We are called to serve the body of Christ, humbly and diligently, following Jesus’ example
If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave to you an example that you also should do as I did to you. (John 13:14-15 NASB)
Not long ago a group of musicians decided that the Holy Spirit was urging them to go to a city in a neighboring Balkan country to proclaim the gospel. They were young and enthusiastic rock and rollers full of zeal with a message to tell and a powerful means to tell it. They arrived in the city at the invitation of the young and relatively inexperienced youth pastor of one of the local churches. In this Balkan city the dominant religion is Islam and the handful of small and mostly newly planted house churches are struggling to stand firm against serious opposition. The Muslims of this city had just suffered a bloody and sustained repression at the hands of a powerful army whose soldiers confess to a form of traditional Christianity.
During their campaign of repression these soldiers often painted the sign of the cross on the doors of houses after they killed some of the men, raped some of the women, and plundered the village. For these Muslims the cross was not a sign of Christ’s love and redemptive sacrifice, but a sign of great evil. Now the fighting was over and workers had come to the city to plant new churches where before the war there was only one.
The youth pastor managed to obtain permission from the mayor’s office to stage a public concert in the town square. None of the other tiny churches in the city were aware of or had any part in the preparation of this concert. The band set up, tuned up and let loose on the unsuspecting shoppers and strollers an ear splitting series of hard driving Christian songs accompanied by preaching. During the performance members of the team distributed to these Muslims black Bibles with large crosses printed on the cover. After the performance the band packed up and returned home having successfully accomplished their mission.
But in what way was their mission a success? Was the gospel publicly preached? Yes. Was it heard and understood? Almost certainly not if the angry reaction of the townspeople is any measure. They were not angry at or offended with the gospel message itself. They mostly took offense at the style and amplitude of the music and the insensitive and public display of the “evil symbol” of the cross.
Was there any visible fruit of this effort? Not that anyone could see. The main message communicated to the town seemed to be that the gospel and the Bible are associated with decadent Western music and repressive, bigoted traditional Christianity. The main message to the churches was that public evangelism is to be avoided – it does more harm than good.
One of the important things that was absent in this misguided effort at proclamation was a lack of what the Apostle Paul characterizes in his first letter to the Corinthians as servanthood in ministry. He was addressing the problem of factions in the church. What after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed; Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7) The public proclamation of the gospel, a ministry that is central to the mission of Proclaim! International, is an essential part of the process of reaching a community and building up the church. In the end it is God’s business to make things grow. Such growth takes place when one waters and another sows and each understands and accepts the importance of the other in the process.
Public proclamation is only a part of the process of reaching the community and growing the church. If at all possible it should be connected to a local church that has a desire to reach out and is already involved. The members of the church need to be trained to be active participants in the outreach. Plans need to be laid for following up and retaining the fruit.
Careful thought must be given in consultation with local partners as to what is the best approach, that is, what is the best way for people to hear, understand and respond to the proclamation. Special cultural considerations must be understood and taken into account. In the case of the example above this would mean no crosses visibly displayed. If the proclamation is to happen in a place where there is no local witness, then it would be important to find partners who have an interest in starting one there.
Many of these vital considerations will be overlooked or ignored if those who set out to proclaim the gospel do not possess in true humility the heart of a servant. Servants do not act on their own behalf. They are there for the sake of others. It is not their own table that they serve or their own feet that they wash. They do not “do their own thing,” as Paul makes crystal clear in his admonition to the Philippian believers: If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, if any comfort in his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not on your own interests, but on the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5 NIV)
For those of us whose special passion is public evangelism, this servant attitude and practice, so powerfully displayed by the Lord Jesus himself, is essential in a ministry in which God brings the growth. In Proclaim! International we like to think that an important aspect of our ministry is to come alongside others. With diligence we seek ways to build up others, to add value to their ministry, to identify what they are already doing in outreach and help them do it with greater impact, and to encourage them to identify their passion and explore whether we can assist in its pursuit. The following are two recent examples of how we have served others in just these ways.
A local missionary reaching out to Muslims in a politically and religiously sensitive region invited Proclaim! International to consider the possibility of working together. Through extensive consultation it was agreed that the time was not right for the open public proclamation of the gospel in that community. How could we help? Together we identified a community project that would be of great interest to the people. The plan was that this missionary would present this project to a few of his respected Muslim friends, and together they would form a foundation whose purpose would be to raise funds and oversee this ongoing community project. The friends were excited about the idea and introduced the missionary to others in their circle. We then organized a public concert to promote the foundation and its purpose. At the concert we spoke publicly about “Kingdom values” and life issues. Through song and comment we gently suggested that ultimately the answer to life’s challenges is to be found in knowing God, his love and forgiveness, and following his ways. The concert, attended entirely by Muslims many of whom were community leaders, was well received. The foundation was formed, the network of friends was dramatically increased, private conversations about spiritual things followed the event. The door remains open for continued partnership.
A national church leader and his wife operate the only Christian book store and publishing house in a large city in the Balkans. They expressed interest in working with Proclaim! International. After extensive consultation we identified two projects that were high on their priority list. First, they wanted increase the public awareness of the store and publishing house in order to multiply the number of visitors to the store and the distribution of Christian literature, especially the kind that would appeal to the non-Christian reader. Second, they recently published an epic poem by a nationally known and respected poet who had not long before become a Christian. The theme of the work was unambiguously Christian.
To an open house at the book store they invited more than a hundred of the cultural and intellectual elite of the city who came largely because of the reputation of the poet. We decided to organize a jazz concert performed by one of our bands at the prestigious Philharmonic Hall in the city center. To this concert were invited the same intellectuals who had attended the open house.
The program included a multi-media presentation of the book store and publishing house, select readings from the epic poem by a nationally renowned professional reader, and a concert of excellent jazz music laced with appropriate commentary introducing the need of and provision for redemption in Christ. The concert was very well received, many conversations took place afterwards in which the gospel was shared, the network of relationships with key intellectuals in the city has been increased, and the door is wide open to Proclaim! International for continued partnership with this couple.
Jesus said to his disciples, . . . I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:27 NIV) With an example like Jesus himself we are sure that serving others must be nothing less than at the core of our values.