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Weaknesses of the Church

 

 

 

 

 

In this writing we are going to examine areas, which are weak in present Western Churches and which need improvement. The purpose is to examine those areas in which a change and reformation are needed. We will get a good start if we recognize our weak points. If we recognize our weaknesses, then we can change them. It is good to remember that without the help and power of God nothing will happen. Jesus said, “for without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) It is good to be aware of this. Only based on this can we achieve permanent changes.

 

THE ORDER OF IMPORTANCE

 

Firstly, following Jesus with all our hearts is important and the lack of this is a problem. One should bear in mind that we have only this one life and it is not sensible to waste it. We all must stand before God, face to face, and then to hear, ”Well done, you good and faithful servant!” or ”You wicked and slothful servant.”  We are either good or wicked servants in light of the Bible’s message; certainly it is better to be among the first ones so that nothing bad happens to us.

  The misuse of free time is an area in which we fail often. David Wilkerson wrote over 30 years ago in his book The Vision (p. 55) about this. He wrote: “I see that the sin of future is the misuse of free time. (…) I speak about all wasted time; about time that everyone has at his disposal to choose how to use it, about time that he could spend in talking with the heavenly Father. (…) The biggest sin of future against God is not the abuse of the body, not satisfying the lusts of the flesh and not even cursing His name. The biggest sin against God is simply that people do not concern themselves about Him when He is calling clearly. I see here development that takes place in secret. The Christians of the end times, who live much nearer to the coming of Christ than the first Christians, spend the least time of all before Him.”

  So, a good question is how we spend our time, how we use our free hours. Do we use them for God or unnecessary hobbies and watching TV? It seems that we have time for everything unessential, for reading newspapers and following the media, amusements and friends, but no time for God. Do we waste our whole time not understanding that we have not been saved only to avoid hell and to get to heaven but so that we would seek and find the plan of God in our lives. Only then can our life be significant in the light of eternity and can we be useful to God. We must give ourselves and our lives to Him so that they won’t be wasted.

 

- (Rom 12:1,2) I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

2  And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

 

PRAYER

 

Another issue that is a weak point in Western Churches is prayer or the lack of it. It is true that it is not a problem in everyone’s life, but many people spend only a couple of minutes during the day in praying, and that is not enough. The reason can be the issue mentioned in the first paragraph: the misuse of free time; we have time for everything else like following the media, talking with people or hobbies. These are not bad things in themselves but if they occupy the only time that we might use for prayer, then they become a problem.

   How can we correct this problem? There is only one way: we must reserve more time for praying; try to pray more. If we prayed for thirty minutes or an hour before, now we should try to pray for an hour or two, or longer. (The same approach can also be applied to home meetings. If people have prayed for thirty minutes, they can now pray for an hour. The quantity of prayer can be increased if we talk a bit less.) Often we see that when we start with small changes, praying becomes easier. This is because the Holy Spirit helps us overcome our weaknesses and it becomes possible to pray for up to several hours a day. Without the help of God this wouldn’t be possible.

  The most important advantage of prayer is that it makes way for the work of God. For example, in the history of Israel we can see that whenever people groaned and turned to God, the Lord always made an exemption for them. This did not only occur in the days of Moses but also in the days of the judges and Samuel (Exo 2:23,24 / Num 20:16 / 1 Sam 7). The exemption only came when people had first turned to God.

  The next quote also talks about permanent prayer. It indicates that we must devote ourselves to prayer if we want people to be saved and want God to work (Col 4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”). Only constant prayer can break those philosophical systems and lies that dominate people. It can make them ready to receive the salvation message of God so that they will not go to damnation. We must struggle first before God if we want to see a change in people’s lives:

 

But Jacob did not pray in that way. He struggled for the whole night and then he called out, “I will not let you go, except you bless me”. Some have never learned how to wrestle in prayer. Therefore, they do not know how to win. We cannot win before people until we win before God, and if we want to win before people, we must learn to struggle.

  (…) Every man used by God has been a man of prayer. If you have never learned to pray, if you have never learned how to wrestle with God, if you have never learned how to experience pain, if you do not know anything about birthing pains, then you do not know what it means to get spiritual results. If you want to see God glorified in your preaching, you must first be a man of prayer. (1)

 

grace and THE abuse of it

 

One great problem in the Church is that we do not understand grace in the right way. Not everybody understands that when a man turns to God through Jesus and wants to be saved, the consequence is that his sins are forgiven and he is under grace. He is not only forgiven for his old sins but he is under grace every moment after that (Rom 6:14). He is under grace although he had fallen into sin, and he is under grace and the object of God’s love although he had failed and cannot live a holy life. His failings cannot change his position in any way, because his acceptability is based on Christ, not on himself. It is difficult for many to understand this, and they live in continuous self accusations (“Why can’t you do better… God doesn’t love you.”) and think that God is dissatisfied with them even though it is just the opposite. It is difficult for them to believe that they are under grace in which all demands, accusations, law and condemnation have been taken away, as the next verses indicate. Let’s look at these verses: we should also have mercy on ourselves, because God has already had mercy on us:

 

- (Rom 5:1,2) Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

2  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

 

- (Phil 1:7) Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of my grace.

