Strengths and Weaknesses of Ichabod Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism, A Pastor’s Sketches

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The strengths of Spencer’s approach are many, but the essence of the strength is found in that it was for the glory of God, not man. Spencer had no emotional barriers to witnessing for God, more than once in the book he states, “The scene was too much for me, I turned away and wept (147).” Spencer engaged in follow-up, “For the purpose of learning as much as possible about the workings of the human heart, I have been accustomed, in conversing with those who have been led to indulge a hope in Christ, to ask them questions whose answers might be beneficial to me in my intercourse with others to gain a clear understanding of the operations of the Holy Spirit, and of the difficulties or errors which keep sinners from repentance (139).” Spencer was meticulous with details regarding his visits in hopes of further empowering future generations. The strength of Spencer’s evangelism lies in the truth of his principles, his command of God’s word, the motives and desires of his heart to guide the lost toward the truth, and the faith and reliance he has upon the Holy Spirit to carry out salvation purposes and to provide protection.

The weaknesses of Spencer’s approach are only assumed because they are not specifically mentioned within the pages of the book. The book never mentions fellow clergy of the church sharing the gospel in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. The book never discusses laity being empowered to share in leadership, service and witness. There is never mention of anyone accompanying him on visits for safety or discipleship purposes. Spencer never mentions carrying the gospel beyond cultural boundaries to freed slaves or Native Americans. The book never mentions how Spencer deals with persecution and temptation.

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Principles of Ichabod Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism, A Pastor’s Sketches

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ichabod Spencer’s, A Pastor’s Sketches is a volume of forty stories Pastor Spencer encountered as he conducted home visits with anxious souls. Pastor Spencer had a goal to visit every member of his church, every year. He recorded each of the visits in careful fashion (2) in hopes they would one day be useful on the ground of their applicability, referring to common experiences and common difficulties (5). The principles of Spencer’s approach to evangelism are based on the Bible as the primary source of God; truth, understanding and action regarding God’s fundamental laws and doctrines; the underlying faculty and endowment of the Holy Spirit, resulting in conduct of true religious practice.

Spencer’s goal in proclaiming the Word of God was to convey the gospel in a manner that people could relate to and were interested in, and to proclaim God’s Word in a spirit of truth and love. Spencer says, “It is important to be wise in aiming to win sinners to Christ. The Bible is the only safe guide. Its spirit is love. To lead sinners to condemn themselves is one thing, for us to condemn them is quite another (200). Spencer reflects, “No one is ever safe in giving any counsel to impenitent sinners, unless he is careful to talk just as the Bible talks to them. Blind guides do mischief (80).” Spencer’s highest compliment was paid to him by a personal friend who was nearing death. She says, “I was blind, and did not understand why you should preach so much about Christ, and the atonement, and our evil hearts of unbelief, and the Holy Spirit, and sovereign grace to justify us, and prayer…, but examining the Scriptures has been the means of fixing my faith just on the Scriptures; so that now I am comforted by them. Your preaching led me to examine God’s word to see if the things you preached were so there (282-283).”

Spencer’s goal in using the Bible to convey God’s fundamental laws and doctrines was to encourage and empower believers to grow in truth, understanding and action. Spencer made it a point to reach people where they were, physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially regardless of the time involved. He was more than willing to support people who desired to work through doubts, difficult concepts or misunderstandings. In the story of a church member who had grown up in the church, but was truly an atheist, Spencer relates, “I demonstrated to her satisfaction such things as the existence of God, his infinity, eternity, immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom, justice, truth and goodness, his creation of all things, and his providence over all things… I aimed to bring in religious practice as soon as I had established a doctrine or truth to found it upon. It is a very difficult and laborious thing for a minister to deal with such cases as I have mentioned here. It will be hard for him to find time. But he ought to find it. He will seldom labor in vain (216-217).” Spencer reiterates, “Many convicted sinners are kept from salvation by some mere trifle. It is important to remove the obstacle (138). Our main business with any doctrine of religion is, not to prove it, but to proceed upon it – not to understand it, but to apply and employ it (254).”

