Vision for Outreach
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
In this age of moral bankruptcy, when there is unprecedented apathy and materialism, when men and women are as the Bible describes, 'lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more (rather) than lovers of God', 2 Tim. 3. 2-4; when the majority seemingly do not care for their own soul's destiny and when from an early age-young people are familiarized with every kind of evil by the mass media, there is a desperate need, as never before, for a vision amongst Christians.
We are fast arriving at the conditions that will characterize the day of the second advent, predicted by the Lord when He said, 'And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man', Luke 17. 26. Like the Christian today Noah lived in a godless day and yet he was a living testimony in the building of the ark and in his preaching to those who are now imprisoned, 1 Pet. 3. 19, 20. Though his testimony and preaching seemingly had little effect, he carried on with faithfulness the commission that God had given him, and because of this we are here today, for had he not been faithful the human race would have been extinguished.
So then, the Christian in this day and age has a grave responsibility to carry out the commission of Christ, 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature', Mark 16. 15.
Today, as we observe many local churches closing, for whatever reason, let us take stock and seek to go all out for the Lord in our outreach for His glory.
The New Testament Pattern
From the very first there were certain fundamentals which characterized the outreach of the early church.
Firstly, they spent much time before the Lord in prayer for His strength and guidance. Leading up to Pentecost the early disciples had continued in prayer and fellowship, Acts 1. 14, so that when the Spirit of God came they were ready to receive Him, and to go out in absolute identification with God's purpose, and a consuming zeal to make known the gospel. How thrilling it is to read of the first discourse by Peter, noting his grasp of the scriptures and the relevancy of everything said; not a wasted word!
Secondly, there was practical holiness in their daily living. When this was not the case in those early days, God stepped in and judged those who were in danger of marring His testimony. Consider Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5. 5; 10; also those at Corinth, 1 Cor. 11. 30. How serious a matter it is today, as then, if the testimony is marred by lack of love or, worse, outright strife or open division amongst believers.
Thirdly, the gospel was not spread by public preaching alone, but by all of the Christians of that day being involved in personal preaching and testimony; as we say 'gossiping the gospel'. This is borne out by the commendation of the apostle Paul concerning the Thessalonians, 'For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing', 1 Thess. 1. 8.
How we need these three things today; prayer, practical holiness and preaching. True revival!
They moved out from the local churches as spiritual bases. Many were saved and in turn joined the local assembly, being built up in their faith by the godly teaching of gifted teachers within the assembly. This was combined with the godly guidance and shepherding of the plurality of the eldership in administration. They seemed to be in a fit state spiritually to drink in the word of God with no other attractions necessary. The lives and testimony of those early Christians must have been living and vital, attractive and compelling. There is no reason why ours should not be also, but it will require sacrifice and dedication.
Their preaching was also relevant and succinct; witness Paul at Athens as he familiarized himself with the situation. Seeing the pervasive idolatry he began, 'For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you', Acts 17. 23.
The deep feelings of God concerning the salvation of men are amply described in 2 Peter 3. 9, 'The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance'. His infinite love evidenced at the cross is unabated. The disciples were filled with this love at Pentecost and through the early days of the church. If ever we are to be effective in reaching people we must have a deep burden for them. Many evangelists and personal workers have been characterized by this, spending long hours in prayer, and even tears, for those to whom they preached. They were so closely in touch with God's feelings for men, that as they preached the gospel the Spirit of God was pleased to work mightily in the salvation of many. In this respect there are many examples for us to follow, not least David Brainerd, a missionary to the American Indians, whose life story inspired John Wesley, William Carey, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, and many others, to greater holiness and faithfulness in God's service. (David Brainerd's life story is currently available, published by Evangelical Press and is recommended reading).
As the scripture states, we can be involved in planting and watering, but it is God alone that gives the increase. Paul said, 'I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase', 1 Cor. 3. 6, 7. This emphasizes that we have no resources of our own; we are powerless to save even one soul. Even those with this world's wealth are included in Psalm 49. 7, 8, 'None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth (must be let alone) for ever'. How necessary then that in this dark day we cast ourselves wholly on Him who alone in His sovereignty is able to save.
In days of darkness, let our personal testimony be as the Lord enjoined, 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven', Matt. 5. 16. Let our preaching be of the word of God, living, vital, and up to the moment.
Many assemblies are to be commended and encouraged in their efforts, and are an example to others in the way they are in contact with the local community. Even though some are weak numerically they continue steadfast in their efforts.
Amongst already well known methods of outreach the following are examples: (this list is not exhaustive!)
- distribution of literature, including an assembly magazine.
- carrying on a Sunday School or children's work, a vital link with families.
- visitation of older people including holding gospel services at old people's residential homes.
- open air work, holding days of tracting where the whole church, as far as possible, is involved (not just the few!).
- hospital visitation and services.
- prison visitation and services.
- seeking out the homeless on the streets at night.
- holiday Bible Clubs for the young during school holidays.
- meals on wheels - this has been an effective means of contact with the house-bound in some areas.
- ministry to those recently bereaved by the sending of an appropriate letter after funeral announcements in the local press (of course this has to be done sensitively).
- a local telephone ministry with a recorded gospel message (regularly changed!).
- periodic family services followed by, if appropriate, refreshments.
There is a need to be aware of the changing needs of the locality. What is suitable in one area may not be in another. Some assemblies have found, for example, that holding the gospel meeting at a different time has increased the numbers attending.
Nothing should be carried on merely for tradition's sake, because it suited a previous generation, though of course nothing should be changed unless there is good reason to believe it will be an improvement, and that the change is scriptural.
Sadly in this respect some assemblies have made changes out of weakness and deference to those who are spiritually inexperienced or immature in the church- These have not been improvements on scriptural practice. In the end those who requested the change are not satisfied, and upon further compromise being refused, they leave the assembly.
Another thing is that we must not be taken up merely with the numbers attending, though of course we long that our meetings should be full. It must be under the right conditions of scripturally sound doctrine and practice. Many assemblies would be full to capacity if they were to communicate to the Christians in the area in which they are placed, that anything goes in the meetings, e.g., that there is no need for the doctrine and practice of the headship of Christ in the assembly; or by accepting; the teaching of charismatic Christians that the miraculous gifts are still possessed by individuals today.
We do not wish that the doctrines of the assembly should be undermined but rather that through the faithful presentation of the gospel souls will be spoken to by the Lord, and being soundly converted, find in the local assembly a spiritual home.
Let us cast ourselves wholly on the Lord. No time must be wasted. As the scripture confirms, 'Redeeming the time, because the days are evil', Eph. 5. 16; 'Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time', Col. 4. 5.
There is a great need not just for activity, but for deep exercise before God that we might be effective in our outreach and testimony for Him.
'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye known that your labour is not in vain in the Lord', 1 Cor. 15. 58.
In the light of the coming resurrection we are exhorted and encouraged by this verse:
- 'stedfast, unmovable' - in relation to doctrine.
- 'always abounding' - in relation to practice.
- 'your labour is not in vain' - in relation to encouragement.