While the plan of this book is such that it may easily be used for reading without special study, or again for home study by an individual alone, it is the hope of its publishers and author that it will find its widest usefulness in class use, as a textbook for small or large groups of persons, in the local church and young people’s society, in summer schools and assemblies, in Young Men’s Christian Associations, in student conferences and college association work, and in the theological seminaries. No individual study of this theme can hope to compare in richness of result with the study that one does in a group of interested workers and thinkers, whose experiences and opinions, brought out in free, informal conference, are sure to stimulate all to fuller understanding, keener enthusiasm, and deeper conviction.
The class group need not necessarily be large. Do not defer the formation of a class because there are “not enough.” Do not be discouraged if only a few, because of rain or some other such factor, attend a meeting, which promised to be larger. The rain-tested few are worth more than the fair-weather many. It was a favorite belief—half-joking, half-serious—of H. Clay Trumbull’s, that in any public meeting there is just about so much good to go around, therefore the fewer there are present, the more each one is likely to get. A group of two or three earnest souls gain more from their study than a class of twenty or thirty less genuinely interested students. The small group always has certain advantages over the large, in its informality and unity of spirit, the opportunity of each member to take greater part in the sessions, and the opportunity which the leader has of coming close to each member. Yet if a considerable number is available for a class, that fact is to be welcomed, and a leader who is determined to be really a leader, not a lecturer or preacher or other monopolist of the time and subject, can see to it that the large number does not prevent free expression by members of the class.
Getting the Students to Work
The wise and skilful leader will invariably do less talking than his class does. He will resolutely make every session a conference, a time when the class members and the leader confer freely with each other over the problems and truths, the principles and the methods, that are before them for that day. An enthusiastic leader may tell a class a great deal of interesting information, but if he does not get it back again from them, by the giving out of questions and opinions and experiences on their part, he will have taught them little or nothing.
For thorough work, every member of the class will have his or her own copy of this textbook, and a notebook. The questions and suggestions that appear at the beginning and the end of every chapter furnish material which the leader can readily use, if he so desires. For example, while every member of the class should, for the best results, study the “Preparatory Thoughts and Questions” that introduce each chapter (being careful to do so before reading a word of the chapter), the leader may profitably assign certain of these preparatory questions, in advance, to different members, they to report upon them in class at the beginning of the session in which that chapter is to be studied.
Thus, at the close of the session during which Chapter I has been studied, the leader may assign respectively to different students certain of the questions that introduce Chapter II, asking them to study and write out their answers at home before reading Chapter II, and bring those answers into class with them at the next session. Of course, the reading of a chapter may materially modify or entirely reverse one’s preconceived opinions on a given point, but that fact will only make this part of the home study, and of the class session, the more interesting. Again, two members might be assigned the same preparatory question to report upon, so that the class may compare the results. Or in some instances the leader might ask the entire class to report on the same question or questions, thus insuring an interesting and profitable variety of views for consideration. The great thing is to get the student to do his own thinking. That is the purpose of those preparatory questions, and it should be the ever-present purpose of the true leader. It can be accomplished in numberless ways, some of which each leader will work out for himself. But unless it is accomplished, the results of any study of this subject will fall far short of what they might be.
If each member has his own book, all will read and study at home, in preparation for a lesson, such chapter or chapters as the leader may assign for the coming session of the class. The questions and topics at the end of each chapter will suggest to the leader how to test his class’s knowledge of the contents of that chapter.
Urge the students to answer the questions at the end of the chapters, whether at home or in class, largely in their own words rather than in the words of the book, seeking to catch the ideas and principles presented in the book so fully that they can express them readily in their own language. Then they will have made them their own.
It will be noted that certain of the questions or topics at the ends of chapters are not strictly confined to the contents of that chapter, but call for original work, and thus furnish additional material for assigning in advance for the students’ home work, when that is desired.