Spencer prayerfully and persistently sought God’s dynamic presence and power to find the point of tension with people. Spencer was fully aware that it was the Holy Spirit that guides, empowers, convinces and regenerates. Spencer declares, “All that men can do is contained in two things – to make sinner understand God’s truth, and make its impression upon their hearts and consciences as deep as possible. No man can preach so powerfully as the Holy Spirit. It is vastly important to know when to stop. Silence is to be imitated, as well as utterance (82-83).” Spencer would use the guidance of the Holy Spirit to explore the spiritual depths of the people he met by asking questions for the purpose of ascertaining their state of mind (62), by spending time with them, then listening to their responses, seeking flaws in their theology. Spencer states, “If I perceive any one truth has impressed the mind, I aim to make its impression deeper; because the Holy Spirit has already made that impression (153).”

Once Spencer finds the point of tension with a seeker he would then pique their interest by asking a difficult question or making a provocative statement. People that Spencer stimulated reflect, “I somehow wanted you to lighten my burden, you made it heavier (154).” “I thought it was most cruel to speak to me so. I did not believe you, but I could not get the idea out of my mind (105).” “Then you said nothing more to me, I thought it a most cruel thing, but you drove the arrow deeper and read my heart exactly (152-153).” Further emphasizing the importance of the underlying work of the Holy Spirit, Spencer states, “If anyone thinks that he has turned to God without the special aids of the Holy Spirit, it is probable that he has never turned to God at all (109).” “All true converts may not be conscious of any special act of the Holy Spirit in their regeneration, but with discriminating minds there will ordinarily be the clear impression that something has been done for the soul beyond its own power (141).”

Spencer’s ultimate aim was to share God’s word in a manner that initiated spiritual growth and resulted in regeneration. The goal was achieved when a person was reborn and the commenced to live life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Spencer states it best when he says, “True religion is solemn and humble (183)… and there can be no religion without obedience. And there is not likely to be with any sinner, a just sense of dependence, till he earnestly intends and attempts to obey the gospel (77).” Spencer demonstrates a principle of true religion by humbly working with others, many times speaking to someone at a pastor friend’s or church members’ request. Spencer seemed to especially focus on the area and group of people living within a few hour radius of his congregation and always offered his services freely. Spencer’s approach appeals to the practical minded, he states, “Practical religion is the very thing I am urging upon you: the practice of prayer – the practice of repentance – the practice of self-denial – the practice of loving and serving God in faith (120).” Spencer notes, that in the end, each person is most influenced toward God by those practicing religion around them, he states, “Private example of godliness is what the world most needs (50).”

A Pastor’s Sketches, A Review and Philosophy of Evangelism

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Spencer, Ichabod. A Pastor’s Sketches: Conversations with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation. Brooklyn, New York: Solid Ground Books, 2005. 600 pp. $23.10

PHILOSOPHY OF EVANGELISM

Principles of Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism

Through his sketches, we can see that Ichabod Spencer is a man who seeks to meet people where they are. He gets to know them and where they come from. This helps him to assess where they are spiritually. His general approach then consists of ministering to them at the level they are at with as much intensity as the situation calls for. An example of this is his visit with a girl named Mary whom he visited multiple times a week. She did not tire of his company and counsel, so he was persistent with sharing gospel truth with her. In another case, that of The Young Irishman, he began to speak to him much like a lawyer, using certain reasoning and debate tactics, when he learned that he was himself a lawyer. In this way, Spencer works on a personal, case-by-case level with people.

In addition to the above discussion of meeting people where they are, throughout his ministry Spencer not only assesses where people are and the error involved in their thinking or beliefs; he then takes them from this point and shares with them the truth of scripture, without necessarily quoting scripture itself. He pleads with them the case of Christ. The person must do nothing in and of himself other than trust in Christ with his all—but this, in and of itself—is activity on the part of the one doing the trusting.

