“A Pastor’s Sketches” by Ichabod Spencer–
A STRATEGY FOR EVANGELISM
Ichabod Spencer was born in 1798 in Rupert, Vermont. He became a believer at the age of eighteen. Spencer became an educator and was offered two positions as president of a college or university, but he declined them both because he felt that God had called him to preach. In the first few years of his ministry he witnessed the conversions of 250 people in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1832 he accepted the call to pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York. This was the church he remained until his death in 1854. His pastoral style of ministry won him the nickname of “The Bunyan of Brooklyn.” He was remembered as a “true shepherd” who preached the Word in season and out of season.
Principles of Spencer’s Approach to Evangelism
Be Aware of the Spiritual Condition
Spencer was very insightful to the spiritual condition of his congregants. His approach to evangelism depended on the actions or verbal expressions of the person he visited. Sometimes he met with people who countered the gospel message with “logical” arguments or diversionary tactics. For this type of person, Spencer used a form of apologetics to appeal to their intellect. In one example, a man questioned the existence of God, to which Spencer presented a lengthy explanation of “cause and effect” (17). In his argument he stated that God was the cause of all creation (creation being the effects of God). Spencer challenged the man with a humorous illustration, “You do not fling dust in the air, and find it come down a man or a monkey” (17). Spencer engaged in theological debates and allowed himself to be available for questions. He patiently listened as they presented their opinions, and always answered their query from a biblical perspective.
Keep the Gospel Basic
Spencer kept the gospel message very basic yet true, using common terms and words that were understandable. He believed that to use more words than necessary leaned on “crazy philosophizing” which tended to “awaken doubt than call forth faith” (59). Once the gospel had been presented, he called for a response. Often people did not respond positively because sin prevented them from doing so. Spencer had the uncanny ability to know what sin a person suffered, in fact he referred to this as “conspiring” with the Holy Spirit (153). In one case he presented the gospel to a man and his family. The response seemed positive in that they all knelt and had a prayer together, but the man never showed up at church. Through a chance meeting on the road, Spencer realized the man was an alcoholic. With much deliberation, the man threw his bottle away, went back home, and soon after became a “child of God” (256-63).
Counter False or Erroneous Beliefs
Sometimes the people Spencer encountered had erroneous beliefs about the Bible. They were either confused or, for some reason, were hostile against the Word. Spencer did not allow anyone to pick apart the gospel in order to discount the whole message nor did he allow faulty thinking to fester. In one account, a young man wanted to get baptized and insisted on getting immersed. Spencer interrogated him about the meaning of baptism. After much discussion, Spencer decided to baptize the man in the river just as Philip baptized the eunuch. The man was hesitant and Spencer confronted him about his “vanity” and desire to gain attention through immersion baptism (which is not practiced in their denomination) (167-73). Another facet of faulty thinking was that some did not come to Christ because they thought it should be done through their own volition (165). Others thought they were too sinful for Christ to accept them, but rather than interpreting this as a form of humility, Spencer saw it as an indication of pride, self-righteousness, and a “wicked heart” (227-28).
Know the Limit
Spencer realized that there were times when he could do no spiritual coaxing since God uses “gloomy months” to bring people closer to Him (223), because there were times when he was powerless in evoking a positive response from people (275). Though it was never too late to repent and receive salvation, there was one particular episode when Spencer was at a man’s deathbed. The man refused to accept Christ. His reason was that he had led a life in opposition to God and had made his choice long ago. His father had influenced him to believe that there was no hell and all people who died went to heaven. During his final days of life, he advised his younger brother to cling to Christ and ignore their father’s Universalist beliefs. Though he apparently knew the truth, he never prayed for God’s mercy to be upon him. He died eternally separated from God because he could not forgive his father for leading him astray (264-77).
Never Compromise the Word
The gospel was never compromised. There were situations in which Spencer could have downplayed the gospel in order to cater to people’s liking, but he never did. In one episode, a woman was lying on her deathbed and confessed to Spencer that she would have preferred “fanciful” sermons, but instead he preached Scriptural doctrine and insisted that people read their Bibles (283). She acknowledged that his biblical teachings and urging allowed her faith in God to become stronger. In another instance during a revival, Spencer was faced with a small group of people who complained about the Bible’s message of God’s judgment, the law, and the human condition prone to wickedness (125). Spencer could have apologized and promised to give milder messages in the future, but instead he presented a much harsher discourse that evening on the “wickedness of men” and the “anger of God against the wicked.” As a result, the majority of those people who complained became believers (125-26). Spencer understood that people, who were “convicted sinners,” had no idea what was best for their soul (124). Spencer’s philosophy was that “truth is never injurious” and anything other than biblical truth was a “trick” (115).
