“What do you mean that you recently baptized over 100 souls in a single evangelistic meeting? Here in the U.S.?” I asked this question of Pastor Pergerson as we ate breakfast; he, I and another Michigan Conference pastor.
I had been hearing from friends for some time about this successful evangelist. “Yes, that is right” he answered. Humbly, Pastor Pergerson continued,
“However, I too used to do meetings which had only average results…just as some pastors. Then, a while back I was challenged to do my meetings completely through a motif of Jesus. I wrote a brand new series, fully supporting the 28 fundamental belief and now through the lenses of Jesus Christ. After I began to preach it around the country, it became very successful in winning souls; especially to post-modern America.”
Suddenly, my new friend Pastor Will Pergerson had a kindred spirit! At that table, we talked about Jesus and winning souls! I felt honored to be learning from him and I loved being in his presence.
Over the next several months, our number of visits together became more frequent. Finally, I asked him, “Would you ever consider coming to my city for meetings? Would you teach me how to win souls the way Jesus has taught you?” “Yes”, he said. “I want to do that.”
We began to dream together about Battle Creek, MI and we set a date for meetings. We even dreamed about doing a book together about our experiences. I had found someone who truly developed a successful ministry to reach post-modern America. Furthermore, in using his method to uplift Jesus, he told me that his being African American did not hinder his reaching diverse groups of multi-aged and multi-raced people with the gospel. He once held a meeting, planted a new multi-ethnic church and became its first pastor following his series in a mid-American city.
History of the Modern Era
As the modern age began, it was a reaction to the medieval age. While the medieval age was mystical, the modern age taught that truth was absolute and empirical. In other words, the modern world demanded proof for truth from science and reason; not mysticism. The medieval age, conversely, taught a “spiritual universe” with God causing everything.
For example, the medieval age taught that God opened a woman’s womb to conceive, but modernity explained it by biological. The medieval age taught that sickness was demonic, but modernity taught the germ theory. Medieval taught flying was a miracle, but modernity taught flight was employing the law of lift. Modern thought eventually won and with the age of reason proving truth empirically; not mystically.
Modernity even questioned one’s existence. Namely, “how do I prove that I even exist? Because I think; ah-hah! Therefore I am.” For modern-aged Christians, the Bible turned into the source of truth; Sola Scriptura. One could not trust the medieval church’s subjective mysticism for truth; debate over God’s word mattered because it alone was the source of truth for one’s life.
For the Adventist Church in the 19th and 20th centuries, soul-winning was about preaching a rationally laid out message of truth to a modern world that loved truth from the Bible.
A man is driving down the highway to a Texas destination. How do you convert the driver to turn around? Modernity would say to apply rational truth. “Sir, are you headed for Texas? Really? Your compass is pointing towards the letter N. It is daybreak and the sun is on your right shoulder. The last road sign displayed the letter N next to it. You had better listen to me and turn around as you headed the wrong way!”
Now, a rational 19th and 20th century American would immediately get off the highway and turn around. It would not matter if he liked me or if I was dressed proper. Truth had little to do with me—as the subject—but all to do with the fact that he believed in objective truth. I had converted him simply by pointing out empirical objective facts. He was a rational man and followed the facts. Bible study was successfully done this way.
To convert someone to the Sabbath, we showed him or her 3 empirical proofs.
“Sir, the calendar shows Saturday is the Seventh-day; the fourth commandment shows the Seventh day is the Sabbath; the word for the 7th day has the same Shabbot cognate in over 108 languages; the American Metrological society claims that time has not ever changed in the weekly cycle.”
This was usually all it took to get a rationale modern-age Christian to convert and become a Sabbath keeper. Simply put, having objective truth on ones side from the Bible was all that mattered.
Now let’s create another parable; a post-modern group of college students on Spring Break headed on a tour bus to Padre Island, Texas. The bus is full of medical marijuana smoke. Booze is flowing everywhere. The radio is blaring full blast the rock song “Sweet Home Alabama.”
The women are trying on their 2-piece swimming suits and the boys are stoned. Everyone is claiming to be having a wonderful time. Party on!
The bus stops, and the driver opens the window to ask directions. Marijuana smoke rolls out of the window. The young driver has ripped holes in his jeans, a tattoo up his neck, piercings in his nose and eyebrow, purple hair with a bald X cut into it. “Hey dude! Which way to Padre Island? You explain to him that his compass is pointing to N. It is daybreak this morning and the sun is on his right shoulder. Furthermore, you point to the sign that says “Chicago: 20-miles.”
Now, what does the postmodern do? Does he get off and turn around like a rational person would? No, of course not! He says,
“Wow! Really? I guess we took a wrong turn. Oh well… Hey everybody, we’re not going to Padre Island, Texas. Instead, let’s go party in Chicago on Lake Michigan!” To the cheers of everyone on the bus!
Therefore, in this silly parable, for these post-modern Americans, objective truth didn’t make anybody change their mind or get off the bus.
I hope it is now clear regarding the church’s challenge. Showing Biblical, rationale truth to a post-modern will usually not result in any change of course. It’s not about the destination, but rather it’s about the experience.
I remember doing an evangelistic series where a post-modern woman attended. I covered the Sabbath from all objective points in the Bible. After that meeting, I met with her. I asked, “Was it clear to you that the 7th day is the Sabbath in the Bible?” She answered, “Oh yes!”
