The Method of Approach
I. Method more than matter.
A dog coming toward you wagging his tail, prancing about, barking happily has a pleasant effect. A dog coming toward you with a still tail and a growl in his throat makes you want to run. Certainly psychology teachers know what they are talking about when they say your method of approach has a lot to do with your success, whether you are wooing a lass, selling a merchant, or preaching to a sinner. But if a young man thinks so much about how he is going to "pop" the question that he never gets around to "popping" it, he is liable to keep on studying "methods of approach" all his lonely life. Method is important, but matter is more so. Attempts to improve journalistic methods are to be commended; but if modern, streamlined methods are just subtle schemes to prevent error being scorched, why, that is hypocrisy.
Dale Carnegie's popular book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has much that is good, but when it advises "Never criticize anybody" it gets wiser than God and inspired writers. True, people resent criticism if they are foolish (Proverbs 1:7). "A scorner heareth not rebuke." (Proverbs 13:1) "Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die." (Proverbs 15:10) One of the divine purposes of the Bible is "for correction" (II Tim. 3:16). Mr. Carnegie's advice is good for a preacher determined to get along with everybody and offend nobody; it is good for a people pleaser and a time-server. Paul wanted to get along with everybody (Romans 12:18) and become all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22) in order to do it and to have a hearing with them. But through it all, God was first with Paul. The truth of the gospel could not be perverted to win any man. When the truth offended a man, Paul was sorry he felt that way, deeply sorry for the man's soul, but the truth had to be preached. "Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
Men that study more about method of approach than about the approaching would be in a predicament when sitting down to study the best way to tell a man about his house being on fire.
Forthright men, and their name is legion, get nauseated when a salesman or a preacher beats around the bush, or, to change the figure, applies overdosages of tact, diplomacy, approach.
Not a lover of God, but a lover of men preached: "Except ye repent in a measure, and be converted, as it were, you will, I regret to say, be damned, to some extent." Psychologists might call Mark 16:16 too abrupt, but many people appreciate directness and plainness. "Don't preach negatively—preach on positive, constructive, pleasant themes," say some advisers. If those advisers had infected tonsils or appendices a doctor would have a time getting them well. Paul preached both ways, positively and negatively. "Put off all these," he cried in his negative preaching (Col. 3:8) and "Put on" something else. Men of God cry aloud and spare not.
II. Matter regardless of manner.
Just as some are too much concerned about methods of approach, erring grievously, there are some too little concerned about manners and methods. In fact, some make fun of any "manner or method," using quite ugly manners and methods in doing so. When a preacher adopts a "you take it or leave it" attitude, why that is his method, his approach, no matter how much he may ridicule approaches. And such an attitude is the opposite of Him so concerned about even one lamb astray. When He wept saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," (Matt. 23:37) He was not saying, "take it or leave it." And if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.
If a salesman makes fun of my family he certainly does come with the wrong approach. If a preacher makes fun of my religion, though it be wrong, I have closed my ear to anything he will say later. Both family and religion are pretty dear to the average fellow; they are not subjects of ridicule—no matter how ugly a wife is nor how wrong the religion. At Athens Paul did not scorn and laugh at the idols, for to the Athenians those idols were as sacred as Christ was to Paul. Instead of catty remarks, biting witticisms, caustic soda, Paul employed true psychology, real diplomacy, a Christian approach. He pointed out the good that he could find in their present system, built the truth on that, and then pointed out the utter vanity of their system. Paul was much unlike the preacher who referred to Catholics as running to "Papa," a method angering to Catholics, repulsive to others.
"Don't pay any attention to methods; just preach the truth, letting it scorch whom it will," is advice of some, but not advice from above. It is advice from "don't care" folks, "earthly, sensual, devilish." From above advice is: "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Col. 4:6.
As much as one should despise sissy, hypocritical methods, one should not run to other extreme, saying, "Let methods be hanged." One is bound to use some kind of method, good or bad; some kind of manners, good or bad—at the dining table or in the pulpit. Are good ones worthwhile?
III. Matter and manners.
But after all there is nobody who really means it when he says, "Let methods be hanged." Even the roughest, purposely tactless fellow, when appointed to go to a home and tell a good, devoted wife that her husband has just been drowned, I say, that uncouth rowdy will soften his voice, and measure every word. He wants to lighten the shock; he uses all the tact and diplomacy he can muster, and shouldn't he? If he should make fun of her husband and hurt her more than necessarily, will not God judge? In a meeting is it God's love for souls or some other love that prompts a brother to urge a preacher: "Let 'em have it. Give it to them".
Not only are methods important, but the Bible tells us to study people to know what kind of approach to use. Jude commands us to make a difference among people: on some have compassion; others, save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. And Paul determined his manner of approach by the actions of the people: "What will ye? Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?" (I Cor. 4:21)
An abuse of the Bible though is that some who emphasize tact and diplomacy and methods never use but one kind: honey and sweetening. They always come "in love and in the spirit of meekness." Paul did not. Sometimes he was as stubborn as the next fellow (Gal. 2:5), sometimes bitter in denunciation (Acts 13:10), and he was "filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 13:9) when he used those methods.
No matter how important methods are, matter is more so. No matter whether one uses honey or is forced to use pepper (Matt. 23), the truth of the gospel must continue to be preached. Woe to him who compromises it in catering to men. Truth will save; error will condemn; no matter whether the preacher uses good or bad manners. And a man of God who exalts truth (John 8:32; 14:6) and blasts error wherever found, without fear or favor. He is a man of God—his manners are incidental.
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