How to multiply Conversions
This message is a sequel to my article, Can Conversions be Stopped? which was pasted on this website (www.stanleyonbible.com) on 18 October 2002 and published in the November 2002 issue of Blessing monthly. I am humbled by the overwhelming response for this article from Christians and Church leaders from all over the world. Many acclaimed that it’s a prophetic voice in the wilderness of confusion the Tamil Church is passing through following the promulgation of the Anticonversion Law.
The keypersons of the Tamilnadu branch of the Blessing Youth Mission requested me to address them on this issue in their annual meet held in Tiruchy, 9-10 November. I write here what I shared with them. Whereas my earlier article was specifically addressed to Tamil Christians, what I write now is a message to all Indian Christians. I perceive that the Tamilnadu anticonversion bill is only an experimentation of a nationwide strategy being worked out by the enemies of the Gospel of Christ. God never had any surprise in all history and He will never have one in future either. Because He has known the end from the beginning, and as the Alpha and Omega of eternity past to eternity future, He has already taught us in His Scriptures how to defeat the enemy in any situation. It’s now our responsibility to search the Scriptures with the Spirit’s help to work out a sound and successful strategy against the sinister schemes of the serpent.
The Church is the only society on earth that exists solely for the benefit of its non-members! As John Wesley rightly put it, "The Church has only one business, and that is to win souls!" Christ has not just "commanded" us but "commissioned" us to preach the Gospel. We have no choice. Evangelisation of the world leading to the multiplication of converts is our highest priority. Adverse winds against evangelism may blow more and more vehemently in India in the years to come. The Church of Jesus Christ must be sufficiently equipped for the difficult days ahead. Here’s a list of 7 changes to be effected in our conventional methods so conversions of non-christians to Christ may be multiplied as never before.
1. Public Programmes vs. Personal Work
The impact that mass meetings leave in cities and towns is unmistakable. The gospel becomes the talk of the town. It serves as an occasion for Christians to come out of their minority complex. But it stirs up the hornet’s nest. The antichristian forces get revived. This of course must be anticipated and can be faced. But what’s discouraging is that the gains in terms of genuine conversions are generally minimal. The amount of time, money and energy spent to conduct big programmes doesn’t seem to be worth it. To worsen the situation, mass meetings in India are usually sponsored and addressed by Western preachers. Non-christians especially caste Hindus don’t relish it. Their wrong notions about the origin of Christianity are strengthened.
Christ preached to crowds, but He spent more time with individuals and small groups. Peter and Paul did not always have or look for huge audiences. Conversational evangelism in houses and marketplaces was the most effective method employed by the Lord and the disciples. In spite of the widespread hostility that prevailed in the first century, no one could stop personal soulwinning efforts or conversions. Communism in India grew through tea shops! Let’s spend more time in contacting individuals one by one than for conducting huge meetings. This way we will attract very little public attention but gather a plentiful harvest. I salute Evangelist D. L. Moody (1837-1899) who observed, "Hand plucked fruits are the best!"
2. Clergy vs. Laity
God does call certain individuals to give all their time for the work of His Kingdom. They are to be supported by those who are benefitted by the message they proclaim. Churches must have pastors who would spend all their time to tend the flock. Ministries must have leaders and workers who can give all their time to realise the objectives of the organisations. Ordaining anointed Christians exclusively for the ministry of the Church has Scriptural sanction. But in course of time the Body of Christ gets divided into two groups — ministers and non-ministers. This is utterly unscriptural. The ministry of every minister in the Church is to make every member a minister (Eph 4:11,12). There is no non-clergy in the Church. All members are "priests" to worship God (1 Pet 2:5), and to witness for Him (v 9).
Unless the doctrine of the priesthood and the prophethood of all believers is recovered fully in practice, too few will be attempting to do too big a job accomplishing too little. I am in fulltime Christian service from 1975 and I have been instrumental in leading hundreds of youngsters into fulltime ministry. But I have come to the conclusion that evangelism is too big a task to be left to the professionals. Wars are not fought by Generals but by soldiers! In olden days the Spirit of God came on select individuals only. But the endtime outpouring is promised for "all flesh" — "sons... daughters... young men... old men... men servants... women servants" (Acts 2:17,18). This sort of outpouring is to get every Christian involved in reaching every non-christian (v 21).
I plead with pastors to encourage and give ample freedom to their members to develop creative methods of Gospel communication. In the name of Church order and discipline, don’t try to structuralise every soulwinning effort and kill enthusiasm. Every pastor must remember that it is the sheep which litter and not the shepherd! (Jn 15:16).
3. Mega Structures vs. Smaller Units
The numerical strength of Church congregations has now become the status symbol of many pastors. There’s a rat race among ministers to have the largest Church in the City or the State. Visits to South Korea might have triggered this passion. When temples and mosques have overflowing crowds, it is definitely not wrong to work for an exponential growth in local congregations. Worshipping God and celebrating His praises in huge gatherings is undoubtedly exciting. More the merrier!
However, there are certain inherent evils in mega-churches. When the number increases too much, interaction between believers and mutual ministry to one another becomes almost impossible. Pastors suffer burn-out when their ministries outgrow their capacity. Too much of time, energy and money will have to be spent for construction and maintenance of buildings.
Gathering in the Temple and the synagogues was not a continued practice of the early disciples. The house churches became the beehive of activities including breadbreaking (Acts 2:46; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19). The Church went underground in China during communistic oppression. A group of small congregations known as Little Flock under the spiritual leadership of Watchman Nee is an example. The Church not only survived but also thrived!
This is not a call to demolish or dismantle huge structures, but to establish and strengthen smaller units all over cities and towns. Felling a huge tree is comparatively much easier than weeding a field (Mt 13:29,30). A "little leaven" will leaven the whole lump! (Mt 13:33). It is not by calling people come to our places of worship but by going to their workspots and dwellings, the Church will grow faster. The Church-compound mentality has only hindered church growth.
Para-church organisations also should not go on increasing their size. In times like this, it is safer to have five agencies with 200 staff each than one organisation with 1000 workers.
4. Headquarters vs. Decentralisation
This aspect has specific relevance to missionary organisations, evangelistic associations, relief agencies, and the like. The concept of headquarters became popular a couple of decades ago in pursuit of effective coordination. An undisputed strong leader with the help of associates and assistants would direct the work across the nation from a central office. I believe that this era has come to an end with the changing of times. The old system has to be set aside if the full benefit of the new wine has to be enjoyed. There are several reasons why we must think of decentralisation.
God raises a man, gives him a message, and a movement is born. This founding leader is usually a dynamic charismatic figure. After him, rarely does a single man come up with equal gifting to succeed him. After Paul it is usually a team of men like Timothy and Titus. There is only one Mother Teresa, and only one Billy Graham. Because the second leaders will be more or less equals, in order to give ample space for originality and creativity, decentralisation is a must.
The central offices of most of the Christian organisations in India are situated in the Southern States. Which means, the keyleaders are stationed in the South. But the most unevangelised parts of the country are in the North. Eventhough preachers and leaders from South are "visiting" the Northern States for ministry, it is nothing like "staying" in needy areas and creating a sphere of Christian influence. Reaching the North Indians will not be effective without reviving the North Indian Christians. Eventhough the Church was born in Jerusalem, it was Antioch which gave birth to missions. Mobility is the antidote for stagnation.
Enemies of the gospel will usually target central offices of Christian missions. God is our Protector but we must plan wisely. Otherwise what was the need for Joseph to run away to Egypt with Mary and Baby Jesus at night? God forbid, but even if one office is bombed (!), the activities must not come to a grinding halt. The branch offices should be able to run the show. In this computer age, centralisation is not at all necessary for effective coordination. Do you know that top military officials don’t travel together in a single vehicle? Mission executives and administrators should overcome the carnal desire to keep all files and powers with themselves, and expect coworkers report even breathing and sneezing.
5. Independence vs. Interdependence
To function independently is a basic instinct of the fallen man. Desire for independence in Christian work is usually born out of reluctance for accountability and lust for applause. It’s the devil’s half-truth that we can move faster and accomplish more if we do it all by ourselves.
The last four or five decades (1950-2000) have witnessed the mushrooming of scores of indigenous missions in India. Many of them had a legitimate birth, whereas others were reactionary in origin or started by a fresh missiological graduate desirous of doing something for God but was not willing to work with one of the existing structures. Following apostle Paul in spirit, we can of course rejoice that Christ is preached anyway (Phil 1:18). But in the absence of networking and partnership, the wastage of manpower and money because of duplication and unhealthy competition is unimaginable. Eventhough genuine organisations under God may go on from strength to strength, the Body of Christ as a whole will get weaker and weaker.
It is in crises we seek others. We are jolted to realize that we can’t needle each other any longer because we badly need each other! Each Church denomination and Christian organisation has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s time that 1 Corinthians 12 is expounded afresh from every pulpit! Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is a favourite of revival preachers (Ezek 37). How can the Church rise up as an army unless "the bones come together, bone to bone"? (v 7). Nothing can be accomplished as long as feet are fighting with hands, and eyes with ears (1 Cor 12:15,16).
Our enemy is common. That’s a sufficient reason why we must be united. Unity does not mean agreeing with others in everything. In fact we have more similarities than differences among various Christian groups. The non-Christians and the antichristians look at Christians as a whole. They don’t even know how Roman Catholics and Protestants are poles apart in faith. What an advantage!
Dr. Sam Kamalesan was the main speaker in a Pastors Conference in Maharashtra years ago, which I was attending with some of my colleagues. I have forgotten most of what he preached but this : "One horse can pull 2 tons whereas two can pull 27 tons!" (Dt 32:30; Lev 26:8). Evangelism is a proven unifier in Christendom.
I have a long-cherished dream though it may appear presumptuous. Why not Churches hold common worship services localitywise atleast once in three months! Just meeting together, though it may look superficial, will weed out suspicions between leaders and help mutual encouragement. Psalm 133 will no more be just a song. It will become our story!
6. Adults vs. Youth
Youth-oriented programmes are not in proportion to the percentage of youth in our Churches. Youth ministry is not attractive to many preachers because in terms of revenue it is all investment with very little returns. Many youngsters from Christian homes go to Church because they have no other choice. An average Sunday morning sermon hardly has any message for them. Talks of Zion and heavenly Jerusalem are totally irrelevant to them. The theatrical performance and hidden agenda of preachers are nauseating. On the whole, to young people religion is boring. They are just too polite to say that!
I am appalled that even some of the "youth" organisations switch gears to concentrate on adults and general congregations. Youth work is no more their primary objective. Walk into Christian bookstores and find out how many youth books come out each year. Collect all Christian magazines published in India and count how many of them are for youth, or atleast allot pages regularly to address youth issues. Secular press publishes so much to cater to youth. How many Christian TV programmes do target youth? I am not despising old people, but I wonder whether there’s no difference in the Holy Spirit giving "visions" to young people and "dreams" to the old! (Acts 2:17b).
Youth are good in making friends. Their contacts in schools and colleges are numerous. Friendship evangelism is one of the most effective methods of spreading the gospel message. Until we have mobilized our youth for evangelism, our manpower will remain low. Youth are arrows in the hands of the Almighty (Psa 127:3-5). They rarely miss the target!
Ministering to youth is an art. Very few are naturally talented for this ministry. I would suggest that every Church sends its pastor for a short-term training in youth ministry—Or, atleast appoint a youth pastor exclusively for work among youth. Elders and committee members must avoid over-interference in youth matters. Tendency for elders to despise youth has always been there (1 Tim 4:12a; 1 Cor 16:10). Sarcastic remarks and unkind comments will quench the enthusiasm of youth. Youth grow when they are trusted and encouraged. They must be given freedom to mix with the youth of other congregations. They will serve as a link between Churches and foster unity.
7. Preaching vs. Publishing
There could be two reasons why God allowed apostle Paul to be imprisoned so often. One, to give him rest amidst his tireless itinerant ministry; second, to give him time so he would sit and write Epistles for the Church of his day and future generations. India over the centuries, especially in the 20th century, has produced some of the finest Bible preachers in the world. The depth of their devotions and richness of their sermons have been unparalleled. But unfortunately, not even 25% of their spoken messages has been published.
I have a great regard for the preachers and Bible scholars of the West. I am highly indebted to them for their commentaries and study aids which I regularly use. But having listened to the preachers of both the hemispheres for nearly four decades, my unbiased comment would be that the Biblical understanding and interpretation of the Easterners are better and deeper than their Western counterparts. But the Western Bible teachers are much more disciplined in writing than the Indians. Lesser publishing facilities in India compared to the West cannot be always quoted as the excuse.
I believe that the winds of opposition to the Gospel which blow all over India carry from God a message to the Indian preachers. Let us not be discouraged by the doors which are getting closed for public preaching. Learn to say no to not-so-important speaking engagements. Spend more time for rigorous study and writing. Away with casual writings for which our periodicals are known for. Let’s take advantage of the fast-increasing literacy rate in India. Internet is another God-given tool to get the message across.
When the Jews opposed what Paul and Barnabas spoke, they turned to the Gentiles (Acts 15:46). When the Holy Spirit forbade Paul and his team to preach the gospel in Asia, they tried to go to Bithinia. When the Spirit would not permit them go there either, they came down to Troas and finally ended up in Macedonia where they got their first European convert (Acts 16:6-15). When God closes one door, He opens another! Blessed are those who can find it!