The House-to-House Ministry—Why Important Now?
“Every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.”—ACTS 5:42.
1, 2. (a) What method of preaching are Jehovah’s Witnesses known for? (b) What will we consider in this article?
IT IS a familiar sight in almost every nation on earth. Two neatly dressed individuals approach a house and endeavor to share with the householder a brief message from the Bible concerning God’s Kingdom. If he shows interest in the message, they may present Bible-based literature and offer a free home Bible study. Then they proceed to the next house. If you participate in this work, you likely find that people often recognize you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses even before you begin to speak. Indeed, the house-to-house ministry has become our trademark.
2 We use a variety of methods to carry out the commission Jesus gave to preach and make disciples. (Matt. 28:19, 20) We witness in marketplaces, on street corners, and in other public areas. (Acts 17:17) We contact many by telephone and by letter. We share Bible truths with those we meet during our daily activities. We even have an official Web site, which provides access to Bible-based information in more than 300 languages.* All these methods yield good results. Yet, in most places, our principal way of spreading the good news is by preaching from house to house. What is the basis for this method of preaching? How did it come to be used so extensively by God’s people in modern times? And why is it important now?
The Apostolic Method
3. What instructions about preaching did Jesus give the apostles, and what does this indicate about how they were to preach?
3 The method of preaching from house to house has its basis in the Scriptures. When Jesus sent forth the apostles to preach, he instructed them: “Into whatever city or village you enter, search out who in it is deserving.” How were they to search for deserving ones? Jesus told them to go to people’s homes, saying: “When you are entering into the house, greet the household; and if the house is deserving, let the peace you wish it come upon it.” Were they to visit without a prior invitation? Note Jesus’ further words: “Wherever anyone does not take you in or listen to your words, on going out of that house or that city shake the dust off your feet.” (Matt. 10:11-14) These instructions make clear that as the apostles “went through the territory from village to village, declaring the good news,” they were to take the initiative to visit people in their homes.—Luke 9:6.
4. Where is house-to-house preaching specifically mentioned in the Bible?
4 The Bible specifically mentions that the apostles preached from house to house. For example, Acts 5:42 says of them: “Every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” Some 20 years later, the apostle Paul reminded the older men of the congregation in Ephesus: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” Did Paul visit those elders before they became believers? Evidently so, for he taught them, among other things, “about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:20, 21) Commenting on Acts 20:20, Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament says: “It is worth noting that this greatest of preachers preached from house to house.”
A Modern-Day Locust Army
5. How is the preaching work depicted in the prophecy of Joel?
5 The witnessing done in the first century was but a foretaste of a greater work to be done in our day. The prophet Joel likened the preaching activity of anointed Christians to a devastating plague of insects, including locusts. (Joel 1:4) Advancing like an army, the locusts surmount obstacles, enter into houses, and devour everything in their path. (Read Joel 2:2, 7-9.) What a vivid portrayal of the perseverance and thoroughness of God’s people in carrying out the witnessing work in modern times! Foremost among the methods used by anointed Christians and their “other sheep” companions in fulfilling this prophetic picture is the house-to-house ministry. (John 10:16) How did we, Jehovah’s Witnesses, come to adopt that apostolic method of preaching?
6. In 1922, what encouragement was given to witness from house to house, but how did some respond?
6 From 1919 on, the responsibility of each Christian to have a personal share in witnessing has been stressed. For example, an article entitled “Service Essential” in the Watch Tower of August 15, 1922, reminded anointed Christians of the importance of “actively carrying the printed message to the people and talking to them at their doors, giving the witness that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Detailed presentations were provided in the Bulletin (now Our Kingdom Ministry). Still, the number of those who actually preached from house to house was small at first. Some held back. They raised various objections, but the basic problem was that some felt it beneath their dignity to preach from house to house. As emphasis on field service increased, many of such ones gradually withdrew from association with Jehovah’s organization.
7. In the 1950’s, what need became evident?
7 In the decades that followed, the scope of the preaching work grew. It became evident, however, that further personal training in the house-to-house ministry was needed. Take the situation in the United States as an example. During the early 1950’s, 28 percent of the Witnesses in that country limited their preaching activity to distributing handbills or standing on the streets with magazines. Over 40 percent were irregular in the preaching work, allowing months to go by without doing any witnessing at all. What could be done to help all dedicated Christians preach from house to house?
8, 9. What training program was initiated in 1953, and with what results?
8 At an international convention held in New York City in 1953, the house-to-house ministry received special attention. Brother Nathan H. Knorr declared that the principal work of all Christian overseers should be to help every Witness to be a regular house-to-house minister. “Everyone,” he said, “should be able to preach the good news from house to house.” A global training program was launched to achieve this goal. Those who were not yet preaching from house to house were given training in approaching people at their doors, reasoning with them from the Bible, and answering their questions.
9 The results of this training program were outstanding. Within a decade, the number of publishers worldwide increased by 100 percent, the number of return visits by 126 percent, and the number of Bible studies by 150 percent. Today, almost seven million Kingdom publishers are preaching the good news worldwide. This remarkable growth is one evidence of Jehovah’s blessing on the efforts of his people in the house-to-house ministry.—Isa. 60:22.
Marking People for Survival
10, 11. (a) What vision was Ezekiel given, as recorded in Ezekiel chapter 9? (b) How is that vision being fulfilled in our day?
