Evangelist-in-residence

Millions of city dwellers are safely ensconced in high-rise apartment buildings. Evangelizing these "vertical villages" may call for some rather unorthodox methods. You may not agree with the author's proposal, but it will undoubtedly stimulate your thinking.

C. Raymond Holmes, D.Min., is the coordinator of the church and ministry department of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (Far East), Cavite, Philippines.

How do you evangelize a city like Singapore? That question emerged time and time again during the recent seminary extension class I taught at Southeast Asia Union College. There were twenty-seven pastors enrolled in the course; I thought it strange that they should ask me, a stranger to the Far East, how Singapore should be evangelized. So I began to question them. What was their biggest problem in doing evangelism in Singapore? The answer motivating the residents to attend a traditional evangelistic meeting. My students told me that when an evangelistic campaign is planned, thousands of dollars and a great deal of energy is spent persuading people to come hear the speaker. A well-planned advertising program, utilizing thousands of posters, placards, handbills, and flyers, is put into operation. Expensive radio and television time is purchased to advertise the meetings. But the response is minimal.

The problem? How do you motivate people to come out of their comfortable high-rise apartments and attend an evangelistic meeting? These buildings are the most prominent feature of Singapore. You cannot look in any direction without seeing clusters of such apartments, and more are going up as fast as money and men will allow. High-rise living is not only the present life style, but it will determine the social structure of Singapore for a long time to come. With land space at a premium and a rapid population increase, there is no room to expand horizontally. Expansion can be only vertical.

Vertical living effectively cuts people off from each other. It is much easier to hide, to remain aloof from community affairs, when living space expands upward in multiple-apartment structures. Such living presents serious social and community problems. It also presents serious evangelism problems. People who are ensconced in their high-rise apartments, some of whom have had to climb many floors to get home after a hard day's work, will not easily venture out again in the evening to attend a religious meeting.

Are we, then, spending our evangelistic budgets for the wrong things? Are we locked into traditional ways of conducting evangelistic business? Does the new situation in Singapore—and elsewhere in the world require a new way of thinking about evangelism? Does it require a new approach to the training of evangelistic workers?

Permit me to share with you some of the things that occurred to me as I stood in my classroom at Southeast Asia Union College and gazed out over Singapore with my students' question ringing in my ears: How do you evangelize a place like this?

First, it occurred to me that each one of those high-rise apartment buildings was a village, a barrio, standing on end. We are told that there is one thing a dedicated missionary will do to reach people where he works: he will live among them.

Second, if the people will not come out of those buildings, then we must go to them—not to organize a traditional type of evangelistic meeting somewhere on the premises, for then we would still be faced with the motivational problem, but to go and live with them.

Third, instead of spending so much money on advertising and publicity, perhaps we should invest in personnel. Why not pay a salary to a single worker, or preferably to a married couple, and send them to live in one of those high-rise apartments with the people who are to be evangelized?

Fourth, I remembered that the model for ministry in the New Testament is that of the servant. Why not pay a new kind of evangelist to live among the high-rise people and develop a service-oriented evangelistic thrust rather than a preaching-oriented one? It would also lend itself to long-term evangelism based on relation ships rather than short-term evangelism based on meetings and sermonizing.

Fifth, it occurred to me that great corporations spend a portion of their income on research. Could not the church do the same? Could we not spend some of our evangelistic budget to experiment with this kind of high-rise evangelism to see if it will work or to learn what needs to be done to make it work?

Would it not be money well spent to recruit a highly qualified husband-and-wife team who would be willing to commit themselves to a new kind of evangelism? A special kind of training would have to be inaugurated, with a heavy emphasis on the servant model of ministry. Under the careful and sensitive guidance of a division or mission church-growth department, this new kind of evangelist would have to be allowed freedom for experimentation and innovation. During the initial, experimental phase of such a pilot project there would be much for the church to learn in order to be able to train and prepare more teams of servant-oriented evangelists-in-residence.

How do you evangelize a city like Singapore, or any city like it? One way could be by means of the evangelist-in-residence!


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C. Raymond Holmes, D.Min., is the coordinator of the church and ministry department of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary (Far East), Cavite, Philippines.

June 1981

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