Possibilities of Public Evangelism

Public evangelism is still an effective soul-winning strategy for those with the vision, faith, and plan to make it work.

W.C. Scales, Jr., is the ministerial secretary of the North American Division of the General Conference. Adapted from a presentation at the North American Division evangelism council, December 16, 1986.

Jesus was sitting beside Jacob's well in Samaria. As He looked out over the fields and saw the tender, green stalks of grain touched by the golden sunlight, He realized that it months until harvest-time.

But Jesus also saw groups of people coming to the well for water. He discerned in these groups another harvest that was ready to be reaped. So He drove an important lesson home to His disciples. "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest," He said (John 4:35). Jesus was speaking of a spiritual harvest. Perhaps He was saying Raise your sights; look at all of the people. Look at the great potential of your ministry. Look at the possibilities of public evangelism.

During the past 30 years it has been my privilege to be involved in 37 public evangelistic efforts. For a number of these years I had the privilege of working as part of a family evangelistic team with my father, my mother, and my wife. Practically all of these crusades lasted six to eight weeks, some even longer. In 24 of these meetings I served as the evangelist, and in the other 13 I was an associate. No two meetings were alike. There were many challenges and obstacles, but God enabled us to meet every challenge and overcome every obstacle. I am persuaded that there are possibilities in public evangelism.

The Holy Spirit has distributed a variety of gifts throughout the church. These include teaching, administration, hospitality, faith, wisdom, pastoring, and also personal and public evangelism. All the gifts of the Spirit are essential to the edification of the church.

I understand that some ministers believe that the days of public evangelism are in the past. But I believe that the best days for public evangelism are in the future, and that this church needs to en courage, strengthen, and support as never before the work of personal and public evangelism. The reason that I mention both public and personal evangelism is that one cannot operate effectively without the other.

Ellen White speaks of guarding against the tendency to tie up men in office work who might be a power for good in public meetings and who could do a larger and a more important work on the public plat form, in preaching before unbelievers the truths of God's Word. She calls upon God's messengers to warn the cities while mercy still lingers and while multitudes are yet susceptible to the converting influence of Bible truth. 1

She was deeply concerned that the church was not doing enough to help city dwellers: "When I think of the many cities yet unwarned, I cannot rest. It is distressing to think that they have been neglected so long. For many, many years the cities of America, including the cities in the South, have been set before our people as places needing special attention. A few have borne the burden of working in these cities; but, in comparison with the great needs and the many opportunities, but little has been done." She appeals: "Shall we not plan to send messengers all through these fields, and support them liberally? Shall not the ministers of God go into these crowded centers, and there lift up their voices in warning to multitudes?"

"The cities must be worked. The millions living in these congested centers are to hear the third angel's message."2

"All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in."3

In the book Evangelism Ellen White's counsels have been gathered together. These inspired messages give us all of the details on how to plan for and conduct public evangelistic efforts, how to get decisions, what to preach, how to establish new converts, how to work in small communities as well as metropolitan areas. She speaks of the importance of Bible instructors, music evangelism, health evangelism, child evangelism, and literature evangelism. She calls for the establishment of memorials in every city through church planting. And finally she speaks of the final triumph of this message when the earth will be lightened with the glory of the Lord.

As I study the Bible, the book Evangelism, and other writings of Ellen White, I am more convinced than ever of the possibilities of public evangelism here in the North American Division. However, in order for all of us to realize our full possibilities and potential in public evangelism, there are three things that we need.

Vision

The first thing we need is spiritual vision to see the invisible. Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Sometime ago a shoe sales man from the United States went to an undeveloped country to explore the possibility of selling shoes. After arriving at his destination, he sent back the following telegram to the manufacturer: "No body wears shoes in this part of the world. I want to come home at once." His employer honored his request and brought him back home. When another salesman was sent to that country in his place, he looked at the situation and sent back a telegram saying "Send all the shoes you caneverybody here needs shoes." And he sold shoes in large numbers. The difference in the salesmen was that one had vision and one did not.

Two men look out through the same bars. One sees the mud and the other sees the stars. Two men are walking through a field. One man is from the city, the other from the country. The city dweller sees the soil as filth, something to be scraped off one's shoes. The farmer sees the soil as a thing of beauty, nourishment for his growing crops, the basic source of his financial security. The soil is the same, but the men are different. It all depends on the clarity of one's vision.

Two ministers look at Harvest 90. One sees only a slogan, another program being handed down from higher levels of organization, so he puts it in "File F," ignores it, settles down in his rocking chair of unconcern, and takes it easy. The other minister sees Harvest 90 as a heaven-born strategy, an opportunity to prioritize evangelism and hasten the coming of our Lord. So he prays and plans and works and reaps an abundant harvest. You see, vision makes the difference.

What kind of vision do we have? Is it blurred or is it clear? If it is blurred, then we need to put on our spiritual eyeglasses. Perhaps our eyes need to be anointed with the eye salve of the Holy Ghost so that we can see things from the divine perspective.