 

- (1 Peter 2:10) Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

 

- (1 Peter 5:12) By Silvanus, a faithful brother to you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein you stand.

 

 - (Rom 8:1) There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

 

Understanding grace is a big problem in the Church. The abuse of it can also be a problem. This comes from a way of thinking in which a man becomes estranged from God and hardens himself so that he no longer keeps watch over his life. He may think: “I’m under grace, so it doesn’t matter how I live.” He uses grace as a pretext by which he can plead his actions. He does not care for the next verses, in which Paul warned us about this way of thinking:

 

- (Rom 6:14-16) For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.

15  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

16  Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?

 

When grace has been given it is marvelous that we can live in it. However, nobody should do wrong acts deliberately but should be freed from them, because that is one meaning of grace (Tit 2:11,12). It is best to confess our sins immediately after a fall, and to want freedom from our human imperfections. That is God’s will for everyone.

 

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS

 

Lack of good personal relationships is another weakness in the Church. This means that people go to meetings but they do not have any friendly relationship with other people. We may talk a lot but have only superficial fellowship with other people. We don’t meet the real person. The consequence of this is that the Church does not become a caring community in which we feel happy and comfortable. Because of this, some recently saved persons may stay away from a local church, or may not become active in church groups, because they do not feel welcomed:

 

I have borne a vision of a loving and caring community in my heart for over ten years. My dream came into being twenty years ago when I went around the country as a preacher of Gospel. I talked with hundreds of people and noticed that they in practice lived without any really deep personal relationships. They were afraid of expressing themselves because they felt that nobody really cared about them.

  These same people still belonged in most cases to a congregation, or at least they went to meetings of one. Of course they had relations, but superficial. They might talk for hours without ever speaking about the actual life situation of the person they were talking to. They were like a priest who said to his therapist: “I meet an incredible amount of people but I have very few personal relationships.” The priest had made the same observation as many others: superficial relations cannot replace deeper interaction with others. (2)

 

Is it possible to improve human relations? Is it possible to prevent many people from feeling like outsiders and make them feel welcomed and accepted? How can we act so that they would get into the action and acquire good, deep relationships with others?

  We must invest more in people. Mere preaching and revival can never replace formation of good human relations. If one emphasizes revival but forgets his neighbors, damage often occurs because without good aftercare and friendly relationships many will soon leave the congregation. The fruits of many campaigns or revivals are weak later on just because this has been forgotten.

  What about the means to use as we want to get people to adapt to a group or congregation? Can this issue be improved in any way? Perhaps the next issues, which often are forgotten, can help us:

 

The contact people. One method in helping people to adapt to a congregation is to choose people whose task it will be to contact and assist recent converts and visitors. Actually, this should be everyone’s task. The goal is to gather persons who have no other contacts, in large meetings or elsewhere, because that’s the only way a close connection can be formed. The more superficial discussions and contacts there are – often found in large meetings – and the less often a person socializes with others, the more probable it is that they will soon leave the activity.

  Note that when trying to create social networks the best way to reach young people is through other young people, children for children, older people for older people, and so on. If two persons share background and age they will more easily and more quickly build a friendly relationship. Also in society, lasting friendships usually cannot be formed between persons who are dozens of years apart or who come from quite different backgrounds. Shared experiences usually determine whether friendship can form or not. The more they have in common, the more probable it is that two people will form a friendship.

  The next passage refers to these commonalities. It indicates how cells based on geographical division did not function as well as cells in which persons had more in common. In the latter groups, strong bonds between people spring up easier and it is easier for new Christians to adapt to these groups:

 

Originally, as we tried to apply the model of pastor Cho: we had divided the city into geographical areas. But the Lord showed us the significance of homogenous groups (the service tasks) in which a man devotes oneself to men, a young person works with young people and women with women. An explosive increase began.

   (…) We have been able to show that through homogenous groups the Gospel of the Christ will faster and more powerfully break into the society. Without being afraid of any objections I can say that in homogenous groups there are no social, economical or educational limitations, which would prevent spreading of the God’s Word. I am strongly convinced that the greatest part of our congregation’s growth is caused by these groups which we also call “homogenous service work” that binds together the strategy of the whole vision. The expectations of each eager new believer will come true as he finds a group to which he can identify on the grounds of age, sex, profession or education.

   (…) Seen from any viewpoint, our experience indicates that homogenous groups are the best strategy in strengthening any congregation that is willing to grow by way of breaking limits in the God’s anointment. A new believer will never feel that he is left outside concerning the vision. For example, a little boy who receives Christ will find a stable group of children in which he can feel useful and feel that his presence is important to the other members of the group. The same will happen in the group of young people and adults, and also in a group consisting of a certain profession… This is why it is easy for a new believer to find his own place in our congregation. (3)

 

The estranged persons. It is not only important that the fellowship springs up among people who are recently saved or new in a congregation. It is just as important to make contacts with people who have formerly been in the fellowship of the congregation but who have become estranged and gone away (naturally, it is just as important to reach those who have never been in the congregation). Many have stayed away from the fellowship just because they have not found their own place, they have not been accepted as they are or they have not felt at home in any congregation. It is also important to reach those people so that they might find their own place and feel at home in the congregation. How else could it be?

  The next quote shows one way of creating a fellowship. It refers to welcoming groups but there are also other ways to reach people who have become estranged from the fellowship of God and the congregation:

 

I have a proposal to all Christian parents and leaders of congregations. Everywhere there are people, young and old, who have formerly been in God’s congregation. Let’s look for them. Let’s get in contact with them. Let’s not talk with them because they were reprimanded but because we wish to reconcile with them and so that both of us could forgive. Let’s take the first step. It is not too late yet. We can act as long as we live.

  I have written down ten passages. This is a kind of an effort to analyze the reasons why many have broken the fellowship with the spiritual home of their childhood. I do not have any ready-made answers. I only hope that little working groups would be formed in different congregations. They could be called welcoming groups. Problems would be found and reasons would be learned. The situation would be analyzed in more detail. Positive operations models would be created. Concrete targets to reach would be set. Family meetings in which the grandchildren of God have an opportunity to a confidential discussion would be arranged. (4)

 

Training. Bringing people into a congregation or a small spiritual group is only one part of the picture. They also need to be trained. The idea is not that people would only come to sit on the pews year after year; they must also have a spiritual task. They can be trained so that they can then teach others and support younger believers. (2 Tim 2:2: “And the things that you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit you to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”) When the responsibility is divided among several people who also help and teach other young believers in this way, the structure of the congregation will function much better: everyone will have a task and people will feel themselves useful.

  The next quote refers to the necessity of training. The example is from Columbia where it was noticed that a mandatory, short (six months) practical training for everyone is very useful. It was better than long-term Bible schools because people received practical guidance and inspiration:

 

One of the pastors’ most difficult challenges is to train leaders from their own congregation. When the training of parishioners ends, the growth will also end.

  (…) When you have an exact goal (in other words, you try to train people who come to your congregation), you will not see huge crowds come in only to disappear after a short period, and you will not see this phenomenon again and again. On the contrary, our goals will come true when we see the believers becoming stronger, being encouraged and becoming leaders who in turn are willing to evangelize the world.

     (…) For many years, training was optional in our congregation. We asked parishioners who was interested in studying based on the Bible, and we noticed that very few wanted to engage in training. (…) In the beginning, we carried out the teaching based on the model of traditional Bible schools: the program entailed hermeneutics, homiletics, eschatology, systematic theology, teaching of different sects, and so on. The results did not meet the needs of our congregation: the students did pound the knowledge into their heads but the fruit of it were not visible in their lives. Then we changed to another model, also copied from elsewhere, according to which anyone who wanted to be a cell leader was prepared for the task for two years. Our group was large in the beginning, but only 15 persons followed the course through. As they started to study to become leaders, they did not have in their neighborhood anyone to win over to Christ because they had lost contact with most of their friends and acquaintances. Then God advised me to powerfully train the whole congregation and to start a training program meant for laymen, which was not all about theology but about more practical issues. (5)

 

A display window or an inn? One issue worth thinking about is whether the congregation is a display window showing off a favored few, or an inn. Is it a place where only the strong and successful are held up, or is it an inn where ordinary and unsuccessful people are welcomed and loved, as James warned?

 

- (Jam 2:1) My brothers, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

 

It is very possible that we act just like this; we show favoritism and we judge people on grounds of external factors. We look at the faults of others, their appearance, failures and falls, even criticize them and gossip about them, but we cannot or do not want to bear one another’s burdens, even though Paul advised us to do so (Gal 6:2). Also, in pastoral care our attitude can be hard and demanding so that we do not have any patience to listen to problems of people. We may act like Christians should not.

  Nicky Cruz pointed out this important issue. He emphasizes the fact that the congregation should be “the hospital of the Holy Spirit” to which all wounded and people in need of help can come. If this is not the case, then we are no better than the religious leaders in the days of Jesus:

 

You surely remember the countryside hospitals of past times? Regardless of solvency, origins or position – if somebody was sick, wounded or near death, the hospital opened its doors. Most present hospitals, or most Churches, no longer act like this. We can read and see in television programs people who died because the hospital did not want them.

   (…) As Gorman thought about this strange issue, the situation suddenly changed – as it often happens in dreams.

  The enormous corridors were suddenly full of bloody, sick and wounded people. The ambulances came with sirens wailing to the front of the spotless ER, and dirty, wounded, weeping people were carried from there.

  The staff was shaken by the arrivals. They retreated from these broken and sick people. Assisted by their authority, the doctors began to command patients to leave and reproached them because they had dirtied the hospital with their diseases, infections and blood.

  Those sick people do not respect this place of recovery at all, the doctors muttered as the building emptied. The hospital was peaceful again.

  Gorman says that he woke up and fell to his knees.

  “Lord, forgive us,” he pleaded and promised right away that his congregation would try to care for the needs of the outsiders. “The present-day Church has not been any better than the religious leaders of Your time.”

  After all, Jesus reproached the Pharisees and publicans, calling them whitewashed tombs, shining tombs that are impressive from the outside but full of dusty bones.

  The Lord wanted to work with the sick, deserted, unwanted. He kept company with illiterate fishers, prostitutes and hated tax collectors – with the henchmen of the Romans.

