How many would be lost if . . .?
Some may be concerned about the safety of the church members if the ministers are away from the churches most of the time evangelizing and church planting. Will the church members survive spiritually, and will the churches prosper?
From reviewing data and speaking with denominational leaders in different parts of the world, one thing is very clear; when pastors have 10 and more churches (some have 30 to 40, even as much as 90 in Angola) in their districts, the churches grow faster and the lay people themselves, plant many churches. When pastors have one or only a few churches in their districts, the churches rarely experience significant and lasting growth, and sometimes they even have no growth at all. In these situations, the members expect the ministers to do most of the evangelism in addition to caring for baptized members. Ellen White said, “If the ministers would get out of the way, if they would go forth into new fields, the members would be obliged to bear responsibilities, and their capabilities would increase by use.—Letter 56, 1901.”1 This truth which Ellen White stated, has been proven in areas of the world where there are many churches and very few ministers. It has been more strongly proven especially in the few areas of the world where ministers are assigned to geographic territories instead of being assigned to specific churches (this will be shown later in this book). The same principle applies to the raising of children. When children learn to take responsibility and do things for themselves, they become more capable adults than when the parents do everything for the children year after year.
Safety: Consider the following scenario.
Suppose for a moment, that your minister became very ill with the flu, and was unable to preach in your church for a month. Worse yet, no other licensed or ordained minister was able to come and preach to your church during the same period. The elders, deacons and maybe others would have to take care of preaching, visiting, etc. Think about that for a moment and then answer this question. How many of the members who attend your church would be lost forever, burn in the lake of fire, and not go to heaven because of not being able to hear a sermon or receive a visit from a licensed or ordained minister? How many? Do you think maybe ten would be lost? How about five? Maybe two? The reality is that not even one of the members would be lost because of having to hear the sermons or receive visits from the elders. Not one. Why? Because the members already have a knowledge of salvation and know how to give their hearts to God daily. If anyone were to be lost, it would have to be for some other reason, and the fault would be his own.
What if the minister was sick for six months and no other salaried minister could come and preach or take care of the many other tasks which are usually done by ministers? How many members of your church, would be lost forever, burn in the lake of fire, and not go to heaven because your pastor could not preach or take care of anything at your church for six months? As in the previous illustration, not even one would lose salvation for that reason.
Now, let’s make it even more difficult. Suppose that all the ministers from all the churches were locked up in prison for five years because they had been preaching the gospel. How many baptized members would be lost due to having to hear sermons and receive visits from lay leaders instead of licensed or ordained ministers? Again, no one would forfeit eternal life for that reason alone. If a baptized saint were lost, it would have to be for some other reason, and again, the fault would be his own.
There was a time in our own Adventist history that in one of the nations which persecuted Christians we had 200 ministers and 198 of them were in prison. I met a minister from one of those countries who still remembers the day that his father, a minister, was taken to jail. He never saw his father again. The church members in that country did not lose the way of salvation due to that. They depended upon Jesus to sustain their faith and remained strong. The members today in that country are still faithful.
Now, here is a much more important question. How many people who are not baptized Christians, who do not know the way to salvation, may have been lost in the last five years and went to their graves without the assurance of salvation? How many will be raised up in the second resurrection, burn in the lake of fire, and not go to heaven because the licensed and ordained ministers have been preaching and visiting church members, instead of looking for lost sheep for the last five years? How many have been lost because the ministers have been knocking on doors that were already open?
One Sabbath in a three-church district where I was the pastor, I left the church service during a special program at one church (I did not have to preach that Sabbath) and went to visit a man and his wife who had stopped attending church. They were quite surprised to learn that I had left the church service to visit them. The visit made an impact on them. The lost members are very precious to Jesus, and the faithful church members need to know that. They need to see that they themselves need to make some visits and seek the lost sheep. The members of the church, whether lay leaders or not, are fully qualified to visit erring members and help restore them to fellowship with the church.
What would you do or say if your pastor left the church service one Sabbath and told the elder or someone to take the sermon, while he went to try and reclaim a lost soul and that was the only day and time he could connect with the person? What would you do or say? Would you murmur and complain? Or would you learn the value of one lost soul for whom Jesus died? Would you feel guilty for having neglected to visit that person yourself previously?
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
Questions for Consideration
- Do you feel that you or your church members might lose salvation if your minister left to plant churches?
- How important is a single lost soul’s salvation to you, versus the importance of a large group who know the way of salvation?
- How important was a single lost soul to Jesus?
- Should a minister be expected to act like Jesus?
- In what ways, regarding the answers to the previous questions, could a minister be more like Jesus compared to how they conduct themselves in our churches today?
- How well would your congregation handle a situation wherein your minister is unable to tend the flock for a month? Six months? A year?