A leading layman’s message to the World Congress on Evangelism

When a person comes to a saving knowledge of Christ, one of the first things he wants to do is to tell others the good news.…

How can Christians be most effective in helping others and in achieving great things for God? How can they reach people in these days and times? How can they be worthwhile instruments of God’s design for the world and show his love for the world?

From a human standpoint, what chance do Christians have to accomplish great things for God? We live in a world full of trouble, wickedness, and distress. Christians are a relatively small part of the total population. We are divided and scattered all over the world. Most professing Christians are weak and relatively ignorant of what they really believe. Most individual Christians are without the elements that are usually considered important for achieving great things in this world.

What elements does the modern secular world consider necessary for power to achieve? How do influential people reach and guide people, or at least how do they attempt to do it? While we examine these factors, let us bear in mind that these elements of power have usually turned out to be an illusion and without lasting value.

Wealth has always been considered a means of power. A worldly minded person, a cynic, assumes that with money he can buy anything or anybody and achieve anything. But money has been a source of much evil and misery, and the love of money has cost many people more than they have ever realized. Money has the power to destroy, not really to achieve. It is a tool with a double cutting edge. As a businessman who has lived in a world that concerns itself with money, I have been in a position to judge and observe the effect that money has on people. I have seen much more achievement without dependence upon money than I have seen achievement where money was the ruling influence, and I have seen the evil that money can do to people.

Organization is another approach that is supposed to be strong. As a businessman I have also been concerned with organization. Organizations can develop a kind of power. Business organization is the kind of power that is necessary to survive in a competitive world, and it achieves economic results by putting together in a useful way the human abilities of individuals. But it cannot change human nature, nor does it try. Organization takes human nature as it is and caters to its physical needs.

Military power has been a tool of mankind throughout history. But has war ever settled anything? It has done nothing but destroy. As military people develop even more potent weapons, such as the nuclear bombs, military power seems to have even less influence to accomplish anything worthwhile. A military organization must be so designed that elements of the military group can continue to function in battle even when the key people are killed. For that reason military organization is rigid and subordinates the individual to the needs of the organization as a whole. Business organization stresses flexibility, while military organization stresses conformity; but in either case, the organization uses the individual and does not produce any change for the better in him. Military power has shown its futility from the time of Alexander the Great, with his collapse at an early age, to the present ineffective power of the United States in Southeast Asia.

Article continues below

There is another kind of power that is worshiped in this world: political position, political power. Centuries ago, political leadership and power were acquired by physical strength and force; then it gradually developed into a hereditary procedure, and from this it has gone into a kind of popularity contest. Those with the most pleasing personality, best appearance, a facility for making all kinds of promises, are put into office by votes of the masses. A popularity contest does not necessarily do a better job of selecting the right person than did the hereditary process or the brute-force process.

Political position is one of the worst deceivers in the world. Men and groups subject themselves to untold sacrifices of time, money, and reputation in order to achieve political power. They will make trades, commitments, associate with all kinds of people, sacrifice their health, their time, their principles. If and when they acquire position, they then find that they must deal with all kinds of factions, good and bad; in order to get one good thing accomplished, they must agree to go along with something they do not believe in and find themselves involved with associates they cannot be proud of. The history of the governments of this world has nearly always been one of corruption, stupidity, and futility, in spite of those who have had high motivation to serve properly. It was about political power that Lord Acton said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Because individual Christians feel their own weakness, they are greatly tempted by the seeming strength of political power to try to force reforms and improvements among people. Thus, there are those in influential places in the religious community who feel that Christians must join together to achieve political influence if they are to accomplish great things. A careful study of history must convince us not only of the danger of political power with all of its corruption but also of the futility of trying to change human nature through legislation or political influence. And it is only by changing human nature that we are going to make this world a better place. Superficial surface effects can be achieved; but in spite of all the legislation of the centuries, there is just as much evil among men as ever, if not more. There is injustice, greed, lust, unhappiness, misery. Crime increases, mental hospitals are filled, divorce is rampant, hate abounds, illegitimacy increases, drunkenness and drug addiction spread, immorality is defended, and the affluent society ignores religion and denies God. It is evident that modern civilization and political power have been unable to achieve stability in the world, much less bring integrity and intelligence into the affairs of men. We are naïve if we think that we can achieve great things for God through the use of such political power.…

Article continues below
The Means For Change

It is all too evident that if results are to be achieved, there must be some change in the hearts of people. How can this be done? What elements are available that can influence and change human nature?

The spoken word has perhaps been one of the most influential things in the history of the world. Words spoken in private or public by orators and dedicated people have inspired others to action in various directions.… With radio, with television, with tape recordings, the spoken word can be more influential than ever before. In general, ten times as many people will listen to the spoken word as will read the written word. Yet, the written word remains a most important way to reach people, again either for good or evil. With more people able to read today than ever before, the written word becomes even more significant.

The power of ideas and the power of personal example are strong influences for both good and evil.…

But Christians, in achieving great things for God, have other elements besides those available to the secular world, although we do not use them as well as we should. “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). Preaching, the spoken word in public and the private testimony; the power of writing; the power of example—all these, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, offer powerful avenues of reaching people for good. But in addition God has given us the instrument of prayer, with its mysterious power to accomplish great things. He has given us the Holy Scriptures, with their amazing power to influence people far beyond any human writing. The worship service of the church, guided by the Holy Spirit, is also a powerful influence, an influence that will change the lives of people and uplift those who already believe. With these, we can begin to see the possibilities of doing great things for God that go far beyond the puny influence that human approaches can bring to bear.

Article continues below
The Three Great Gifts

Perhaps most important of all are the three great spiritual gifts: faith, hope, love—the gifts that will result in great spiritual fruit as they apply in the individual life. First of all there is faith and trust in God, then the hope or the expectation and the assurance of eternal life. And above all, there is the love of God which possesses us, motivates us, directs us, fills us with individual power beyond anything we can conceive of. Here we have the means to change human nature, to reach people more effectively than any other possible approach, to accomplish lasting, worthwhile results.

God tells us that he uses the weak things of the world to accomplish his purposes. It is not the things that seem strong to us but rather the divine power that produces results far greater than anything we can arrange, finance, organize, force, or influence in a human way. The world, in general, considers love as weakness, not strength. But to reach people, it is by far the strongest element of all. The psychologists tell us that every person must have love to survive. Love must be on an individual basis. Love on a mass basis is never meaningful. Love is a shared relationship between God and me and is passed on to another person through me as a channel. This is the way to reach people—not through something we generate ourselves but by serving as channels of God’s love for each person whom we meet.

What, then, is the business and purpose of Christians as individuals and in churches? It is to reach people one by one. That is the only way we can be effective. As individuals and through our churches we can accomplish great things for God by spreading the news of God’s love for every person. People are hungry for love; they respond to it. Our mission, and the mission of the Church, is so to spread this Good News and the Word of God that more people will be brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and will have access to that love that changes lives and accomplishes great deeds. Through the spoken word of preaching, through the distribution of the written Word of God, through living examples of what God’s love does for us as individuals, we can reach more people and accomplish far more results than any other way. Our business is to do this and through love to help those who have already believed to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God’s love and in the power of Christ as it works through us as the light that shines in darkness. One person with a heart full of God’s love, counting on prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can accomplish more than a whole season of legislation and demonstrations.…

Article continues below

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.