  Thus, how dare we reject His example? (6)

 

EVANGELISM

 

Evangelism is an area in which we have often failed or which we have neglected. We are often silent when we should talk or we do not express the love of God how He calls people to His eternal kingdom in the right way. Next we are going to examine some points concerning evangelism. We are going to examine the areas in which we should improve.

 

The personal relationships. Firstly, in evangelism it is good to pay attention to personal relationships. They play a key part in a person’s ability to adapt to a congregation, but they are also very important in evangelism. This is because many people hold powerful prejudices against the Christian faith. They may regard church members as being self-righteous, narrow-minded, aggressive and hypocritical, which might be true in some cases. This attitude makes it difficult for them to receive any messages from God and about eternal life. They usually immediately reject them.

  However, the situation changes when these people have in their immediate circle Christian friends and acquaintances that they trust. Then they can move closer to receiving the Gospel, or they will not be as unresponsive as before. On the other hand, meeting a Christian person who has an aggressive, disapproving manner can drive them farther away from the message. Movement in either direction is possible, and often depends on the people nearest to them, and on other influences such as the media, for example.

  Personal relationships are important in everyday life and when trying to lead people to know God’s grace. If they are forgotten and we do not appreciate people, or if we judge them, they will very soon turn their back on God, too. These things often go hand in hand. Instead, if we value our neighbors and do not judge them it will be much easier for them to accept the values that we think are important. It is much better to strive for real friendship than to seek their conversion by stubbornly arguing one’s position: “I am right, you are wrong”. It is much easier for people to receive the Gospel through good human relations.

 

The congregation moved from a small, distant building to visible, seeker-friendly restaurant premises. This meant a remarkable change for the activity of the congregation. DeWitt challenged every parishioner to establish a friendship with one or two persons who did not belong to the congregation, and to call them to experience fellowship. When people positively received DeWitt’s proposal, the congregation started to grow explosively. (7)

 

Reaching unsaved people. Secondly, it is good to reach unsaved people. Paul said: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” thus the Gospel must be carried to those people who have not heard it. They must be able to hear it as clearly and simply as possible so that they can receive salvation. If we forget this important thing or we do not worry about our fellowmen and we do not even pray for them, we have lost our original vision.

  One should ask oneself whether the Gospel stays inside congregations and churches. Do only those people hear it who have already heard it several times before? It is possible that we are guilty of this activity. Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost but we may have acted just the opposite and have not done, because of our lazyness, anything for the salvation of our fellowmen. We have not seriously accepted Jesus’ command to go into all the world. 

 

- (Matt 28:19) Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

 

- (Mark 16:15) And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

 

- (Isa 6:8) Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

 

T.L. Osborn addressed the same topic in his important book ”Outside the Sanctuary” (Kirkosta kadulle). He wrote that we concentrate too much on church buildings instead of the people outside. We forget that most people never come to spiritual events – despite meeting advertisements and calls –because they are not interested in them. They will come into a congregation only after they have been saved. Therefore, we need to change our attitude so we can reach these lost sheep.

 

Practically speaking, all evangelism of the congregations takes place under a preconception: If we in some way get the sinners in to our churches and prayer houses, they will be saved!

  So, we organize special awakening weeks. We call excellent speakers…

  But – in spite of all – very few people come.

  Why?

  Because most of the sinners do not want to come to a church!

  (…) What shall we do, then?

  Completely reject our preconceptions!

  What do I mean by this?

I mean that we must confess that because the majority of unsaved people will never come to a church building to be saved and because our great task is to reach the sinners by the Gospel, we must change our attitude and take the Gospel there where the sinners are – outside the sanctuary. We must do just what the early Christian congregation did. (8)

 

Spending money. Whether we appreciate evangelism or not can also be seen in how we spend our money. Do we only spend all our extra money, the money that is left after paying the necessary expenses, selfishly and for our own amusement, or do we spend it on spreading the Gospel and in missionary work? Is each of us busy with his own house (Hag 1:9) completely forgetting the work of God? In what do we invest in this life and what is our treasure? Do we lay up treasures in heaven for ourselves or only on earth as Jesus said:

 

- (Matt 6:19-21) Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

Thus, it is important that we invest in evangelism so that people do not fall into damnation. If we can help with our money so that they can once rejoice in heaven together with us, how important it is that we are not selfish and live only for ourselves! Even through small sacrifices can we influence the spread of the Gospel.

  Furthermore, if we ourselves do not have a call to do missionary work in distant countries, we can still support this kind of work. Oswald J. Smith wrote:

 

Perhaps you cannot go do missionary work. Hardly ever have you even a possibility to see the missionary field. But you can (…) by your money ensure that somebody else will go there. You can send a substitute. And if you do that by sending your money to support missionaries, your reward will one day be as great as that of those who really went to missionary fields.

  I want to repeat our very dear slogan: “Every Christian is a missionary.” (9)

 

Missionary work and Supporting Local workers

 

An issue that has not been properly addressed is the supporting of local workers in countries like India and many Asian countries, in which there is a great need for the Gospel. Western missionaries have been extensively supported but the importance of the local congregation and national workers in evangelism have been forgotten. They have not been properly noticed, even though thousands of people are ready to go into full-time evangelism if they only get support. They are ready to leave for the mission field, but local congregations are not often able to support them, and that is why help from elsewhere is necessary. Western congregations have a good opportunity to help them.

   When the local workers bear the main responsibility for evangelism, there are also several useful results. The following factors are especially important:

 

Advantage. Local workers are much less expensive to support than missionaries. They manage on a fraction of the costs of missionaries, or on a few dollars or euros per a day, while the expenses of missionaries are almost always higher.

   Foreign missionaries can have expenses such as plane tickets, holiday trips to their home country, language and other education, school attendance of the children, visas and other payments and payments related to their style of life which has been materially on a higher level. All these factors together make the expenses up to ten times higher than those for local workers, which means much. This is an unfortunate fact.

   Of course, missionaries are still needed, and their share is significant especially in areas in which the Gospel has not been preached, and in which there are not local workers. There are still such countries in the world. Likewise, technical and other assistance can be useful for the local congregations but the principle should always be that missionaries are only there to assist in the work. They do not lead it. Responsibility should be, or it should be moved as soon as possible, to the local workers, otherwise we will drift away from the model meant by God.

 

The same culture is a significant benefit in preaching the Gospel. A local worker is always in a better position because he knows his nation and its customs, taboos and appreciations. He also speaks the same language, dresses and lives in the same way as his fellowmen, which makes it easier for people to receive the Gospel. They receive it much better than from foreign workers:

 

Have the Asians rejected Christ? Not really. In many cases, they have rejected only those Western add-ons, which have stuck to the Gospel. Paul meant just this when saying that he wanted to be “all things to all men” in order to win even someone.

   When the Asians tell about Christ to other Asians in a culturally acceptable way, the results are notable. One national worker, whom we support in Northwest-India, Jager is his name, has now preached in 60 villages and established 30 congregations in the difficult area of Punjab. He has led hundreds to Christ. On my recent journey to India, I dropped in to see Jager and his wife. I had to see for myself what kind of methods he used.

   You can imagine my surprise when I observed that Jager did not use any special technology as his assistance – unless you want to call his scooter and tracts given by us “technology”. He lived exactly in the same way as others. He had a house of one room, which was made from manure and mud. The kitchen was outdoors, also made from mud – the same material from which all buildings of the region had been made. When cooking, his wife crouched by the open fire exactly in the same way as women of the neighbourhood. He and his wife were completely Indians. There was nothing foreign about them. (10)

 

Since the local workers do not have cultural and linguistic obstacles, the results are usually better. The Gospel is received easier through them. K. P. Yohannan, the founder of the organization Gospel for Asia, points this out in his significant book “Haaste, joka lähtee sydämestä” (Revolution in World Missions):

 

When I stand before the North American public in churches and missionary conferences, people are surprised when they hear facts of today’s missionary work. In Asia in the frontline of missionary, there are almost exclusively national workers. The results are significant. The believers are surprised when hearing that the national workers establish hundreds of new congregations in the Third World every week, that thousands of people are saved daily, and that tens of thousands valid, spiritually able men and women are immediately ready to continue the missionary work if we can support them. (11)

 

Concentration on Gospel. One direction in which Western missionary organisations have mistakenly drifted in the past few decades is that they concentrate too much on social work instead of preaching the Gospel. This means that they have sacrificed much time and reserves in, for example, building hospitals and schools, development aid work and feeding the hungry but have forgotten the most important: preaching the Gospel. All these activities are, of course, good in themselves and there is nothing bad about them but what is unfortunate is that they fill only the physical needs of the people and not the most important need, the salvation of soul from eternal damnation. Such missionary work only gets people to feel a little nicer before their death but it does not save their souls. This type of social work without clear preaching of the Gospel is quite inefficient because it does not usually lead people to God.

   In addition, it is good to understand that many social problems, even hunger, disappear by themselves when the Gospel reaches people. The reason for this is that in some countries, such as in India, the religion itself can be a partial reason for the famine. In the Hindu religion, rats are regarded a holy animal and are thus not eliminated, and they annually destroy a large part of the grain in India. Similarly, “holy cows” are protected, and they eat grain. If there were no such beliefs and the Gospel reached people, this alone would remove a majority of the problems. That is why preaching the Gospel by local people is needed.

 

What went wrong? Were these missionaries not surrendered enough? Was their teaching non-biblical? Perhaps they did not believe in eternal Hell or eternal Heaven. Did they not have Bible teaching or did they only go to preach to the damned? …Now I know that it was a question of all of these issues.

   When searching for an answer to these questions, I faced poor, often little educated national brothers who did evangelic work in pioneer areas. They did not have anything material to be given to the people to whom they preached – no agricultural education, no medical help, no training programs. But hundreds of souls were saved and within a few years, a group of congregations were established. What did these brothers do right in achieving such results, while many being in a better position failed?

   The answer is that we understand what the missionary work is basically. There is nothing wrong in acts of charity – but we must not confuse them with preaching the Gospel. Food aid can save people from starving to death. Medical help can extend lives and heal illnesses. Projects of building houses can make the current life nicer – but only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can save a soul from sinful life and from eternity in Hell! (12)

 

FINDING ONE’S GIFTS

 

Finding one’s gifts is an area in which there is a lot to be improved. This means that each believer finds the area in which he is most competent and gifted. We should not be idle but people should be encouraged to do the work of the ministry as Paul wrote (Eph 4), both through their natural competence and supernatural gifts given by God. They must be helped to find their spiritual potential so that they can use their gifts. The leaders of congregations can assist them in recognizing their gifts and set suitable duties for them.

 

Moses was a leader, and he showed us an example by training other leaders. Soon after leaving Egypt Moses ”chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Ex 18:25).

   He understood that one person cannot change the nation alone. An army of Moseses is needed to build the kingdom of God to any country.

 
 
In our time, we must help people by educating and directing them to their leadership areas. As a pastor, I want to help everybody around me to find his calling and to succeed in life. I work hard with all my strength and I use all my information so that I would help each person in my life to succeed. I have a responsibility to help everybody because it is in accordance with God’s essence. And it is one of those tasks, which God wants us to do. I am convinced that the most important task of a pastor is to help the members of his congregation to come the people into whom God has created them. (13)

 

The following quotation addresses the same subject, that it is important to find the gifts of people and to encourage them to work. When this happens, the person feels more satisfied and can be more useful, and others can receive the fruits of those gifts. It is better than them being idle or being involved in an unsuitable task for years:

 

I said to the man, “The greatest reason why your congregation has dwindled so small is not the fight in which you are engaged but the fact that you have not been able to distinguish the gifts and vocations of people.”

 

This did not only surprise the man but also hurt him. I waited a moment before I continued.

 

”There was a time when you were able to attract great crowds. You achieved this in many functional ways but the times changed and you did not keep up with them. You are a great leader and you have fought bravely for the truth with surprising perseverance. However, the only ones who can get over and win this battle are those who spare as much time for preparing new leaders as for leading. This has been your weakness, and others – those whom you regard as leaders – are also weak.”

 

I could see how the man hurt more and more, and saw him wanting to object but restraining himself. The continuous defeats had humiliated him so, and he was now so desperate that he was at least a little open to the thought that he was wrong in some things, perhaps even very wrong in how he had responded to the battle and leading others. As I was looking at how he tried to calm down, I continued:

 

“Do not think that you have not done anything right. Your courage and perseverance are the foundation on which all future victories are built. However, I think that you must admit that some very fundamental issue has gone wrong. A change must take place in how things are done; otherwise the results will remain the same…”

 

 (…) ”I really see now how I have made a mistake because I have not recognized the gifts of others or allowed them to grow by using them,” the man answered. “ Neither have I confessed the leadership of others. I admit that I saw them as a threat.

 

(…) In any case, each of you must now lead many people. (…) You have not led them well until they become leaders too. (…)” (14)

 

There are many areas in which people can act. In the next list, we are going to go through some of them. In many congregations, several of these areas are fine but there is certainly room for improvement in others:

 

Different groups of people. Firstly, there are different groups of people on which the work can be focused. This work can start from wanting to help people and reach them with the Gospel. For example, the next groups and working forms can be possible. Many of them act principally outside the congregation, in the world:

 

  • Men in the streets and homeless
  • Alcohol-, drug- and other addictions
  • Disadvantaged
  • Old people, especially lonely ones
  • Foreigners, orphans, widows
  • Pastoral care
  • Unemployed
  • Prison work
  • Children, Sunday school work
  • Young people
  • Marriage and family work
  • Media work
  • Business life, culture, sport life and administration
  • Hospitals
  • Other special groups

 

What is noteworthy about the previous groups is that several serve disadvantaged people or address social problems. When some people have a vision and a wish to help these groups and reach them with the Gospel, the work often starts from that. First, there must be the right people in the right place so that the vision can be realized:

 

One of the most important tasks of our congregation is to create these kinds of programs for resolving social problems. I often ask in our meetings those people to raise their hands who are worried and aware of problems appearing in our country. People raise their hands, and I ask them to form a committee right away. They will assemble later, write a program and put it into use. If it is a question of a program directed to the unemployed, they go to the unemployed. If it is a question of helping high school students, they go to high schools. (...) By creating models for resolving social problems, you awake interest in others to do the same. Nowadays, people in our congregation “possess” social problems. We identify with our nation, as Moses did in relation to Israel. We take personal responsibility for its deficiencies. (...) The congregation must use what power it has. God is dissatisfied with our congregation-centric approach.

(15)

 

The work within the congregation. The spiritual work can be focused on different groups outside the church but there is naturally also work that occurs mainly inside the congregation. Such can be, for example, music work (1 Cor 14:26: How is it then, brothers? when you come together, every one of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edifying.), prayer service and the gifts connected to it (prophecies and other gifts), the practical arrangements for meetings, and pastors and teachers, for example. These are all necessary tasks, and persons called by God are needed for them. As people have this kind of a desire – given by God – to work, it will certainly bear fruit:

 

Here we see a phenomenon that can be often seen, that is the gift often corresponds to the own personality of a person. And there is nothing strange about this. The Lord has indeed both created you and given you new birth. Both must of course go with each other when the work is ready! Very often can we see that when a top seller is saved, he becomes an evangelist. On the other hand, I myself, who have never been able to sell even one May-Day flower, am at my best as I teach those who have been saved.

