EXPERTS AT CONFERENCES: DUNCES AT CRUSADES
While we have become engrossed with efforts to perfect the inner life of the Church through conferences and seminars, the evangelical church has become disinterested in, and even resistant to, the conduct of evangelistic crusades.
I studied very carefully the historical document entitled, From Wheaton '66 to Wheaton '83 written by David M. Howard, General Secretary of the World Evangelical Fellowship (W.E.F.) He traced the founding of various associations and the conduct of several congresses all the way from the founding of the IFMA (Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association) in 1917 through to the conference called The Nature and Mission of the Church in the World held in Wheaton in 1983 with its theme, I Will Build My Church. At the end of his report brother Howard concluded --
"Biblical understandings have been strengthened, theological perceptions have been sharpened, and churches have been renewed. Christians have been drawn together in unity and fellowship never before known in some places, the Body of Christ has been enriched by the interaction of cultures, and unreached people groups have been identified and subsequently reached with the Gospel ---- ALL AS A RESULT OF THESE GREAT WORLD GATHERINGS."
It was noted that the Lausanne Covenant that came out of the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974, was "one of the finest documents on evangelism that has ever been produced."
Doubtless, the expenditure of millions of dollars to conduct congresses around the world and to establish and run interdenominational organizations, has brought benefit to many, but when we fairly and realistically measure their impact upon a lost world and upon society in general, I fear we fall victim to our own hyperbole. We tend to inflate and exaggerate the measure of our success.
While we have been busy meeting in congresses, conferences, and seminars, while we have been analyzing and writing papers and producing statements, the following trends have become increasingly entrenched in society about us:
- the institution of marriage has been crumbling
- the news media and entertainment industry has become dominated by liberal, anti-Christian, and amoral thinkers
- a form of evangelical existentialism has swept over the churches leaving believers confused, not knowing whether their personal experience of spiritual phenomena or the Scriptures should have the final authority over their lives
- the church has become divided over Biblical inerrancy
- the role of those with the gift "evangelist" and the conduct of evangelistic crusades have gone into eclipse
- God has been legislated out of our schools and courthouses
- prayer has been forbidden in public forums
- evangelism has been outlawed in some nations
- the gay and lesbian lobby has become ever more aggressive
And the list could go on. We appear to have a propensity to become very academic about everything. We seem to prefer to meet for discussions on evangelism than to actually get out and do it.
We have become wrapped up analyzing trends rather than in reversing them.
We can more easily surround ourselves with printouts than with lost sinners.
We are more prone to head toward the library to study about "hidden people" than we are to take to the streets and to the world to reach them.
We are getting better at writing theses while less adept at "talking the Gospel."
We are often graduating men and women from our colleges and seminaries who have survived the rigours of our study programs, but when they hit our pulpits they cannot preach convincingly to turn sinners away from sin and towards Christ.
Evangelicals have become specialists in meeting with one another in conferences and seminars and have become novices at launching crusades to reach a lost world.
I am not arguing for an uneducated, frenzied, mindless evangelistic onslaught on an unsuspecting public, but I am arguing for a better balance between the study of evangelism and the actual doing of it. We had better soon learn how to redirect our energies outward lest we end up talking only to ourselves while the world is burning.
A scene is still fresh in my mind from our missionary days in South Viet Nam. Some of us were putting together a program called "Evangelism-in-Depth" for the Vietnamese evangelical church. While we were gathering for our work in Saigon one day, one of our colleagues walked by our group, and before going out the door, he paused and with an amusing glint in his eye, said, with tongue in cheek, "While you fellows are studying about evangelism, I'm going out to do it!" And off he went.
Some excellent evangelism programs have emerged over the years such as Evangelism Explosion, and more recently ALPHA. The great Billy Graham crusades seemed to have eclipsed smaller individual church or city wide crusades once conducted by evangelists like Merv Rosell, Jimmy Mercer, Torrey Johnson and others. The crusades conducted by Youth for Christ in the mid-1900's are now only a memory. Some pastors preach evangelistic messages from time to time but now with a predominate emphasis on worship, clarion calls for people to come to Christ including instructions on exactly what they must do to embrace the Saviour are becoming more and more rare in too many churches. Many pastors are reluctant to surrender their pulpit on a Sunday to allow for the ministry of those who have the gift "evangelist" to minister and draw the net. In some quarters the category of licensing for evangelists was abused, being granted to men who were merely in between pastoral charges and not because they were bonafide evangelists.
We have probably all heard the song that begins with the words, "where have all the flowers gone . . ." My question is, where have all the evangelists gone? Why has the church and her leaders convinced themselves that there is no longer a place for them and that in today's society with its competition in the form of TV and sports events we can no longer conduct evangelistic crusades at the local and city-wide levels. Why do denominations which license pastors by the thousands only have a handful of licensed evangelists? We now find ourselves in a catch-22 situation: if we were to decide upon launching a crusade, there is hardly anyone gifted enough to preach in them; and having not used those with the gift "evangelist" for so long, both the gift and the gifted ones seem to have faded away.
For those of you readers who engage in fervent prayer for revival in our times, I urge you to include in your intercessions, a revival of the gift "evangelist" and that God will give to church leaders the wisdom to know how to engage them in effective, soul-harvesting ministries.