Strengths and Weaknesses of Spencer’s Approach
Spencer’s approach was very direct and confrontational. This was a strength because many of the people he encountered denied their need for a Savior, and confronting them with their true sinfulness and depravity forced them to realize their dire state. Some who felt they were not very sinful needed this direct approach in order to truly compare themselves with God. This approach spurred others to examine their faulty belief systems and break down barriers erected from intellectual philosophizing and rationalizing.
The ability for Spencer to adapt his presentation based on the audience is a strength. He either kept the basic gospel simple and understandable or used apologetics to appeal to intellectuals. Although he altered the presentation, Spencer never compromised the truth of the gospel and followed up the gospel message with a call to respond. Insisting on a decision following a gospel presentation forced the person to personalize the message then verbalize their understanding of it. Though Spencer called for a response, he knew his limitation and in the case of the dying Universalist, he did not push the man to concede to Christ.
Spencer was very knowledgeable about various counterarguments to the gospel, which is a strength for any Christian. There were examples of his lengthy discussions, one about creationism and the other about the doctrine of election. Spencer was able to find the core issue of a person’s objection. In the case of “The Young Irishman,” he elaborated on the topic of matter, Spirit, the mind, human perception, knowledge, power and will. Since Spencer exhausted the topics, the young man had no recourse but to admit that Satan had misled him and “renounce his infidelity” (49). Regarding the doctrine of election, Spencer spoke about predestination, free will, obedience, and receptiveness to the Word. For each subject Spencer gave two or more points to support his statement. His arguments seemed to flow naturally and without hesitation, which resulted in the man to make a public profession of faith.
To show empathy and genuine concern for people was another of Spencer’s strengths. He was not afraid to touch people who were deathly ill. There were many instances in which Spencer visited those who were dying. An illustration of empathy was shown when the young Universalist was dying. Spencer was not afraid to show his emotions and while sharing a moment of silence with the wife and mother of the man, he became “subdued to tears” (272). Spencer’s genuine concern for the dying was shown in the amount of time he spent with them. He did not think of it as an inconvenience to visit the same person day after day for several hours. The most loving thing Spencer did was to present the gospel and correct any biblical misconceptions to those who were dying. When he ministered to a dying young woman, he held her hand and patiently listened to her concerns as she voiced them between labored breathing (89-103). Those he ministered always appreciated his care and concern, and would thank him for his time even if they did not agree with him.
There were no weaknesses to Spencer’s approach to evangelism because the encounters he had with the majority of the people resulted in a conversion. His upfront and candid presentation style worked for his personality. This confrontational approach may not work for an introverted woman, but it was effective for Spencer, who seemed to be very extroverted and opinionated.
Strategy of Evangelism to Follow in Ministry
Know Your “Stuff”
All Christians should be aware of the world’s objections to the gospel, and be prepared to defend the Word. Spencer dealt with various issues such as creationism, predestination, universalism, and ignorance. Each time he faced opposition, he had a ready answer. Spencer clearly practiced Colossians 4:6—“Let you speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (NKJV).” When Spencer discussed creationism with the Irishman, he reiterated Romans 1:18-20 in the form of “everyday” language. Spencer took to heart what Jesus advised believers— to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).
Be Lovingly Confrontative
As Spencer noted, sinners do not know what is best for their souls, so the most loving thing a Christian can do for a non-believer is to engage and disseminate faulty thinking or any misconceptions of the Bible. If the person is living in an obvious sin, a Christian must direct him or her to God’s Word. Spencer personally lived 2Timothy 4:2— “Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (NKJV).” It seemed that Spencer’s reason for trying hard to convince people of the truth was so that they “may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil” (2Timothy 2:26 NKJV).
Demonstrate Care and Concern
Christians should be willing to spend time with non-believers and present the gospel to them. Spencer exemplified Matthew 5:44 & 46—“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…for if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same (NKJV)?” All believers should follow Spencer’s example for his patience with skeptics, his ministry to the terminally ill, and his persuasion of people to live godly lives.
Never Compromise or Minimized the Gospel
Spencer knew that sinners did not know what was best for their souls, and because of this fact, they might have preferred hearing a different gospel than the one he told. However, he did not change the gospel to suit their tastes. He recognized that the Word was the only way to free them from their state of being. Spencer believed the truth of John 8:32—“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free (NKJV).” Believers should never be afraid to tell the whole gospel because it is a message of hope.
Christians should be in the habit of building their own lives on the foundation of their “holy faith,” praying for the direction of the Holy Spirit, living to honor God, to “show mercy” to people whose faith is inconsistent, and having the courage to “snatch” others from the “flames of judgment” by sharing the gospel with them (Jude 20-23 NLT). The purpose of every believer is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things commanded by Jesus” (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV). Spencer accepted and fully carried out God’s command, and as such, he was a great example for all dedicated followers to imitate. He never cowered from the truth, and went out of his way to convince people of their fate and spiritual circumstances in the light of God’s Word.
 “Introduction to Spencer and his sketches,” A Pastor’s Sketches, Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2002.
Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti