This past week we returned from a local missions conference with one of the speakers being from a country that is closed off and quite hostile to Christianity. As this lady spoke about their work and the great amount of time it takes to build relationships with others within this country, I thought to myself: “Why is it that God seems to work so slow among those that are missionaries, yet there are evangelists in other countries that have crusades that claim there are ‘Masses in the thousands!’ that are coming to Jesus within 1 week’s period-of-time?” The most obvious response could be that these missionaries are in countries that are restricted so they are unable to speak to the masses on such a large scale. I think that is a possibility. Another reason why the work is so slow in some of these restricted countries is that there are very little seeds of the gospel planted, thus, very little harvest. There is a quote from Chuck Kelley that I came upon some years ago that relates to this point: “The Southern Baptist Convention is a harvest-minded denomination in an unseeded generation.” Basically, where there are no seeds, there will be no harvest, and it’s quite possible that the lack of quick results on the mission field, especially in countries where the gospel has been restricted, is due mainly to the fact that there are very few gospel seeds planted there.
While I do believe that the factors I’ve mentioned above are relevant, I would like to suggest that there’s another reason that crusade-evangelism has worked to produce “rapid and multiple decisions en mass” and that missionary’s work is slow: The missionaries are doing evangelism in a more biblical way than those that are a part of the mass crusades. Barring a quick work from God, I think that we need to be very skeptical of any evangelistic work that claims to have had a large number of people come to Christ in a very short period time simply because, based on the Bible and church history, I do not think that it is God’s ordinary way to convert people. I do not doubt for one moment many of these evangelist’s motives in bringing others to Christ, but I do believe that their methods for bringing others to Christ, especially their over-emphasis on results, is misguided at best, and unbiblical at worst. I want to make 3 observations regarding this desire for “quick” results versus the slower model we see among many missionaries.
JESUS’ FARMING ILLUSTRATIONS REVEAL THAT GENUINE CONVERSION IS A SLOW WORK
Jesus has called the Word the “seed” and He has labeled the hearts of people as the soil (see Mark 4). By its very nature, farming is a slow, patient, and hard work. No farmer will boast of “instant results.” It would look quite foolish if we saw a farmer who had planted a seed into the ground one night and then was yelling at the ground the next day wondering why the seed hadn’t sprung up into full bloom yet. Seeds typically take time to come up out of the ground. In fact, Jesus Himself spoke negatively of the seed that sprung up “immediately” since it was shown to have had “no depth of soil” and was on the “rocky ground) (Mark 4:5). Once the sun came out (representing trials and temptations), the plant that sprung up quickly “withered away” (Mark 4:6b). I am afraid that much of our mass evangelism has been the product of a seed that has sprung up immediately in the rocky ground that will fall away because the seed never truly took root. Could it be that much of our impatience with evangelism, and with God working, is because we have forgotten that seeds take time to grow? Do we rejoice prematurely when we see large numbers come to Christ at once, not knowing that many could simply be “rocky ground” hearts that will fall away within the next year because their faith wasn’t real? We need to take the “farmer’s view” in evangelism & be patient with the seed in the soil. We need to take the farmer's view in evangelism & be patient with the seed in the soil Click To Tweet
MISSIONARIES FROM THE PAST HAVE HAD VERY SLOW RATES OF CONVERSION
When we look at the history of modern missions, in particular, we find that most evangelistic work is very slow. For example, William Carey (18th/19th century missionary to India) only had 1 convert after 7 years of work in India (source). Adodniram Judson (19th century missionary to Burma), after 7 years only had 1 convert, and after 10 years of work in Burma, he only had 18 converts (source). If modern-day church-growth gurus were looking at the work of Carey or Judson today, they would say, “My Goodness! What are they doing all day to have such little results! We need to get more efficient-types on the mission field! We need Self-Starters and Go-Getters! We’re not getting enough ‘bang for our buck’! Let’s get some missionaries who are more motivated and able to bring about some results and get the job done! These guys just aren’t cut out for this missionary work!” Those exact words may not come out of people’s mouths, but that sentiment does come out given the number of complaints that some church members, and some church leaders, have about the apparent “lack of evangelism” they see among others. What the complainers are seeing is most likely not a lack of evangelism (sharing the gospel and planting seeds and watering them), but simply a lack of outward, visible results (which is up to God alone-see 1 Corinthians 3:5-9).
PEOPLE’S PATH TO CONVERSION IS SLOW
There is an old stat/saying, but I think I’ll use to jumpstart this point: “It takes someone at least 12 times to hear the gospel before they are converted!” Whether this stat is true or not is irrelevant, but what it illustrates is something that we do know is true: People typically change their minds, and their actions, at very slow rates. Or could we say this: God, typically, changes people’s minds and actions, at a very slow rate? Does the drug addict or the alcoholic typically get suddenly delivered overnight? Usually not. Certainly, there can be some “quick deliverances,” but the usual way is a process that takes years. In a similar way, does the hard-hearted unbeliever simply respond the first time he/she hears the gospel? I would say that this is almost certainly never the case. 1 Corinthians 3:6 says, “I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” We see here a process by which God typically works: Someone plants, other water, and then God will make the seed grow in due time. When someone hears the gospel the first time this is similar to a seed being put into the ground. It will take time to water that seed and cultivate the ground around it before you begin to see anything pop out of the ground. Results are usually slow and few in-between, and we must accept this. The slow process that it normally takes for people to change can be akin to seeds that are planted and are being watered. With evangelism, we have to realize that not everyone will be the “harvester,” but that most of us will be planters and waterers. After we have planted and watered all we can, again, the results are up to God. When we demand instant results in evangelism, we demonstrate that we do not trust God. Let us be patient in our evangelism and trust in God to do His work after we have faithfully planted and watered His Word by faithfully proclaiming and sharing His gospel with others. When we demand instant results in evangelism, we demonstrate that we do not trust God Click To Tweet
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