  Sometimes people become so extremely spiritual they think that the gift to lead praise songs is given only to those who are perfectly unskilled in singing. No, this is rarely the case. Quite the contrary: the gift often appears as we gratefully and happily use the talents that we have had since birth. (16)

 

Evangelists. A point that is good to raise here is that evangelists are important to the growth of a congregation and revival. For example, there were many traveling evangelists some decades ago in Finland, but nowadays they are much rarer. This does not mean that the ministry of evangelism has disappeared; instead, it means that many of them have stepped aside and do not use their gift. According to some surveys a little less than 10 percent of people in congregations have the gift of evangelism. This group should be led to spiritual work and should use their gift, whether it is a question of going door to door, doing street work, preaching, or doing some other kind of evangelism. When this occurs and the evangelists are supported in their work, many will enter the kingdom of God.

 

The atmosphere and initiative. When  talents and gifts given by God are used, it is important that the atmosphere for using them is favorable. If the environment is controlling and irritating, as it was in the hometown of Jesus, it is impossible to expect very much because people are not receptive. The next verses illustrate this point:

 

- (Matt 13:53-58) And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these parables, he departed there.

54  And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, From where has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?

55  Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

56  And his sisters, are they not all with us? From where then has this man all these things?

57  And they were offended in him. But Jesus said to them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.

58  And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

 

It is also important to be spontaneous in using gifts and talents. Each of us should try to act according to those qualifications God has given us. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist.” and “Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy.” (2 Tim 4:5, 1 Tim 4:14). He advised Timothy to use his gifts and not to be idle. Therefore, you too should start using the talents God has given you. If you are not yet aware of your own mission, try to find it and seek out the plan of God for your life.

 

Your promised land is where your passion is. It is where your heart lights up, where you feel almost a supernatural wish to deal with issues and improve conditions. Pose to yourself these key questions which help you to find your own promised country:

 

1. What do you like and enjoy doing? Sometimes the thing we call a hobby is actually our calling.

 

2. Where do you feel passion? What lights you up and captivates your enthusiasm? 

 

3. Which makes you angry and frustrated? Which problems are you unable to drive away from your thoughts? Maybe you have been called to face those problems with the help of your gifts and time. (17)

 

 

Continuity of work. An element that is weak in many congregations is continuity of work and the education of new leaders. It is possible that work pertains to the current moment only, that thinking is not long-term enough and that investments in education of new leaders are not made. It is also possible that only one person or a few people take responsibility for the work, while others are idle. The consequence may be work exhaustion and burnout of these overloaded persons.

   One example from the Bible is Moses, who alone solved disputes between people and gave them advice when they came to him asking for help. However, the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, soon noticed that Moses was not able to perform the tasks that he was asked to do. Jethro suggested that Moses organize the work so that God-fearing and reliable men would bear the largest part of the responsibility, which Moses had previously carried on his own. In this way, the work became much more powerful because several persons were sharing the load. After Moses passed away, the work would continue:

 

- (Ex 18:13-26) And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning to the evening.

14  And when Moses’ father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that you do to the people? why sit you yourself alone, and all the people stand by you from morning to even?

15  And Moses said to his father in law, Because the people come to me to inquire of God:

16  When they have a matter, they come to me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

17  And Moses’ father in law said to him, The thing that you do is not good.

18  You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you: for this thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone.

19  Listen now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God shall be with you: Be you for the people to God-ward, that you may bring the causes to God:

20  And you shall teach them ordinances and laws, and shall show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

21  Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:

22  And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for yourself, and they shall bear the burden with you.

23  If you shall do this thing, and God command you so, then you shall be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.

24  So Moses listened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.

25  And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

26  And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought to Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.

 

Another example from the present day indicates the meaning of sharing responsibility. One member cannot take care of all the activity because this is not how it was meant to be done. In addition, in the long term the results from and continuity of the work will be better if several persons are responsible for it. When the “super speaker” of the congregation is sick, in bed, out of town, or away for the time being, all work does not come to a halt and the work has continuity:

 

But finally I understood that the chatterbox that took its toll on me was no longer a joke. It made me empty in feelings and spiritually. I started to fear even the thought of a new teaching assignment. I daydreamed about returning to the business life and I even got some offers from friends in business life before I understood what drove me to this: teaching too much.

   God had not changed my calling. I still had an enormous passion on behalf of the local congregation. I was still convinced that it was the hope of the world. I just could not stand the thought that during the latter part of my life, I would have at the most three days when I would not have to offer a brand-new message.

   So, one day I decided I would find a solution and I prayed to God for creativity. In a couple of hours, I had outlined a suggestion of team teaching. The idea was that I would gather a team of men and women who have the spiritual gift of teaching. Then I would train them to the point where people in Willow would not concern themselves about who teaches them. I would lead the team, I would do teaching assignments and I would still carry out part of the teaching. But sharing the load was the only way by which I felt that I could continue in the service work.

  (...) When we formed the teaching team and started to share the load, the answer was predictable: “I have listened to Bill only for 15 years. I do not want to listen to anybody else. Who is this new guy? Why is he over there in the speaker’s stand when Bill is sitting in the front row?” Unavoidable comparisons were made and participation even dropped when some teachers held multi-weekly series but we held fast, continued training new teachers and prayed that God would mature our congregation.

