"New Works" and Problems
In April, 1979, an announcement appeared in some of "the papers concerning a new work in F________ , California. It was a grand and, from all appearances, successful beginning, on December 24, 1978. However, before the announcement appeared problems had begun to show up. Other than a hint here and there, I received no warning whatsoever concerning these problems. While I am convinced that such silence was dereliction, to say the least, I shall leave it at that point and permit God to take care of whatever failures my brethren here demonstrated. This is a personal story, though shared by others of our local group. I would like to share the experiences of the past year and one-half with the readers of this publication, in the hopes that it will be both interesting and helpful to many.
Having been involved in new works in Florida, Arizona, California, and Missouri, I might be able to offer a few profitable thoughts for those involved in similar works or planning to do so. My experience tells me that problems differ from place to place mostly as a matter of degree, though some would be peculiar to a given situation. The new work in Missouri proved to be the most enjoyable and problem free of any in my experiences while my present work in F______ has proven to be the most difficult. Sharing my F__________ experiences may serve a two-fold purpose. First, it shall provide a progress report; secondly, it may be helpful to those planning such works.
Discouraged: I soon realized that there were those that because of their experiences elsewhere were badly discouraged. Their talents were rusty, their attitudes unpredictable and they generally felt that they had not been permitted to grow and produce as they could have done under different circumstances. These "carry-over" feelings from past experiences were repeatedly hurting. However, this group did not prove to be a big problem. Once they were permitted and encouraged to be an active and productive part, they were on their way. Enthusiasm ran high in this group, but bad habits were not easily broken. I have nothing but compliments for this group. They have come a long ways and are still going.
Quitters: As might be expected in such cases, there were those who planned to simply "quit," judging from observations, and merely signed up to assist in the new works to keep from being bothered. Their original congregation would think they had gone to the new work and the new work would see nothing of them. Of course, most of these did exactly what they had planned. We have managed to "salvage" a few, though question marks still abound. If possible at all, these should have been "weeded" out before we ever started. With few exceptions, I had no idea about the size or seriousness of this problem. Not knowing these people, I spent a lot of time trying to undo things that I supposed some of us must have done to discourage them. I doubt, however, that it was a complete waste of time; we did, after all, learn a few things therefrom.
Disgruntled: Some had come with the new work disgruntled because they had not gotten their way elsewhere (I have no doubt about the wisdom here). You guessed it! They wanted their way here also, and it did not seem to make a lot of difference how they go it. It does not take much of an imagination to guess what problems these could cause; thus I leave them to your imagination at this point.
I realize that one can expect a certain number of these sorts of people in any new work (and elsewhere). However, I was soon to realize that these were so prevalent and obvious that it caused a number of talented and dependable people to decline to assist with the new work, thinking we would have nothing but problems. I do not agree with this thinking, but that does not cause the problem to go away.
The new work begins; soon after fallacies began to appear. Some apparently viewed the new work as a "love nest" in which almost anything would be tolerated. Just about every kind of liberal was urged, "Come be a part of our new work." Along with this attitude was the practice of some in frequenting the services of some of the "liberal" groups in our area. As expected, they came, but they did not stay long. I preached the truth; they did not like it. Of course, I was a culprit for "running them off" and I needed more love in my heart. Of course, we were blessed with those that were full of wisdom, who knew better than anyone else what should be preached, how it should be preached, and when it should be preached. But, they had a poor student; I did not learn too easily. There was a willingness and an effort to involve the congregation, as a congregation, in things that were none of our business. All I could do here was to say, "No, not me!" and to press the principles of truth that should be respected in all such cases. I am certain I have not mentioned everything up to this point, but perhaps the reader has the picture. Let us return to specifics.
Gossip and back-biting: Gossip was our first collective problem. Brethren, changing locations will not stop gossip. We managed to get this stopped momentarily. However, we did not accurately judge the stubbornness of those involved, and we under-estimated its source. Insisting upon firm and determined action was not easy under the circumstances, but it had to be done. This had been going on for some time but came to light because of the courage of some in reporting it at this point. Efforts to stop this proved almost completely vain; such would merely change their avenue of attack, deny their intent, and continue to do what they were doing. Again we failed to realize the "depth" of this problem. Perhaps a better explanation would be that we so badly desired it to be otherwise that we did not see too well. We were still wrestling with this problem when the next one surfaced.
