Neutralizing the Fear Factor in Evangelism

by David Neufeld.

Of all the things a pastor can ask a church member to do, which is the scariest? Teach a Sunday school class? Sing a solo? Become the church treasurer?

The worst, according to many, would be this: Lead someone to Christ. “Well, Pastor, I’m not sure I could do that without messing up. I wouldn’t know what to say…”

In the small town where I serve, we’ve tackled that “fear factor” through a unique, no-risk approach. As a result, dozens of people in our congregation are willing, even eager, to guide enquirers to the Saviour.

This is happening, mind you, in a very tightly knit community of just 800 people on the Canadian prairies (with an additional 3,000 in the rural area around us) where everybody knows everybody’s business, and social conformity is strong. Stepping out to do something bold is not the habit here. We have five local Mennonite churches, one of which I grew up in. It’s easy to assume that evangelism is for somewhere else; after all, everyone in our town must be saved already. Just settle back in your church pew and sing the old gospel song “Hold the fort, for I am coming.”

Easy to Try
Several years ago, Campus Crusade for Christ announced a program called “Power to Change” for Manitoba. The province would be blitzed for several weeks with billboards, TV advertising, and TV specials–all carrying a phone number to call for spiritual help. This would require setting up a bank of phone counsellors in Winnipeg, just forty-five minutes from our town.

I promoted this opportunity with a passion in our church, encouraging everyone to take the training. Many people caught the vision. We went as a group for two nights of classes that taught how to share your faith over the phone in three minutes or less.

When the “Power to Change” publicity hit and the phones started to ring, our people found out how easy it was to guide a caller to salvation. The person on the other end of the line was already primed. Excitement began to rise as our people labored together to bring in the harvest. At the end of the evening, some people could hardly be torn away from the phones. The joy of leading someone to Christ was a real high.

In those days, the technology was not random; incoming calls always went to Phone 1 in the bank, unless that line was busy, then on to Phone 2, or Phone 3, and so forth down the line. One man around age 30 in our group, who ran a welding shop, soon figured out the system and would actually hustle to get the Phone 1 seat, so he could be busiest throughout the evening!

We were a little disappointed that no calls seemed to come from our rural area, the so-called Bible Belt of Canada, but we rejoiced in counselling dozens of callers from Winnipeg and other places across the province. As a pastor, I couldn’t help smiling as I watched everyday people from my church enthusiastically sharing the gospel over the phone.

The Graham Connection
While working at the “Power to Change” phone center, we met a lady who told us about another opportunity with an even larger reach: a Billy Graham call center in Winnipeg. This operation would field responses to TV specials that aired all across North America.

We agreed to come and check it out. When our busload of 45 people from out in the farm country rolled up to a large Winnipeg church for the first night of training, the organizers had to find a larger room! We soaked up the instruction for three hours that night and were intrigued with the 300-page manual each person received. It included everything a person would need to counsel someone on the phone, including an extensive index in the back that covered everything from doctrinal questions to personal crises.

We soon challenged the other churches in our community to come on board with us and be a part of this ministry. Then just over a year ago, the Billy Graham ministry decided to implement smaller centers outside the major cities. All you needed to qualify was the ability to manage a minimum of six phones, so we jumped at the opportunity.

We found a local business in Grunthal that already had five incoming phone lines. They offered to buy another one so we could use their facility in the evenings. In January 2005, our tiny town became just the third Graham call center to operate in Canada (alongside Winnipeg and Calgary). The Billy Graham organization runs week-long fleets of telecasts across North America some eight to ten times a year. That means we’re needed to take calls from viewers all over the continent. (The ministry pays the phone bill.)

Our people are so excited about this means of evangelism that they can hardly shut up. They are ready at any moment to lead their friends to Christ, because they already have the experience. I watch their faces absolutely glow at the end of the night when they have led someone to Christ. They are fully equipped and enthused to help anyone to the foot of the Cross.

One woman found herself on the line with a caller from somewhere in the States who was seriously contemplating suicide. The man did not want to go on living any longer. Our counsellor quickly flipped to the suicide-prevention pages in her manual and kept him on the line for half an hour. She not only talked him out of ending his life but even managed to lead him to the Lord. Talk about a thrill!

During the January 2006 run, we were open six nights and handled 183 calls. Of these, 44 prayed to receive Christ for the first time, 18 received prayer for assurance of salvation, 34 rededicated their life to Christ, and 87 had other needs that were prayed for. Workers have been taught never to end a call without praying for the person, so our people learned to pray out loud and in every situation.

