During the early days of the Advent movement (the mid to late 1800s) a man would give proof of his ministry by raising up a church. Later, in the 1930s, when my father-in-law began his ministry, a man had to hold an evangelistic crusade his first year and have at least one baptism to be retained in the ministry. Times have changed, and not necessarily for the better. We cannot afford to forget the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:5, "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."
The local pastor who wishes to enter into the area of pastor-led evangelism but feels intimidated may remember that God does not always call to the ministry those who are qualified, but He will qualify those whom He calls, as they follow His call in faith and humility. The waters of the Jordan River did not part for the Israelites until the priests stepped into the water in faith and obedience. Pastors can by all means have successful crusades, by the grace of God. This article will look at some of the key principles for making that happen.
Preparing the way
"Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). No matter how much money we spend, what method of advertising we use, or how well we preach, the ultimate determination of how many finally come to Christ and to baptism is under the control of the Holy Spirit. If there are barriers to the Holy Spirit in our own lives or in the life of the congregation, the Spirit will not be able to work as He might and the results will not be what they could be. In our indulgent society, it takes determined prayer, study, and courage to remove our own barriers and also to lead our congregations in the removal of theirs.1
Long before a public crusade begins, there should be a permanent, ongoing, spiritual visitation program of all members (not just those who attend regularly) as well as those who were once members but have since been removed. Lay involvement in this visiting initiative is vital. The lay leaders need to learn to care for the flock. Pastors come and go but lay leaders stay. Besides, the pastor can't do it all.
Pre-crusade ministries such as a Discover Bible School, a vegetarian cooking school, or a stop smoking seminar, to name a few that are possible, should be conducted. These will go a long way in helping break fertile ground for the upcoming harvest.
We must not place any limits on God. It is our privilege to have great vision. In all of this we can pray, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26). "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). We must also make sure the church is praying.
In some areas, use a team of regular student colporteurs in the target area about three to four months before the crusade. The colporteurs can also obtain Discover Bible School leads. Bring in a Bible worker or two to work with what leads the colporteurs find. Retain the Bible workers for a good period of time after the crusade to help work with interests. Use the Bible workers to train members and the new converts in witnessing and giving Bible studies. This kind of planning could also be used in planting new churches.
It is often best to choose a neutral hall if possible. If we target the upper classes we will not neglect the lower ones. Holding our meet ings in our churches may reduce our attendance by as much as two-thirds in some places. Many people will go further if they hear the message from the Bible without the issue of denominational bias. Jesus warned some of those whom He healed not to reveal who performed the miracle; otherwise, because of the prejudice of the scribes and Pharisees, His work would have been cut short in some places if the one healed pro claimed who healed him.
In many regions, mailing hand bills to every residential mailbox in the target area remains the single most effective means of advertising. Newspaper advertising will enhance the effect of the handbills and should be especially considered if the town is small and has a local paper. If possible, arrange for your ad to be placed on page three (so it's noticed immediately when someone opens the paper). Make the ad as large as can be afforded. Place it several times before the crusade begins.
Choose a thoughtful sequence for the topics presented. "By pen and voice we are to sound the proclamation, showing their order, and the application of the prophecies that bring us to the third angel's message. There cannot be a third without the first and second. These messages we are to give to the world in publications, in discourses, showing in the line of prophetic history the things that have been, and the things that will be."2 This can be easily done by writing the verses of the three angels' messages in Revelation 14 on one side of a piece of paper, and on the other side place your topics in a logical sequence according to which of the angels' messages the topics fall under.
For example, in the first angel's message, there are references to the gospel, fearing God, giving God glory, the judgment, and the Sabbath. In the second angel's message there's the fall of Babylon. Other doctrinal issues need to be presented at this point in order to show why Babylon falls. The call to "Come out of her, my people" found in Revelation 18:4 may then be introduced.
Mark Finley's topic sequence from Net '95 and Net '96 are good examples of the principle of preaching the three angels' messages in order. For example, it is not appropriate to talk about the Sabbath before someone is converted to the Lord of the Sabbath.
Finally, and most importantly, bathe every presentation with the blood of Christ; otherwise all we have is an informative discourse without converting power. "The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be stud ied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption—the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers—Christ and His righteousness—let this be our platform, the very life of our faith—Several have written to me, inquiring if the mes sage of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, 'It is the third angel's mes sage in verity.'"3
Reaping the harvest
Visit the people who come to the meetings. Many decisions can be obtained only in quiet privacy of the homes of the people. Some people simply will not decide in public. Through visiting in the homes we may uncover barriers which we could never see in the meeting hall. What we discover in the homes of people will often influence how we present certain topics as we preach.
Baptism is a symbol of dying to the old order and its ways of sin, being buried and raised up to newness in Christ. Just as an undertaker is not supposed to bury a person who has not died, a minister should not bury a person in baptism until evidence of death to sin and new life in Christ is revealed. Baptism is not in itself a magic cure. Death to sin must occur. Baptism however, should not be unduly delayed.
These are a few tried pointers that I have found helpful. Of course, every situation demands various adjustments. However we do it there's a tremendous sense of fulfillment in evangelism. It is always true that evangelism energizes us as pastors and feeds our people even more than conventional preaching can do it. Everyone is blessed. Pastors are shepherds, and the shepherd's task is to be sure the ninety and nine are left in safety and then to go out and search for the lost sheep.
1 See my article entitled "Church Growth and Church Discipline" in the April 2000 issue of Ministry magazine.
2 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Pub. Assn., 1946), 26,27.
3 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 190.