In the last article we looked at the two fundamental planks of gospel proclamation. We noted the way both the Lord and then the apostles emphasised the need for their hearers to understand the seriousness of sin and their need to repent, and they spoke of the Kingdom of God, urging the hearers to change their lives that they might find a place in that Kingdom. Let us now consider how we proclaim this message today.

Those familiar with the early history of the Truth will be well aware that the standard method of public proclamation was by way of advertised lectures, followed up with printed booklets on fundamental doctrines. Christendom Astray became the standard book given to friends who showed keen interest. At times well advertised special lectures were held in town halls and many hundreds of interested friends attended. In fact, Brother Thomas gave four lectures in the City Hall in Glasgow which held between 5000 and 6000 people, and it was filled so that ‘multitudes could not obtain admission’. Those familiar with the life of Brother Thomas will recall that the outcome of those lectures was his writing of Elpis Israel. Young readers may think that big attendances at lectures are a thing of the distant past, not realising that less than 40 years ago considerably large attendances could be expected at lectures. In the 1970s Town Hall lectures in Adelaide were an exciting experience as over 100 friends would attend. Enthusiasm was contagious and brethren and sisters with their children attended to support the work. We believed that having our children there instilled in them the importance that we, as a community, placed on preaching. Brethren and sisters made each preaching activity a matter of prayer, and committed themselves in the distribution of leaflets and personally asking friends to come.

Times certainly have changed. Today, with entertainment and sport so easily brought into the home by electronic media, people are much less interested in spending an evening listening to the Bible being explained. However, before we pass off the fact that ‘times have changed’, is it fair to suggest that as a community we too may have changed, and the enthusiasm we had to preach and support ecclesial preaching has waned? While pondering this, let us move on and consider our lectures and other preaching methods to see if there is room to improve, lest we become too negative about lectures.

A basic essential – know your audience

Without doubt one area where change has taken place over the last few decades is in the decrease of knowledge and interest people have in the Bible. Therefore it is imperative that we assess the level of understanding of our audience in biblical matters. In the days of Brother Thomas and Brother Roberts a family Bible was often read each evening in the home. Children went to Sunday school and the family attended their church each week. One only has to read of the statements of politicians in that era to realise that the Bible was considered the standard of morality. For example, there were laws then against Sunday sport and entertainment, divorce and homosexuality. As the Lord foretold, our days are like the days of Noah and Sodom. Apart from this moral decline, evolution has left its mark of defiance against God and the Bible.

When I was at primary school in the 1950s most of my fellow students went to Sunday school each week and I was able to persuade my school friend to come to our Sunday school which his parents agreed to. In my late teens and early twenties I could have specific discussions with work-fellows on Bible doctrines as they were familiar with their church teachings and the quotes used to uphold them. It was not uncommon to ask work colleagues to lectures or home for a talk and they would come, with some following through to baptism. Today, even if claiming to be ‘Christian’, friends do not know the supposed biblical ‘proofs’ for their erroneous doctrines. Many are not churchgoers, and are totally ignorant of the Bible, and so this needs to be taken into account when giving presentations.

Some of the negative comments against our current lectures come from those who do bring friends along. They realise that what is often presented is far too involved and misses the mark of simply setting forth Bible truth and the hope of the gospel. For example, a brother, wishing to set out the truth of a Bible doctrine, goes to involved lengths to first set forth the error that negates the Bible Truth. He gives PowerPoint sections from church fathers and church histories, often in such small print it is nearly impossible to read. Having done this he then proceeds to endeavour to knock them down one by one!! Why do this? Would it not be better to state the Bible truth about the doctrine by using a few carefully selected, clear and easily understood quotations and simply explain them? If a person does not know all the church or pagan history of how error was introduced, is that really essential to understand the gospel message? Is this preaching the gospel? This information may be of interest to brethren and sisters, but is unnecessary for the friend – and the lecture is for preaching the gospel to friends.

