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God's Strategy for Small Towns

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God's Strategy for Small Towns

Desmond Ford

Bible Department, Australasian Missionary College

 

 

The victory over the metropolis of Jericho, followed as it was by the failure at little Ai, seems too often the pattern for twentieth century evangelistic warfare. That the results of our small-town efforts are not as we would wish will be readily admitted by most of us.

In average areas it is estimated that less than one person in each five hundred in­habitants of a community will attend the opening meeting of an Adventist evange­listic series. Neither does this situation ap­ply merely to Adventist meetings. Other groups endeavoring to rally an interested nucleus in local areas generally experience frustration rather than success. Even local government bodies complain of the apathy that keeps citizens either home by their television sets or radios or out on a pleasure hunt when meetings planned for the wel­fare of the community are being held.

What is the solution to this problem? Somehow we must reach the populations of the small towns that dot the great pro­portion of territory in every country. The work of God will never be finished in the world until it is finished in rural areas. Is there a strategy that will give victory over the Ai's of our day?

Perhaps the following quotation regard­ing the conviction of Marshall Broomhall, a missionary friend of Hudson Taylor, af­fords the clue we seek: "His views espe­cially about evangelism as the great work of the church, and the order of lay-evange­lists as a lost order that Scripture required to be restored, were seed thoughts which were to prove fruitful in the subsequent organization of the China Inland Mission." —Hudson Taylor, p. 76. Note the stress on lay evangelists as "a lost order that Scrip­ture required to be restored."

Here, of course, Adventist workers will recall the numerous statements from the messenger of the Lord indicating that the diminishing of the Lord's work depends on the laity rather than upon the ministry only. For example, in Gospel Workers, page 352, we read: "The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers."

Again, "All that the apostles did, every church member today is to do."—Testi­monies, vol. 7, p. 33. And how searching the instruction that "the best help that ministers can give the members of our churches is not sermonizing, but planning work for them. . . . Help all to see that as receivers of the grace of Christ they are under obligation to work for Him."—Ibid., vol. 6, p. 49. (Italics supplied.)

New Testament Blueprint

Could it be that despite our vigorous program of home missionary work we have not yet grasped the full significance of such statements? Is it possible that the failure of the church to evangelize the world is the re­sult of failing to follow the New Testament blueprint for evangelism?

What is that blueprint? Let us check our knowledge here. To whom was the great commission given? Just to the faithful eleven? The ordained disciples? The an­swer is No! The laity of Jerusalem and surrounding areas were present. Paul speaks of "above five hundred brethren" (1 Cor. 15:6). It is evident that "Go ye into all the world" is a command given to every Christian to go into his individual world to bear witness for Christ. Ellen G. White has written:

The Saviour's commission to the disciples in­cluded all the believers. It includes all believers in Christ to the end of time. It is a fatal mistake to sup­pose that the work of saving souls depends alone on the ordained minister. All to whom the heavenly inspiration has come are put in trust with the gospel. All who receive the life of Christ are or­dained to work for the salvation of their fellow men. For this work the church was established, and all who take upon themselves its sacred vows are thereby pledged to be coworkers with Christ. . . . Whatever one's calling in life, his first interest should be to win souls for Christ.—The Desire of Ages, p. 822.

Five Stages in God's Blueprint

With this in mind let us check God's blueprint for evangelism as found in the book of Acts. This book of Scripture is the only one with evangelism for its chief theme. In the first two chapters we have a description of a pattern evangelistic cam­paign, with its prelude and epilogue. Five words summarize the story—prayer, power, witnessing, preaching, harvest. In these five words we have the synopsis of God's pro­gram for soul winning.

Prayer: Initially the church met for prayer, not just the eleven, for mention is made of 120 believers (see Acts 1:15). They thus fulfilled the exhortation, "Tarry ye . . . until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Often our work is fruitless because we have failed to tarry first in the closet of Bible study and prayer. Do we really believe the statement that "only the work accomplished with much prayer . . . will in the end prove to have been efficient for good"?—Ibid., p. 362. Let it be stressed again that the evangelist is not to do all the praying.

Power: Next came the dramatic infilling of power through the Holy Spirit. Today He does not come as dramatically as on this initial occasion, but His advent to each believer's soul must be as certain. He can fill us only to the extent that we permit our­selves to be emptied of self. No man can bear witness to Christ and himself at the same time.

