Most Seventh-day Adventist churches recognize that they should be “soul-winning” churches. Pastors and members want to see people added to the church through baptism, but they either get distracted from their mission or they aren’t sure how to go about winning souls. Here are three steps to soul winning that can help—and they’re based, surprisingly, on the simple principles of harvesting apples:
Step 1—Understand the Harvest Cycle and Integrate It Into Your Plans
A few years ago I lived in Wenatchee, Washington, the apple capital of the world. People in that neck of the woods understand the harvest cycle. I was meeting with the church board of the Abundant Life Seventh-day Adventist Church one fall to plan soul winning for the new year. I looked over at our head deacon—an apple orchardist—and began quizzing him.
“Mike,” I said, “I’ve been living here four years and have watched the apple harvest each year. I have some questions for you.” I then asked, “Why don’t you take those big bins used during the apple harvest, put them under the trees, and just accept whatever God gives you—whatever falls off the trees into the bins?”
“As orchardists we understand very clearly what part God plays in the process and what is our part,” Mike responded. “We can plant, cultivate, spray, and harvest, but only God can make the sun shine, the rain fall, and the fruit grow. There is a certain sequence we need to follow.”
He added, “Thirty years ago, when I was 10 years old, I helped with my first harvest. It wasn’t my choice to help, but my dad told me I had to help because he was an orchardist.”
“Have you gotten any better at harvesting during the last 30 years?” I asked him.
“Of course,” Mike said. “Every harvest I do my best and then try to learn what will help me to do better the next year. Now I’m a consultant for one of the largest apple orchards in the state of Washington.”
“Oh, now that you’re a consultant, you don’t need to be directly involved in the harvesting anymore, do you?” I prodded.
“Oh, yes I do,” he responded. “If I’m not directly involved in the harvesting, I won’t be a good consultant, because I’ll forget what it is really like to be an orchardist. When harvesttime comes around, almost everything else is put on hold. The barn may need to be painted or the fence fixed, but those jobs will have to wait because it is harvesttime and we need every willing worker to help bring in the harvest.”
“During harvesttime do you pick every apple?” I asked.
“Not the first time,” Mike explained. “The pickers need to learn how to tug on the apple. If it comes off easily in their hands, then the fruit is ripe. If it doesn’t come off and they keep pulling on it, the apple might eventually come off but it will later rot and spoil other apples in the bin. And if the pickers don’t pick an apple when it is ready, it will soon fall to the ground and rot. With some types of apples we may need to sweep through the orchard as many as four times to get the maximum number of apples, because they ripen at different rates.”
As Mike spoke, all of us there were making mental notes. Mike was a harvester of apples; we wanted to be harvesters of people. The following are some of the principles we gleaned from Mike’s harvesting experiences:
• The more times we are involved in the harvest of soul winning the better we get at it—if we are humble learners. We are not thinking clearly if we say, “We tried soul winning and it didn’t work.” Instead, it is better to say, “What can we learn from previous soul-winning efforts so we can do better next time?”
• Soul winners usually become more and more excited about soul winning and can become good “consultants,” showing others how to become soul winners.
• During “reaping meetings” almost everything else going on in the church—except for essential responsibilities—should be put on hold, because every willing person is needed in the harvest of souls.
• When inviting someone to make a decision for baptism and church membership, we should give gentle “tugs,” or invitations. If the person is “ripe,” they will make the decision. If they aren’t and we come on too strong, they may decide to get baptized but later cause problems in the church.
• If people are not “ripe” to make a decision, we should come back soon and give them another invitation, because they may have “ripened” by then. After reaping meetings have ended, it is valuable to have a follow-up plan so those who weren’t quite ready during the meetings to make a commitment to accepting Jesus and joining the Adventist Church will have another opportunity to make that decision.
• A certain sequence should be followed in order to have the most fruitful harvest of souls. If we make plans with this in mind, we will see more people involved in outreach, soul winning, and discipling new members.
Our church board decided to have two harvest cycles during that coming year. In the harvest-cycle plan the board members developed, we listed five things that Jesus told us belonged to “our part”:
1. Fast and pray (Matt. 17:19-21).
2. Sow (Matt. 5:13-16).
3. Go (Matt. 28:19, 20).
4. Reap (Matt. 28:19, 20).
5. Disciple (Matt. 28:19, 20).
Step 2—Include Specifics in the Harvest Cycle
List specifics in your plan, both for yourself and for the church as a whole. They should include how and when to carry out the harvest sequence, who will lead out with each phase, how much the effort will cost, and how it will be paid for. The pastor, the conference ministerial director, or the conference personal ministries leader can help you find the resources you need.
The Abundant Life Adventist Church harvest schedule for one cycle, which resulted from our prayers and discussions, looked like this:
• Fast and pray—January 3-10: Fast from anything that might distract from fulfilling Jesus’ commission. Pray often as individuals, as families, and as a church family. (Church elder coordinates.)
• Sow—January: Every willing person commits to distributing 100 pieces of literature (Sow 1 Billion Bible study invitations) throughout the month. Each person gives away literature at work, school, or other locations; members can also sign up to oversee a specific neighborhood. During the afternoons of the last three Sabbaths in January, the church family passes out literature together. (Sabbath school superintendent coordinates.)
• Go/cultivate—February–April: Develop Bible study groups using the Amazing Facts basic course or other appropriate materials. A leader and partner meet each week for Bible study in homes or workplaces to study with interested people. (Personal ministries leader coordinates.)
• Reap—April 9-24 (16 evenings and three Sabbath mornings): DVD evangelism held at the church facility by a layperson. Should include a team of six individuals: speaker, assistant speaker, secretary/treasurer, deacon/deaconess, and two children’s ministries leaders. Church members and others who attend should bring friends. Also, mail 5,000 handbills to residents living in the area surrounding the meeting place. Schedule baptisms for Sabbaths April 24 and May 8. (Pastor/elder and the team of six coordinate.)
• Disciple—May–June: Mentoring â€¨of new members (13-week follow-up plan). Involve new members in Bible study or other small groups. Develop friendships. New members share their faith with family and friends. (Head deacon and head deaconess coordinate.)
• Youth outreach—July: Reach-Out program for youth. (Youth leader coordinates.)
• Book canvassing program—June–August.
As a pastor or church leader, you can discuss this schedule with other church leaders and develop one that fits your particular church and situation. Sometimes Sabbath school classes can take the initiative to develop a harvest cycle plan. Individual members can talk with their pastor or church leaders about how they can be a part of this program.
Step 3—Remember That “the Harvest Is Plentiful” (Luke 10:2)
All around us the Holy Spirit is working on the hearts of everyone (John 3:5-8; 2 Peter 3:9). Some are very receptive at the time our paths cross theirs; others are not yet ready to make the decision to come to know Jesus better and accept Him as their personal Savior. So don’t become discouraged.
Ellen White wrote: “The redeemed will be sharers in [Christ’s] joy, as they behold, among the blessed, those who have been won to Christ through their prayers, their labors, and their loving sacrifice” (The Great Controversy, p. 647).
We can look forward to the time when we are in heaven and will have the privilege and joy of spending eternity together with those whom we have brought to Jesus and His church.