INTO HIS HARVEST
A BOLD APPROACH
January 12, 2015
Talking to people in our communities is nothing new. Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other Christian groups, preach door-to-door, on the streets, in casual conversations at work and in their daily activities. But as we considered the ministry of Jesus, we thought of a new and different way to ‘teach the things Jesus commanded’ (Matthew 28:19-20) to a spiritually-ready audience without resorting to proselytizing or forming a new religious sect.
We recall that Jesus carried out his ministry in casual settings, on the streets, in homes, and in the marketplace, but he also taught in the synagogues. In the synagogues, there were many listening ears – people who were hungering for spiritual enlightenment and encouragement; people who had already demonstrated their interest in spiritual matters; and people who, when given a chance and proper direction, willingly picked up their torture stakes and followed Jesus. So we wondered: Can we imitate Jesus in this way? Is it possible to take the plain and open teachings directly to churches and congregations where the people who gather there are already conscious of their spiritual need? Could we, as ‘ambassadors substituting for Christ,’ serve as emissaries and envoys for the kingdom of the heavens in the way our Master did? Our answer was a resounding “YES!” So we, and three of our ministry partners, decided to test it out.
That’s right, we decided to go directly to churches in our communities to see if we could be of some assistance and, in the process, uplift those churches by sharing the plain and open teachings of Jesus. After all, all five of us had been a part of the Theocratic Ministry School conducted at Kingdom Halls and had spent decades in the ministry as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Surely all that training and experience could be of some value to local churches who were struggling and in need of help. And, in the process, we would be following Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 9:26 to not ‘run aimlessly’ from unanswered door to unanswered door, or to stand idly by a magazine cart, but to aim our blows so as not to be ‘beating the air.’
And we thought: This could be especially beneficial to Jehovah’s Witnesses who are trained preachers and teachers, but who have decided they can no longer preach and teach the errors of the Watchtower organization. Their training and skill need not go to waste. An outreach ministry, such as what we will propose in this series, will fill that void. And, as an added bonus, they can find, or even develop, a fellowship with like-minded individuals in place of the fellowship they lost when they left the Watchtower group. This is a bold step that takes courage and love for one’s fellow man, but we have faith in Jesus’ promise:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
– Mark 10:29-30
And we are proud to say that the results so far have been extremely encouraging. Here are some of the comments we shared with each other after our first visit to three different churches in three different parts of the world:
“Since I left the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses 2 years ago, which I was a part of for 40 years, I only had fellowship with my wife and no others until yesterday and it was different. I went to a little fellowship group of 12 people in the morning and another of 7 in the afternoon. It was astounding, like going back in time to the first century congregations. Though casual, it was respectful, very welcoming and caring. We sang, we prayed and we talked. Most exhilarating was that we shared the bread and wine together. Tears welled up in my eyes throughout the service for the trueness of their worship. I witnessed women having an equal share in the service and it was stunning. And to converse about Jesus at the end of the service was so upbuilding.”
“About 4:00 pm, my husband and I walked around the corner to the very cute, very old, Congregational Church. For me it was the first time in my life that I had entered a church to hear a service of any nature. There was no guilt and heavy burden as I approached, in fact it was a refreshing experience and a delight to listen to people of different beliefs. The first thing that lifted my spirits was to see a woman standing in front of the small audience and talking of Christ. I there and then witnessed the equality of women amongst believers in our Lord. Her approach was very simple but very sincere. Two songs were sung with great enthusiasm and joy. Again it was a feeling of honor that at last I was free to worship our Father and glorify his Son. Overall, I felt these people were like so many others who were virtually stuck in time, repeating what had been repeated for centuries before, but I could feel that the plain and open teachings of Jesus would at some time in the near future be welcomed.”
“I arrived at the little church at 8:45 am. The ‘sanctuary’ was open so I entered and looked around, picking up one of each little brochure that had been laid out on the table. The ‘sanctuary’ was simple and unpretentious. No idols, no morbid paintings, mostly plants. It was a small room but I could see that it could seat 100-150 people. At that time, I saw 4 people. I was greeted by a man who said he played the piano for the services. He took me in and introduced me to the 3 other people there. I mentioned that I was there for the Bible study. They all seemed very nice and personable. I was taken to the room for the Bible study. Including myself, there were only 4 of us that constituted the total Bible Study group! It was not well organized and it seems the conductor was struggling to make the study interesting. It was never opened nor closed with prayer so it felt more like a few friends just talking. After the Bible Study, we went to the ‘sanctuary’ for the service. There were 21 people, including myself present. On this day, there was no pastor, so they decided to sing about 13 songs instead. (It had never occurred to me that a church might not have a full-time or regular pastor! But I have since learned that this is not that rare.) They were all short hymns and everyone sang along. I would describe the service as sweet, sincere and loving. These people clearly had affection for one another and for God and Jesus Christ. It just seemed like they did not have any direction or purpose other than the food bank they operated on Saturdays. But I saw tremendous potential for growth. It seems like a church where we could be of some benefit. I’m excited to see what happens next.”