Let me explain. Recently four international student friends were at a lecture, and being from China knew little or nothing of Bible teaching. The lecturer spoke at length of historical events in Christendom in the 1800s, putting on the screen what some well-known church evangelist of that time taught on the fundamental doctrine he was speaking on. He constantly referred to these details as the lecture proceeded, endeavouring to show how wrong they were and what the Bible taught. Would it not be better to clearly set the truth out step by step, so that the friends might know what the Bible teaches? You may say, ‘But what if the person believes a Church doctrine, don’t you need to go into detail and explain that first?’ If they know the doctrine, why waste time telling them what they already believe? Will not telling them what the Bible teaches be much more positive and beneficial to both the friends and our senior Sunday school students who attend?

Addressing the problem

It is a competent lecturer who has the ability to mentally visualise his audience makeup when preparing his address and pitch it to this level. He realises that the brethren and sisters attending are there to support this preaching work, but his serious responsibility is to show the friends the message of salvation from sin and death. If a brother is still giving lectures he prepared for the audience when he first started preaching some 30 or 40 years ago, then he has not realised he is ‘speaking into the air’ – most will not understand. Is it too bold to suggest that if a lecturer has not tutored interested friends for baptism or spent considerable time talking with friends in the past ten years, he may be unaware of the change that has taken place in the depth of Bible knowledge and understanding of our friends.

If a brother is unable to make his lectures relevant and interesting to the audience of today, then surely it is better to correct this through the right channels in the ecclesia rather than abandon or be negative about the overall purpose for holding lectures. Brethren and sisters cannot shunt the responsibility for poor or confusing lectures to some committee to correct. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that we have brethren elected who are capable to do this work for Christ. If your ecclesia does not have brethren who can capably perform this task, then seek help from visiting lecturers. Lecturing, like playing the organ for communal praise, is a task for those who can do it effectively. The lecture platform is not for ‘giving every brother a go’, just as playing the organ is not for everyone who has ever had a piano lesson. Our aim and responsibility is to preach the Truth – and so we must choose those best suited for that task. And one final point – it is the friends who determine if the lecturer gets his message over – listen to their comments on how much they have understood.

It has also been suggested that a number of our lecture titles which may have been relevant in times past are now possibly quite meaningless to friends. Sometimes when reading ecclesial lecture titles one wonders what a friend would think they mean. There must be a firm understanding of what we are aiming at when we select a lecture title; it needs to present a challenge to show we are different from other churches and can provide the Bible answer and gospel message of salvation.

The comment – ‘lectures aren’t working!’

Possibly we have all heard such comments and so need to seriously evaluate this. A good question to ask is, ‘Why do we hold lectures?’ It is a very narrow view if we limit it to saying, ‘They are held for friends to come and hear the Truth, but as none or very few come therefore lectures are a failure.’ Let’s carefully examine this –

1. Ask yourself – How many people have I personally asked to come to our lectures in thepast three months? If none, then we should correct that first. Make it a matter of prayer and endeavour to introduce the lecture topic to friends or work associates. Placing leaflets in letterboxes, though very valuable, is not personally asking. If we all brought one friend along what an excited ecclesia we would have! Even if we had only a few friends, what a change it would (or should) make to the spirit of the ecclesia.
2. You may feel that the present lectures are not relevant and interesting to the audience of today. We have mentioned above the correct way to deal with this in your ecclesia.
3. Lectures provide for all brethren and sisters to be involved in a good work. It is not just upon the lecturer that success or failure rests – we all have a role to play. Do we look interested, turn up quotes and take notes? Do our young people look interested or disinterested, half asleep or attentive? On a number of occasions it has been the attentiveness of young people that has impressed the friends. The youth of the world, in general, are just not interested in God, the Bible and morality, so having young people showing a keen interest in the things of God is a positive witness in itself.
4. Do we personally make friends feel welcome? If a friend sits by himself/herself do we leave who we are with and go and sit next to him/ her? After the lecture do we have a friendly chat with them? If the friend is brought by another member please realise you can, and should, go and say a warm hello to them.
5. If a cup of tea or coffee is offered after the lecture, do we take the friends under our wing and make sure they are cared for? Do we introduce them to others?
Do we ask if they are able to get home, or do they require a lift to come next week?
6.If your discussion with them leads to the point that you can suggest they come home and discuss the topic further during the week – do you offer this?
Here are a few negatives that happen at lectures

