FOR SOME time now it has been the deep concern of not a few of us as to how we can reach the large cities with our message and be able to study with the many people who should be hearing this message of truth. How can we adequately follow up the interest when we have such a few workers to handle the mushrooming interest in these giant megalopolises?
Two problems face us in accomplishing this task. First, we do not have enough of our people who live in the city, and this is as it should be. Most of our people have moved out to the suburbs. The only work that is being carried on in the inner city is by our black brethren who find themselves and their people still very much in this area of the crime-infested cities. Many of these brethren will move out into more peaceful surroundings. Most of our members who belong to the white churches in both Chicago and Detroit live in the suburbs, and after working all day in the city they are not eager to venture back into the city at night to work for the unsaved.
The second reason why we have a problem reaching those who live in the heart of our large cities is that our ministers have become so involved with ad ministration of the local churches that they have little time for, or interest in, other areas of the conference. Some of our ministers would like to help, but they do not see how they can take the time to make a special effort to reach the lost. Yet we have been told by Ellen White that the minister is to move on and raise up new churches in dark areas after the establishment of the church he is in (see Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 18-21). We see little or no effort to follow this instruction. We need to get these men involved and let laymen begin to grow as they run the churches and use their talent to reach others with the message of salvation.
A Way to Reach Those in Large Cities
In the last few weeks we have been experimenting with a follow-up in Chicago for the STEPS PROJECT that has been initiated and funded mostly by laymen. They have already mailed more than one million packets in the Chicago area and more than 8,500 people have asked for literature and/or Bible studies. Of the 35 who attended the first class, only two were Adventists. Only one had attended an Adventist meeting before. We conduct classes three times a day at the same location and teach the same lesson at all three sessions at 10:00 A.M., 1:30 P.M., and 7:00 P.M. This gives the people the option of choosing the time that best suits their schedule. A Bible and lesson is given to each per son, with instructions to study the lesson and fill in the answers and bring it to the next class. At the next class we study the lesson, question by question, answering, and discussing their questions, adding material that we think will help them understand the subject better. When they become more familiar with the Bible we study two lessons each week. This is a very easy way to study with 35-40 people each week in one lo cation. What pastor could give that many studies by working hard all week long? To have the people come to him is a wonderful way to conserve the pastor's time, as well as his driving. More than 300 non-Adventists have currently enrolled in the 13 classes now operating in the heart of Chicago.
The only real problem with this project is finding suitable places to hold the classes. Halls or rooms have to be found that are large and nice enough for the people to be willing to attend.
Putting Laymen to Work
Adlai Esteb once asked the following question in a poem:
What would it mean in this crisis hour If all were filled with the Spirit's power?
The church like an army would shine as the sun
And Christ would return, for the work would be done!
That's what it would mean!
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain is one of the most cherished promises of the Scriptures. The Spirit is the source of power for Christian living and witness. Christians who are filled with the Spirit should be able to accomplish the objectives God has for the church, and to respond to the commission to take the gospel to every person on the globe. How can church members find that experience?
Ellen White writes, "When we have entire, wholehearted consecration to the service of Christ, God will recognize the fact by an outpouring of His Spirit without measure; but this will not be while the largest portion of the church are not laborers together with God." —Christian Service, p. 253.
How many church members are presently "laborers together with God"? There is no way to know for sure, but it seems evident that the largest portion are not so involved. In far too many churches the attitude of both the pastors and the lay people has been that the work of evangelism and church administration is the sole responsibility of the pastor; the members are there to give him an audience and to finance the church structure. The pastor's time is crowded with responsibilities and the church's program is complex; hence, even a hard-working minister can do only a fraction of the church's potential work. Though he exerts himself to the utmost, the church's effect on the community around it may be slight. The untouched portion of the community may in some cases increase faster in size than the church.
What if church members could find the motivation, time, and talent to help the pastor? In every church, of course, there are some members who staff the Sabbath school and carry out other church campaigns. Almost everyone who becomes involved in the church's program finds that the church means more to him as a result. Not only does a person who is active in the church have the satisfaction of seeing a part of him self in its work, but he may also learn more about his capacities and potentials, become aware of a need for more strength and wisdom, and thus study the Bible more diligently and pray more earnestly. In doing so he grows spiritually.
