Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Andrew Blackwood on Outreach

I recently stumbled across an essay by Andrew Blackwood entitled “Evangelism and Preaching.” It was in an older book edited by Carl F. H. Henry, Contemporary Evangelical Thought (1957). I had only seen Blackwood’s name in passing and simply knew he was a popular author in the area of pastoral ministry from that time period. I thumbed through the essay, however, and was struck by what I found! Blackwood in one section addressed weaknesses in American approaches to revival meetings. He raised several criticisms. One was the failure of serious discipleship and nurture arising from an inordinate attention to gathering crowds and building the program. He then addressed the issue of whether these ‘conversions’ truly resulted in disciples. It was striking to me to read something written 50 years ago making the very same points that manyof us are trying to make today.

“Whatever the reason, many church members today give no visible evidences of having been born again. In New Jersey a church bulletin recently compared the statistics of the home congregation with those of fifty years before. With a resident church membership practically twice as large as half a century ago, attendance at morning worship averages less than half the attendance fifty years ago; attendance at the church school has fallen off still more; there is at present no evening service, and no mid-week meeting, whereas such gatherings were formerly well attended, as such things went in that older time. Meanwhile, what has taken place? Year after year, the congregation has welcomed many new members, including boys and girls of proper age. Few of these boys and girls have formed the habit of attending their own church. And yet this congregation has helped to swell the official statistics that lead Protestants to boast that the number of our church members has kept increasing by leaps and bounds!” (294)

“With the work of evangelism, hand in hand, ought to go the most careful Christian nurture, especially by the pastor. Why else did the Apostle keep writing ‘letters to young churches?’ Guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that the didache ought to follow the kerygma. In the Jersey congregation, as among the Ohio churches, a study of the facts would show that the falling off in church attendance, and in other visible signs of invisible grace, came during a period when the local minister felt too busy to do pastoral work, either by home visitation of by counseling at the church. Since 1925, when I ceased to serve as a full-time pastor, I have ministered as a pulpit supply in all sorts of churches….Again and again I have come home with the conviction that our noblest laymen wish the dominie [pastor] would quit doing many other things not wrong in themselves, and begin to take loving care of the home flock, especially the weaker sheep and the little lambs.” (295-296)

This is a good reminder that the way to advance the kingdom is by the faithful day to day work of teaching, preaching, shepherding and overseeing souls. The quick fixes rarely ever 'fix.'


Joel Maners said...

Good point Ray. However, I feel that many Evangelicals have gotten off on the wrong foot by beginning their walk with God outside the context of the church. The model is, first, you "get saved," then you look for a church. The church is almost an afterthought to the whole conversion experience. We end up with churches filled with believes that have tenuous ties to each other at best.

To me, salvation is found within the context of a community of faith. Baptism should be a community exercise, not just about the individual and his personal salvation.

I find it interesting that in Revelation, Jesus renders judgment on the churches, not individuals. While I do think that we will be held accountable for our individual lives, we will certainly also be held accountable as communities. If judgment is about our community, should our salvation not be also about our community? The ministry of reconciliation is not just about us and God, it's about reconciling us to each other as well.

Ray Van Neste said...

I agree Joel. Of course there is no telling where one might be when one is converted, but the norm is that one would at least hear the gospel from a believer who is rooted in a specific church. This situation is part of the larger "rootlessness" of our society which no doubt ties into our overblown individualism.
In fact, Blackwood addresses some of this as well.

Joel Maners said...

I've been thinking this over a bit. It seems that if we truly believe that conversion should take place in the context of relationships within a community of faith, then what are the ramifications for evangelism? Perhaps our evangelistic efforts should be less event based and more community based. Instead of inviting strangers to an event, we should invite our acquaintances to friendship and from there to a place within a community. In that context they could experience not only personal salvation but also understand what it means to live out your salvation. Come to think of it, that is how I have brought people to Christ in the past.

Hmmm. I've got more thinking to do on this.

Ray Van Neste said...

While I would nto say an event is in itself bad, we certainly are on the wrong track when events becoem ourprimary or standard means.
Blackwood, in th epiece mentioned goes on to say:
“I believe that the work of revival, under God, depends mainly on the local church…” (291)
“I also feel that we accomplished most by what the Westminster shorter Catechism calls ‘the diligent use of the outward and ordinary means of grace’ than when we resorted to special methods.” (297)

Outward and ordinary means is exactly what you are talking about Joel. We have too often shifted our focus to 'special methods' rather than the regular daily work.