Our associate pastor made an appeal recently when he preached a moving sermon on Jeremiah. It was his second in a series on the book. He said he had meant to make an appeal the previous week, but had for some reason resisted. However, he wasn’t going to resist the Spirit’s calling this time. We have a large church by Adventist church standards (over 650 on the books). Even by larger church standards, a healthy number of people came forward as a result of our pastor’s appeal.
But upon reflection, I asked myself, was it a healthy number of people after all? The appeal was not so much calling for first-time commitments for baptism or submission to the Lord, though those were certainly welcomed. The appeal was to those who wanted to recommit their lives to the Lord and once-and-for-all give over a particular burden, temptation or struggle to the Lord.
I didn’t take an exact count, but maybe 25 people came forward. They were a cross-section of young, medium, and older church members. Thus, in most people’s minds, it was probably a successful appeal. Years ago in college, I felt discomfort when a guest speaker made an extended appeal, hoping that perhaps there would be yet one more soul that would come forward. At the time he kept calling for people to make a commitment and there were extended periods of time where no one came forward. However, there was no sense of discomfort this time, as approximately 25 people moved to get out of their padded pews almost as quickly as the pastor finished making his appeal.
Don’t get me wrong. In no way am I saying that our associate pastor did not make a successful appeal or that the 25 people who responded (I was one of them) weren’t moved by the Spirit to give their burdens to the Lord. In fact, I was personally moved by the reactions of the folks down front who had responded. I believe if even one person comes forward and recommits their heart to God, then angels rejoice. After all, it isn’t about numbers.
IT IS ABOUT NUMBERS AFTER ALL
However, the title of this article is, “How Many Sermons?” Thus, in that sense, it is in fact about numbers. Let me explain. If a life-long Adventist who is 42 years old was baptized at age 12, then he has ostensibly had 30 years to pay fairly close attention to sermons and talks. With 52 weeks in each year multiplied by 30, there could be as many as 1,560 sermons. For the sake of my illustration, let’s assume a 75 percent attendance rate (illness, travel, times of apathy, skipping church occasionally while in college). I would guess that this individual would have heard approximately 1,170 sermons. To this base number we can add such events as: weeks of prayer, evangelistic series and vespers. We can also add in special weekend retreats, ASI or GYC conventions and hundreds of Audio Verse sermons. Now our potential sermon total could be up to 1500 or more during 30 years following baptism at 12 years of age.
Ellen White makes a very interesting statement in Gospel Workers, page 155. She says, “Unless ministers are guarded, they will hide the truth under human ornamentation. Let no minister suppose that he can convert souls by eloquent sermons. Flowery speeches, pleasing tales, or inappropriate anecdotes do not convict the sinner. The message that the sinner should hear is, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (KJV, John 3:16).
WHAT CAUSES OUR APATHY?
White references probably the most famous verse in the Bible to explain the message that should be proclaimed to you and me, the average sinners. Therefore, I’m thinking, can we blame our widespread apathy on sermons that don’t present the message we need to hear? Or, is our Laodician temperament caused by a lack of personal soul-searching on the part of each one of us?
David writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (NKJV, Psalms 139:23, 24). The prophet Jeremiah states, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).
Is there room for additional and well-researched, heart-felt, and well-delivered sermons? Absolutely! Many would agree that countless servants of God have been used over the years to deliver edifying messages of encouragement and reproof. In fact, such sermons have moved many a sinner to repent and search for God in a deeper, more meaningful way.
However, what about the well-known admonition of Paul? “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). From this statement, we can conclude that Paul was telling Timothy to preach the word, plain and simple.
ARE WE WAITING FOR A UNIQUE ANGLE ON THE GOSPEL MESSAGE?
How many sermons will it take us to humbly submit to the Lord? How many sermons will it take us before we allow Him to be Sovereign of our life? I believe this is a question each one of us need to ask ourselves. If the average middle-aged Adventist has heard 1500 or more sermons, will 5 more sermons do it? How about 200 more? Are we waiting for that extra-special, unique angle on the Gospel message that will finally tweak our minds and hearts just right so that the switch is flipped and we can say we have arrived?
Indeed, we realize sanctification is the work of a lifetime, (Acts of the Apostles, White, 560). But, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not by any means discounting our prophet’s statement about sanctification. In fact, I’ve been around long enough to know the frustration of personal struggle and to experience the ebb and flow of life’s journey. In other words, I know the feeling of being spiritually connected one day and isolated on an island the next. I am imploring all of us (me included) to respond now to God’s call to repentance and humility, to work tirelessly for Him.