Labourers for Today’s Harvest
A Franklin Graham Festival is scheduled for this fall in Winnipeg. This will push our people a step further, to do face-to-face counselling. I’m going to urge as many as I can to take the “Life and Witness” classes in preparation for the festival. There they will help at the public invitation and also do follow-up with friends they bring to the event.

We are praying with anticipation for a great harvest. I fervently believe that church growth should come from more than just the cradle! That’s the main source of growth in our rural area-but I want to see teenagers and young adults and older adults come to Christ as well.

Jesus said once to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37-38). I hope, with God’s help, to be able to say that at least in my community, the workers are many. I am convinced, as a pastor, that it is my responsibility to equip the labourers, and He will empower them by His Holy Spirit to help bring in an end-time harvest.

David Neufeld is pastor of Grunthal Abundant Life Fellowship in Grunthal, Manitoba.

Defining Apostles

by Nathan Rasmussen.

There seems to be a lot of talk about apostles these days. Paging through the ads in certain Christian magazines, you’re bound to see numerous conferences featuring apostles. There’s also no shortage of apostles here in East Africa. where my family and I minister. But the question remains, what exactly is an apostle?

Originally, the word meant “sent one” or “a special messenger who has been sent out.” Paul introduced himself to the Roman church as “a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News” (1:1). Interestingly, if we look at Paul and his ministry, we see that he was not one of the top leaders in the early church. He wasn’t a Peter or a James. In Acts 15, Peter took a leading role at the council meeting in Jerusalem, and James, the brother of Jesus, gave what turned out to be the final word. Paul, on the other hand, was just one of five leaders of a local church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3)–and in fact, the last one on the list.

Paul was sent by the local church to take the gospel to places it had never been proclaimed. He was a frontier missionary. In fact, the very word “missionary” comes from the Latin missionis, which is what the Vulgate and other Latin translations use for apostle or sent one.

Hebrews 3:1 (NIV) calls Jesus himself “our apostle and high priest.” Jesus was actually the ultimate example of an apostle (missionary) in that he was sent to demonstrate the love of the Father to us. He left heaven, sent by the Father, to show us the Father. Jesus Himself said in John 14:9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” Isn’t that really what an apostle or missionary is? They leave their comfort zone and go to those who have never heard the Good News. Jesus says in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

Jesus taught His disciples by word and deed to have a heart for the nations. Before He went back to the Father, He told them to “go and make disciples of all the nations [peoples]” (Matt. 28:19). In fact, we have a Great Commission in each one of the Gospels: Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, and John 20:21.

Nothing New Under The Sun
The Great Commission was not a new teaching to the disciples. According to Jesus, “‘When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, ‘Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent”‘” (Luke 24:44-47, italics added).

Jesus tells us that we see two things in the Old Testament. First, that all of the sacrifices, ceremonies and other requirements of the Law are fulfilled in Christ. Secondly, this gospel will be preached to all nations, not just Israel. In fact, the Old Testament often shows God’s heart for the nations. God called Abraham to bless not only him and his family but all the families of the earth through him (Genesis 12:1-3). God called the nation of Israel to be a “light to the Gentiles. You will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Sadly, we as a church often look a lot like the Old Testament nation of Israel. We can be very focused on our blessings as children of God. We need to realize not only our top-line blessing but our bottom-line responsibilities as well. We have been called to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Yet often, we live as if the world isn’t our responsibility.

Before the resurrection, Jesus chose twelve who were called “disciples.” The truth is, they were apostles-in-training. Once Jesus arose, He specifically told them their responsibility was to make disciples of all nations.

Slow Start
The disciples didn’t go immediately. Even with Jesus as their mentor, it took them time to move out. In Acts 2, they were empowered but they didn’t go (perhaps there were too many new believers to follow up; vs.41). In Acts Chapter 3, a lame man was healed and as a result, nobody wanted to leave a place of miracles. In Chapter 4, they had problems with the government. In Chapter 5, they had internal church problems with hypocrites (Ananias and Sapphira). In Chapter 6, they had still more church problems (complaining widows). Most churches have enough problems with complainers and hypocrites to keep them from going anywhere for a long time.

At the end of Chapter 7, God used the Sanhedrin and Saul to persecute the church, so that in the beginning of Chapter 8, they finally went! But who went? “All the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria” (vs. 1). At last, they were doing what God had commanded them to do. Unfortunately, the ones going were not the apostles, the sent ones. Instead, they stayed in Jerusalem.

