Reaching for Keeps

By: Glenn Clark

All too often the reports of revival and the result of crusades and other evangelism operations are offset by the physical evidence that those moved to decisions and experiences of salvation are never seen again. They simply are not around any longer–“here today, gone tomorrow.”

In such cases, we may be spending more and getting less. We may question if evangelism is really worthwhile; can we truly justify the Costs?

Unfortunately, some tend to put evangelism out of their schedule because of their dissatisfaction with the results. It simply seems to be unproductive and ineffective when considering the effort and costs.

Why should there be so much dissatisfaction when all along public evangelism has been the most successful method of adding new members to the church? Evangelism does work!

The discontent may be attributed more to how we measure the success of evangelistic endeavors and a failure to cement new members into the local church.

We simply cannot attempt to build a work by outreach activities alone. We should not measure our achievement by the number of baptisms we get or the number who are filled with the Holy Ghost. We must also ask how many disciples are made. It takes two elements to provide a more accurate measure of church growth: evangelism and discipling.

Great attention and effort are often extended to gain new members,but a failure to place as much emphasis on follow-up and nurturing to keep these new ones in the church is costly. Too often we seem to act as if our responsibility ends when a person is born again. We give ourselves good grades, happily tell the good report, and leave it all there.

But there is a difference between evangelism and disciple making. Success is achieved in evangelism when a nonbeliever responds to the gospel by obeying the plan of salvation. The event is marked by specific events such as baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost with the sign of speaking in tongues. We can mark these events by a certain point in time and place.

In the making of a disciple, success is achieved when that convert moves forward to adopt change in lifestyle and behavior so that the new set of convictions reflects as a mirror the life of Christ in his own living experience.

We have gained much success in evangelism, as it has easy points of reference. The sudden change that can be marked by a time and place make it easy to identify. More difficult to measure is one’s ability to be transformed into a genuine Christian. This is a process and not an event.

Actually, the common idea of success in evangelism is strictly numerical, supported by specifics in time and place. But the true success of evangelism should be measured by whether these converts are in fact integrated into the local church while taking on the attributes of Christ.

Someone stated that evangelism is a means to disciple making. In other words, the purpose of evangelism is discipling. The goal is to win and keep converts. If the end result is not there, solid local church members will never be found, and it will be difficult to justify the evangelism or even continue it when nothing seems to last longer than the campaign. Making disciples can justify the efforts.

Birth is a joyous event, complete in itself, but it is not sufficient. Should a child remain a newborn, its birth would not long remain a happy one. We expect growth that is continuing and meaningful as well as expressive. We are well aware no one is born an adult. Adulthood is achieved by nurture and growth over time.

Yet many pastors and leaders do not perceive this truth spiritually. Once the born-again babe in Christ they expect him to fall in line, have spiritual perception, learn God’s ways, develop his walk with the Lord, remain faithful, and acquire taste for spiritual things all on his own. Many congregations do not provide the care for new ones that they desperately need. Emphasizing evangelism only without providing the needed care will produce the “here today, gone tomorrow” revival.

Let us consider some aspects of a newborn that have a spiritual application.

* A baby’s arrival completely upsets the status quo of the family. That newborn interrupts everything about the family.

* Newborns are totally dependent. If they are left alone without the support of parents, the infant will be in deep trouble.

* Babies expect the family members to fully meet their needs. They are self-centered and totally unaware that anyone else has needs. The baby makes no allowances or considerations, his desires are more important than the necessities of anyone.

* Young ones tend to express their demands in unacceptable methods: crying, kicking, screaming, holding their breath, vandalism. Growth and learning bring about a change in this behavior.

* Newborns need consistent monitoring to determine what corrective measure must be taken and when.

* Babies are incapable of discernment and can ingest something that can cause serious harm.

* Although infants will quickly recognize their own care givers, they are just as likely to accept nurture or abuse from others.

* The premature baby must have measures redoubled to save his life.

* The steady and consistent growth of the child requires nourishment and nurture.