Fornication: One couple, by their own request, talked with me about their marital situation, several months before the new work began. Their story was somewhat like the proverbial "fisherman's" story, but I, nonetheless, accepted it at face value. Now, a few months after the new work was under way, concrete proof was voluntarily offered that this couple was living in adultery and had been for some twenty years. Like the "man without a country," I was man without a choice if I was to please God. Dear reader, keep in mind that all these things were going on at the same time. I was soon to learn there were others, both congregations and individuals, that had "stuck their heads in the sand" in this matter and had permitted it to be dumped into my lap in the beginning of the new work. But, we cannot be accountable for the neglect of our brethren elsewhere. Action was taken, the couple were disfellowshipped. Alas, this couple had fellow-travelers. At least one insisted that they did not have to part in order to repent and correct their sins. Others openly defended them and opposed such action as was taken. We lost about twenty-five per cent of the families with which we started. I was accused of initiating such action for wrong motives. Have you ever initiated such action and have only one person in an area of 250,000 population to call and commend the action? If so, you know exactly how I felt. I shall never forget that one call! Excuses flew thick and fast! I have never seen so many "cautious" brethren in all my life; for the first time in my life I learned the danger in opposing sin-some one is going to think you "are taking sides"! I can assure you it would take a rather wild imagination to cover all that those who left us tried to do. Of course, after the action had the appearance of being successful (and it was), many were the compliments.
There is considerable aftermath of this last problem. I shall resist the temptation to tell such lest I be thought of as being unkind and harmful to my "good" brethren. One good illustration of attitudes was expressed by an elder's wife when she asked, "Why didn't O just destroy that evidence and forget about it?" The answer was supplied by my supportive wife, "And go to hell?" The full story in all this is almost unbelievable; what has happened to most of those that left us because of the action taken is a sad, sad story. I was to learn that some of them were fully aware of the fornication problem, but had not once opened their mouth to get such corrected; they wished it to be tolerated in our midst. And, if you were not willing to tolerate it, you just needed to have more love in your heart. We are still feeling repercussions from this problem, and probably will for some time to come.
I wish to have it clearly understood, I could not have gone through all this without the support of the majority of the brethren involved in the new work. I never cease to thank God for those that stood firm with me in this or these matters. They are good men, they are applying themselves, and should their efforts continue the new work will have a bright future.
Progress: O, yes, there are positive aspects, many good things! When it was evident that we would not tolerate such rebellion against God's Word, a number of good brethren cast their lot with us; we are thankful for these. Maybe we needed to prove ourselves a bit. We lost most, if not all, of the original trouble-makers. We have baptized twenty-five since our beginning, most of them in recent months. More classes are underway now than ever, and it appears that the good news of our existence and our stand for truth and light is being noticed. We pray that the Cause of our Savior will reap much fruit as a result. Both attendance and contributions are on the increase, and interest is high with most. New converts are active and growing, a pride and joy to all of us.
We all recognize that there shall be "growing pains" and, no doubt, other problems. We hope that we can face such with the same determination with which the recent ones were faced. We have lost a lot of sleep, some weight, and maybe a few years; that is nothing compared with the price paid on Calvary. We were hurt, disappointed, and made ashamed of some of our brethren, but we did not quit. Unity now prevails, and if present progress continues, and I believe that it will, we will soon be reaching out to other places. We sincerely thank God for all the progress, we pray that it shall continue, and we solicit your prayers to that end. For those who get tired of fighting and wish to quit, we simply say, "You are in the wrong army!"
I have retraced my steps for the past one and one-half years many times. If I had it all to do over, I cannot think of one decision, one effort, or one point that I would like to change. Of course, I should hope to improve in anything that I do; but I could not change anything without feeling that I was betraying the Cause of my Lord. I trust that these have been helpful or encouraging to someone out there, somewhere, that is involved in the same or similar works. May the God of heaven bless you with wisdom and courage to continue!
Truth Magazine XXIV: 43, pp. 695-697