Others such as Philip went. He wasn’t an apostle. He was just a deacon, one of those guys in Chapter 6 who had been assigned to take care of complaining widows. But he obeyed, and there was blessing in obedience. Revival broke out in Samaria; people were saved, healed, and delivered, “so there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8).

Further on in Acts 8, Philip was directed by God to leave the revival in Samaria and go into the desert. He actually left the place of miracles to go and talk to one man, an Ethiopian eunuch. Philip shared the gospel with a member of an unreached people group.

So why is Philip not called an apostle? He certainly seems to have done the work of an apostle. He obeyed and went. Acts 21:8 calls him an “evangelist” but never an apostle.

Maybe it is because when he went to Samaria, he focused on people like himself, fellow Jews who were scattered in Samaria. How do we deduce this? Acts 11:19 reports that “the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews.”

Though the saints were scattered by the persecution under Saul, they basically went to their own kind. Even Paul, when he entered a new city, would often start by sharing the gospel with the Jews. If they believed, they could more easily reach the local Gentile population. If they refused however, Paul would go straight to the Gentiles himself.

Crossing Boundaries
The next verse introduces something new: “However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:20-21). And it is interesting that just a few more verses down (verse 26) it says, “It was in Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.”

Why this name? Maybe because they looked like Christ! Christ taught his disciples to have a heart for the nations. Notice how He had looked with admiration on the Roman centurion (Matt. 8) or the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15). Jesus healed both of their household members in need and went on to applaud their great faith.

When we look at the ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11, many of us see the apostles listed first and assume it is because they are the top leaders. Apostles are actually the founders of the work, the fathers of the faith. Maybe they are listed first because without pioneer missionaries, there is no church. Whom do the prophets speak to, whom are the evangelists sent from, or whom do the pastor/teachers care for and teach if there is no church?

Maybe we need to think again about all the things we are trying to read into the office of an apostle. Is it not possible they are actually “sent ones,” missionaries to those who have never heard?

Many times those we call missionaries are actually evangelists. They are working among people like themselves, which is fine. They are like Philip going to fellow Jews in Samaria. Philip only did true missions, however–the work of an apostle–when he went to the Ethiopian eunuch.

Home Missions: Oxymoron?
This does not mean the work of an evangelist is any less important or less needed. We simply need to clarify the difference. A lot of what we call home missions isn’t missions at all, it’s evangelism. Missions is when you cross multiple barriers to get the gospel to those who have never heard. If we call everything “missions,” in the end it loses its very meaning.

So, what is an apostle? I think we need to return to the root meaning of the word, “sent one,” one who has been called of God to “go and make disciples of all nations.” This is a command that Jesus gave to his disciples. He patiently taught them for three-plus years to have a heart for the nations.

How many years have you been a disciple, learning at Jesus’ feet? Of course we are disciples all our lives, but have you ever considered God’s call on your life to be that of an apostle?

We have a world where more than 2 billion people have never heard the gospel for the first time. Sixty-six thousand people die every day never having heard the name of Jesus, not even once. What can we do to reach them? We need prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers–and we need apostles. We need sent ones, missionaries willing to go to those who have never heard. Are you willing to be one? Are you willing to enable someone else to be one?

Nathan & Karen Rasmussen (nkr4hisglory@yahoo.com) can be reached at P.O. Box 349, Kigoma, Tanzania. Their sending church is Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, Smithtown, N.Y.

All Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation unless otherwise noted.

Beyond the Shotgun Approach to Missions

by Nathan Rasmussen.

Of all the needs across the world, which are the most crucial? How should we prioritize our efforts? What does the “big picture” look like in world evangelization?

One view of our world sees only the violence, the terrorism, the conflict. A different view, however, sees a world ablaze with revival. In Latin America, the church is growing at three times the biological growth rate. In China, we’ve seen the church grow in the past 50 years from 1 million to over 100 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, where my family and I have the privilege of working, God is doing tremendous things. In Tanzania, the evangelical church grew by 40 percent in the 1990s. Next door in Burundi, we have gone from 30 churches to over 400 churches in just 12 years. And many of these churches are large- 800 or more, even in villages.

If you look at the world as a whole, its population grows at about 1.6 percent per year. Meanwhile, the evangelical church is growing three and a half times as fast (or 5.6 percent). The Pentecostal/charismatic churches are growing at four and a half times the population growth rate (or 7.2 percent).