Spencer does not seek to give people security of salvation, but allows the Holy Spirit to give them such hope and assurance. One classic example of this is in his second entry entitled Faith Everything:

The idea had not yet occurred to her mind, that she was a Christian. She had only discovered the way. I did not think it wise for me to suggest the idea to her at all, but lead her to the direction of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the hymn. If the Holy Spirit had given her a new heart, I trusted he would lead her to hope, as soon as he wanted her to hope. The hymn which had opened her eyes, was the best truth for her to meditate at present (70).

Spencer suggests that faith is simple. We only cloud the minds of non-believers—he might say—when we begin to justify our claims about Christ with philosophical arguments. This is clearly a principle that he sought to live by in his ministry: faith is simple and need not be complicated. In evangelism we need to share the gospel with people and realize that God’s word defends itself. We need only to “take God at his word”. This is faith.

Spencer instructs us in just how to approach and address sinners: “The directions of God’s word are the only safe directions for inquiring sinners. The more accurately we see their hearts, the more appropriately we may bring scripture truths to bear upon them. In this perception of their state and this application of divine truth, consists the skill of any one, who would guide them to Christ” (116-117). These are recurring themes and principles in Spencer’s life and ministry: accurate assessment of one’s heart and guiding by scripture and not by our own whimsical advice. Application of the word of God is to Spencer a cure for the common life of the unbeliever and the believer. He goes on to add some words on the Holy Spirit and our plea to unregenerate sinners: “There is no reason to believe, that the Holy Spirit ever leaves awakened sinners; only as they leave the truth of God, for some error, or some sin. Truth is the Spirit’s instrumentality. ‘Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.’ We never should cease to cry to a sinner, flee, flee; till safe within the city of refuge, he cannot be reached, by the sword of the avenger of blood” (117). This just goes to show that we cannot assume someone is a Christian simply because they attend Sunday school class, each church service and have all the right answers. Until we see fruit in their lives, we—as believers in Jesus Christ and followers of Him—must impress upon them the truths of scripture—especially the gospel of our Lord that is able to save!

Another principle of Spencer’s is this: sometimes we simply must leave people where they are and refuse counseling them when, in reality, they are counting on us rather than despairing to the point where they must turn to Christ and call upon Him for counsel and pour out their broken souls before him—and finally be saved! This principle is one that Spencer never says deliberately as I have just stated it, but he does say it in the way he interacts with several people in his sketches. In one such sketch Spencer’s thoughts an actions exemplify this principle:

(After speaking with a certain young man) I knew it was not in my power to teach him any important truth, which I had not already taught him; and I feared, that anything which I could say to him would diminish, instead of increasing the impressions which the Holy Spirit was making upon his mind. I wished him to realize that his help must come from God….(He requested to accompany me home in order to talk with me). Consequently I refused his request. He entreated; but I would not yield. I wished to treat him affectionately; but as he said he had no question to ask me and nothing new to tell me, I refused to allow his accompanying me home, and bade him good night. As he turned away, he seemed ready to sink; and I could not but hope, that he was about to give up all his attempts to save himself, and flee to the Saviour of sinners (113-114).

Sometimes, after much ministry to someone—time spent with him and in prayer on his behalf, and in pointing him to the Scriptures and to Christ—we must let him go and force him to flee to God rather than to us. Oftentimes, people who have someone else to turn to in crisis will never throw up his arms and finally seek God. This may be ‘tough love’, and it is often difficult to know when and how to practice it, but God will help us discern such situations and see them through as He sees fit.

Spencer also places strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and the ‘impressions’ that He makes upon people’s hearts.

Another key characteristic of Spencer is his undying persistence. He does not simply take “no” for an answer, but presses the importance and urgency of faith in Christ on those to whom he talks.

One last thing that is continually addressed throughout Spencer’s sketches is the idea of striving and trying to seek God and to obey Him and the counter idea of fleeing to Christ and resting in His arms that are sufficient for sinners like you and me. At least one-third if not more of the Spencer’s entries involve a conversation something like the following which is from the sketch entitled The Whole Heart:

You (Spencer) asked me, if I was seeking the lord, and I told you that I was trying to. You asked me, if my trying had done me any good; and I answered, that I did not know as it had (118).

