“We must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world — and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine.” CS Lewis.
When I preached and taught “full time,” I also worked to support my family at exactly the same rate. The Christians where we worshiped couldn’t afford to pay anyone very much or very often. The situation dictated the response. So we did what we could as we could and had the means. But then again, that is all we are required to do here.
There were many Sunday mornings when I came home at seven, took a shower, got dressed, and went off to lead singing, teach, preach or any combination of these (occasionally after driving fifty or a hundred miles to get to the assembly). And there were all sorts of obstacles both within and outside the assembly. For a while a congregation met in our home; and we moved it off to a public building when we had means. The second generation of that group is still around. Sometimes the public places were unfit on a Sunday morning and we had to spend hours cleaning the place right up to the start of the bible study. It was a lot of work for all who participated and none of it came easy. We also had contrary brethren and even some who gave no thought to the consequences of splitting a church. But then we also had good times and success teaching the Gospel. During this time Judy and I kept busy and never thought much about any of it. We had a lot of help from other Christians who were willing to do the exact same things. During this period I turned down an offer to preach with full support at a well-established congregation and was also considered at another. I chose to stay and work with the small group and the other men and women there.
Maybe I had more zeal then? I know I was younger and had a lot more energy.
So what is the excuse? You who have responded to the truth – what is your excuse? I know I have printed this one before, but it still gets to the point, even with a little humor. The three fellows were down on their knees confessing before the congregation. The preacher asked, “Brother what have you been doing?” He replied, “I’ve been drinking and gambling, and I quit.” The preacher acknowledged his confession and moved to the second man. “I’ve been unfaithful to my wife and I quit.” The third man said “Preacher, I’ve been doing nothing and I quit.”
Are you doing nothing? If so you need to quit. Many Christians seem to have little interest in going anywhere that is in the least unfamiliar to them, even if that means going across the street. They do not want to venture around the corner or anywhere else for the cause of Christ. We must have a building and we must have a young preacher to do the work — all of the work. Then we can all sit around and practice singing “Oh Jesus I love Thee, I know thou art mine,” while passing the Supper and the collection plate.
With the exception of itinerant evangelists and the many preachers who are preaching every week, some in dangerous places, those Bible teachers and those men and women who support works, those who teach or hold or are hosting meetings in assembly houses, or public buildings – little work seems to come out of or within the rank and file: the “pew” Christians. I believe that most of that is plainly due to a lack of interest.
I spent the larger part of ten weeks working with W. G. Bass in various locations listening to his lessons, making my own, learning how to deliver sermons and to greet people and to work door-to-door. No one invited me, I took it on myself. I spent innumerable hours talking and learning from Danny Roberts, Keith Ward, Charles and Pete McKee, and Ken McKay, amongst others. Whoever was available became my instructor – whether they knew it or not. We attended meeting after meeting in various locations. We were so eat up with it that we once planned a family vacation around a gospel meeting in Richardson Texas. I would search out congregations when working on the road, and was often rewarded with meetings in progress. The time spent was useful both to me and to us as a family. We taught in our homes and at work, whether anyone thought it was legal, reasonable or not. I traded time with another preacher and went and taught and preached at that congregation where he taught while he came over to our little group and did the same. We swapped Wednesday night studies for Tuesday nights at our location so that he could be present there and I could take his regular class.
Over the years, I was blessed to be asked to preach in multiple locations throughout North Florida. And I also taught and preached regularly for years at that small congregation. There is no better instruction than going and doing under the tutelage of someone who has walked and worked in the field and then getting out and doing what you can on your own. There is nothing so fulfilling as getting up and going – trying everything you can to teach and bring the truth to anyone that will listen. Like me you may not be very good at it, but you can’t shoot a horse for trying (as the saying goes). It is nice if you see a result once in a while, but the glory is to God for allowing us to play any part in things. And it is truly fulfilling to see someone respond to the truth.
Not so long ago I was asked by a member to teach him how to do door-to-door work. After some instruction, we got together on a Saturday to start things off. He asked me, “Where are we going to go?” I answered, “how about next door.”
It was like the wheels came off the car and it had flipped and crashed into the wall at two hundred miles per hour. He said, “I am not going to my neighbors.” I said “How about across the street or down the road?” Again he said “No.” It is not my business to judge him, but it was very clear that he did not want to start anywhere near his home. Whatever his reason, he thought we ought to go somewhere else. Unfortunately, this was not the first nor the last time this same response was given in that situation.
Back when Judy and I were younger, we attended a series of meetings in North Florida and listened and got inspired to do more. So we worked to get meetings with other preachers on the schedule wherever we attended no matter how small the group. Meetings help the home crowd and whoever is preaching to know what other places are doing and teaching.
We would haul our kids around in neighborhoods near where we met in the weeks prior to the meetings. We would set aside time for those things (usually just an hour or so). Sometimes one or two out of a hundred or more contacted might even come one night. If we put out five hundred handbills, we might have gotten one visitor for the effort. More often no one came. But in time converts were somehow made, people were baptized or souls were restored and congregations grew. We continued this even when we moved back to South Florida now more than twenty years ago. Preachers aren’t the only ones who need to do the work. And we should remind ourselves that there is no such thing as a professional preacher – just preachers and teachers of the truth. It is not fair to saddle them with every duty. And it certainly is not what we have been given to do.
In time my paying work became more oppressive and ate a lot more out of the clock. That was my fault. And time is the only thing you cannot get back once gone. Also we have grown older, have less means, less ability and seem to have less opportunities. Maybe working the streets has gotten riskier and harder. But in response, we both arranged time off for our last meeting here the first week of August. Too bad I got sick and neither of us was able to attend. We have always taken time off from work since this congregation started their “lecture series.” And we still pass out handbills, invite friends, coworkers, and acquaintances directly or by phone, email or snail mail. Some have come, and most have not – so not much has changed with the efforts. And we still “Go” at least in some smaller sense. And you won’t get bad outcomes for anything short of doing nothing.