How Far Have We Come?
Of the 6.3 billion people in the world, one third call themselves Christian. One third of that group, or 11 percent of the whole, are actually active, Bible-believing followers of Christ. Another way to say this is that one out of every nine people on the planet are living out their Christian faith.

Do you realize it took 1,400 years to get to the point of active Christians comprising just one out of a hundred? It took 1,900 years to reach one out of forty. And now just in the last century we’ve advanced to one out of nine. That is tremendous growth, real progress.

Another third of our world (actually, 36 percent) live within the reach of the gospel but have not yet responded to it. The gospel is available to them in their language, in their culture. They can readily hear about Christ at work, at school, in a nearby church, on the radio, on television, etc.

The last third of our world’s population are currently beyond the reach of the gospel, at least in terms they can comprehend.

Counting “People Groups”
Another way to look at our planet is to count the “people groups”-a term for a population that is distinct in terms of language and/or culture. A people group is the largest group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of acceptance or understanding. Once the gospel gets into a people group, it can spread quite easily. The challenge is to get it started, to establish a church that can reach its own people.

We can rejoice that 14,000 people groups so far are “reached.” I am not saying that everyone in these groups has had an adequate presentation of the gospel. But at least the message is available in their setting. There is a church in their language, their culture.

That leaves another 10,000 people groups who are “in the dark,” so to speak. These are the groups that represent the 2-plus billion truly unreached. The groups break down, in round numbers, as follows:

4,000 Muslim
3,000 Hindu
2,000 tribal
1,000 Buddhist
Across North Africa, there is but one pastor or missionary for every 2 million people. Apply that ratio to North America, and you would have just 155 Christian workers for the entire U.S. and Canada combined! There would be seven small, struggling congregations in all of North America.

Going for the Most Needy
Obviously, we need to prioritize our efforts on reaching these groups. This is not to say that other ministries are unimportant. But here are three reasons to give the unreached groups our first attention:

1. They are part of the world God gave his Son to die for. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world ….” In spite of all our successes in missions, these hidden groups have somehow been left out. It is disturbing that 66,000 individuals die every day never having heard the name of Jesus, not even once.

2. God has a heart for all nations. He said to Abram long ago, “I will bless you” and “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3). This Scripture is what some call “the Old Testament Great Commission.” We have heard a lot of emphasis in the church on “being blessed” ourselves. Not so much has been said about being blessed to be a blessing, especially to all peoples of the earth. But that is what God has in mind. The New Testament Great Commission as well tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The Greek word is ethne-“peoples.” That certainly includes the 10,000 groups still unreached today.

Nothing could be clearer than 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow…. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” This is the heart of God.

3. Finally, God’s plan for the nations includes full representation. The apostle John “looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb'” (Rev. 7:9-10). This is what heaven will be like! God said so.

One Way or Another
God’s work through history can be noted in 10 periods-five in the Old Testament, five since the coming of Jesus. They are:

1. The Patriarchs
2. Captivity in Egypt
3. The Judges
4. The Kings
5. Exile and After

6. The Romans
7. The Barbarians
8. The Vikings
9. The Crusades
10. To the ends of the earth

Let me focus on just numbers 6, 7, and 8. Christ came into a Roman world. By the time of the emperor Constantine in the 300s, the infant church of the book of Acts had become the state religion of the empire. But it did not reach out to the Barbarians north of them. Christians were no longer missions-minded. So God allowed the Barbarians to invade Rome and burn it down. But in the process, they encountered the gospel.

The Germanic and Celtic peoples became Christians. But they as well failed to reach out to the peoples north of them, the Vikings. History repeated itself. God allowed the Vikings to invade, burn down the churches, kill the saints-but also to get the gospel in the process. This, in fact, is how my ancestors, the Scandinavians, learned of the one true God.

The lesson is this: If we do not reach new people groups voluntarily, we will reach them involuntarily.

The same process can play out once again in our time between the Western and the Muslim worlds. They have attacked us (World Trade Center, Pentagon), and we have attacked them in our modern crusades of Afganistan and Iraq. God wants all peoples to hear the gospel. We as a church can ignore the unreached, but they will be reached. Why? Because God says so. God loves them. God sent his Son to die for them. God is going to reach them.

We as the church have a choice. We either reach out voluntarily to them, or we can stand by and watch them be reached another way. But they will be reached, because that is God’s plan.

An Action Plan
So what can we do? How do we obey the commission to “make disciples of all nations” (all peoples)? Where do we start?

