A few years ago, my mothers pastor asked me to drive the church van to pick up kids for Sunday School (theyíre Methodists.) My pickup route had been worked out between the pastor and the kids parents. (Adults had worked everything out beforehand.) And I routinely found between 50% and 100% of the kids there, ready and waiting. There was little going upstairs, no begging, and absolutely no stories about "he just went to the store". While driving I remembered my experiences in COBU of picking up "lambs". There were major differences though.
I was in the "Young Sheep House" in the early 80ís. When we went out we were given a long list and never filled up our van. (A 10% pickup rate would have brought rejoicing.) We would always have to knock on the door, and there was rarely anyone there. ("He just left".) If there was someone there we still had to try and persuade him to come to some meeting that they had supposedly expressed interest in coming to.
Here is an illustrative incident: Brother AL and I were picking up lambs for a meeting. We drove to a lot of addresses and had either few or none. Since it was late we looked at our list and decided not to visit those who lived a long way out, and didnít have a phone number next to their name. When we got to the meeting a sister asked us about her lamb. So we told her why we didnít go there. The sister was upset because that lamb had called her during the week to say she wanted to come.
I am now part of an orthodox evangelical church (not Methodists). Every quarter the "covenant members" meet and we discuss our ministries. Since the pastors are fallible, we can propose changes in our tactics. If some part of our ministry is failing we propose changes rather than assume that "it must be our spirit". Our most labor-intensive ministry is VBS (Vacation Bible School). We can only handle about 60 or 70 kids so we pray for the right amount and the right ones. The people who recruit the kids are the same ones who tend them. And there is absolutely NO comparison among the brethren to see who brought the most kids. (Since weíre not laboring under heavy burdens we want kids to come and we want them to grow up to be like us. Oh and weíre not worried that the pastor will ambush us and turn the meeting into a dark and dreary one.)
In COBU we would spend a short time in a place and then move on. When we were in the YS house we made hundreds of "friends" and then deserted them by "starting centers" in another state. My current church has been in the same area (similar to Woodruff) for 27 years and has no plans to move. In fact people move here from other areas to take part in our ministry. Actually it is the people in the neighborhood who are transient.
When I started in 1980, there was a meeting every 2 months. So we would conduct our ministry for one month and during the second month we would tell people about the meeting while we conducted our ministry. And the week before the meeting we would only focus on the meeting. By 1984 we were having (much smaller) meetings every 2 weeks. So if you ever went to visit anyone you would be telling him about a meeting. (You canít rightly invite someone to a Saturday event on Friday night.)
At every other church Iíve been to, the pastor is there first and while he doesnít set up, he is the one to see if thereís a problem. ST on the other hand would call ahead to make sure everyone was assembled, so he could make a grand entrance. He would also want 5 people waiting, to carry his stuff in. You would never have seen ST cleaning up someone elseís spill.
I spent a lot of time and energy in the 80ís witnessing to people and trying to bring them to meetings. I know that it wasnít all wasted (Isa. 55:11), but quite frankly now Iím glad that I didnít have that much success. (Hag. 1:6)
One interesting fact about COBU was that our best "lambs" lived far away. The kids in the neighborhood wanted nothing to do with us.
While the "dumping" of lambs was rare, it was memorable when it did happen. (Dumping is when you invite someone over but you get someone else to tend him.)
Today Iím a small part of a vast body called the Church. Even my church is just a small member in a large body.
But back then, we were Godís end time army. We were the cutting edge, the revolutionary vanguard, an elite witnessing team (that only picked on teenagers). Our fellowship was probably one of the olive trees mentioned in Rev. 11. Yet the fact that we shrunk from (Iím measuring Big Meeting attendance) 1100 in 7/80 to about 300 in 7/84 didnít shake those delusions of grandeur from us. Since I wasnít there previous to 1980, I donít really know what we shrunk from originally. There was even a "young sheep" brother who prophesied (in 1982) that our "friends would be the seeds of a new nation".
So while there are 5 billion people on 6 continents in about 200 nations, the 50 to 100 of us cloistered in a basement in Brooklyn (worrying about where someone was "coming from") were the focus of Godís work in the world. While I could hardly bring a lamb to a meeting, I truly believed that we were destined to evangelize the entire world. And we believed that we were unique. There werenít 2000 other cults and churches with the same delusions.
By the time I left in1988 the only people we attracted were mental cases. We had a term "sponges", which referred to people who would soak up our time and energy, making it fruitless. There really are such people but my present church doesnít attract them. A hyper kinetic effort fueled by an anxious "bring in everyone" attitude will.
Jail to the chief
Owen Camp Bronx NY email@example.com
I've remembered something else about ministry that ought to be said.
When I was there our tactic (except for the 3 years of the young sheep house) was to push people into saying a prayer, and then weíd declare them saved. (Even though they would then give us a wrong address or phone number, or even not want to talk to us again.) Now push is a strong word. But I use it because we would pray with people who were supposedly making a lifetime commitment; who were promising to change from a life in the flesh to a life of taking up their cross to follow Jesus. Yet we had only known them for 2 hours (or only 15 minutes). And of that 2 hours we did most of the talking. And if someone said they were in a hurry, weíd say "oh this will only take 5 minutes". So someone could "get saved" and not know: )who Adam and Eve were; )who Abraham was; )what the Passover was )what the 10 commandments are; )what exactly sin is; )etc.I wasnít the only one who at some point decided to be cautious about who weíd pray with.
Now this problem is common to evangelical churches. We were not the only ones to do this. In fact Iíve seen an evangelist in Prospect park who would call up people (even a 7 year old) to the front hold their hand and pray a one sentence prayer (we used to have a rather elaborate one) and send them away. He did no follow-up and he did no real preaching beforehand.
My current church takes a different tack, by inviting people to church (or kids to one of our clubs), and then making sure that they hear the whole story from creation to Christ. We donít have an altar call as such. What we do is have the pastors available for prayer so those who have made real decisions on their own can come up. Iíve seen altar calls in one church where: if they donít get enough people who want to be saved, they start asking for people who are hurting, or angry, or wrestling with (name sermon topic). They arenít comfortable unless they have a crowd up there