What is its implication to us as missionary? How do we imagine the gospel will spread in Thailand or in Myanmar? How will 108 million people come to know the gospel of Jesus Christ? With such big numbers of people it’s tempting to think in terms of mass communication. How do we get most people to hear the message of the gospel in the shortest period of time, and with the most efficient and cost-effective methodology? We look at maps and population demographics, we pray for dramatic revivals and people movements. We count the number of converts or baptisms and calculate our success. None of this is inherently wrong.
But God looks at individual people. He knows their name, their past, their deepest regrets and their most proud moments. He loves them enough to spend time searching for them as if they were the only person here in all Thailand.
In our sophisticated multi-media world of mass communication we sometimes forget that the best way for the gospel to spread is not from one person to thousands of hearers, but one-to-one. Jesus set the model for us by sitting and socializing with the lost and sinful people. He gave them time to observe good news and to experience the love of God. It radically changed their lives.
Walter Hendrichson, in his book Disciples Are Made Not Born, describes an interesting comparison between a dynamic evangelist who wins 1000 people to Christ a day, and an average Christian who manages to lead only one person to Christ over the course of a whole year.
At the end of year one the evangelist has 365,000 converts the average Christian has just one. However, lets suppose that in that one year the average Christian not only introduces a new convert to Jesus but also disciples and trains him to the point that in year two his new convert is able to do the same thing—lead one person to Christ over a 12 month period. At the start of the 2nd year the disciple has doubled his ministry—the one has become two. During the second year they both go out and lead not 1,000 people per day to Christ but only one person per year. At the end of the 2nd year there are four people. The process is much slower that the evangelist who now has 730,000 converts. But note that the slower process is producing not just converts but disciples who are able to reproduce themselves. At this rate of doubling every year the disciple leading one person per year to Christ will overtake the evangelist numerically somewhere in the 24th year.That which at first looks like very slow process eventually becomes the most effective.
There’s a third lesson we can learn from these stories of Jesus. We should spend time with lost people. Jesus was criticized by religious people for spending too much time with lost people.
The attitude of the religious leaders in Jesus’ days towards those they labeled as sinners was really sad. They assumed God didn’t want to have anything to do with them. They were lost and hopeless and unredeemable.
Jesus got a lot of criticism from religious people because of the company he kept. His response was simple: people who are well don’t need a doctor. In other words, spending time with those who are lost and stuck in sin is God’s priority. God doesn’t only rejoice with those who are found, he came to seek and to save who are lost. Lost people matter to God. So, he deliberately left the security and sanctuary of godly community in order to spend time with those who needed him most.Lost people often don’t know they are lost. It takes time and patience in becoming their trusted friend before they can understand their need. This is the condition of millions of people here in Thailand they are unaware that their relationship with their creator our God is severed.
How do we reach them? Jesus would say: the answer is simple; you spend time with them. You deliberate become their friends and you eat with them and socialize with them. You deliberately choose not to spent all your time with fellow Christians, and instead become friends with the poor and destitute and sinners.
Here is one of the greatest missiological challenges facing the church in the 21st century. Most followers of Jesus no longer have friends who are non-Christians.
Why is this a missiological challenge? Because most people who become followers of Jesus do so through a friend or relative who introduces them. Some years back the Institute of American Church growth conducted a survey of 14,000 Christians. They asked them the questions: What or who was responsible for your coming to Christ and into your church? Some said they had a special need. Some said they just walked in off the street. Others listed the pastor. Some indicated a special visitation program. Others mentioned Sunday School. There were those who listed evangelistic crusade, or a special program the church had. Finally, some listed a friend or relative as the primary reason they’re a Christian today and part of their church. Then they put percentages; the results were amazing:
Special need 1-2%
Walk in 2%
Sunday School 4-5%
Evangelistic Crusade 0.5 -1%
Church program 2-3%
Friend or relatives 75-90%
Here’s the challenge: Unless we who know Jesus are willing to step outside the comfort and security of our Christian community and make friends with unbelievers, we are in the last generation of the church. This is primarily how the gospel spreads.
It is also the model Jesus set for us. He treated every individual as an object of love and care. He took the risk of friendship with sinners and outcasts. He got to know their names and wasn’t put off by the circumstance. He loved people, and saw the power of God change their circumstance.
Let us be friend to those lost people whom the Spirit of God is pursuing. If all our friends are followers of Jesus, if all the people in our neighborhood are already Christians, maybe it’s time we moved.
This is adapted from Dr. Brian Winslade's message at the 7th Asian Baptist Congress.