We can focus more, as churches, on reaching the unreached. Churches currently spend 94.5 percent of all income on themselves. Five percent goes for evangelizing those in groups already reached. Only half a percent goes towards unreached people groups.

It would help a great deal if each of our churches were to adopt an unreached people group. This would bring great focus to our efforts.

1. For one thing, we’d bear down in prayer for them. We would cry out to God for people to come to Christ and for a church to be planted among that people group.

2. In the area of short-term mission trips, we would no longer just randomly go here one year and somewhere else the next. We would zero in on repeated trips to our selected people group.

3. We would start thinking about sending vocational missionaries. Our congregations are full of individuals with marketable skills needed by these people groups. Those who can teach English as a second language, those who know how to farm, those who know computers-these can gain entrance into places that professional missionaries can never penetrate. As they share their skills, they also share the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. Focusing on one people group brings to a church a sense of ownership. The vision becomes “ours,” not somebody else’s. Giving tends to rise as one result of this.

5. Adopting a people group also develops unique partnerships with other churches. For example, Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle on Long Island, New York, is currently partnering with a Lutheran church in Australia, a Chinese church in Singapore, a United Methodist church in a Houston suburb, a community church outside Seattle, a sister FCA church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and others to work together to reach the Bee people in Indonesia. This kind of partnership would never happen otherwise. Together these congregations are working to see a church established amongst this unreached people group.

Yes, 10,000 unreached people groups across the world sounds like a lot. But think about how many Christian congregations there are to reach them! The mathematics work out to 670 churches for every unreached group. That’s not so impossible, is it? Your church and 669 others could certainly see a “people movement” toward Christ in that one group.

I also believe that we missionaries need to prioritize our work in the direction of the unreached. I am sorry to report that 90 percent of our current efforts are focused in “reached” areas. Some of us need to redeploy to unreached groups-and to train Christian workers in the developing world to do the same. That is why my family and I have just returned to Africa with a new mandate after 20 years: To train the already reached to reach the unreached. Our efforts in the coming term are bent in this direction. We live in a time of great need-and great potential.

How to Adopt an Unreached People Group
You as a church can adopt an unreached people group. Learn more at any of these websites: www.adoptapeople.com; www.joshuaproject.net; www.uscwm.org; or www.antiochnetwork.org. If you are really serious about learning more, sign up for a Perspectives course online or in your area (www.perspectives.org).

It’s a big world out there, of course, with 10,000 people groups to choose from. Don’t start by just randomly choosing a people group you know nothing about. Start with concentrated prayer. Allow the Lord to guide you in the way you should go. One possibility is to look to missionaries you already know. Are any of them focusing on a specific unreached people group? If so, come alongside them. You can work together to see a people movement to Christ started in that group.

If none of your missionaries are focused on the unreached, find one who is. We are commanded by Christ to “make disciples of all peoples.” In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations [peoples], and then the end will come.” Does that mean he’s not coming back until we get the job done? Maybe that messes with your end-times theology. We as a church are often preoccupied with singing and preaching about our heavenly reward. Maybe we should concentrate more of our efforts on completing the task.

Find a missionary who has prioritized reaching the unreached and partner with him/her. Better yet, let’s start teaching our congregations about our responsibility to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). That scripture says we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. That means we are called to be his witnesses everywhere. We have a responsibility to take the gospel to the unreached, to the ends of the earth. When we believe it, teach it, preach it, and practice it, missionaries from our own congregations will end up going to our adopted people group. This is the way the Great Commission will finally be completed.

Nathan Rasmussen and his family currently serve in Kigoma, Tanzania. Email Nathan: nkr4glory@yahoo.com

Christa McCartney Leaves for West Africa

Christa McCartney leaves on Monday, February 13th, 2012 to begin her missionary career in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. The daughter of Kathy and Mike McCartney (Senior Pastor of Christian Hills Church outside Chicago), she will be focusing on ministry to orphans.

Christa is a graduate of Christ for the Nations Institute (Dallas), where she majored in missions. She has already interned for five weeks in Asia and three months in Guatemala. Christa will be living with a Fulani family for one month and is excited to see what God will do this next year.

From the age of 10, Christa wanted to be a missionary. Her long-term goal is to start an orphan home in South Sudan. She is going to the field under the auspices of the Go To Nations agency in Jacksonville, Florida. To learn more, visit www.gotonations.org/christamccartney or contact Christa directly at christamccartney78@gmail.com.