Challenge No. 8

Whatever happened to Neighbourhood Evangelism?

Jesus was first a neighbourhood Evangelist before He became a frontier Missionary. Luke reports that after His wilderness experience He returned in the power of the Spirit and started teaching in His own hometown of Nazareth (Lk 4:13-16). Only afterwards He shifted His base to Capernaum to preach in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali (Mt 4:13). Frontier missionary work, if it must be strong and healthy, must be an extension of neighbourhood evangelism or a development of it. Jesus recruited “fishers of men” primarily for neighbourhood evangelism, and then challenged them to pray for a workforce for distant fields (Mt 4:19, 23,25; 9:37,38).

 

This does not mean that we cannot think of frontier missions until the neighbourhood is totally evangelised. On the other hand, one cannot substitute the other. Sacrificing one for the other will be detrimental to Church growth. We come across four orders of Jesus to “Go” in the context of evangelism—

1. “Go home to your friends and tell them what great things God has done for you” (Mk 5:19)
2. “Go into the streets, highways and byways, and bring them in” (Mt 22:9)
3. “Go into the village opposite to you” (Lk 19:30)
4. “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15)

Surprisingly, three out of these four orders refer to neighbourhood evangelism—“home... streets...villages.” The European and Western missionaries did not wait for their entire countries to be evangelised before they could come to a land like India. At the same time, whenever neighbourhood evangelism was neglected such regions started turning pagan.


Silent majority


The shepherds in the Christmas story were the first neighbourhood evangelists. We read, “When they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marvelled at those which were told them by the shepherds” (Lk 2:17,18). In general, only “fulltimers” can go for frontier missionary work. But neighbourhood evangelism is for any Christian to directly involve in. A soul in the neighbourhood is no less precious than one in a distant field. “All souls are mine,” says the Lord (Ezek 18:4). He does not want “anyone” to perish, but desires “all men” to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (Jn 3:16; 1 Tim 2:3,4). Anyone who is without Christ is a mission field! The only way to stir up the silent majority in the Church for action is to challenge and involve them in neighbourhood evangelism. We spend too much of our time and energy in decorating our frontyard forgetting the backyard.


Saturation Evangelism

The Resurrected Christ gave His disciples a blueprint for evangelism in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jerusalem and all Judea were the neighbourhood for the disciples, whereas Samaria and the other parts of the world would involve cross-cultural frontier missionary work. The anti-Christian religious leaders charged the disciples, “You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine” (Acts 5:28). The Christians of each locality and Church must be challenged for this kind of saturation evangelism. Not all Pastors are evangelistic-minded. It is the responsibility of the members and workers and leaders of missionary organisations and evangelistic agencies to pass on the passion for souls to the Christians of Churches they belong to.


Frontline Soldiers

Fulltime Christian workers alone cannot complete the task of world evangelisation. I don’t grow tired of quoting missionary evangelist T.L. Osborn: “The laymen will write the last chapter of Church History...Restoration of the art of personal soulwinning will be the rediscovery of New Testament Christianity!” I would shout a loud “Amen” to this though I am a fulltime preacher myself! Unless we raise an army of personal soulwinners we will not get enough of dynamic candidates for frontier evangelism. It is from among the active and prayerful disciples, Jesus chose twelve frontline missionaries (Mt 9:37-10:4). A young man appeared before a Mission Board which was interviewing candidates for frontier missions. One leader asked him, “What are you actually doing for God where you are?” The young man answered, “Not much.” The leader asked back, “Do you want to go to the mission field to repeat this?” A Tamil proverb says, “If you cannot catch a lizard in your own place, how can you catch an elephant elsewhere?”

 

Extract or Equip?

 

The doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers is more a theory than a practice in Christendom (1 Pet 2:5,9). The clergy-laity divide will only be further widened if neighbourhood evangelism is not sufficiently emphasised as equally important as frontier missionary work. The saintly Andrew Murray observed: “There are only two groups of Christians: one soulwinners and the other backsliders!” With the mushrooming of missionary-sending agencies, we have too many supporters and too few soulwinners. Think of a hall filled with only pillars! Missionary organisations are apprehensive of motivating Christians for neighbourhood evangelism, perhaps because they are afraid that the people might spend too much of their time and energy in neighbourhood evangelism to spare time for the promotional works of these organisations. Missions periodicals are filled with reports and appeals leaving little space to challenge the readers for personal involvement in neighbourhood evangelism. In Missionary Conventions there’s hardly a full-length talk on personal soulwinning. The entire programme targets mobilisation of funds, prayer and candidates for fulltime work. This trend may help missionary societies to grow, but it’s unhealthy for the Body of Christ. The very purpose of the fivefold ministries in the Church is to “equip” the believers for the “ministry” (Eph 4:11-13).

 

Nazareth to Naphtali

 

In every other missionary organisation there’s tension between the administrative leaders and the field workers. The cry of the field missionaries is that the administrators don’t understand their problems. Here again the solution lies in neighbourhood evangelism. One who is not an ardent soulwinner is not qualified to oversee and lead soulwinners, harvesters and church-planters. Jesus not only “sent” missionaries; He also “went” forth preaching the Gospel (Lk 10:1). Apostle Paul followed the same example. The active and aggressive neighbourhood evangelism of the College Prayer group I started in 1963 in Karaikudi became the seedbed for the Blessing Youth Mission which was founded in 1970-71. Before ever coming across any handbook on evangelism, we learnt the principles of evangelism with hand-on-plough by applying whatever we had observed in the Scriptures. After coordinating the ministerial affairs of the BYM at the national level, from the central administrative office in Vellore for 17 years, my wife and I moved from State to State every two years, for about 10 years, to be a part of our field missionary teams in their neighbourhood evangelistic efforts. It is this experience which gave the cutting edge to our missionary challenge sermons, in print or from pulpit. Neighbourhood evangelism begets frontier missionary work.

 

A Model Church

 

Thank God for the historical slogan, “Go or Send!”, coined by the Canadian missionary Statesman, Dr. Oswald J. Smith (1889-1986). This slogan had a specific reference to overseas missions. Since we cannot afford this luxury of an option in a country like India, we modified it as, “Go and Send!” Unfortunately, folks have chosen the easier alternative. Most of the missionary-minded Christians stop and are satisfied with praying and paying for missionary work. They hardly involve themselves in any direct evangelism in their localities. But the case with the Thessalonian believers was different. Paul commended them, “From you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out...” (1 Thess 1:8). Macedonia and Achaia were the neighbourhood for the Christians of the city of Thessalonica. I am convinced that when local Churches become aggressive in neighbourhood evangelism, the total evangelisation of the world will not be far off. No wonder Paul presented the Thessalonian Church as a model for others (v 7)

 


Training ground

 

Neighbourhood evangelism will be a spontaneous outcome of a Christian who is genuinely converted and a Church which is gloriously revived. The immediate spill-over of the flow of God’s love into the lives of Christians will first influence their neighbourhood. This is God’s promise: “I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing” (Ezek 34:26). This was pictoriously illustrated by Christ as “a city on a hill” (Mt 5:14). After serving this example and that of a lamp kept on a lampstand to benefit the residents, He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may SEE your good works and glorify the Father in Heaven” (vv15,16). Only the neighbours can “SEE” you!

 

Following his conversion, Apostle Paul started off as a neighbourhood evangelist. He first evangelised Damascus where he was baptized (Acts 9:19-22). He moved to Jerusalem, about 200 kilometers away, mainly because the Jews in Damascus plotted to kill him (vv 23-26). He followed the blueprint Jesus gave in Acts 1:8 (Acts 26:20). Those who are zealous in neighbourhood evangelism usually do very well if they step out for frontier ministries. In the early years of the ministry of the Blessing Youth Mission, most of the missionary candidates came out of the hundreds of lay outreach teams which were active in their respective localities in personal soulwinning, street preaching, visitation evangelism and rural outreach. On the average, the quality of such candidates has been class apart. Charity begins at home, isn’t it?

 

Endtime Army

 

Joel’s prophecy concerning the endtime outpouring of the Holy Spirit leading to an unprecedented ingathering of souls includes entire families as prophetic communities to proclaim God’s wonderful works. “Sons...daughters... young men... old men... menservants... maidservants” (Acts 2:17,18). This definitely and primarily refers to neighbourhood evangelism. Otherwise, how can “old men” travel to distant lands, or, servants leave their domestic responsibilities for frontier missions? We see an immediate fulfillment of this prophecy in the life of the early Church. The cottages of Christians became the centres of evangelism. That’s how they could influence their neighbours and win “the favour of all the people.” The result was daily addition to the Church! (Acts 2:46,47). We normally pray, “Lord, do it again!” Instead we need to say, “Let’s do it again!”

 


Every Home Crusade

 

Apostle Paul never forgot the strategic importance of house-to-house neighbourhood evangelism. Besides his public proclamation of the Gospel, he visited homes to communicate the message in person to the residents (Acts 20:20). While targeting the Greeks, he did not lose sight of the Jews (v21). In our context, the Greeks represent non-Christians and the Jews nominal Christians. Thousands and thousands of nominal Christians remain nominal for years, simply because the born-again Christians do not take pains to lead them one by one to repentance and faith. I am a fruit of personal soulwinning. My Chemistry Professor led me to Christ. Before sending out the twelve disciples for cross-cultural missionary evangelism, Jesus told them first to go to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 10:5,6). Dear Christian friend, start praying for your nominal Christian neighbours regularly and win them one by one. There’s nothing like the joy of soulwinning! Fruit-bearing means reproduction. It is not optional. “Every” branch that does not bear fruit will be cut off. These words of Jesus cannot be taken lightly (Jn 15:2).

 

Collection or Conversion?

 

Paul did not go house to house to collect money for his missionary efforts. While addressing the Ephesian elders, he testified, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel” (Acts 20:33). He worked with his own hands to earn for his ministerial expenses and to pay the bills of his team members (v34). He visited the folks to “give” them something rather than to “receive” something from them (v35). He operated on the teaching of Jesus: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive!” I am not against collecting contributions from Christians for God’s work. But that must not be the primary purpose in visiting homes. Go to minister to them___ to exhort, edify and encourage. Gone are the days when Christians would carry Gospel tracts in shoulder bags. Now they carry receipt books! In some places, Church authorities have banned certain missionary organisations because the promotional workers of these organisations have gone to the extent of standing at Church gates to collect monthly contributions and issue receipts. The target set by missions for fund-raising has indirectly pressurised many zealous Christians to give up personal soulwinning efforts. Is this right? Is it God’s method? Have organisations grown beyond God’s plan for them? Some stocktaking is necessary at this stage.

 

Paganism next door

 

I urge Christians everywhere to plan a regular neighbourhood evangelistic programme. The activities can include distribution of Gospel tracts in street corners and marketplaces, open-air preaching, house-to-house visitation, ministry to the inmates of hospitals, prisons, rehabilitation centres and the like, rural outreach, weekend evangelistic campaigns and so on. Form a local team and work out the details. Gather atleast once a week for about two hours to pray exclusively for your activities suggested above. Besides giving to your local Church and supporting missionary organisations and evangelistic agencies from the amount you set aside each month for the Lord, keep a portion for your own direct expenses for neighbourhood evangelism. One need not go to the tribes in jungles and mountains to see paganism. Right on the main streets of our cities and towns we come across torturous practices of devotees to appease their deities. Heathenism is right there everywhere. At times we see more of North India in South India than in North India. We must not equate economic and social backwardness to Gospel ignorance. It’s commonplace to see the most educated and civilized among us holding stupid superstitious beliefs.

 

Gossip the Gospel!

 

If Christians are the “light of the world,” every Christian home much be a lighthouse. If we are not responsible to lead our neighbours to the Light of Life, who else is? When the shepherd found out his lost sheep, and the woman her lost silver coin, the first thing both of them did was to call their friends and neighbours and share the joy with them (Lk 15: 6,9). It is written, “There will be shouts of salvation in the tabernacle of the righteous” (Psa 118:15). Let the neighbours hear it first! Each Christian is like a “leaven” in the “lump” of his neighbourhood. Let it all be leavened up! In His parable of the leaven, Jesus spoke of this as the work of a woman! (Mt 13:33). Apostle Paul warned against womenfolk becoming “idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not” (1 Tim 5:13). Why not gossip the Gospel? Use your talking talent for God!

Let’s talk about Jesus, the King of kings is He;
The Lord of lords supreme, through all eternity;
The great I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door;
Let’s talk about Jesus more and more!

Who is our Lazarus?

 

The second commandment, equal to the first and the greatest commandment, given by Jesus, is that one should love his “neighbour” as himself (Mt 22:39). We are experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Do our neighbours have that joy? We have found the only Way to Heaven. Do our neighbours know that? We have peace that passes all understanding. Do our neighbours enjoy that peace? If salvation is so great, how can we neglect to share its message with our neighbours? To point out who our neighbour is, Jesus presented the story of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37). It is when we help anyone in need whom we meet as we go about with our routine we become a good “neighbour” to that person. We send support to the havenots in distant places, but we ignore the Lazarus at our doorstep! Who cares for the platform-dwellers and ragpickers in our own towns and cities? Following Pentecost the believers shared their possessions first with the poor and the needy among themselves. We read that there was not anyone “among them” who lacked. This was the secret of their strength as a community (Acts 4:34,35). Vision for faroff places must not make us blind to the needs in our vicinity. He who does not love his brother whom he has “seen,” how can he love someone somewhere whom he has not seen? Jesus said, The poor are always “with you!” (Jn 12:8). The first resurrection miracle in the early Church was performed on a woman named Dorcas who was “full of good works and charitable deeds” towards the widows who were her neighbours (Acts 9:36-41).

 

Anywhere, anytime!

 

One who knows the power and possibility of neighbourhood evangelism will never run out of job. He will be instantly employed wherever he is placed. Look at Paul. God put him in Athens, a city of idols. He had to wait for a while in this city for Silas and Timothy to come and join him. See what he was doing during those few days: “He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshippers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16,17). Throw him into a prison and here’s what he would testify: “I want you to know, brothers, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and all the rest, that my chains are in Christ!” (Phil 1:12,13). Let a shipwreck land him in an unknown island. He would conduct a 3-day healing campaign there! (Acts 28:7-9).

 

Slogan or Action?

 

Most of our Churches have only adopted the missionaries of mission agencies, not birthed them. Even when, say, 10 missionaries are sent from and supported by a 1000 member congregation, the Church has mobilized only 1% of its force for direct evangelism. But if it can challenge every member of the congregation to win just one other person in the neighbourhood for Christ in a matter of one year’s time, every year its strength will be doubled! It’s mind-boggling. But this is how the early Church grew. Only when this happens, we can say, “The whole Church is carrying the whole Gospel to the whole World!” Otherwise, this will remain merely as a slogan to decorate the brochures of international mission conferences!