WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM FOREIGN MISSIONS
TO HELP OUR HOME CHURCHES GROW
Ron W. Hoyle
Warm spring weather came to France two weeks before Easter, so with little regret I let our coal heater and our oil heater die, but one night after a week of cool weather and an inadequate attempt at heating our living quarters with a bottle-gas stove, the Hoyles became vitally concerned when the family started showing signs of sickness. We wanted results. We needed results. We were cold. We had had much experience in rekindling a coal-burning heater, so we thought we would have heat again with, little effort. But with the new oil-fed apparatus that had not been reconditioned after seven months of continual operation, we were about to learn something new. First, we tried a pulverizing spray that was to clean the "innards" in a jiffy. The only results after lighting were fumes and smoke.. Then we went to scraping the entire inside and quickly discovered how blocked up and therefore inefficient our heater had been because of the soot. What we were doing then should have been done sooner!! Next error - too much oil. In went a number of matches and still nothing "but heap big smoke and no fire." "No draft must be the problem" said distressed house-wife to exasperated black husband; "Must we take off the chimney pipe and get more dirt everywhere?" "But wife dear, all these years the coal heater on the same chimney never blacked up the flu. It can't be that." "Now, Ron, you've already spent one and a half hours working and hoping, another little effort and we may get the results we're seeking. " So off came the flu pipe and out came one bucket-full of soot. Then with everything back in place, just the right flow of oil, and one match, we were able to sing "burn baby, burn." Three weeks later, we're all well again, and still rosy and cozy. Yes, we too are learning that we still need more practice in some of the mast basic methods for getting results, It wasn't a question of new facilities and modern methods as opposed to conventional ways and old habits, but that the correct proportion of the good new as well as old methods bring effectiveness. I trust that what I have to say from France on the subject of "What we can learn from foreign missions to help our home churches grow" may inspire and challenge you to do all in your power with God's help to have; your local key to world-wide outreach in tip-top working condition.
Brethren, the first reminder for effectiveness in your church-orientated ministry, which comes from the foreign field, is the importance of prayer. I will not and trust, need not spend time on this subject. As men of God who preach the Word, counsel the needy, and give guidance to the church-body as a whole, we need each day to be fortified in the inner nan and inspired in our thoughts and plans, Subtle and clever attacks from Satan through daily contact with unsaved and saved alike assault the citadel of our souls. May the ministering brethren of the Bible Fellowship Church consider prayer as a vital part of their "ministering" with better results in view.
Secondly, more than ten years of working with other servants of God on the foreign field have taught me the importance of learning from others - be they co-laborers or nationals. Life is a reaming experience willed of God. Certainly the Christian has never finished with his education on spiritual or secular things. "whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might." No one - not even an experienced third-term missionary - knows it all, and everyone could always use a few new ideas. Often bull sessions (a more general term far brainstorming) and panel discussions revive a dormant thought or kindle a flame to try a new method or approach, Our pride keeps us from admitting it, but deep down we all sense our need to know more, Better to learn from a brother or a friend, than from a foe or an employer. Keep fresh. Keep acquiring new facts and ideas. We need each other's knowledge, training, experience. We need each other's help. We need each other. And together we must plan for effective development, benefitting from the experiences, good or bad, of the past, and trying the suggestions put forth by godly leaders of our day.
Foreign missions teaches us to plan for the future. We must plan under the inspiration of the Spirit. One of our layman here in Amiens admits that America dominates the world economically because her business men practice planning. Birth control in France is not encouraged by the State nor taught by the religion of the masses, the Roman Catholic Church, but the word "planning" has entered the French vocabulary in that context. Do our church leaders know how to plan with the bride of Christ so that new babes and new churches will be born and brought to maturity? Only six years ago lovely lawns and shrubbery were planted next to large apartment complexes in our city, but this year the same government office responsible for building the apartments, had all the greenery uprooted to make way for more parking space. Four years ago, right behind our house, new science laboratories, dormitories, and a restaurant were built for the university; this year under a new college president a complete campus is rising on the outskirts of the city. Would a developer in the States planning a new shopping center forget a large parking area? Our one shopping center here has no provision for off-the-street parking, and the main street in front is not as wide as an average street in home-town U.S.A. One of our Greater Europe Mission couples is having trouble starting a church. Could one reason be that they live in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator far from the heart of town? I know another missionary who lives a half-hour's drive from his major ministry, which should necessitate being available to people. Each year we discover money is lacking for certain projects because they are not budget items the previous Fall. Something went wrong in the planning stage. We as a mission are beginning to learn the importance of planning. Yes, we are men of prayer and of the Word, but we are also administrators and managers, and the future of our churches depends on the plans we have for them. To plan for growth is to plan growth. Associate your official board and your members with your vision and your goals for this church year and for the next five years. Together dream spiritual dreams with faith and then begin to work. Realistically evaluate your circumstances and the potential of the present, and move forward from there. Ask God and the committee if money should be spent on better facilities or on literature and a visitation program. Should time be expended on improving the Christian Education department or in stimulating interest in the perhaps all-too-habitual Spring "revival"? Why is our church losing her young people? Is the mid-week service meeting a real need, or should there be improvements made? These and other similar questions should be part of your and my periodic planning sessions if we expect to see progress in our local churches. Sensing the value of two of our youth with certain gifts and the loss of the 12 to 15 year olds in Sunday School, this past January, we instituted Brigades and Pioneer Girls with excellent results for the Sunday School and many good contacts with the parents. Ideally, I would prefer working with parents and entire families, but the lasting fruit of this past summer's evangelistic campaign was unmarried young adults, so our energies and counsel have been centered on them with good results for the present and in anticipation of greater effective repercussions in the future. Fruitfulness among youth has not, however, governed our choice of speakers for this summer. We're still aiming for adults and families, so have chosen pastors rather than youth evangelists for our three-week tent mission. Planning is important. Why not evaluate with your board this year's weaknesses and strengths, and then set gears for the coming year, building for church growth.
