According to the Church Manual, "In the absence of a pastor, the local elder is a spiritual leader of the church, and is responsible for fostering all branches and departments of the work. The Sabbath School work, the Missionary Volunteer work, the missionary activities of the church, the interests of the church school, and every other line of activity should receive attention, advice, and encouragement." ─Page 58.
In fostering the various lines of church activity it is very important to keep in mind what the ultimate objective of each of these activities is, lest it be little more than keeping the wheels of machinery going.
THE SUPREME BUSINESS OF EVERY CHURCH
The supreme business of every church and every Christian is the saving of souls. The apostle Paul declares, "And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:1 1, 12). Weymouth's translation reads, "In order fully to equip His people for the work of serving." Moffat renders it, "For the equipment of the saints, for the business of the ministry." *
This makes it clear that persons who are won to the church should at once become active in working for others. They are saved to serve. Ellen G. White declares, "Just as soon as a church is organized, let the minister set the members at work." ─Evangelism, pp. 353, 354. She continues, "Personal responsibility, personal activity in seeking the salvation of others, must be the education given to all newly come to the faith." ─Ibid., p. 354.
The apostolic church was first organized as a missionary agency for the carrying out of the Savior's commission. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was likewise first organized for the work of evangelism. It was born in the evangelistic mold, and when it ceases to be evangelistic in its concepts and mission, it might just as well cease to exist. "The church of Christ on earth was organized for missionary purposes." ─Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 29.
It is this concept alone that will keep the church alive as a Spirit-filled movement. It may survive without evangelistic outreach; it may even be an organization with endless activities; but activity alone is no assurance that the true goals of the church are being met. Unless the members of the church are being trained, equipped, and engaged in the work of soul-winning, the purpose of the church is not being realized.
LOVE OF SOULS LOST
There are, unfortunately, some churches that have lost all their missionary zeal and desire to have it so. A pastor of such a church remarked, "My members want to hear a good comforting sermon on Sabbath and then be left alone the rest of the week." And in a large city where there were a number of churches, one pastor said of his congregation, "They are not interested in adding new members. The church is just the size they like. They don't want it to get larger."
During the summer of 1968 some members of a congregation in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, generated a movement to remove their pastor. The pastor was young Peter Marshall, son of the late pastor of the large New York Avenue Presbyterian church in Washington, D.C., and chaplain of the U.S. Senate. After the young pastor had been there only a few months there were those who wished him removed. Why? Because he was apparently too successful. As one member put it, "This is a little church and we want to keep it that way."
Obviously there are but few that see growth in this light. The great majority of our members welcome it. But how many are really doing something about it?
The pastors, elders, and other church officers have a solemn responsibility in this area. We are counseled:
"The elders and those who have leading places in the church should give more thought to their plans for conducting the work. They should arrange matters so that every member of the church shall have a part to act, that none may lead an aimless life, but that all may accomplish what they can according to their several ability. ... It is very essential that such an education should be given to the members of the church, that they will become unselfish, devoted, efficient workers for God; and it is only through such a course that the church can be prevented from becoming fruitless and dead." ─Christian Service, p. 62.
That too many of our churches are even now "fruitless and dead" is all too evident. How can they be kept alive?
Let him seek to keep the church alive by teaching its members how to labor with him for the conversion of sinners. This is good generalship; and the result will be found far better than if he should seek to perform the work alone". ─Evangelism, p. 357.
If the church is to fulfill its mission it is vital that the total membership assume personal responsibility for reaching those that have not yet heard the message that is to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord. The negative attitude that many members have toward personal soul-winning places a definite limit upon evangelistic possibilities by the congregation. Where such attitudes persist they must be changed. This calls for positive spiritual leadership.
On page 24 of his excellent book, Evangelism That Evangelizes, Dr. Carl M. Zweasy puts it this way:
"We must see that evangelism or reaching the lost for Christ and the church is the primary program of the whole church. Today in many churches this program is playing second fiddle to other programs within the church, many of which are totally unrelated and irrelevant to the command of Christ to preach the gospel to every creature. We need to restudy and reevaluate each committee and organization of the church in the light of the great commission. Is the winning of lost souls to Christ still pertinent, still paramount? Have we who determine the total program of the church any very profound conviction that the supreme mission of the whole church is to reach the last person, old and young, for Christ? If so, then it is our responsibility to see that every organization participates in the attainment of that end. Not a single group of whatever size, age or importance should be overlooked or bypassed in this matter. Only when this program has been successfully promoted in each organization within the church, may that church be properly said to be evangelistic."
To produce an evangelistic consciousness throughout the church, within every department and function, is one of the greatest challenges confronting pastors and church leaders today. As a local elder, let this be your great burden, the subject of earnest prayer and personal endeavor. The accomplishment of this grand objective may depend largely upon your personal influence and labors.
Dear Lord, Thou hast awakened me to a new sense of responsibility. I have failed, and we as a church have failed in doing what is expected of us in reaching those about us for Christ. But, Lord, forgive and grant that new life and zeal may come into our labors. Give me a new burden for souls and wisdom to know how I can best be used of Thee to help arouse our total membership to greater evangelistic endeavor. Amen.
* From The Bible: A Now Translation by James Moffatt. Copyright by James Moffatt 1954. Used by permission of Harper & Row Publishers, Incorporated.
Orley M. Berg was managing editor o/Ministry when he wrote this article.