times, but it cannot equal the thoroughness of the long campaigns.

In the long campaigns of yesteryear we did not hurry converts into baptism, as is done in some instances today. I don't believe this speed is for the real good of our cause. It is better to build more slowly but solidly. The sturdy things in nature are not the product of quick growth. The story of Gideon's victory tells us that quality is more desirable than quantity.

In these campaigns of former days we held many aftermeetings. Now the rush of an every-night three-week campaign has crowded out the aftermeetings. This is a distinct loss in many respects.

I wish more of our men would fol low the plan of four meetings a week over a six- or eight-week period. The results would be better. The quality of the work done would be improved. The converts would stay by better afterward.

I think the Word of God was given a larger place yesteryear than it is given today. Music, illustrative de vices, and screen pictures are helpful, but the trend is to make these factors too prominent, with decreasing prominence of the Word of God.

How do you think our public evangelism could be made more effective?

It would take a three hundred-page book to give rounded-out answers to this question. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Cut down on two-hour night meetings. Plan to begin the song service at 7:30 and close the sermon at 8:35 or 8:40. Then on appropriate nights have a series of twenty-minute aftermeetings with the interested people.

2. Study to preach the Word so forcefully that it will arouse and hold the interest. Depend less on gadgets for holding the interest.

3. Do more to lead the interested ones into an experience of genuine conversion in the first few meetings before the Sabbath truth is introduced. No one can keep the Sabbath until he is converted. Our mission is not to make Saturday-keepers but Christian Sabbath-keepers. All the correct doctrines in the head will never save a soul unless he is born again.

4. The baptismal class is needed. But going through such a class does not necessarily mean that a person is ready for baptism. Beyond the baptismal class there should be a careful, extended personal examination using the Guiding Principles card. (See insert in June, 1972, Ministry.)

5. More ought to be done to help people see that Seventh-day Adventists are not simply one more denomination but the God-ordained movement of Revelation 14:6-12 for our day, and that being an Adventist is a separate, sanctified way of life affecting a person's eating, drinking, dressing, talking, reading, music, tithing, giving, living, going, and so on.

6. About eight different decision methods should be employed as the meetings move forward. Then the decisions will be secured without having to depend so much on two or three long, drawn-out altar calls near the end of the series.

Where can the worker learn about these eight decision methods?

They are presented briefly in the J. L. Shuler Lectureship on Methodology in Evangelism published by Southern Union Ministerial Association. I don't know whether any copies are still available.

How do you think the preaching of the doctrines may be improved?

In the final analysis people will believe and do only what they want to believe and do. We need to em ploy in the preaching more factors for creating desire. Proceed on the basis of leading them to want to do what they ought to do instead of merely urging them to do what they ought to do, as is generally done in preaching today.

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