Witnessing: The third stage in the Pen­tecostal effort was that of witnessing. Here is the missing link in much of modern evangelism. Here is the chief cause of meager harvests. In reading Christ's prom­ise of Acts 1:8 we find that witnessing was to be the result of the receiving of power. "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me." Here on the very eve of the greatest preaching program the world had yet seen, with Pentecost just around the corner, Christ does not even mention preaching. He does not say that as a result of receiving the heavenly endow­ment "ye shall be preachers unto Me." No! The record says "witnesses." This is the primary need for world evangelism. Preaching rarely succeeds if it is not pre­ceded by witnessing. The former is meant to be the capstone to the spiritual structure raised in the hearts of men and women through the witnessing of Christian neigh­bors and friends.

Why should we as preachers anticipate success if we are following a program of our own invention? Consider—it was after the witnessing of the 120 Spirit-filled be­lievers that their hearers were converted through preaching.

As witnesses for Christ, we are to tell what we know, what we ourselves have seen and heard and felt. If we have been following Jesus step by step, we shall have something right to the point to tell concerning the way in which He has led us. We can tell how we have tested His promise, and found the promise true. We can bear witness to what we have known of the grace of Christ. This is the wit­ness for which our Lord calls, and for want of which the world is perishing.—Ibid., p. 340.

Our confession of His faithfulness is Heaven's chosen agency for revealing Christ to the world. . . . God desires that our praise shall ascend to Him, marked by our own individuality. These precious acknowledgments to the praise of the glory of His grace, when supported by a Christlike life, have an irresistible power that works for the salvation of souls.—Ibid., p. 347. (Italics supplied.)

If individual church members fail to wit­ness for Christ, can an evangelist, however talented, make compensation? No, he can­not.

In the pattern of Acts we find that the believers who had received the Holy Spirit went out and witnessed to the multitude, and it was only after this informal witness­ing that Peter the preacher climaxed the proceedings.

Preaching: Apparently the testimony of Christian lives plows the soil of the unbe­lieving heart, and under the influence of the Holy Spirit this heart is made ready for the later seed sowing by the preacher.

In many areas an Adventist evangelist enters a district where there are few or no Sabbathkeepers. He works intensely in ad­vertising his meetings, preparing his ad­dresses. Sometimes the Lord graciously blesses his efforts, and he has the supreme joy of seeing souls take their stand for Christ and His message. But all too often the reverse is the case. Days and weeks of effort yield no harvest except, at times, a harvest of tears. Does not the New Testa­ment program for evangelism indicate that it is the missing link of witnessing which is at times responsible for the failure? The-result is the same even in a predominantly Adventist community, if the Sabbathkeep­ers have failed to bear living witness to their Master.

In laboring where there are already some in the faith, the minister should at first seek not so much to convert unbelievers, as to train the church-mem­bers for acceptable co-operation. Let him labor for them individually, endeavoring to arouse them to seek for a deeper experience themselves, and to work for others. When they are prepared to sustain the minister by their prayers and labors, greater success will attend his efforts.—Gospel Workers, p. 196.

The evangelist is to remind believers of of the truths expressed by the following statement.

It is not only by preaching the truth, not only by distributing literature, that we are to witness for God. Let us remember that a Christlike life is the most powerful argument that can be advanced in favor of Christianity, and that a cheap Christian character works more harm in the world than the character of a worldling. Not all the books written can serve the purpose of a holy life. Men will be­lieve, not what the minister preaches, but what the church lives.—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 21.

All who will can furnish irrefutable evi­dence for Christianity by being loving and lovable Christians. This is witnessing at its best.

Harvest: In large cities many true Ad­ventist witnesses are always to be found, and a harvest is usually forthcoming. It is, however, in small towns—Ai's—where be­lievers are few, that the urgency for gen­uine Christian testimony is even greater. Without it as the background for his preaching the best evangelist will fail. Therefore he must not only instruct the existing believers but exemplify. The preacher himself will be a living sign point­ing the way to heaven in his every contact, whether interviewing the mayor or buying a packet of nails. Such witnessing will not be a self-conscious endeavor to shine. Rather it will be the automatic overflowing of a heart made warm through the con­templation of the charms of Christ.

Will the world resist such a living por­trayal of the gospel? Here is the answer, in a promise that points to future Pentecosts: "If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tender­hearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one."—Ibid., p. 189.

What a challenge this is. How will we respond? How will we stand in the judg­ment day if our evangelistic fruitage con­tinues to be but one per cent of that for which God's strategy has made provision?

 

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