It seems to me that most church members are concerned about being active, but they see no way to make a significant contribution of their time. The pastor too often has not provided opportunity for church members to get involved. Everything important or crucial depends on him; he runs the show. Ellen White says, "Those who have the spiritual oversight of the church should devise ways and means by which an opportunity may be given to every member of the church to act some part in God's work. Too often in the past this has not been done. Plans have not been clearly laid and fully carried out whereby the talents of all might be employed in active service. There are but few who realize how much has been lost because of this." —Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 116. (Italics supplied.)
A recent survey in the Lake Union Conference revealed that there were more than 200 separate projects and programs that the pastors were sup posed to promote. As a result of their unsuccessful attempt to deal with so many things, many pastors become frustrated and discouraged. Yet they may not realize that some of this load could be carried by church members.
Note this observation from the pen of Ellen White: "Ministers should not do the work which belongs to the church, thus wearying themselves, and preventing others from performing their duty. They should teach the members how to labor in the church and in the community." —Historical Sketches, p. 291.
Need for Careful Organization and Planning
If the responsibility for the church's maintenance is to be entrusted to so many different hands, there is a great need for sound organization and careful planning. Of course, this takes time and effort. Some pastors may feel them selves too busy to do so; but the urgent counsel comes to them:
"There should be a well-organized plan for the employment of workers to go into all our churches, large and small, to instruct the members how to labor for the upbuilding of the church and also for unbelievers."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 117.
The burden of laying these plans and drawing up the organization chart can often be shared with some of the church members. Sometimes the local pastor can get help from leaders in his local or union conference. In the Lake Union Conference, the departmental secretaries are being organized to give this kind of help. The stewardship secretaries are training local church leaders to handle the financial matters and fund raising. The youth department secretaries assist in the forming and staffing of local youth organizations such as the Pathfinders. The educational directors help train chairmen for local church school boards. The lay activities leaders help church members organize and implement annual church promotional campaigns, such as the Ingathering effort, and Community Services centers. Communication secretaries conduct workshops at which church members may learn the methods of effective public relations and publicity for their church. Other services are available to aid the local church members find the training and inspiration to do some of the many tasks needed to keep a local church operating harmoniously. A local church so organized will meet the various objectives of the gospel commission without overemphasizing some and neglecting others.
Those who enter the pastoral ministry are called to do a spiritual kind of work for the Lord—preaching, teaching, counseling, helping people understand the claims of God on their lives, and pointing them to the joy of salvation in Christ. With their special training in college and Seminary and their subsequent growth through practice and experience, they should be equipped to exert a strong spiritual influence on their community. When they are burdened with local church administrative details, this influence may be diminished. If the local church members can come to view themselves as integral parts of the church and participate in its material and devotional functions, the pastor's time can be freed for more of this essential work. In this way church members may participate doubly in the outreach of the church—they can extend the pastor's time for his work, and they can bear their own witness to people they associate with.
When the majority in a congregation catch the vision of this total involvement of the church in its effort to reach the community and the world with the knowledge of Christ's saving power, that congregation will indeed be alive in the Spirit. Ellen White writes: "Those only who are constantly receiving fresh supplies of grace, will have power proportionate to their daily need and their ability to use that power. Instead of looking forward to some future time when, through a special endowment of spiritual power, they will receive a miraculous fitting up for soul winning, they are yielding themselves daily to God, that He may make them vessels meet for His use. . . . Daily they are witnessing for their Master wherever they may be, whether in some humble sphere of labor in the home, or in a public field of usefulness." —The Acts of the Apostles, p. 55.
If God's people are not filled with the Spirit's power now, it is not because He is reluctant to give it to them. He will send it as soon as they ask for it, in order to make them more effective soul winners (ibid., p. 37). Someday the work will be finished to the Lord's satisfaction and He will return. Attractive as the Promised Land may look to us now, we must not spend our time daydreaming about that future and weeping that we haven't entered it sooner. "Our part is not to sit still and weep and wring our hands, but to arise and work for time and for eternity." —Christian Service, p. 83.