He would then go on to assure that one’s trying is not what saved him; in essence, it is when one gives up trying that he is ready to let God do the work on him that He has been waiting to do. It is at such a point that he is teachable, moldable and open to God. This is the state at which God wishes to encounter sinners in order to redeem them; they see their need for help and for redemption.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Spencer’s Approach

One noted strength of Spencer’s approach to Evangelism is his persistence. This is a quality that many Christians lack. We see the need to persist at times, but often lack the boldness confidence to follow through with people in this way. Especially, it seems that Spencer pressed his people again and again until the finally were saved or, in some cases, went the way of apostasy. Spencer was not much for lukewarm individuals; then again, neither is God.

A second strong point characteristic of Spencer’s approach is his meeting people where they are. Oftentimes we will expect some pre-transformation in people before they come to Christ when the reality is that Christ is the one who transforms us. Ichabod Spencer realized this and so, did not expect people to come to Christ any way other than just as they were; illustrated his believe in this notion in his evangelizing by meeting people where they were—spiritually, intelligence-wise, interest-wise and oftentimes, geographically. If we do not meet people where they are—meaning both outside of the church walls and in the spiritual state they are currently in—we will never be able to lead them to Christ.

In addition to meeting people where they are, Spencer assesses the spiritual status of a person as he is conversing with them. This is good method as well, for is one does not know in what state another is in, he cannot know in which way to lead him or just how to guide him.

Another strength of Spencer is his understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. He completely gives God (in the three persons of the trinity) the credit for converting sinners. He realizes his role and duty to press upon people the necessity of fleeing to Christ, as they are sinners in need of a savior; however, he recognizes that only God can change a man’s heart and incline a man to Himself. We too must appreciate this reality, allow God to do his work while obeying the call and duty to share Christ and press the truth of scripture upon those who do not yet believe.

Another strength of Spencer is a more pastoral aspect of his ministry: he is not content to assume people in his congregation know Christ. In fact, he seems to go to the other extreme at times and, if there is no evidence of fruit, he seeks them out one-on-one and presses them to flee to Christ for their salvation. He never downplays the urgency of placing faith in Christ.

One weakness to Spencer’s approach might be his lack of interest in the non-spiritual portions of people’s lives. Most often, he made his intentions of speaking solely about Christ known and went from there. If someone tried to go off subject, he came back to the focus. Now, this is not necessarily bad; however, investing in the whole person and not just one’s soul is preferable. Spencer’s role as a minister greatly affected this methodology in that most often people knew why he was calling on them.

Another weakness of Spencer is that he sometimes presses Christ with people before they are ready. Although I note this as a weakness, I think it far better to do just this than to sit back and never evangelize or ‘press Christ’ at all. Perhaps the leading into such conversation about Christ could be done with more finesse than that of Spencer.

Personal Philosophy of Evangelism

In reflection upon Spencer’s A Pastor’s Sketches and my own philosophy of evangelism, the strengths noted above will be methods and ideas that I try to emulate. These include the following: meeting people where they are and taking them (through scripture, testimony and witness) to where they need to be, assessing people’s spiritual state upon meeting and conversing with them, being persistent in pressing the necessity of Christ upon those with whom I have a relationship, working with people on a personal, case-by-case basis, understanding the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to Christ, and never assuming that a person knows Christ personally and has placed her faith in Him.

In addition to the above related strengths from Spencer, I will seek to employ the following techniques as well: intentionally build relationships with non-believers—getting to know all facets of their lives; systematically involve myself in the geographical community in which we live in order to share my faith with my neighbors and others who live near us; pray for those in my neighborhood, and others I know are lost; seek to share Christ with one person per week.

Overall, my personal philosophy of evangelism involves the above points, but must be a lifestyle in which evangelism is incorporated at every point. We should be sharing Christ in all opportunities that the Lord grants us and in all relationships that He gives us—in both word and deed. Evangelism must be a way of life, not only for the minister, but also for every believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

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