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Kneeling Knees and New Churches

by Alex Wilson

Our churches are diminishing in number. There are fewer, not more, than formerly. What can be done to stop and reverse this trend? First and most important is to pray. We need to intercede for revival, for more workers, for deeper love, daring faith, enthusiastic sacrifice, and practical wisdom.

Years ago a godly church-planter from India, greatly used by God, visited the U.S. I’ll never forget Bakht Singh saying, “You in Amer­ica are sorry for us in India because of our material poverty. But we Christians in India are sorry for you in America because of your spiri­tual poverty. In the most poverty-stricken land on earth, God always meets our needs. We do not have the educated preachers, expensive buildings, elaborate equipment and many books that you in the U.S. have, but God gave everybody two knees, and we have learned how to use our knees. In every American church I have visited the prayer­ meetings are the poorest attended and least lively. But in India we love to pray. We often pray for hours. We pray for you in America.” God help us all to use our knees.

EVANGELISTS

 

One thing to pray for specifically is that the Lord will raise up evangelists. By this we don’t necessarily mean men who hold large crusades. Rather we mean men whose major work is to preach the gospel by any means to the unsaved and then gather converts together to form a church.

Paul says in Eph. 4: 11 that Christ ‘gave gifts to men; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, other to be evangelists, oth­ers to be pastors and teachers’. Apostles and prophets were God’s in­spired spokesmen to give the Scriptures to men and lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). .

Evangelists are to preach to the lost and thus plant churches. Pas­tors are to lead the churches thus established, and teach and train the members. Note the difference between preaching and teaching. We to­day speak of men preaching sermons to Christians in church week af­ter week, but Scripture doesn’t use such terminology. In the Bible, ‘preaching’ is addressed mainly to unbelievers, and ‘teaching’ mainly to believers. In general, evangelists preach and pastors teach.

Literally, preacher means ‘herald’. In ancient times men had no TV, radio, newspapers or magazines. How then did they learn of cur­rent events and new laws and decrees? Heralds were appointed to walk through the city and announce such news. This is what the preacher is to do: proclaim God’s love and announce the good news of His peace-terms offered to men. Present day equivalents for ‘preacher’ might be ‘broadcaster, announcer, news-reporter’, al­though the preacher goes beyond the broadcaster by seeking a verdict, a decisive commitment to the One he proclaims.

Thus in Scripture ‘preacher’ usually refers to evangelists, and ‘teacher’ usually refers to pastors. The same man might sometimes be both a preacher and teacher; Paul was (2 Tim.1:11). But usually some men are more gifted in evangelism and less gifted in pastoring, while others are the opposite. The evangelist plants the seeds of the gospel among the unconverted, as Paul did when he went to Corinth. The teacher then waters the plants that grow up, as Apollos did among those who were converted there (1 Cor. 3:5ff). To change the anal­ogy, the evangelist is like a carpenter that constructs a building and then moves on to build elsewhere. The pastor/teacher is like a care­taker who works in the building, tending it regularly.

Of course every Christian is to witness for the Savior as opportu­nities arise. Evangelism should not be restricted to occasional times and just a few men. Gospel preaching may take place in formal situ­ations, like Paul’s preaching in a synagogue, but it should also take place in informal times and places. Believers (not just the apostles) went about preaching the word’ (Acts 8:4). We should do the same today. But while that fact is important, it is also true that only some men are called to be evangelists in the full time sense. God gives them special abilities to reach the lost and es­tablish new churches.

 

EXAMPLES FROM HISTORY

In 1827 sixteen congregations agreed to support a young evangel­ist named Walter Scott for one year by voluntary contributions. He converted about one thousand people that year (and the next year, and the next!), as he traveled about preaching in various places. Leroy Garrett writes, “New churches were formed and new life infused into old ones, some doubling their membership. This was unbelievable, for in the year before Scott was sent out, the Mahoning churches did well to hold their own or to enjoy modest growth.” (The Stone-Campbell Movement))

But he was not the only effective evangelist in those days by any means. Historian Earl West tells how Jacob Creath ‘traveled continu­ally, preaching the gospel and establishing congregations’. His work took him over Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. And John T. Johnson also was, preeminently, an evangel­ist. He had a lawyer’s mind and a poet’s heart and he preached with strong appeals ‘both to logic and to emotions’. Having been converted to Christ during his 30’s, he traveled and preached for 26 years and led many to the Lord.

