Shaping Evangelistic Strategy Today
By Commissioner Lalkiamlova
REACHING the un-reached with the gospel is not a man-made plan. It is a divine purpose and is biblical. Noah’s main mission was not the building of the ark but rather to save ungodly people of his time by preaching the gospel to them (2 Peter 2:5). God compelled Jonah to preach forgiveness for repentant sinners. God warned Ezekiel that he would require the blood of the wicked from him if he did not warn them to turn from their wickedness (Ezekiel 33:8, 9). Jeremiah felt the commission of God like a burning fire in his heart (Jeremiah 20:9). Tradition tells us that the apostle Thomas was reluctant to accept the commission to go to India with the gospel but he was compelled by Jesus to do so.
Strategies in the Past
The first two Protestant missionaries arrived on Indian soil on 9 July 1706. They began by setting themselves to learn the language of the people. They then identified a potential target group and the strategic position for their mission. Adoption of orphan children, or purchasing them from their guardians, was the first social work, forming the nucleus of a small orphanage. The children were baptised and brought up as Christians.
As soon as the missionaries were proficient in the language they entered into discussions with Hindus and began to preach the gospel to them. Any European who could speak an Indian language fluently and was interested in discussing Hindu religious beliefs was highly regarded in those days. They never lacked an audience.
As the work expanded, establishment of charity schools to give a Christian education and also of a printing press to print school textbooks and other Christian literature were given priority. Schools became one of the most effective means of mission. As the years went by, many missionaries came and established their church denominations. New strategies were devised, such as street preaching, cottage meetings, prayer groups and Bible study. For The Salvation Army, ministry among lepers and resettlement of criminal tribes helped us to enter deeply into the community.
After India gained independence, political and social changes reduced the effectiveness of many of these means of mission. Some were banned. The recent religious upheaval in the country will also have an extensive impact. Immense efforts will be required to find new ways and means of ministry.
Strategies for Today
The old idea that evangelists should devote themselves wholly to spiritual work, preaching the gospel to non-Christians, and that the Indian church itself should be responsible for supplying its own material needs, will find a new shape. Many of the strategies applied previously may still be relevant. But recently published guidelines for pastors and evangelists drafted by the National Christian Council of Churches in India clearly indicate the changes which will unavoidably take place in the new millennium.
As far as The Salvation Army is concerned, new ways must be found to ensure that officers are fully engaged in mission. Consolidation of spiritual life and unity in Christ for the soldiers in the corps, thus demonstrating the presence of Christ, will greatly help mission outreach, as will the individual exemplary Christian life which produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
We need to be more open to other religions but without syncretising or compromising the fundamentals of the Christian faith. We need to avoid confrontation and words or deeds which are provocative to other religions. Triumphalism over new believers must also be avoided. Serious study of religious practices and cultural sensitivities to know which should be retained and which abandoned by new believers will be crucially important. It used to be said that if a married woman became a Christian she should take off the thali (a chain of marriage). This caused conflict with her husband, untold misery in the family and sometimes even led to the suicide of a child.
Application of Paul’s strategy, as seen in Acts 17, will help the sons of the soil to realise that Christianity is not an imported religion, but one which is already in the culture, custom and community, since God is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:27). This, as part of a master plan of evangelism, which also includes various kinds of social work and development, is the way forward into the new millennium.
The Salvation Army Year Book, 2000 - used with permission.