10 The importance of the house-to-house ministry can be seen from a vision given to the prophet Ezekiel. In that vision, Ezekiel sees six men with weapons in their hands as well as a seventh man clothed in linen with a secretary’s inkhorn at his side. The seventh man is told to “pass through the midst of the city” and “put a mark on the foreheads of the men that are sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done in the midst of it.” Following that marking work, the six men with the slaughtering weapons are commanded to execute all those who do not have the mark.—Read Ezekiel 9:1-6.
11 We understand that in the fulfillment of this prophecy, the man “clothed in linen” represents the remnant of spirit-anointed Christians. By means of the preaching and disciple-making work, the anointed class puts a symbolic mark on those who become part of Christ’s “other sheep.” (John 10:16) What is the mark? It is the evidence, as if displayed on their uncovered foreheads, that such sheep are dedicated, baptized disciples of Jesus Christ and that they have put on the Christlike new personality. (Eph. 4:20-24) These sheeplike ones become one flock with anointed Christians and assist them in their vital work of marking still others.—Rev. 22:17.
12. How does Ezekiel’s vision about marking foreheads highlight the importance of our ongoing search for sheeplike ones?
12 Ezekiel’s vision highlights one reason why our ongoing search for people who are “sighing and groaning” is so urgent. It involves lives. Soon, Jehovah’s heavenly executional forces, represented by the six men with weapons, will destroy those who do not have the symbolic mark. Concerning that coming judgment, the apostle Paul wrote that the Lord Jesus, accompanied by “his powerful angels,” will bring “vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess. 1:7, 8) Notice that people will be judged on the basis of their response to the good news. Hence, the proclamation of God’s message must continue unabated right to the end. (Rev. 14:6, 7) This places a heavy responsibility on all of Jehovah’s dedicated servants.—Read Ezekiel 3:17-19.
13. (a) What responsibility did the apostle Paul feel, and why? (b) What responsibility do you feel toward the people in your territory?
13 The apostle Paul felt a personal responsibility to share the good news with others. He wrote: “Both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to wise and to senseless ones I am a debtor: so there is eagerness on my part to declare the good news also to you there in Rome.” (Rom. 1:14, 15) Out of gratitude for the mercy he had been shown, Paul felt compelled to try to help others to benefit from the undeserved kindness of God just as he had benefited from it. (1 Tim. 1:12-16) It was as if he owed a debt to each person he met, a debt that could be repaid only by sharing the good news with that person. Do you feel such a debt to the people in your territory?—Read Acts 20:26, 27.
14. What is our foremost reason for preaching publicly and from house to house?
14 As important as the preservation of human life is, there is a far greater reason for preaching from house to house. In the prophecy recorded at Malachi 1:11, Jehovah declares: “From the sun’s rising even to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and . . . a presentation will be made to my name, even a clean gift; because my name will be great among the nations.” In fulfillment of this prophecy, Jehovah’s dedicated servants are publicly praising his name in all the earth as they humbly carry out their ministry. (Ps. 109:30; Matt. 24:14) Rendering “a sacrifice of praise” to Jehovah is our foremost reason for preaching publicly and from house to house.—Heb. 13:15.
Momentous Events Ahead
15. (a) How did the Israelites intensify their activity as they marched around Jericho on the seventh day? (b) What does this indicate about the preaching work?
15 What developments are yet in store for the preaching work? The siege of Jericho, recorded in the book of Joshua, provides an illustration. Recall that just before God destroyed Jericho, the Israelites were instructed to march around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day, however, there was to be a marked increase in their activity. Jehovah told Joshua: “You should march round the city seven times and the priests should blow the horns. And it must occur that when they sound with the horn of the ram, . . . all the people should shout a great war cry; and the wall of the city must fall down flat.” (Josh. 6:2-5) It is possible that there will be a similar expansion of our preaching activity. No doubt, by the time of the destruction of the present system of things, we will have seen the greatest witness to God’s name and Kingdom in the history of this world.
16, 17. (a) What will be accomplished before “the great tribulation” is finished? (b) What will we consider in the following article?
16 The time may well come when the message we declare is like “a great war cry.” In the book of Revelation, powerful judgment messages are pictured as “a great hail with every stone about the weight of a talent.”* And Revelation 16:21 states: “The plague of it was unusually great.” Just what role the house-to-house ministry will play in the proclaiming of those climactic judgment messages remains to be seen. But we can be sure that before “the great tribulation” is finished, Jehovah’s name will have been made known as never before in human history.—Rev. 7:14; Ezek. 38:23.
17 As we await the momentous events that lie ahead, may we continue zealously declaring the good news of the Kingdom. In carrying out that assignment, what challenges do we face in the house-to-house ministry, and how can we meet those challenges? These questions will be considered in the following article.
The Web-site address is www.watchtower.org.
If reference is being made to the Greek talent, each hailstone would weigh about 45 pounds [20 kg].
How Would You Answer?
• What is the Scriptural basis for preaching from house to house?
• How was the house-to-house ministry given emphasis in modern times?
• Why do dedicated servants of Jehovah have a responsibility to preach?
• What momentous events lie ahead?
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Like the apostle Paul, do you feel a responsibility to preach to others?
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Brother Knorr, 1953