There are unlimited possibilities all around us. We need to pray, "Lord, open our eyes that we may see the possibilities of public evangelism." I am reminded again of the words of Jesus, "Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest."

God's church today needs leaders with spiritual vision to see the invisible. A leader with vision sees souls in dark counties. He sees church buildings where there are only vacant lots. He sees lives changed by the power of the gospel and a harvest of souls standing on the sea of glass singing the Song of Moses and the Lamb. So the first thing we need in order to realize the maximum possibilities of public evangelism is spiritual vision to see the invisible.

Faith

The second thing we need is strong faith to believe the incredible. One day when Jesus was on His way to the Temple in Jerusalem, He passed a fig orchard. He was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in the distance that seemed to be full of leaves. This suggested that fruit might be growing on the tree. When Jesus got closer, He was disappointed. There was no fruit. He found nothing but leaves. So He uttered a curse against the tree. The next morning when the disciples noticed that the tree was withering away, they ex pressed their amazement at what had happened. "Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.

"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive" (Matt. 21:21, 22).

First of all, we need faith in God's abilitywe must believe not only that God is, but also that "he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).

In the book Gospel Workers we read: "The worker for God needs strong faith. Appearances may seem forbidding; but in the darkest hour there is light beyond. The strength of those who, in faith, love and serve God will be renewed day by day. The understanding of the Infinite is placed at their service, that in carrying out His purposes they may not err. Let these workers hold the beginning of their confidence firm unto the end, remembering that the light of God's truth is to shine amid the darkness that enshrouds our world. . . .

"[God] will more than fulfill the highest expectations of those who put their trust in Him." 4 Isn't that wonderful? Experience has strengthened my faith in God's ability. It has taught me to believe that God can do anything.

In response to God's command, Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan. Only two out of the 12, Caleb and Joshua a minority, if you please were men of strong faith. They came back with an encouraging report. With faith and courage Caleb said, "Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it" (Num. 13:20). Joshua and he were optimists. They believed in the miracle-working power of God.

The other 10 men doubted God's ability, and they came back with a report that magnified the dangers and difficulties they had seen. In the presence of those tall, husky giants, they felt that they were like grasshoppers. Their faith in an omnipotent God had just about fizzled out.

I am reminded of the old story about the man who promised that he would walk across a cable that extended over Niagara Falls. He set the date, and a great crowd gathered out of curiosity to see if he could do what he promised. There was complete silence as he balanced himself and carefully put one foot in front of the other and walked slowly across the cable to the other side. Then he promised that the next day he would repeat his performance, only this time he would push a wheelbarrow across in front of him.

As the story is told, on the next day one man walked through the crowd saying to everybody he met, "I believe he can do it. I saw him walk across yesterday, and I believe that he can repeat the performance pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him." When the one who was to perform heard this man talking, he went to him and said, "Do you really believe that I can be successful?" The man responded, "Yes." He asked him again, "Do you really believe that I can push a wheelbarrow across in front of me?" The man said, "Yes, I saw you walk across yesterday, and I know you can do it today." Then the performer said to the man, "If you really believe that I can do it, then get in the wheelbarrow." The man who had been doing all the talking became frightened and embarrassed, and began to make all kinds of excuses.

That kind of faith will never bring success in public evangelism. We are living in an age when God is calling for men and women who have enough faith to believe the incredible.

When I read about a bush that burned but was not consumed, that's incredible! But I believe it because the Bible says it. When I read that a donkey talked to a man, I say that's incredible. But I believe it because the Word of God says it.

When I read that the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, that Joshua commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and then thrown out on dry land, that's incredible! But I believe it because the Bible says it.

When I read that Elijah called down fire from heaven, that Daniel was thrown into a lions' den and that the lions didn't harm him, that the three Hebrew worthies were thrown into a fiery furnace and the fire didn't burn them, and that Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men besides women and children on two little fish and five loaves of bread, it's all incredible! But thank God I believe it because the Bible says it.

If God ordains that through the foolishness of preaching in public evangelism thousands will be drawn to the foot of the cross, I am just simple enough to believe it because all things are possible with God.

Not only do we need faith in God's ability, but we need faith to make bigger plans. "We are altogether too narrow in our plans. .. . We must get away from our smallness and make larger plans. There must be a wider reaching forth to work for those who are nigh and those who are afar off." 5

During the past few years I have been following the wholistic approach in con ducting evangelistic meetings. Many of the concepts that I have been following are outlined in Evangelism and Church Growth Manual, a book of more than 300 pages. It has just been updated and expanded, and it is available through my office.

The wholistic approach that we have been using includes the presentation of the gospel, health principles, family enrichment, youth evangelism, the minis try of music, literature evangelism, and personal evangelism with a strong emphasis on lay involvement. We usually start planning a Real Truth Crusade at least one year prior to the opening date of the crusade. First, we meet with pastors and church officers. Then we form a planning council and an executive committee. We schedule four to six mass evangelism rallies prior to the crusade. These rallies are usually held on Sabbath afternoons, and they last for approximately two hours. At these rallies our emphasis is on inspiration, information, small groups, and outreach.

