A THRILLING EXPERIENCE
T. PIERCE BROWN
For those who are dissatisfied with the anemic efforts we usually make to win others to Christ, I would like to share with you an experiment I tried some time ago. First, I became more closely acquainted with some men of the town who have a higher than average concern for moral and spiritual values, although they were members of various denominations.
Second, although every day I was trying to set up and conduct Bible studies, with this group of men I was trying a different approach. I approached them with the viewpoint of having a meeting some day in the week (it turned out to be Wednesday at7 a.m.) for one or more of the following purposes: 1. Devotional thinking and meditation. 2. Prayer. 3. Sharing of insight, experiences or ideas. 4. Discussing some spiritual need or problem that might be common or pressing.
Third, when four of us met together to make preliminary plans for the direction we might go, and the methods we would use in getting there, I made a preliminary statement of my attitude, purpose and hope in approximately these words: “I am fairly well convinced that organized religion in the structures we usually see operating is a miserable failure. Christianity, as Christ planned it, was concerned more with the needs of the individual and changing lives into happier and more productive ones that it was with building up ecclesiastical machinery. I am convinced that much preaching is in high-flown abstractions that miss our real needs. I think if you have ever felt frustrated and empty in trying to be better and do better under the system in which most of us operate, perhaps a small group of six or eight sharing their needs and insights and trying to relate eternal truths to our own problems may appeal to you.” My view is that we and they have to start where they are–in ignorance of the answers and methods of Christ, and in most cases in denominational groups. I have noted that many times in both pulpit preaching and personal evangelism, we start where we are and try to push men to Christ rather than starting where they are and leading them to Him.
At any rate my approach seemed to strike the right note, and we spent an hour discussing the direction we might go. In the discussion, I suggested that in my experience with teaching and counseling, for us to merely “witness” to our experience, unrelated to God’s standard, would be non-productive. They agreed and unanimously suggested that at our next meeting I bring a devotional thought which I felt related to man’s universal needs and then each of the group would try to see how it could relate or had related to him.
In my judgment, such a meeting is not for the following kind of persons:
1. For the preacher who is so accustomed to doing all the talking that he cannot listen–and when forced to listen he only uses that pause to find a way to win or advance his argument.
2. For a person who thinks it is unscriptural for a Christian to listen to others pray and/or to pray with and/or for them, for that would be “having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness”. My understanding of the fellowship that is condemned is associating in such a fashion that it automatically shows approval or acceptance of false teachers and false doctrine.
3. For a person who thinks it is either unscriptural or hypocritical for a person to engage in “dialogue” with others without making it abundantly and dogmatically clear on the first and every subsequent meeting that he considers every institution and doctrine of men utterly worthless and condemned of God. (I do consider them condemned, but I think it wise to try to help a man discover a solid foundation for himself before tearing down his little playhouse. It is even better if he tears it down himself after he realizes its worthlessness, and rebuilds on God’s plan).
4. For a person who assumes that because he has learned by God’s grace what to do to be saved, and most of the persons he meets have not, he is therefore superior to them and can have no profitable discussions with them that does not involve his teaching them their error.
5. For a person who is so weak in the faith that he can have no real conviction, based solidly on God’s Word, and who cannot “give an answer for the hope that is within him with meekness and fear.”
However, for one who is unwilling to compromise one item of the faith that was once for all delivered, and yet can, like Paul, “become all things to all men that he might gain some,” this can be a very wholesome experience.
Surely, there is no thoughtful person among us who is not aware of the danger of becoming so exclusive and monastic as to not only deaden, to a large degree, our concern for others, but to cut us off from reaching them even if we feel concern. At a time when there are an increasing number of preachers who see nothing wrong with swapping pulpits with denominational preachers, this activity could cause many to question your soundness. If you are more concerned with that than you are with trying to change men’s lives, I suggest you not use this method. I would not swap pulpits with false teachers, nor participate in their “unity meetings.” Meeting with an informal group who are searching for answers is in a different category.
If this article causes anyone, preacher or otherwise, to re-evaluate ways you may be able to “launch out into the deep and let your nets on the other side,” I shall be gratified.
Although I am aware that an article like this can give ammunition to some among us for taking pot shots perhaps for the purpose of bolstering their own sagging egos, and I am also aware of the dangers involved in embarking on a course of action as suggested above, I still write it in the hope that strong men among us who have not lost their humility and ability to relate to the individual can launch out into deeper waters where I am able only to dabble in the edge of the pool.