A great debate is swirling around the question of the Church’s evangelistic strategy. In the matter of world missions, the issue was recently brought into focus in a series of articles in a national student publication. Various leaders evaluated the history of missionary endeavor, analyzed the contemporary scene, and proposed a philosophy for the days ahead. One assigned high priority to city and student work but gave low priority to “tribal efforts.” Another plumped for concentration on tribes yet unreached as the most consistent response to the Great Commission. A third held to the need of reaching first the emerging middle classes, as the traditional “conveyors of information.” For several months the discussion continued, as the editors were deluged with more articles and endless letters submitting yet another scheme or proposing a combination of all views. This public reaction showed the hunger for a clear enunciation of Christian priorities in the new age of revolution.

What is our strategy to be? As we seek the answer, we must keep two things clearly in mind.

First, we are seeking, not to invent a plan, but to discover God’s strategy. Our task is not the “making of a president” nor the winning of a war. While we may get help from “secular” procedures in relating our message to the contemporary world, our main concern is to understand what the will of the Lord is. Jesus Christ is the great evangelist, the master strategist. Paul did not “venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed” (Rom. 15:18, RSV). A human witness is the hand by which God touches men, the mouth through which Christ speaks, the tool to carry out his plans. The Holy Spirit gives the divine strategy to the waiting, obedient fellowship. At Antioch, “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’.… So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went …” (Acts 13:2, 4, RSV).

God’s ways may seem foolish to men, for they are higher than ours. Consider the massacre of five young men by Auca Indians in a South American jungle. What a waste it seemed! But in God’s providence the martyrdom of Jim Elliot and his companions ended finally in the conversion of their murderers. And this in turn has penetrated into the highest government circles of Ecuador, as men have seen the transforming power of Christ. The Christian strategist must indeed possess a keen mind; but that mind must be under the control of the sovereign God, through a humble spirit and a flaming heart.

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Secondly, we must not confuse strategy with methods. Strategy includes methods, but much more. Strategy involves vision—a clear-cut sense of what we are sent to do, and of the best principles of achieving our objectives. Methods can become tyrants, unless they are made the servants of strategy. This is why evangelism is always in peril of being stifled by the idolizing of one particular method.

The strategy to which we are called today is one of “total evangelism.” This strategy includes three things: goals, agents, and methods.

Our goal is nothing less than the penetration of the whole world. Jesus expressed this clearly: “This gospel of the kingdom trill be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations …” (Matt. 24:14, RSV); “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given, to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” (Matt. 28:18, 19, RSV). Luke records Jesus’ final orders both at the end of his Gospel and the beginning of the Acts: “… that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47, 48, RSV), and “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, RSV). And John in the Revelation foresees a day when “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, [stand] before the throne and before the Lamb …” (Rev. 7:9, RSV).

Elton Trueblood has suggested that most of the figures Jesus used of the Gospel—salt, light, keys, bread, water, leaven, fire—have one common element, “penetration” (The Company of the Committed, p. 68), and the Christian is true to his calling only when he is penetrating the world around him.

But what are we to penetrate? What frontiers did Jesus mean when he said, “Go into all the world”? He meant not only the world of the geographer but also the world of the sociologist; not only the frontiers of Tibet, Brazil, and the Congo but also the frontiers of all the little worlds in which we spend our lives. Surely our Lord wants us to penetrate the world of government, of school, of work, of the home. And does he not want us to penetrate those areas of modern life that all too often are “lost provinces” to the Church—the world of entertainment, of the intellectual, of the laboring man, of the disenfranchised, of the “pockets of poverty”?

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A minister was overheard saying, “Some men are narrow. All they can see is their own church. But I have the broad view—I keep in mind the whole denomination.” A “broad” view indeed! God put the whole wide world for which Christ died—in all its height and depth, its width and length—on our hearts.

If our goal is the penetration of the whole world, then for the agents to carry out this task we must aim at nothing less than the mobilization of the whole Church.

We have not been promised by our Lord that the world will be converted. Thus success is not our standard. But by any standard the growth of the Church over the last century has been agonizingly slow. While Christians (Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox) made up a little less than 30 per cent of the world’s population in 1868, one hundred years later they are a little less than 32 per cent. Unless missionary work increases beyond present expectations, the rate of population growth suggests that the percentage of Christians in the world will be smaller by the year 2000. With the world population increasing by about 65 million per year, there would have to be about 57,000 won to Christ every day—about 2,400 every hour, 40 every minute—just to keep pace with the increase.