This is the responsibility of the parents and not the child. If the childchooses for himself what he will eat, his health will most likely be in serious danger.

* Maturity comes in time, but it does not come merely with the passing of time.

Let us make a spiritual parallel here: being baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost is only the moment or event of birth-a time to rejoice but not to relax and say, “Look, they are here, praise God!” and then letting the matter rest there. Like a newborn coming into a family, new converts in the church may upset the status quo; may require constant support and attention; may call for monitoring and fostering of their growth process; may be premature, needing special care and love, extra time. A church just cannot escape its responsibility of caring to assure sustained growth and the health of the new believers.

Just enforcing a rule that the new convert must sit on a pew for several years before he can become mature enough to be used can be a death warrant to a convert’s spiritual life. It is negligence if there is no clearly defined disciple making program. Grooming and teaching are not a waste of time and effort.

Where in the Bible do we find Jesus or the apostles separating evangelism from discipling? No-where! Evangelism is the process of winning people, helping them enter God’s kingdom. Discipling is the process of teaching the new citizen how to obey the laws of the kingdom and how to win (evangelize) and keep (disciple) others.

Surely, the way we view the purpose of the church will determine the solid growth of the church. If the church is only an evangelistic agency, we will have born-again converts only. If the church accepts the full responsibility of pastoral care along with evangelism, our growth will become noticeably permanent.

Follow-up is spiritual pediatrics: the care and protection of spiritual infants. This care should not terminate until they grow and provide adequately for themselves.

If a church views itself as an evangelism-oriented church, discipling is a necessity and not an option. Anything less than an all out effort to conserve the harvest of souls that the Holy Spirit gives is spiritual child abuse! The “dip and drop” program of some churches obviously does not get the job done. Those converted on the Day of Pentecost gave themselves to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42). Apollos was a dedicated convert of John the Baptist, but he greatly needed Priscilla and Aquila to take him aside and expound to him the way of Christ (Acts 18:26).

Maturing in Christ is personal but not private. It is individual, but it also takes place in the community of other believers (I John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

When a church fails to incorporate new converts into the full spectrum of the fellowship and activities of the church community, they will soon slip out the back door. Is not a member preserved as valuable as a convert won? If we cannot keep what we get, we are working against ourselves. We could slip back faster than we move forward. This loss may force us into expensive evangelism endeavors when less funds could have been utilized to keep souls already harvested.

Let us be honest: mere knowledge is not sufficient for nurture. Thinking that appropriate instruction alone will help the new ones “fit into our church” is a misconception, as it equates knowledge with spiritual maturity. There must be adequate fellowship and development of relationships among the church family. Integrating the new ones into the affairs of the church, giving them assignments and responsibility, making them accountable, is as important in their development as instruction. On-the-job training is a labor approach to reinforce what is learned. Experience is a great teacher; let us give young ones the privilege to learn by experience as well as instruction.

Hurry characterizes life in the twentieth century. We operate at full speed. Crusade or revival efforts are supersonic in speed. In a night or maybe three, or even extending beyond that, we quickly go through the evangelism exercise, count the proceeds in souls of this expenditure, and then it is over.

Nurture takes time; it cannot be done at a supersonic pace. We cannot even evaluate it on the basis of some quick-pace time measurement. We are eager to see quick results, yet nobody in his right mind would glue wax fruit onto trees rather than wait for the real fruit to emerge. There is an impulse to impose Christian lifestyles and attributes on brand-new converts. Restraint must be employed to give the spiritual infant time to learn and develop into a healthy child of God.

In conclusion, new believers who struggle spiritually need our acceptance and love as well as a specific, organized, systematic program designed to assist them in developing their spiritual maturity. Congregations should be well prepared to harmonize with this objective, to provide the proper care and follow-up. The church as a whole must become involved; the process is not limited to the leadership alone. Leadership sets the pace, the example, by becoming totally involved. That positive influence provides the visual reinforcement the congregation needs to encourage their valuable contribution to keep what has been reached.

(The above material appeared in the March, 1992 issue of the Pentecostal Herald.)

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