I continued, “Was it clear that the 7th day is Saturday on your calendar?” “Oh yes, yes! It was so clear!” I then asked her the pointed question; “Have you thought about keeping the seventh-day Saturday as the Sabbath?” She looked at me with complete confusion and said, “Oh no! But pastor, if God has told you to keep the Sabbath on Saturday, then you had better do it! But, He hasn’t told me!”
I held up the Bible and said, “He has told you in the Bible right here.” She shook her head sideways and said, “God may have told you in your Bible to keep the Sabbath. But he hasn’t told me. I will listen if God tells me here”, pointing to her heart. “But, He hasn’t spoken to me here in my heart about the matter.”
As a pastor, I left that meeting totally bewildered and thought that I needed to go back to seminary and get more education. I did so to gain an understanding and to reach the post-modern with the gospel.
Post Modern Thought
A post-modern person needs to have their subjective assumptions challenged. New subjective possibilities can persuade them and direct their ideas towards better actions which they may take in life.
For example, narratives do very well (parables) to which they, the listeners, hear another’s story and outcome. A post-modern person can accept that a Christian giving his testimony is true if it is shared with pathos and conviction. Also, giving a tip like a warning is heeded very well with post-moderns. Tell them that pop-culture pastors are misleading them. Babylon lies and doesn’t preach what the Bible actually says, but just want people’s money.
Post-moderns personally may not believe what the Bible says either, but they do believe taht fake Trojan pastors are trying to dupe them. They appreciate that you are trying to warn them and have their best interest at heart.
In so doing, your sermons now become combined with both objective and subjective truth; which they like. The bottom line for the post-modern is “So what? How does your sermon on truth affect me or my life? Preacher, make it matter to me or else I couldn’t care less.”
Present a truth. Show a Bible verse supporting it. Then, appeal with three to five reasons why this truth could save the listener or be a detriment if ignored.
Currently, I am preaching a brand new series in my seventy-eight member church and God is giving success. We only had about thirteen visitors who’ve attended twice or more, but we have had ten adult decisions for baptism and six have been baptized.
I have directed the following seven changes.
(1) Dwight Nelson helped me learn brevity. Therefore, I am wrapping up the whole meeting each night in just 1 hour with just 70 slides.
(2) Louis Torres personally coached me (also see his book) on the importance of an appeal at the end. Therefore, I am giving an appeal with a decision call each night.
(3) Jac Colon taught me how to integrate the baptismal class into the meetings; not after the benediction. I do not dismiss the congregation, but I take 10 to 15 minutes at the end and use the booklet In His Steps which prepares all for baptism. That way, when I go out during the last week to seek souls, the people have already been cleared. I then tell prospects, “You have already heard and agreed to all that the Adventist church believes. What keeps you from joining the church?”
(4) Russell Burrill taught me how to clear people for baptism by helping them through spiritual decisions. Prayerfully, find out what objections they have and help them work through it. After all, they want to follow Jesus, but need a pastor to help sort through these new truths.
(5) Steve Vail taught me how to lay out slides and put together the order of topics. Plan the messages with a calendar in a systematic order putting Sabbath in the 2nd week. In the opening week, I went 4 consecutive nights and had new people come nightly. Also, decide which nights to have the appeal with a raised hand or a card or to stand up or to come forward to join the church! Also, use both a real Bible and verses on the screen and so teach people how to study the Bible.
(6) From Dan Towar, Brian McMahon and Ted Struntz, I learned the skill of doing visitation. People will join your church if they feel that you are their friend. Simply preaching truth without a personal friendship is not going to have as much effect. This—in my opinion—is why some Net meetings were weak.
(7) Finally, William Pergerson taught me how to make each sermon all about Jesus. I changed it to not simply a proclamation of objective truths, but made the subject (the listener) to hear God speak to their hearts. All about Jesus; how? Health for example—Jesus ate breakfast of fish and bread after the cross with His disciples. What kind of fish was it?
Well, let’s introduce Lev. 11 and see what seafood Jesus ate. What about 4 legged animals? Jesus was evangelizing a new area and drove a bunch of devils out of 2 of His converts. He needed a huge garbage can to put them in since they were called Legion and were many. He found the perfect trash cans…a herd of pigs.
The Lord intended pigs to be scavengers and trash cans. Then they ran over the cliff. The day pigs could fly! Jesus does not want us eating from trash cans.
What about death? Jesus did 4 resurrections! Other doctrines? Yes! Take Sabbath, Hell, 2nd Coming, Baptisms, Rome, Bible, Marriage, Trinity, Wine, 70 Weeks, Sanctuary, etc. Preach what Jesus spoke. Lift up Jesus and He will draw all men and women to follow. This includes millennials.
If you are a young pastor or lay member who wants to do meetings, praise the Lord! I suggest reading books and interviewing successful soul winners. May God bless you as Jesus teaches you to be a fisher of men. I owe much to Pastor William Pergerson and I miss him. I was at the airport with him the day his plane crashed. I know I will see him in the resurrection of the just (Daniel 12:2).
Ryan Counsell has pastored in MI Conference 23 years. He holds both a M.Div. and D.Min. from Andrews seminary. He has a wife and 3 children, and pastors the Ionia, Portland and Belgreen SDA churches.