One of the first things we do is launch a prayer crusade and initiate a prayer group ministry. Then we launch what we call a kindness crusade and challenge the church members to greatly expand their circle of friends through deeds of kindness. We distribute a list of 75 ways of being , kind. This usually motivates church members to reach out and make new friends. Church members are inter viewed each Sabbath thereafter and given an opportunity to share kindness experiences. This usually motivates other members to get involved in reaching out to others.

The first time I tried a kindness crusade in one of our churches, seven of the members each brought 25 or more nonmembers to the grand opening of our evangelistic series. One person brought 63 individuals. More recently one young man made so many friends in connection with our kindness crusade that he brought 90 non-Adventist persons to the grand opening of our crusade. Kindness really pays.

This is a powerful confirmation of the testimony of the Lord through Ellen White that "If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one." 6

Our wholistic approach also includes the organizing of about 20 evangelistic committees that involve church members according to their interests and spiritual gifts. Our church members enroll large numbers of persons in the Real Truth Bible Course series. We place a strong emphasis on publishing evangelism, utilizing our literature evangelists. We promote an extensive health minis try during the pre-effort work and also during the crusade. We operate a summer day camp involving several hundred young people. We feature workshops geared to meet the felt needs of the community. All of these things contribute greatly to the wholistic concept. We use the best professionals we can find to lead out and assist in these activities.

Only those with strong faith can break the barriers of small achievements and move on to do greater exploits for God. Someone has said that an organization seldom achieves more than its leaders believe it can. This places a tremendous responsibility upon each one of us as leaders. Ellen White says, "The leaders in God's cause, as wise generals, are to lay plans for advance moves all along the line." 7 Only men and women with strong faith can lay these kinds of plans. A conference or church rarely exceeds the measure of faith manifested by its leaders. With one leader the work moves forward; with another leader in the same field the work stagnates.

We cannot lead our people into a latter-rain experience unless we ourselves have a faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. God give us faith to believe the incredible. Faith to move mountains, faith to inspire our people, and faith to ask, attempt, and expect great things from the Almighty.

Power

Finally, the third thing we need in order to realize our maximum potential in public evangelism is divine power to achieve the impossible. In Acts 1:8 we read, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." When the Holy Spirit worked through the disciples on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 souls were baptized. That same Holy Spirit will work through God's disciples today, manifesting a divine power that will achieve the impossible.

God is still in the miracle-working business. When 1 was a pastor one of my members wanted to be a lay Bible instructor. But she had suffered a serious back injury in an automobile accident and had trouble balancing herself and walking up and down steps.

She heard about a special prayer and anointing service that was to take place at camp meeting. 1 happened to be one of the five pastors who were asked to participate in that special service. I remember it very vividly. Fifty people were in a room. When the time came for the people to be anointed, that lady was the first one I was to anoint. It had been made very clear that ministers have no power to heal anybody, but that we believed in a divine power and that God was able to heal in accordance with His will. When I anointed her, she cried out, "I don't feel any more pain." She had been experiencing pain in her back for the past 11 months. But all of a sudden the pain was gone, and she never felt that pain again.

That summer she worked as one of my lay Bible instructors, and the largest number of souls that were baptized came from this dear lady's visiting list. Once in a while she still calls up the conference president who had charge of the anointing service to remind him of what the Lord did for her. What a demonstration of divine power!

In describing the final triumph of God's message, Ellen White wrote these words, "Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers." "Multitudes will receive the faith and join the armies of the Lord."

"The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the church is looked forward to as in the future; but it is the privilege of the church to have it now. Seek for it, pray for it, believe for it. We must have it, and Heaven is waiting to bestow it."

"Let Christians. . . ask in faith for the promised blessing, and it will come. The outpouring of the Spirit in the days of the apostles was the former rain, and glorious was the result. But the latter rain will be more abundant." 8

My fellow workers, I am expecting an evangelism explosion in the North American Division. I believe that it can hap pen when we follow the blueprint, when we realize possibilities in pre-effort preparation, possibilities in teamwork, possibilities in child evangelism, and in health evangelism, possibilities in literature evangelism and personal evangelism, possibilities in follow-up evangelism.

May God grant us spiritual vision to see the invisible, strong faith to believe the incredible, and divine power to achieve the impossible so that the work can soon be finished and we can all go home.

1 Evangelism, pp. 22-26.

2 Ibid.,pp. 33-35.

3 Ibid., p. 292.

4 Gospel Workers, pp. 262, 263.

5 Evangelism, p. 46.

6 Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 189.

7 Gospel Workers, p. 351.

8 Evangelism, pp. 700, 701.


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W.C. Scales, Jr., is the ministerial secretary of the North American Division of the General Conference. Adapted from a presentation at the North American Division evangelism council, December 16, 1986.

June 1989

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