Seeds in the air

James David Chase and Jere Wallack take a second look at local radio evangelism, examining some of the reasons pastors are not on the air.

James David Chase is assistant professor of broadcast evangelism at Andrews University.
Jere Wallack is director of the communication and religious liberty departments for the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

 

What would you discover if you asked three hundred pastors if they had ever conducted a local radio program? We wanted to find out. We also wanted to discover why some pastors go on the air—and why some don't. So we sent a questionnaire to every pastor in the Lake Union Conference.

The results were startling. More than half of the pastors said they'd been the speaker for (or assisted in the production of) a local radio-broadcast sometime in their ministry. Yet only 7 percent said they were currently on the air.

Why? They gave three reasons: (1) the financial expense involved, (2) "too time-consuming," and (3) "lack of broadcast training."

Yet most of those who had been on the air indicated satisfaction with the results. Almost three fourths rated their previous local radio-broadcast experience as "successful." About 20 percent rated it "frustrating," and only about 5 percent rated it "unsuccessful" or otherwise.

Let's look at the three main reasons why most pastors are not currently on the air.

Is it worth the cost?

Right now, many religious groups are broadcasting their programs and not paying one cent for air time. And you could be doing it too.

How do they do it? Their programs are played as a public service. That's right. Radio stations are required by the FCC to broadcast a certain amount of public service material. Often this is done in the form of one minute or thirty-second radio spots. Let me give you an example. One of the laymen in the Danville, Illinois, church is heard eleven times a day on three local radio stations—free!

Now dream a minute. What would happen if you got on the air every day in prime time for sixty seconds at no charge? Or even suppose you paid for the time. Typically, your cost would be about one penny or less per person reached. Is that good stewardship? Often three-week evangelistic meetings consume thousands of dollars. For much less you could be on the air in prime time every day for a year!

Of course, meetings are for reaping. And broadcasting is sowing. But what we need is a balanced approach to evangelistic spending. Don't forget that "he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6, R.S.V.).

Too time-consuming?

Radio evangelism is seed sowing. And seed sowing takes time. So the busy pastor faces the question: Is planting the seed too time-consuming?

Picture a farmer vainly driving his tractor back and forth over his empty field—trying to harvest the grain that was never planted! Is it possible to get so busy concentrating on the reaping that we neglect the sowing, and then feel frustrated when we have little or nothing to reap?

Broadcasting is a God-given means to help you save time in casting abroad the gospel seed. To choose not to use this gift in your ministry may be choosing not to reach those in your district who can only be reached in this way. Shall they be excluded from hearing God's final call?

Training reapers to reap is important. But you can help your laymen be more successful and feel more satisfied with their witnessing by creating a climate of credibility in your community. Radio evangelism does just that. It helps give a balanced emphasis to the sowing, watering, and reaping done by your church. In the long run, radio evangelism is not time consumed. It's time saved!

Lack of broadcast training?

Training is helpful. But ultimately our usefulness to God is not determined by how much training we have. It is deter mined by our willingness to do His will, irrespective of our past experience.

You learn by doing. But you have to put your feet in the water. You have to wade in.

Peter had no training in walking on water. But when Jesus called, he stepped right out. And gravity gave way to faith.

Gideon had no training in military maneuvers. But when the Captain of the Lord's host told him to run down the hill waving pitchers and burning sticks, he jumped at the chance. And the Midianite army went berserk.

The Israelites' had no training in structural demolition. But when God said, "Go walk around Jericho and blow your horns," they set right out. And the city walls collapsed at their feet.

Our God is a multimedia God. He's spoken through rainbows, angels, Urim and Thummim, dreams and visions, and prophets and their inspired writings. And, finally, after many media communications through the centuries, He speaks to us in these last days by His Son, for "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

Paul likewise saw the advantage in using a variety of approaches in his evangelism, that he might "by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22). He defended his method with the declaration, "that I might gain the more" (verse 19).

The principle applies today. God's ministers should use whatever media are available to reach the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time at the least possible expense. For that reason, Ellen White counsels: "We must take every justifiable means of bringing the light before the people. Let the press be utilized, and let every advertising agency be employed that will call attention to the work. This should not be regarded as nonessential." —Evangelism, p. 130. "The end is near, and for this reason we are to make the most of every entrusted ability and every agency that shall offer help to the work." —Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 440.

God's strategy for evangelism

God's strategy for evangelism is holistic. It includes the total task of sowing, watering, and reaping. The seed must be planted before the plant can be harvested. That's why local radiobroad casting is so important. Like the sower in Christ's parable, you can broadcast ("cast abroad") the gospel seed in all directions—but from the top of a radio antenna! Some of the seed will -fall on thorns and some on stones. But some will fall on good ground and take root.

The effect of a broadcast on a person is intrapersonal. It happens quietly, be neath the surface. To all appearances nothing may be going on. But a process is taking place, although the effect may be latent. As Dr. Wilbur Schramm points out, "What if no response is observable at the moment? Can we assume that there has been no effect? Certainly not. The situation may not yet be ripe for action. Perhaps a change has taken place within the receiver that will show up when the time is right or when enough change has accumulated to cause action."—Men, Messages, & Media (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 196.

Ellen White is clear on this point: "The good seed may for a time lie unnoticed in a cold, selfish, worldly heart, giving no evidence that it has taken root; but afterward, as the Spirit of God breathes on the soul, the hidden seed springs up, and at last bears fruit to the glory of God. In our life work we know not which shall prosper, this or that. This is not a question for us to settle. We are to do our work, and leave the results with God." —Christ's Object Lessons, p. 65.

Our work is to proclaim God's Word—irrespective of the results.

Noah had little to show for his 120 years of preaching. But his reward was not based on the number of people who stepped into the ark; it was based on his faithfulness in proclaiming God's Word.

Evaluating radio evangelism

Likewise radio evangelism must not be evaluated on the basis of the number of people who respond. Of course, we hope and pray that many will respond. We work toward that end. And we praise God for those who do respond. But that's exactly the point..Our praise must be to God when people respond—not to our own efforts.

Conversely, we must not become discouraged when people don't respond. We must not give up. Ellen White encourages us: "What if means are used and yet we cannot see that souls have been saved by it? What if there is a dead loss of a portion of our means? Better work and keep at work than to do nothing. You know not which shall pros per—this or that." —Evangelism, p. 62.

God has a distinctive message that must go to the ends of the earth before He returns. And one of the "ends of the earth" is right where you are now. God has put at your fingertips a means of doing quickly what needs to be done quickly. Will you use His means to sow His seed? Let God touch your tongue. Wade right in. And watch the white caps on the Red Sea roll back!

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James David Chase is assistant professor of broadcast evangelism at Andrews University.
Jere Wallack is director of the communication and religious liberty departments for the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

October 1979

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