GORDON is a hyperactive business man in his early forties. He spends the winter in Weiser, Idaho. Summertime finds him with his family and crew contracting for the Forest Service in eastern Oregon. His enthusiasm and love for Christ add sparkle to his eyes and spread from his grin like a contageous disease.
Active as a local church leader and lay preacher, Gordon finds that his love for mankind, God, and his church motivate his life. "If we sold our love for this mes sage like they sell some of the worldly goods, we'd have it made," he challenges. In February he had a chance to test that theory.
Long Creek, Oregon, is a town of two hundred, surrounded by wide-open spaces, cattle ranches, and timber. There's a cafe-tavern, a general store, three gas stations, and two churches. There is no public transportation in or out except the "stage" (a pickup truck) that hauls freight from Pendleton (ninety miles north) to John Day (forty miles south).
One church is a community church, the other an Adventist one, which celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary last year. Third generation Adventists are farming the land and the Sabbath school is attended by the great-grandchildren of those who first met here. The thirty-member church is well known in Long Creek. A stiff tryout for a layman's enthusiasm.
But with the pastor and his wife helping with the music, Gordon and his wife, Donna, held a full-scale evangelistic campaign. The community responded to their efforts by coming a dozen a night to join the Seventh-day Adventists to listen. "We're just common folk, like you," he'd say, "but we want to tell you how we feel about the Lord." Four have been baptized, and by the time this article is published more will have followed.
The meetings were preceded by a public musical program. The enthusiasm with which the town welcomed the pro gram produced similar results in the church. Those who had been hesitant about public meetings ("It's been " tried before") realized people would come.
Members Gave Strong Support
As the meetings progressed, the members gave exceptionally strong support. Gordon explains, "I've been through evangelistic meetings where the evangelists had everything worked out so well that the people felt they could sit back and let the preachers do it. These folks realized we weren't professionals and they felt a responsibility--and a sympathy-- to be sure it was a success. They didn't want me to get discouraged."
In addition to the baptisms and the involvement of the church, the MISSION '72 meetings had an effect on Gordon. Through all the planning he was confident. One friend remarked to Gordon that if he had to have evangelistic meetings it would scare him to death! "You can't think about that," Gordon answered. "The desire to do it is all that matters. "
But as the day got closer he realized that there was more involved than he had at first recognized. When the meetings began his concern was justified. He felt he was out of his realm as he began to struggle with presenting the message to those who came. "The publication of the sermons [the sermons provided by the Ministerial Association of the General Conference] is the greatest thing that ever happened," resounds one of his frequent superlatives. They gave some direction, but he still felt lost in a trackless sea. "I realized I was not good enough, and was forced to plead with God for help."
The first week was miserable, but then he began to relax and enjoy himself. "The strain was terrible. I didn't realize being a preacher was such hard work!" he exclaims. He decided that next time he'd plan to have another layman with him, as he feels that living and working with someone else would help ease the tension.
In the future, what would Gordon Avery want to do differently? And, specifically, what would he like the minister to do before and during his meetings?
"I'd have a revival in the church the week before the meetings start. Prior to that I'd have a secular musical program, for the community and follow that with a gospel program to begin the series. I'd want to close down my business entirely, if possible, so I'd have no distractions."
There are several things the minister should consider in selecting laymen for this work, he reminds us. First, the lay men should go to a community and church in which they feel comfortable. He wanted an out-of-the-way place be cause he felt more at home there. And he wanted to be in a group who wouldn't be self-conscious for him, because of his presentation or his language.
Second, the layman must be well balanced in his thinking. "If he is off on a fad or harps on one viewpoint, you'd be in for a lot of trouble," Gordon asserts.
The minister could help also in getting the church and community prepared by his own enthusiasm, first of all. "For," says Gordon, "if he isn't enthusiastic, the people won't be."
Also, he could help the layman outline what is to happen prior to the meetings. Then both will know when each step of preparation is to take place.
The pastor should activate the church for visitation programs and instruct them in how to properly invite their friends to attend the meetings. All of this will allow the layman to concentrate on the meetings themselves.
As for the pastor's relationship to the meetings proper, great care and tact is imperative. "The minister will have to feel out his layman to know what to do and what not to do. Some may respond favorably if all is taken care of but the sermon and they are asked to preach only. But I think any layman who would be willing to try to hold meetings would have some ideas about what he'd like to do. We must remember that the pastor and layman are two individuals and they do things in two different ways. It may present problems if the minister asks a layman to hold meetings, then organizes everything himself," Gordon says. "Every minister is pretty well organized. If he isn't he's not a very good pastor. When he goes out to work with a layman he's got to be careful or soon he has organized his program instead of the layman's program and the layman is discouraged.
"The layman will want to feel that the pastor will accept him and his efforts and not look down on him if he doesn't do it right because of his lack of education or experience. If he can't organize his program, he'll soon realize it," he added.
He sees the function of the pastor as one of a theological advisor and personally desires particular help and cooperation with visitation and decisions.
Gordon Avery did not have that kind of encouragement from start to finish. The idea of meetings was his idea and he asked the conference president and church pastor if he could try. Now he says, "Elder Bieber grabbed the idea and said, 'Go ahead, we're counting on you.' If he hadn't pushed us, we may not have done it." [The conference provided a regular evangelistic series budget. The Averys took care of their own personal expenses. ]
Would he do it again? "If I were wealthy enough, I'd like to try it in lots of places. But I do hope to have meetings at least once, maybe twice a year."
He hopes his experience will get others enthused, because, as he puts it, "If we get our laymen fired up, nothing can stop us."