Alexander Campbell commented in regard to Johnson, “I wish Kentucky had a few persons equally gifted for taking care of the sheep, as Brother Johnson is for making them and putting them into the green pastures.” This statement implies that in those days the ‘located-minister’ shortage was sometimes a bigger problem than the evangelist shortage, while in our time the evangelist shortage is far greater than the ‘located minister’ shortage–as great as that is. In the 1800s congregations in the same general area of a state often cooperated in selecting an evangelist, assuring him of pay, and authorizing him to preach within that region. They considered him to be an officer of several churches rather than of any one church (like an elder or dea­con). Thus they respected the autonomy of each local church while successfully cooperating for greater effectiveness. (West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I) ,

In this century, among our churches, Stanford Chambers was an example of a man highly gifted both in evangelism and teaching. From 1924 onwards, most of his time was occupied in teaching at Portland Christian School. But for a number of years before then, he gave himself to gospel-preaching. During that period he helped establish many new congregations in Indiana and Louisiana–fifteen or twenty of them. Later during the 1930s and 40s, J. E. Blansett pio­neered perhaps twenty churches in Texas. My dad-in-law, Jesse Wood, told me how Brother Blansett was especially gifted in going into neighborhoods where Christians were very few. He could easily arouse the interest of unbelievers, present Christ to them and appeal to them to become disciples. Then he would form a local assembly. Not very long afterwards, he would try to get someone else to take the leadership there while he moved on to other virgin areas.

A few other men could also be mentioned, such as A. K. Ramsey and others in Louisiana. All of these used various methods–open-air meetings, tent meetings, Bible classes in homes or schools or rented rooms, and personal visitation. But whatever methods were employed, their supreme calling and vision and burden and gifts were aimed at reaching out to pioneer areas and establishing new churches. Like Paul, their ambition was to preach the gospel where Christ was not known or at least not well known. (Romans 15: 20)

 

OUR PRESENT SITUATION

Since the 2nd World War very few new churches have been estab­lished by us in the U.S., by means of evangelists. Thank God a num­ber have been planted overseas, by missionaries and/or national preachers and/or radio. And a few have started here in various ways, but hardly any by church-planters. In fact, in general we seem to have lost the very concept of a gift/calling/ministry/office bestowed by God as a major means for starting new churches. Surely Paul was a church planter par excellence, and his ministry is described in detail for us. Philip is termed ‘the evangelist’ (Acts 21:8) and Timothy, one of a number of young men trained by Paul as traveling preachers, is re­minded, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’ (Acts 20:4; 2 Tim. 4:5). Yet the whole idea of church-planters seems to have faded from our consciousness, or at least from our priorities. We still recognize the need for foreign missionaries and we recognize the need for leaders in the local churches. But have we forgotten that home-missionaries, pioneer church-planters, are also a vital part of the Lord’s plan?

I’m thankful that in recent years Sonny Childs has been on the road evangelizing in various ways and places. He seeks to impart vi­sion and provide on-the-job evangelism training to youth too. He does this via his “Missionaries for America Program” (MAP). He also holds meetings that seek to revive established churches, or to build up new or struggling ones by reaching the unsaved (and the ‘half-saved’ who need to get really saved). [For more information, write PO Box 131, Paragould, AR 72451 or sonny@missionariesforamerica.com.] But many more like him are needed.

 

WHAT SHALL WE DO?

How shall we get them? First, by praying the request Christ clearly told us to make, that the Lord will raise up workers. Second, by looking around. We may discover in our midst already men who are gifted in evangelism. Perhaps now their gifts are not so evident be­cause the men are tied down with other duties. Perhaps some who are now pastoring local churches (and doing a fair job of it) are actually more gifted as Church-planters. If such were sent forth and their gifts developed, they might become far more effective than they now are as local preachers. Third, such men naturally will need financial back­ing if they are to have sufficient time to plant new churches.

Just as local churches help support foreign missionaries, they should also support pioneer evangelists in the homeland. Let’s bend our knees. Then, as God answers and raises up workers, let’s send them out. Full-time Church-planters are not the only way to start new congregations. We hope future articles – perhaps by you? – will deal with other methods. But our lack of them has hurt terribly.




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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8