“More Than the Pulpit”

By Olen Holderby

In the October 1971 issue of Plain Talk brother Dan Shipley had a splendid article under the above title. His article is dealing with how well we are carrying out the instructions of the Great Commission (or failing to do so). That was 28 years ago, but the points which he made are worthy of further consideration. For, it appears to me that we have the same problems today.

Brother Shipley said, “While the need for pulpit and classroom teaching cannot be discounted, it is simply not enough. We need to get out of our own ‘front yard’ with the incorruptible seed that can save souls!”With this statement I wholeheartedly concur. I think the need is well expressed in the second paragraph of brother Ship- ley’s article, “We must go because many will not come. Relatively few non-Christians are attending worship services and Bible classes. Those who do attend seldom do so with any regularity and even then are not likely to hear lessons that are most appropriate to their needs. Let’s face it, most who need the gospel are not coming to our front yard to get it. If they are to be reached it will take more than the pulpit, and it will take more than the man who stands in the pulpit.”

There can be no doubt that the Lord intended that ev- ery qualified member of his church be about the business of teaching others the gospel (2 Tim. 2:2). Surely we ac- cept this as being true. Yet, we continue to hear some say that they will not or cannot do what they seem pleased to call “door-knocking.” I have personally heard this come from the lips of some preachers as well as others. More recently some are quoted as saying that the emphasis in the gospel was on pulpit preaching. My studies have not found this to be the case. While there may be some disagreement on what Bible examples might be classed as pulpit preaching, I have tried counting them with the following results: In Matthew there are ten examples of what might be called pulpit preaching, as compared to 49 examples of other arrangements more closely resembling what is called “personal work” or “cottage classes” today. In Mark the ratio is eight pulpit and 54 others; and, in Luke it is nine to 71. John gives five examples of public preaching to 47 that are less than public. Acts presents the same sort of picture, giving a 29 to 60 ratio. Even al- lowing for a margin of error in judgment, the claim that gospel emphasis is on pulpit preaching does not appear to be justified.

Most of the teaching done by Jesus and his apostles was done under circumstances which permitted ques- tions and answers to repeatedly pass back and forth, and this does not resemble pulpit preaching of today. I believe it would be more accurate to say that the emphasis is on “teaching,” and all these avenues are open to us and should be used.

I am aware that the command to teach is generic and that many methods may be used; but, it would appear that apostolic example would furnish the most effec- tive way or combination of ways for this being done. “. .

. I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Both these methods should be utilized by every Christian, including preachers. I am not so naive as to think I can spell out the abilities or limits of my preaching brethren in this matter of door knocking, but I am criticizing the attitude that prevails in some quarters.

In 2 Timothy 4:1-4, we have Paul’s instructions to Timothy to “preach the word.” Should Timothy follow Paul’s example in doing this, what would he do (Acts 20:20)? Who would Timothy “reprove, rebuke, and ex- hort”? Would it be only those in regular attendance at the public services? From the pulpit members are urged to do this “door knocking” and this is as it should be. However, Timothy was told to be an example to believ- ers (1 Tim. 4:12).

If any one member of the church is to do such work, all are to do it, limited only by opportunity and ability. And, with effort, both opportunity and ability can be enhanced.

It appears to me that very poor judgment is being used in choosing a man to begin or to build up a new work. To choose a man who is, admittingly, not very effective in any way except in the pulpit is normally to add to the length of time necessary for “outside” support for such a work. I personally know of no such work that has been built upon pulpit preaching alone. Someone simply had to do some “door knocking” (as to new converts). It does not do the cause of Christ justice by choosing to labor in a place where strong talents are needed that one simply does not possess. Another quote from brother Shipley fits just here, “For these, and other reasons, it would seem a wise redemption of time for us to become more involved in this house-to-house kind of teaching. We need more kitchen-table lecterns and sofa-pews!”

And again, “Let’s get out of the ‘front yard’ to do the sowing.”

What is the advantage(s) in house-to-house teach- ing? Brother Shipley expresses this very well, “We need to take the gospel to the lost because in their homes is often afforded the most favorable of teaching situations. There the student is not lost in the crowd; the lessons have a more personal flavor. Where else could a student feel more “at home” and feel free to ask pertinent ques- tions without fear of embarrassment? There, he relates himself to the subject more readily; he hears lessons most relevant to his needs. With home studies the prevalent problem of absenteeism is almost nil. Many will keep an appointment with a teacher at home who won’t do so at a church building. What better arrangement for teaching Bible truth?”

Some will criticize the idea of “door knocking” while they reap the benefits of the “door knocking” of others; and this certainly comes with poor grace. I am not urging indiscriminate, uninformed, and unprepared house-to- house efforts. I do, however, insist that we need a great deal more of this type of teaching, by both members and preachers.

It has been my experience that where there is a pro- gram of house-to-house teaching, involving preachers, elders, and members, the most conversions, the greatest ratio of faithfulness, and less difficulties will normally be found. When folks have their hands full of working for the Lord, there simply is not time to introduce divisive situations into the church. There seems to be a problem for many — where do I find prospects? This problem will not go away simply because we do not do the work. So, we must find a solution and put it in operation. There are still plenty of people who “would give anything in this world” for what the Christian has if he only understood it. No, we cannot make a horse drink by merely leading him to the water, but we can labor to make him as thirsty as possible! Then, he will drink! Of course, all whom we teach, will not accept, but we will at least have given them a chance of making an informed decision. It is God