   Decades later, we do not get any complaints because of team teaching. Our people have not only accepted it but receive it willingly. I think that nobody in Willow would ever like to return to the days of one solo speaker. (18)

 

Continuity is one important feature of spiritual work, and issues connected to it are the guidance and education of new leaders. A leader is not a good leader if he does not reserve time for training and strengthening other leaders. The best example is the relationship Jesus had with His disciples: He taught them, encouraged them and finally left the whole work to them. Training in practice was a part of this, in which He gave tasks to the disciples, allowed them to act in His name, and left them to work independently after His departure. He passed the baton to them in stages.

   There are, naturally, many areas in which people can serve and lead. The question is not only of visible tasks but of different forms of service such as those listed above (evangelism, prayer service, music work, the disadvantaged, family work, etc.). Home cells can also be associated with this service; there can be an assistant manager who is learning from the very beginning. When the group at some point becomes large enough to be divided, this person can try leading a new cell. Many so-called cell congregations follow this principle, and it is certainly a more suitable way than trying to help all people simultaneously in a large meeting. Home is a more natural place for meetings and chatting with people – much better than large meetings.

   So, what kind of qualities should persons who are called to lead others have? Must there be some special properties or can anybody do it?

   Bill Hybels has answered the question in his practical book Rohkea johtajuus (Courageous Leadership). Based on his years of experience, he identifies the most important qualities as being character, competence and personal chemistry. The first and most important of these qualities is the character of a person, about which there are good lists in the Bible (Ex 18:21, 1 Tim 3:1-13, Tit 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-3). Only after character can come talent and other qualities:

 

When I presented in the annual leadership summit meeting of the Willow Creek Union years ago the three criteria for the first time – character, competence and personal chemistry – for the foundation of appointing staff, I said, “Never make a compromise in character. As comes to competence, aim high; search for the best people that you can find. In the case of personal chemistry, make sure that the person gets on well together with other members of the team.” I finished the lecture by saying, “I have been brown-nosed often enough. I have seen and caused enough bloodshed. I will never again knowingly ignore these three qualities.”

   After that meeting several pastors wrote me and questioned those three criteria. When I got their letters, I smiled and put them in my archives. I am not trying to be conceited but I knew what would happen. And so, a few months later, I got a letter from one of those pastors. Embarrassed, he admitted that perhaps character was more important than he had supposed in the beginning. He continued by describing a staff scandal, which had quietly been exposed in his congregation, and finished the letter: “I will never again try to make a compromise in character when choosing a leader.”

   Another pastor wrote, “I detested the thought of qualifying or not qualifying someone on grounds of how good relations he had with the existing members of the team – that personal chemistry issue. In spite of an apparent deficiency in his personality, I took a very qualified local contractor to our building committee. In the course of a few months, he had divided the committee and changed the dynamics of the team. Now I have an impossible mess in my hands. Fine voluntaries have vanished, and the building project is only midway finished.”

   My words to the pastor were: “I know your pain. I have experienced much same. On grounds of these issues, you can do only one thing: Learn from your faults.”

   Pain is a powerful teacher and a fantastic adviser in our decision-making processes. (19)

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

1. Oswald J. Smith: Ketä Jumala käyttää, p. 14,15

2. Rainer Friman: Pakkolasku armoon, p. 13

3. Cesar Castellanos D.: Näky joka voittaa maailman (Dream and you will win the world), p. 86,173,174

4. Stanley Sjöberg: Jumalan lasten lapset (Familjeträff I Pingst), p 48

5. Cesar Castellanos D.: Menestyvä johtajuus G-12 solumallissa (Succesful Leadership Through the Government of Twelwe), p. 28,61,303

6. Nicky Cruz: Juoksu jatkuu (Where Were You When I Was Hurting?), p. 41,42

7. Linus J. Morris: Seurakunnan läpimurto (The High-Impact Church), p. 280

8. T.L. Osborn: Kirkosta kadulle (Outside the Sanctuary), p. 9,11

9. Oswald J. Smith: Maailman huuto (The Cry of the World), p. 128

10. K.P. Yohannan: Haaste, joka lähtee sydämestä (Revolution in World Missions), p. 139

11. K.P. Yohannan: Haaste, joka lähtee sydämestä (Revolution in World Missions), p. 78

12. K.P. Yohannan: Haaste, joka lähtee sydämestä (Revolution in World Missions), p. 116,117

13. Sunday Adelaja: Dynaaminen elämä (Church Shift), p. 123,124

14. Rick Joyner: Soihtu ja miekka (The Torch and the Sword), p. 119,120,129

15. Sunday Adelaja: Dynaaminen elämä (Church Shift), p. 136-139

16. Sven Reichmann: Lammasten vaatteissa (Allt är inte gud som glimmar), p. 121

17. Sunday Adelaja: Dynaaminen elämä (Church Shift), p. 31

18. Bill Hybels: Rohkea johtajuus, (Courageous Leadership), p. 211, 212

19. Bill Hybels: Rohkea johtajuus, (Courageous Leadership), p. 154, 155

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jari Iivanainen

 

 




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