My first appointment in the ministry was with the team of a leading evangelist in the city of Melbourne, Australia. I was to replace a young worker who had accepted a call to India. In my hands I found the names of more than three hundred interested persons.
"What will my work entail?" I asked the evangelist. "How can I help win these people?"
"You might think that I will win these people in my meetings," he said, "but I want to tell you that it is across the table in their homes that you win souls. Faceto-face decisions are the ones that count."
And every successful evangelistic worker would say Amen to that.
No danger is greater than that the minister will rely on methods or gimmicks to replace the time consuming but vital personal contact. Literature, Bible correspondence courses, self marking Bible guides, cannot do the work of the personal worker in the home or in the church office. The sermon will not do this work. True, some decisions are made as a result of preaching or reading or listening; but only personal work cements these decisions.
"It is not preaching that is the most important; it is house to house work, reasoning from the Word, explaining the Word. It is those workers who follow the methods that Christ followed who will win souls for their hire." Gospel Workers, p. 468.
"All who can, should do personal labor. As they go from house to house, explaining the Scriptures to the people in a clear, simple manner, God makes the truth powerful to save. The Saviour blesses those who do this work." Evangelism , p. 442.
Is it easy for a worker to do this personal work? Does it come naturally? Ellen G. White reminds us, "The personal labor must be done, even if there has to be less preaching done.... You must educate and train yourselves to visit every family that you can possibly get access to.... If he neglects this work, the visiting of the people in their homes, he is an unfaithful shepherd, and the rebuke of God is upon him.. .. No excuse will God accept for thus neglecting the most essential part of the ministry." Ibid., pp. 439, 440.
Here are some of the pointers that come from divine wisdom to help us in our personal evangelism:
1. Love for Souls. A sense of priorities drives every true evangelist to love souls first. From a dedication and complete consecration to Christ stems the correct sense of values. "Christ has demonstrated to us the great value of souls in that He came to the world with the hoarded love of eternity in His heart, offering to make man heir to all His wealth." Testimonies to the Church, 5:204.
With the same passion for lost souls we will not hesitate to accept difficult circumstances. I remember my work for a young man. Actually, I was not much older than he. Not knowing any difference I held Bible studies with him in the entrance hall of the boarding house where he lived, with other boarders passing by continually. His decision came in a flashlight study on the front veranda. Today he is a successful worker and never fails to remind me that my persistence and disregard for awkward circumstances helped him make his decision.
2. Use of the Word and the Holy Spirit. "A great work can be done by presenting to the people the Bible just as it reads. Carry the word of God to every man's door, . . . repeat to all the Saviour's command: 'Search the Scriptures.' " Ibid., p. 388. More than ever before, Adventist ministers need the Word of God. How else can we hope to pierce the confusion of mind, indifference and materialism of the age? Our philosophizing, our scant knowledge of psychology, can never take the place of a "Thus saith the Lord."
3. Prayer. Praying for the right things will help us in our soul saving work. "The disciples prayed with intense earnestness for a fitness to meet men and in their daily intercourse to speak words that would lead sinners to Christ." The Acts of the Apostles, p. 37.
"Personal effort for others should be preceded by much secret prayer; for it requires great wisdom to understand the science of saving souls. Before communicating with men, commune with Christ." Christ's Object Lessons, p. 149.
4. Hard Work. What is the norm for a program of visitation? Three Bible studies a night is not an impossible task; seven or eight a day well within the realm of accomplishment. This on top of a church program? Yes. All too often we fall into the mistake of allowing our church members to fill our days and evenings with activities that are good but that they could easily do for us, leaving time for the vital work of personal visitation. "A person might as well expect a harvest where he has never sown, or knowledge where he has never sought for it, as to expect to be saved in indolence." Testimonies to the Church, 4:286.
5. Dress. Listen to this: "The loss of some souls at last will be traced to the untidiness of the minister." Ibid., 2:613. A minister I know well always wore his suits till the cuffs frayed and his coat shone from constant wear. Even his shirt collars began to fray before he discarded them. Since reading this statement from the Spirit of Prophecy, I have wondered if perhaps a portion of his lack of success could be traced to this.
6. Tone of Voice. According to Arnold Bennett, "Ninety per cent of the friction of daily life is caused by the tone of voice." Mrs. White says, "With some souls the manner of the one delivering the message will determine its reception or rejection. Then let the word be so spoken that it will appeal to the understanding and impress the heart. Slowly, distinctly, and solemnly should it be spoken, yet with all the earnestness which its importance demands.
"We should accustom ourselves to speak in pleasant tones, to use pure and correct language, and words that are kind and courteous." Christ's Object Lessons, p. 336.
7. Character. Character and personality surround the message with an atmosphere that has a great influence on the attitude of souls to the truth. A life charged with faith, courage, and hope; a life full of the sweetness of the love of Christ will have a tremendous influence.
"Our words, our acts, our dress, our deportment, even the expression of the countenance, has an influence. . . . Every impulse thus imparted is seed sown which will produce its harvest. ... Thus by our unconscious influence thousands maybe blessed." Ibid., pp.339, 340. Even our handshake can make a difference. "You can take hold of a person's hand in greeting in such a way as to gain his confidence at once." Gospel Workers, p. 189.
8. Effective Use of Literature. I once heard a non Adventist define our people as having a "head full of texts and a pocket full of tracts." "Plans must be laid that at every meeting where the truth has been set before the people, it may be followed by the distribution of tracts and pamphlets. At the present time it may he found necessary to give these away, but they will be a power for good, and nothing will be lost." Evangelism, p. 159.
9. Enthusiasm. Of all the things that affected me in my youth and led me to accept Christ, the key was the obvious enthusiasm of my evangelist father and his coworkers for the work they did. Be excited about the message. Believe in it. Convey your excitement and enthusiasm. Avoid negative attitudes. One of our departmental leaders once commented on some Voice of Prophecy names as follows: "I sent them three invitations to my meetings and none of them came." This for him seemed to mark the end of his responsibility. Enthusiasm for souls would have led to greater efforts, more intelligent approaches.
10. Keep Positive. By keeping to truths that are held in common, by speaking with certainty and authority, through simplicity and sincerity souls are influenced toward truth.
Around the world we need ministers and laymen who will have an organized, dedicated concern for souls. Our Bible correspondence school statistics alone reveal that fewer than half of these precious interested ones are faithfully visited. Even this percentage would be less if the casual attitude some take to visiting was taken into account.
Personal work for souls is the most important, the most delightful, the most precious work we can do. Here, the preacher does the work of Christ, for above all else our Lord was a personal worker.
Walter R. L. Scragg writes from Maryland, where he worked until recently as senior pastor at Sligo Church.