I could say a word about programming but since the French believe that Americans are already too organized, perhaps nothing need be added on organizing the work year. More than programming, we all need divine wisdom for planning carefully in faith. The work schedule usually comes easier after that for the average pastor or missionary.
Need foreign missions remind the church at home that people, not the program, are one of the chief keys to numerical growth of the church? Training leadership and producing reproducers is the primary responsibility of the teaching ministry of each pastor. Set the example. Show your people how. Then step back and let your lay people move ahead. Be available for guidance, but don't do their work for them. Pour yourself into people with potential. Give priority to them and not to the church tramps and social cases. Spend time with people. Let them talk. Learn to listen well. When you really know your contacts, you will know better how to meet their needs through the word. Better to train a few Sunday School teachers, youth advisors, Guides and Battalion leaders, than to have a church full of absorbers but have no dispensers. Today's Christians, leader and layman alike, need to give themselves for others, give themselves to others. A few weeks ago our youth engaged in conversation with seven Marxists (followers of the political philosophy of a German Jew named Karl Marx). Youth today want to give themselves for the betterment of others, for example, the Peace Corps. These Communists in Amiens asked our evangelical youth what their church and the church universal was doing to help others who were not members of the Christian community. Perhaps if we spent more time first of all manifesting concern for people rather than trying to convert their souls, our evangelical communities will show more durable growth. We must gear our program to reaching people and then teaching the responsive key ones among them. Multiplication of churches will be the ultimate outcome of such an emphasis.
We now switch very naturally to another lesson learned from missionary activity a people-centered ministry requires greater sacrifice of time and privacy than a program-centered one. People the world over are lonely and need to feel wanted and loved. Blessed is the pastor and wife who exercise hospitality for hospitality's sake. Even more blessed is the layman and his family who spend time with their neighbors, business or work associates, and friends with the eventual goal of sharing Bible truth with them in the home. Evangelical hobnobbing unfortunately has replaced biblical hospitality whose purpose was to manifest Christianity in action. Here in our home we have been feeding and housing an eighteen-year-old young man each weekend since early February when his sponsor had to leave town for health reasons. Jean Pierre professed faith in Christ last summer, was baptized in November but has really only begun to grow since spending time with us. We are praying that tomorrow's church will be enriched by a consecrated Christian medical doctor because we sacrificed time and some family life to receive this babe in Christ into our home and hearts. A mother recently told us that her husband and she would soon be attending services at our meeting room because we have been giving attention to more than religious instruction in our Brigade movement. Need we be reminded that obedience to the Lord is summarized in the two commandments. "You must love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and you must love others as much as yourself. No other commandments are greater than these." Manifesting love costs - it costs time, money, privacy, but when it pays dividends in Christ-controlled converts, it is well worth the price,.
One other valuable suggestion which comes out of foreign missionary service, is that God's servants should be working themselves out of a job. With furloughs coming up every four or five years one soon learns that he is not indispensable, nor that he is building his own little kingdom. And the good thing is that often the ministry continues better in the hands of others. The. work must be built, not around a strong personality, but around biblical principles. The French attach themselves readily to one or two friends or to a strong V.I.P., so an effort is necessary on the part of the missionary or the French pastor to befriend all members and to share responsibilities with many. All too many are the Christians in the States and France who have the idea that a witness for Christ must be a Bible school or a seminary graduate who works full-time at sharing the truth of the Gospel . He can do a good job because he has the time, and, after all, isn't that what we're paying him for. Fortunately for our ministry here, the French Christians in Amiens can't use the excuse that we're employed by them or that we expect to stay here for ten years, All Christians need to be reminded of the priesthood of the believer, the importance of each member of the body, and the value of each gift given by God to His church. Show me a proof text in the Bible where the pastor made all the decisions and did all the work. No, elders were appointed in each church and they shared the spiritual office - a responsibility geared at edifying the saints to do the work of ministering. The pastor should not be building something he can handle alone, but should be so planning and teaching that the ultimate product will be too large and such a growing concern that he could never handle it alone. And if he should stay on, his job will be entirely different from the beginning days. He'll then be up-grading the spiritual caliber of the community of believers that God gives him, so that they can more effectively reproduce themselves, making the pastor's job increasingly demanding for wisdom and biblical knowledge,
I believe foreign missionary activity, history, and experience have shown that to have dynamic growth within the church and in multiplication of churches, much value must be placed on prayer, on continual upgrading of our knowledge and methods learned through sharing, on planning, on people-orientated as opposed to program-orientated outreach, on sacrificing of self daily for others, and on keeping the goal in view of working one's self out of a job.
Just these few thoughts, biblical principles, and practical workable suggestions from one of your co-laborers who is burdened like you to see Christ honored in the twentieth century, and the church growing on the home front as well as on the front lines of foreign missions in our war on ignorance and indifference. May our generation see the accomplishment of the missionary task in Jerusalem and the uttermost parts of the earth, so that Christ may return and his earthly reign soon be inaugurated.