“This morning I started by attending a Bible study class which began at 9:15 am in the second floor library. It comprised 5 women and one gentleman besides myself. They all warmly welcomed me and I felt comfortable and at home with the group. The study was conducted in the church library and was led by one of the women. This group seems engaged and desires to understand scripture. Their comments convey that they are mystified by the Masters life and teachings. Following this was their church service held in their chapel. There was an attendance of approximately 60 to 70 people. They are committed to performing their ministry by outreach to homeless and disadvantaged people. They believe you need to help them physically before you can help them spiritually. As a conclusion to the service all were invited no matter what their religious background to come up surrounding their alter and partake of the emblems representing Christ’s body. Each individual was freely permitted to take a piece of bread dip it in the cup of wine and partake. I partook among the rest. While the congregation as a whole seemed disaffected by the ceremony I was overwhelmed and had to constrain myself from having tears stream down my face. Where did this come from? It never occurred at the Kingdom Hall. These folks were hospitable and wonderfully kind. The best part of the morning was the small group Bible study and partaking together in wonderful loving open fellowship.”
As mentioned, these were our experiences after our first visit to a church in pursuit of this new ministry. But not only have we since met many wonderful, loving and spiritual-minded people, we are having experiences that we never expected. For example, after just a few weeks of visiting one church, one of us was invited to develop a curriculum to conduct a weekly Bible class. Another one of us, after sharing his history as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was invited to address a conference of Baptist ministers from several different states to show them how they can better educate the flocks in their care. And another one of us was invited to give ‘sermons’ at a few different churches. We view these as extra-ordinary results that might not occur with everyone who attempts this bold extension of their ministry, but who knows. All things are possible with God! (Matthew 19:26) The primary objective, however, is simply to serve, to be of assistance, to minister. To rephrase a popular saying, ‘it is not what the church can do for you, it is what you can do for the church.’
There is no precedent for how we intend to go about this new ministry so this will be accomplished by ‘trial and error’ and we will all learn and develop this new method of ministry together. It’s not as complicated or as intimidating as it might seem. For those who want to give it a try with us, we will share our suggestions on how to select a church to minister to, how to minister without proselytizing, how Jehovah’s Witnesses can use the ministry skills they developed in association with the Watchtower organization, how non-Witnesses can use their skills and develop new ones, and we will share our own progress and the progress of any who wish to share their experiences. Even though we are entering this phase of ministry on sheer faith, we expect positive results because we have absolute confidence in the power of the ministry Jesus demonstrated and in the power of the true good news to effect real change in the lives of those who hear it.
Please note that we have no intention of taking over any churches or usurping the authority of the pastors and leaders of those churches. Our intent is only to enhance, inspire and uplift existing fellowships. We have found that many pastors welcome the assistance of willing brothers and sisters as long as the assistance is offered in love and selflessness, and with a genuine motive of building up the church.
We have no intention of becoming members of any church. We cherish our spiritual freedom far too much to ever again subject ourselves to the theocratic authority of men. But we have no problem serving alongside those of various faith associations and fostering the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. We are clear that we are going for the sole purpose of uplifting the fellowship, which may include giving the pastors and those taking the lead suggestions on how to enhance their own ministry, and then allowing them the opportunity to share those matters with their congregation if they so choose. And when we have accomplished our goal, or been met with unsurmountable resistance, whether it takes a few months or even a year, then we will move on to another church and continue the outreach ministry there.
That is the way Jesus did it. (Luke 9:57-58) He planted seeds and allowed others to do the watering. And since, as we know, “the harvest is great and the workers are few,” this is one way that few workers can effect great and widespread change in a short period of time. And, of course, our brothers and sisters who know “the key” will have an ever greater open door!
As we prepare the next article in this series outlining our methodology, we wonder what our brothers and sisters think about this new method of ministry. Is this something you would be willing to try? What are your perceived expectations or anticipated difficulties? Let us know. As we mentioned, this is ‘trial and error,’ but we are willing to make a few errors in the interest of moving the ministry of Jesus forward into the 21st century.
We are so excited about this new direction of our ministry and we encourage all to have an open mind and a willing spirit. We truly believe the Spirit of Truth is guiding this new direction and we are confident that our celestial family will work with us and support us. Please join us if you can, and, as always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.