Now it seems that it’s pretty hard to get anyone with the exception of a preacher to GO anywhere at all including next door. And I myself have heard located preachers tell congregations that they don’t do personal work. If that is the case, then why shouldn’t the members do absolutely nothing right alongside him?
My point is this — Where’s the fire? Are we fanning the flames of salvation or putting an extinguisher to them? Where are the men and women who go out and teach their friends, families, and strangers? Where are the young men and women who calmly and fearlessly challenge false teachers, taking them aside to more accurately teach Jesus? Where is the immediacy? And where are the young men who would volunteer to teach or preach at a congregation away from home just to help out and to get some teaching experience? Where are those who are unafraid to go over to the digressive church or the denomination down the street to meet the members and slowly and carefully see if any opportunities might exist to teach souls there and maybe help to snatch some of them out of the fire? Where are the folks with confidence in the truth who will go with their denominational friends to a bible study and see what comes of things? Where are the wives and husbands who hand out bibles and handbills in neighborhoods or leave them in restaurants and on the gas pump and who call friends each week, or talk to strangers on street corners? Have we become so fearful or complacent that we will only challenge evil from the comfort of our own buildings and pulpits or strictly through the efforts of the “hired man?” Are we content with knowing there is a sign out front, and that ought to be enough? How comfortable are you?
Jesus told the apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every living creature…” How many people are included in the word all and are meant by the phrase every living creature? Must we wait until the conditions are more suitable to our requirements and sensibilities? Is it somehow more dangerous out in the open now than when any Caesar reigned? Jesus told the apostles to “teach them everything that I have commanded you.” How much instruction is everything?
I understand that my neighborhood or yours does not constitute but just the tiniest tip of things. But it is still something. It is part of that lost world in which we all live and a start to teaching “every living creature.” It is a start to getting some of the lost introduced to the truth. Imagine what might happen if just two percent of a small congregation were not waiting to be led by the hand, and were dedicating a single hour a week or even just once a month to go out and teach, to call someone or just visit contacts or strangers? There are 1,440 minutes in a day, and 10,080 in a week. We will all likely waste a lot more than 60 minutes before this day is over.
We now live in an apartment community, but we have used the limited opportunities to talk to our very transient neighbors about the truth when we have the opportunity. I helped start this website and it has also had some success, and still has readers. I usually have bibles ready to give away and tracts and handbills to leave on tables and on top of those gas pumps when I fill up. I know that does not seem like much. But I know people who were converted by reading a tract left by a stranger somewhere, and more than one who said they learned the truth off of websites.
I always invite co-workers to study and to come to our meetings, and also any persons I meet through work. Some have come, many other’s not. Some want to argue and fight. Still I continue and do my best to follow up on those things too. You don’t need someone’s permission to teach your neighbor. It is what you are supposed to be doing.
So we have the truth and are content to do little with it; and the “bad guys” are teaching lies and bringing in crowds. We ought to feel just like that one talent fellow. We listen to the preacher and attend a Bible study on Sunday and perhaps several classes each week, but we may not be doing anything to teach another. That would make us just a little better than the monk up on the mountain in some monastery, who knows a lot but never talks to anyone. Do we have any time or inclination to actually use the information we work so diligently to gain to help and teach someone else?
What do we suppose will be the outcome if we won’t get off the sofa long enough even to go next door to talk to our neighbor? When was the last time you offered to pick someone up and bring them to services and maybe have lunch afterwards? Spending time with people has its own reward. And rejection is always one of the consequences. Teaching the truth has its own reward; and so does doing nothing.
You don’t need to be asked to lend a hand. You don’t need permission from anyone. You don’t need to wait for anyone. You don’t need to get a degree or to spend two to four years listening to others in order to be able to figure out what you can or can’t do. You don’t need a seminar. You simply need to find the truth and learn it front to back; apply it to yourself, put it to practice, and then when you are prepared, open it up or take it out of its cover and teach it and share it with others. That’s the requirement.
I have always suggested that every Christian should have at least one lesson on first principles that they have studied well enough to be able to deliver when needed and without getting lost in the details. Add to that some of the questions that you might ask if you were looking for the answers yourself and then learn those too. Practice that lesson until you know it inside out. Teach it to your family or some friends to let them critique you. There are eight detailed conversions in the book of Acts, and they can be studied to offer details of just about every condition a person might find others in. Once you have your lesson, then try to set up an opportunity to test it with a family member, friend, neighbor or some other acquaintance – perhaps with a total stranger. It will not hurt them. There are how-to books written by solid Christians out there to aid you. Oh, by the way – never go anywhere alone; go with a fellow Christian, your friends, your wife or husband, etc. Your local elders or your preacher will be happy to aid and help you too. You might note that the sermons of Peter and Paul differ little in content, except as they were “adjusted’ to the ears of the audience. Look and see.
Someone said that the Mormons tell their misguided young “elders” that they will knock on a thousand doors before they will ever make one convert. They are the fastest growing denomination in this country and a school for false teachers and destruction. How many doors do you think it will take the holders of the truth to knock on before someone opens it and they might have some small success for God?
But then, how will anyone ever get visited if no one is willing to get up and “Go”? How will your neighbor ever learn about the truth if you never talk to them or invite them over for a cup of coffee one fine morning? How will you ever get to know them without stopping by or asking them over in the cool of the evening for some dessert or to watch the game? Half time makes a fine opportunity does it not?
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
(Acts 8: 4 NKJV)
Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
(2 Timothy 4: 2 – 4 NRSV)