1. The lecturer does not go to meet the friends and talk with them. It is a reasonable courtesy that the speaker tries to meet the friends to thank them for coming and ask if there are any points they wish further help with. Obviously this has to be in a very friendly, non-confrontational manner.
2. Brethren and sisters see lectures as an opportunity to enjoy a chat with each other. They may forget that they have come to play their part as a team in preaching. Thus friends are often not spoken to or included in friendly talk.
3. The friend is asked, ‘Well, what did you think of that?’ Honestly, the friend is trying to digest what he has just heard. It would be much wiser to say, ‘I was really impressed with the point about …’ Also do not be afraid to talk about other topics of a general nature with them. Get to know them as people – we do call then interested friends. 4. Taking a friendly personal interest in them is a very important step.
Remember the friend came to hear one lecture – not two. Brethren in particular should not decide to give the friend a second lecture by explaining in greater detail the topic discussed, or even selecting another topic quite unrelated and giving a talk on that. Let them digest what they have heard. Of course, helpful comments to explain a point can be useful, if sensitively raised.
4. If the friend does have a question, answer it simply and briefly. The question is not an opportunity for you to tell all you know about the topic.
Having listed some check points above let us never forget that it is God Who is calling people. Our task, like that of Paul and Apollos, is to plant and water – it is God who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:5–9). It is a sobering thought that the reason we may not be having friends attend is that God is not calling them to our hall because we have become a little forgetful in our work of planting and watering. Watering plants is a never-ending task, as we well know here in Australia. Personal examination in this area is always valuable, as is talking constructively with others on how to best fulfil our work. The overriding principle in all our preaching efforts must be to seek God’s help in prayer.

Rather than negativity about ‘lectures not working’, it is time to examine if the ecclesia is really working in preaching. How wonderful if a similar thing could be said of each of our ecclesias as was said of Thessalonica: “From you sounded outthe word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing” (1 Thess 1:8).

The value of the lecture

If there is a failure in lectures then the supposed failure may in fact rest heavily upon all of us. It may be something we ought to discuss in our ecclesia and correct, rather than abandon the work. Our lectures provide a central focal point to bring friends to, and they give opportunity for us to work together in preaching. To abandon the regular weekly lecture can have a serious detrimental effect upon the whole structure of the ecclesia. It is the place where our young people can hear the fundamental teachings of the Truth logically explained and substantiated by scriptural proof. It is a place where children observe the commitment of parents and brethren and sisters to teach people what they genuinely believe themselves. It is a practical way of underscoring the teaching of the truth they hear in Sunday school and at home. These aspects are often not fully thought through when talking against lectures. To remove lectures or similar preaching activities where the whole ecclesia, brethren, sisters and their children can be involved would need very serious thought, as it would be removing a pillar that has stood the test of time and has been such a help to many as they have grown in the Truth.

And one final point which may have been overlooked by some – most of the addresses given by the apostles in Acts are what we today call lectures. Acts is our text book, so let us not be too swift to rewrite our preaching methods. Let us look at ways to make our lecture platform relevant, vibrant and enlightening to both our friends and our young people who attend. This may mean being more thoughtful when appointing brethren to do this work. It may also mean that those selected be more thoughtful of their audience and how they can simply and clearly explain Bible truths. Brethren, never feel offended if you are told your lectures are clear and simple to understand. Go away thankful that you have done well what was asked of you in the Lord’s service.

There are other very effective areas of preaching, such as seminars, tuition in the home and our own personal preaching efforts, which we will discuss in a following article.