By Dale Smelser
Christians who have been involved in new or young works in areas remote from most brethren know how demanding such work can be. Working with babes in Christ in such places can be quite different from working with babes in Christ whose environment and background have always been influenced by the gospel. The demands upon spiritual leaders were surely quite different in Jerusalem from those in Corinth. Compare just the number of things the Corinthians had to unlearn.
In spite of those demands in new and remote works, the responsibility to establish and confirm is often left to one man because of the scarcity of workers. That was the case when Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica and had to remain alone in Athens (1 Thess. 3:1-2). But the fact is, Paul felt the need of Timothy and Silas with him in Athens (Acts 17:15), and was greatly helped when they joined him at Corinth (Acts 18:5). Similarly, when Barnabas earlier saw the new work at Antioch, he went to Tarsus to find Saul. The two of them then taught many people in Antioch (Acts 11:25-26). Two or more laborers in such places is better than one.
While we see benefit in two men working together in larger well-established groups where there are elders and many mature Christians to help carry the load, if we calculate preacher responsibility by congregational size, we might assume it extravagant for two men to work in places where new or small congregations exist. But the amount of work to be done by an evangelist is not related to the size of the congregation where he is. The principle extra occupation of a preacher in association with a larger congregation is that he will make more hospital calls. (It is good that preachers find time to comfort the afflicted. Some other members could follow their example.) Otherwise, the frequency of training disciples whether few or many can be about the same. And in places with fewer mature Christians the preacher has less help. Likewise, a disproportionate number of congregational responsibilities and burdens of members fall upon preachers where there are not as many to share the work. And there are as many lost souls to evangelize in one place as another. It appears that just as much, and maybe more, might be accomplished by supporting two men in a virgin area as in one where the gospel is well represented.
And while we see it as good training for young preachers to work in established groups with older preachers, and I concur, we not quite accurately cite the work of Paul and Timothy as an example of such a program. Paul trained Timothy and they worked together, but they were out on the spiritual frontier and often separated. And I wonder if some young preachers surrounded by prestige and pleasant association will see going into remote areas as demotion, and rather seek position and recognition comparable to what they have experienced? After such advantage let us hope they seek not merely security. Let those that are capable accept challenge, remembering it was the young, though not inexperienced, Timothy who was sent to help rescue Corinth (1 Cor. 4:16-17).
This is not to question the propriety of good men presently working where there are many brethren. Most of us have been there. But how encouraged I am when someone chooses a place because of the challenge, such as when Lloyd Barker chose to move to Beckley, West Virginia, knowing there would be opposition to him because the institutional question had not been settled there. Preaching the truth in love, long suffering, and much patience turned the tide, and his beginning was continued by Aubrey Belue. Aubrey is back there again. And what a joy it is to visit that active church with 150 attending, and remember it is where it is because someone thought more of the need and challenge and the glory of God than security or proximity to family. Or one can think of great men who moved really far into new cultures to spread the good news.
It is true that sometimes inept men have attempted such admirable endeavors. But is one necessarily so because of his youth? A look at the New Testament says youth can be effective. Of course, let each one who attempts such work make sure he is willing to abide by Paul’s instructions to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:12-16). Those unwilling to do that should not pose as preachers anywhere.
Well, those are reflections about preachers working together, the capability of young preachers, the need for some dispersal. Now for some plans pertinent to them. Jeff and Scott Smelser have for some time discussed going someplace where no congregation exists and together with their families beginning one while evangelizing that area. They ultimately chose Providence, Rhode Island, an hour out of Boston. The nearest churches struggling for the New Testament order are at Sutton and Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. They have chosen a populous area of sparse churches. I don’t know if my enthusiasm about the possibilities in the northeast influenced their decision. But this area of the nation is ripe, especially for young preachers, because it is largely young people who are being converted here. Several works are thriving.
You would rejoice to visit Milton, Vermont where Jeff and Anna Kingry are and see an attendance of 75-80 of mostly young couples and their children, couples young in age and faith. In northern New Jersey the churches at East Orange, Fair Lawn and Succasunna support or help support 18 preachers. Washington’s meeting place is bursting at the seams. And in central New York State the work of Larry and Sharon Bailey causes me to stand in awe, the ever growing congregation in New South Berlin recently having to expand its building and spawning another congregation.
And young preachers, with all the recent immigration from all over the world into the northeast, if you have a second language, you can preach to other nationalities without going overseas, though such work may lead you there for important visits. Gardner and Beverly Hall are valuable here as Gardner works among Hispanics. Through this, doors have been opened in Puerto Rico that he has effectively used.
Yes, the struggle of transforming minds to conform to the gospel here is challenging even after people have been baptized, because such an entirely different way of thinking predominates. I am glad that Jeff and Scott are coming together. They will need one another. I hope more pairs of young preachers will come and that churches will send them.
My response to having sons move to a remote area to begin a work from ground up is mixed, as the response of many of you would be. As a father I see them secure in good works in Akron, Ohio and Decatur, Alabama where they each will have been for the past five and a half years when they move, and where they are known and used by others in their respective areas. It would be a comfort to my mind for them to stay where they are. But as a Christian and as a preacher I applaud their intention. And I surely love and admire their wives who stand with and encourage them.
And as for support given for preachers to work in pairs, the efficiency quotient will likely be more than just double what one could do by himself. So it was with Paul at Corinth. With support sent from Macedonia (2 Cor. 11:8-9), and the added presence of Timothy and Silas (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6-8), Paul was strengthened, turned to the Gentiles, and the work at Corinth took off (Acts 18:8). Let us consider more evangelism where teams of workers go.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 2, pp. 46, 55
January 16, 1986