These figures reinforce a premise that has long received lip service: World evangelism cannot be done by “professionals.” Indeed, the historian Harnack claimed that “when the Church won its greatest victories in the early days in the Roman Empire, it did so not by teachers or preachers or apostles, but by informal missionaries.”

If the Church bottlenecks its outreach by depending on its specialists—its pastors and evangelists—to do its witnessing, it is living in violation both of the intention of its Head and of the consistent pattern of the early Christians. When Jesus said to his twelve apostles, that microcosm of his people, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” or “As my Father sent me, so send I you,” or “You shall be witnesses unto me,” did he intend to restrict evangelism to a few specialists? Or did he mean that all his disciples should become apostles, that is, “sent ones”? The seed that Jesus planted in the Gospel blooms in the Acts and gives us the answer. Of “specialists” there were plenty: Peter and Paul, Philip and Apollos. But evangelism was the task of the whole Church, not just the leaders. Consider this incident. “… there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.… Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the Word” (Acts 8:1, 4). Observe the phrase, “except the apostles.” Those who were scattered witnessed. Therefore, in this case, the only ones who did not witness were the apostles—the “professionals.” Persecution exploded the Church. The believers were scattered like glowing embers from a fire, igniting new fires wherever they landed. And all of this without the leadership of one ordained apostle!

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My prayers arise for all

these things that thou hast given;

each hour from sun-up to

birdsong at even,

a child’s warm hand in mine,

the tasks a woman knows

the broom, the shining pane,

fragrance of sun-dried clothes,

the aproned gathering

of garden wealth.

And, always, Lord, for love’s

close walk, for strength and health,

for seas revisited

where sunswept grey gulls wheel,

near drifted, light-washed dunes

the rise and fall of keel.

For these, the common things

and thy uncommon grace

upon my very soul

I lift my heart and face.


To be true to our heritage and equal to our present task, we must make it a basic part of our strategy that evangelism be considered the responsibility of the whole Church. To be sure, evangelism is not the sole task of the Church. The Church is called to glorify God, both as Christ’s Bride and as his Body. As his Bride we worship, offering God spiritual sacrifices acceptable through Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). As his Body we witness, demonstrating the wonderful needs of him who called us out of darkness into light (1 Pet. 2:9). The two belong together: worship that does not lead to witness is spurious, while witness that does not lead to worship is abortive.

The mobilization of the Church will call for a drastic revolution in the relation of the clergy and the laity. Too long the accepted pattern has been that the layman pays the minister to evangelize and do the whole work of the ministry. The growth of lay organization in the Church led to another pattern in which the layman helps the clergy to evangelize and minister. This is a welcome advance; but it still falls short of the New Testament ideal, because it places the main responsibility for evangelism on the “professional” ministry.

The old patterns of evangelism will not do. It is not enough for the layman to pay the preacher to win souls, or even help him to do so. The pattern must be that the minister helps the layman to evangelize. The minister is like the foreman in a machine shop, or the coach of a team. He does not do all the work, nor does he make all the plays, though he may be a working foreman or a playing coach. If a man cannot operate a lathe, the foreman rolls up his sleeves and shows him how. If a player cannot carry out an assignment, the coach demonstrates how to make the play. So the pastor does not try to do all the witnessing. His main task is training the Christian mechanic how to witness in the garage; showing the Christian student how to testify in school or college; inspiring the Christian housewife to be a godly influence in her neighborhood. He learns the talents of each player and fits him in the best spot, so that the whole Church becomes an effective witnessing team.

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Our vocabulary of church activity will change if we really begin to take seriously this New Testament pattern. As Richard Halverson, executive director of International Christian Leadership, has said, when we are asked how many ministers our church has, the traditional answer is “one” or “five,” depending on how large the paid staff is. But the real answer is “200” or “2,000,” depending on how large the membership is, for every believer is a minister. When we are asked, “Where is your church?,” the traditional reply is, “On the corner of Broad and Main.” But the correct reply is, “What time is it?” If it is 11:00 A.M. Sunday, then our church is “on the corner of Broad and Main.” (That is where the headquarters building is.) But if it is 11:00 A.M. Tuesday, then our church is Room 511 in the Professional Building, where Bill White, Christian attorney, is practicing law. It is at 3009 Melody Lane, where Jane White, Christian housewife, is making a home. It is at Central High, where Jimmy White, Christian student, is studying to the glory of God. There is the church in action!

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