Actual Soul-Winning Between Sessions
The class that is content to let its study of this theme be purely theoretical might better not study at all. Every class should be a training school for service, and every student should be hard at work in that service between sessions. The most profitable feature of class work ought to be the study, by the class, of those actual experiences in individual soul-winning which members are having between sessions, and which they report in full to the class. Let the circumstances of such cases be carefully described, with the results so far as seen, and let the class discuss the special difficulties that characterize them, the problems involved, and the methods that have been or ought to be used in dealing with them. The class session will thus have a laboratory or clinical nature the value of which cannot be overestimated. A season of prayer for those yet unreached with whom present members have worked, and for a blessing upon the study looking toward the greater efficiency of the workers in this greatest work that Christ entrusts to men, will deepen and heighten the value of every moment of such study. The note-books should be used freely, in class and out, by both leader and students. Questions and points that occur to one in home-study should be jotted down, for class discussion; so with problems and difficulties met with in one’s personal experiences.
Conducting a Session
The method of conducting a session will, of course, be determined by every leader for himself. It is desirable, however, that each session should include the following features:
Reports by students on work assigned in advance.
A review of the principle or principles studied at the preceding session.
The statement of the principle or principles under study that day.
The illustration of such principle or principles, both out of the textbook and from the students’ or others’ actual experiences.
At the close of every session, as throughout, there will be free discussion and ample opportunity for the expression of honest differences of opinion. If, for any reason it does not seem advisable to assign work to individual students in advance, the leader, instead, may devote a few minutes at the close of each session to an open discussion of the preparatory questions that introduce the chapter which is to be studied at the following session. This will stimulate interest in the coming lesson, and has the advantage of calling out the uninﬂuenced thoughts of the class on the principles that are to be studied later. Encourage the members of the class to ask questions freely, to tell of their own experiences and difficulties, their problems and their victories in this work. Let it be understood not only that they need not hesitate to interrupt the leader when he is talking, but that there is no such thing as an “interruption” in that class: that every such interruption is a contribution to the very end for which the class exists.
Encouraging Original Work
Original work by the members of the class is to be encouraged at every opportunity. Suggest their discovering other principles of successful soul-winning, in addition to those given in this book, by their own independent study of these or other experiences. Particularly should original study be done in connection with Chapter IX, “How Our Lord Worked.” That chapter is not intended to be at all exhaustive. It only suggests how readily these principles of soul-winning may be tested by our Lord’s work and teachings. There is a wealth of opportunity to discover unworked material in this same line in the Gospels, which any class or student that is in earnest can well take advantage of.
How Many Sessions?
The number of sessions that a class devotes to the study of this volume need not necessarily be the number of chapters in the book, ten, though that offers a course of reasonable length. Some chapters are much shorter than others,—such as Chapters III, VI, and X,—and might be combined with other chapters in single lessons by those who desire to shorten the time of the course. If a class wished to cover the ground in as few as four lessons, for example, the following combinations of chapters would be advisable:
Lesson I: Chapter I, II, III.
Lesson II: Chapter IV, V, VI.
Lesson III: Chapter VII, VIII.
Lesson IV: Chapters IX, X.
A course of six lessons would consist of the following groups: I; II, III; IV, V; VI, VII; VIII; IX, X.
But for a class that is willing to devote ample time to these studies, a session of a full hour can profitably be given to each of the chapters (with the possible exception of III, which is vital but not time-consuming, and which could be joined with II), provided the general plan of preparation and the conduct of the session already outlined be carried out.
Making It Personal
It is often an impressive and memorable object lesson, when conducting any public meeting or class on this subject, to ask those to rise who were won by a sermon or a general appeal to take the final step in open confession of Christ as Saviour; then to ask those to rise who were led to that step by the face-to-face, individual word of some individual. This is likely, in any small group or large audience of Christian people, to demonstrate convincingly the place of individual soul-winning as the great factor in the extension of the Kingdom on earth.
From Taking Men Alive by Charles Trumbull, (New York: Association Press, 1907), pp 19-26