It is in the character and zeal of our Gospel testimony that we appeal to the world around, and our first responsibility must surely be the salvation of the adults and children in our assembly locality. Apathy, inactivity, lifelessness and aloofness hardly invite response from outsiders. Some years ago, a well-lighted and well-heated hall would attract outsiders, but in this modern day, people are more pleasure-minded and less God-fearing. Homes have increased in comfort and pleasing environment faster than our halls, and attractions both outside and inside the home have multiplied. It has often become accepted that Sunday schools will be pitifully small, and Gospel meetings almost bereft of unsaved; even mature brethren console themselves that ‘it is the same everywhere’ without making any real effort to have it otherwise. Indeed, fellowship and vital support are often withheld from the more active and keen Gospel workers, so that many lose heart and redirect their energy and support to larger movements in the big cities far removed from their homes, or go to help in other places where there is some semblance of blessing. Our responsibility, nonetheless, remains in the assembly area. Souls there are as precious to God as those further afield, and only by evangelizing them will we be able to build up and add to the assembly.
We must, therefore, meet the challenge of this pleasure-loving age and of Satan’s variety of attractions. This may mean complete reappraisal of methods and a fresh approach to the whole question of assembly gospel work, with due regard to local expedient and at times other than the normal Sunday evening Gospel service. Much can be done, nevertheless, to encourage friendly relations with those around, to gain their confidence, to have them send their children to the Sunday school and to attract older ones and parents to the regular Gospel meeting.
In this connection some fairly elementary points may provoke further thought.
1. The outsider will not be attracted into a building which presents a drab and generally uninviting exterior, nor continue to attend if the interior is likewise lacking in decoration, or if the seating is uncomfortable and lighting and heating unsuitable or inadequate.
2. Much more preparation than just the booking of a speaker is necessary, such as the careful consideration of subjects suitable to expected listeners, thereby taking advantage of local incident and conditions; invitation and home visitation; advertising; provision of transport and selection of hymns locally known and which appeal. Smaller things, too, are important; the reserving of rear seats for new-comers who are usually shy of forward seats, and a friendly but unobtrusive approach to them at the conclusion; restraint of frivolous chatter and youthful high spirits amongst believers, so that a sense of solemnity and reverence may prevail as the meeting closes, and during those vital and decisive moments which follow its close.
3. The speaker, too, should be suited to the area and to the potential hearer. This is made difficult because of the custom of having a different speaker each week, but the unsaved do not demand nor expect this. Moreover, this gives rise to great inconsistency in brightness and profitableness of the meeting from week to week. The casual attender, therefore, stays away in case the evening chosen may be one of the ‘duller’ meetings.
4. Although the Sunday evening Gospel service has ever been fruitful, it should not be conducted on Gospel campaign lines, in which prolonged appeals, pleading with and for souls and preaching beyond the normally expected closing time are perhaps allowable and expected. This will keep more away from the regular meeting than it will attract. The aim should rather be to enlighten and instruct the hearers week by week concerning the truths of the Gospel, and the will of God for man. Much of the work will be sowing, and a later campaign may well provide the reaping, but the fruit will be more certain and more rich because of our patient effort. A dignified, purposeful Gospel service, with warm friendly atmosphere, in which the congregation is treated with courtesy and respect, will yet attract our friends and many of those around the assembly area.
5. Responsibility for the Gospel service is often left to the one who invites the speaker, and then to the speaker. It devolves upon the assembly leaders, of course, but essentially it is a collective matter, and one in which it surely behoves us all to assist in every way, both by being present and by supporting it in prayer. Joining heartily in the singing by which the passerby is often impressed, and offering enthusiastic invitation to our acquaintances and neighbours will unitedly help to make it an effective Gospel testimony.
The best designed and maintained machinery requires a source of power and a means of transmission to apply that power; so too the assembly in all its various channels of service requires prayer to apply the power of God. Unless, therefore, our individual prayer life is well-ordered and the prayer meeting well-attended and purposeful in character, other activities will be unfruitful and unblessed, and our Gospel effort impotent. None can surely be unaware that the present widespread apathy, disinterest and leanness of appetite surrounding this vital assembly function has a direct bearing on the small numbers in our Sunday schools and the near absence of unsaved at Gospel meetings. Indeed any expression of hope of revival sounds hollow and meaningless when related to present-day assembly prayer effort.
The spiritual and material needs, too, of the assembly members and God’s people generally, including those in the work at home and abroad, should ever be before us, but these needs can best be presented to God in corporate prayer. We thus become more aware of each other’s needs, more sympathetic to each other’s failings and inabilities, more sensitive to each other’s feelings and inner thoughts, and the family ties are more closely interwoven. The sorrow, however, which is caused to our God by His own in failing to come together for prayer, can hardly be expressed in human terms. United prayer interest must be, and can be, stimulated by a greater sense of urgency on the part of those taking oversight, and by a more spiritually mature outlook on the part of us all, with willing and eager acceptance of our calling and purpose here below.
How great then should be our love for lost souls around us and how unremitting our efforts to see them saved, baptised and continuing ‘steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’. The soon return of the Lord will end such Gospel activity; opportunity for intercession on behalf of those hurrying on to Christless graves will be gone forever; what will have been done must stand for eternity and cannot be altered. Solemn thought! and therefore may we all be possessed with a sense of urgency, being zealous and earnest in assembly matters and in the Gospel. Thus we will ‘not be ashamed before him at his coming’.