Our eternal God commands that the gospel be proclaimed to all segments of human society, and that every segment be discipled. But to achieve this end, a radical transformation of theological education is required. At present, theological education worldwide is devoted primarily to maintaining existing congregations and denominations. Yet every person studying to become a preacher, pastor, or minister must learn to see the wonderful mosaic of mankind that makes up the global community. He or she must know the various methods by which the world’s peoples may be discipled, and must hear God’s command that all the lost be found.
Our Task Reviewed
The New Testament is full of passages that teach that God wants every piece of the mosaic incorporated into his body, the church; panta ta ethn (“all the nations” in the Great Commission, Matt. 28:19) means “all the pieces of the vast human mosaic.” This is made clear in Revelation 7:9: “… a great multitude which no man could number, from every ethnos, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne.… Thus at the end, before God, there will be multitudes of ethne, peoples, segments of society.
However, of the five billion (soon to be six billion) human beings on the planet, 3.5 billion (soon to be 4.5 billion) are not Christians. Of those who call themselves Christians, the majority attend church only now and then—if ever.
When I was in Finland a few years ago, I asked a top Lutheran authority how many Finns are Christians. “Oh,” he replied, “94.6 percent are Lutherans.” “How many are in church on Sunday?” I asked.
“Well,” he replied, “less than 5 percent.”
“And on Communion Sunday?”
“Less than 1 percent.”
In a survey I did in a typical American city of 30,000, in which there were 62 churches, I found that only 5,000 attended church on any given Sunday. The remaining 25,000 included many who counted themselves as Christians but who seldom went to church. It also included thousands of men and women who lived and acted as if there were no God.
Secular Americans say, “No one is really lost. All are seeking to live good lives. Let us simply accept as our brothers all people of whatever faith they may be, whether they be Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Marxists, or atheists. Let us live with them peaceably. If they wish to become Christians, our doors are open; but we certainly should not seek to disciple them.”
As a result of this thinking, the sending of Western missionaries has greatly diminished. However, the undone task is still enormous. Ninety-five percent in China, 97 percent in India, and 99 percent in Japan and in the Muslim world are actively non-Christian.
Thus, despite all of the wonderful things that are happening—the evangelistic campaigns of great preachers like Billy Graham, the startling successes of some Third World and Old World missionaries—world evangelization still leaves three-fourths—shortly to become four-fifths—of the world unevangelized.
Our Task Accomplished
Theological education could transform this sorry situation; it holds the key to carrying out God’s commands. All seminaries, divinity schools, Bible colleges, and Bible schools should devote a substantial part of their curriculum to teaching future pastors and preachers how to bring these multitudes of unbelievers to Christian faith. Of the 36 courses required for a master of divinity degree, 5 of those courses (of at least four hours each) should be on effective evangelism. The 5 mentioned immediately below may not be the 5 taught in every school—each faculty, sensing its own opportunities and problems, will choose its own 5 areas of missions knowledge to be mastered. However, the following course areas will help make evangelism effective.
The first course would teach the complex theology of evangelism, of finding and folding the lost, and of multiplying congregations of the redeemed.
This is an essential part of all true theology. The many passages of Scripture commanding effective evangelism require the formation of explicit doctrines along these lines. In this regard, great emphasis must be given such passages as Romans 16:25–26; 1 Corinthians 9–10, and 11:1; Matthew 28:18–19; and John 3:16. Jesus Christ must be proclaimed in such a way that idolaters and followers of other religions, atheists, agnostics, and secularists will “not perish but have everlasting life.”
The second course would teach ministers how to make laymen and laywomen effective disciplers of the unchurched.
Laypeople, if trained in evangelism, are effective communicators. They reach their fellow workers, fellow faculty members, and fellow employees. Laypeople must be trained in effective evangelism.
The third course would teach seminary students how to multiply congregations in the multitudinous North American Anglo and minority populations.
Students, for example, should be trained in effective urban evangelization. All cities are mosaics. Every city has minorities. Each minority has several sections. There should be congregations in each section of the urban mosaic.
For example, the 15 or more million Hispanics living in the cities and towns of the United States are made up of many pieces—Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Colombians, Argentineans, fourth-, third-, second-, and first-generation Hispanics, recent arrivals, and undocumented workers.
Argentinean Hispanics are not likely to join churches flourishing among Mexican Americans. A congregation of fourth-generation Hispanics will not appeal to recent arrivals from Mexico. Education in multiplying churches in effective urban evangelism will teach many methods of winning men and women and multiplying churches.
A fourth course would accurately describe the degree of Christianization in other continents.
Do Christians make up 1 percent or 90 percent of the population? Is the number of Christians growing or declining? Are they carrying on effective evangelism or merely looking after themselves? How can they be helped to become evangelistically more powerful? Are they sending missionaries to all their own unreached populations, or are most of the unreached still being evangelized by missionaries from other nations? Have divergent cultures been taught to the evangelizers so that these cultures cease to be obstacles to the adoption of the Christian faith? Are Christians working to produce a more Christian social order? Are they praying, and are they working to increase peace, brotherhood, and justice? Are the socially and economically disadvantaged and the oppressed being redeemed?
The fifth course would deal with the ways of evangelism that God has most greatly blessed to the redemption of women and men.
The ways of evangelism differ for various populations. Those that are effective in university populations in North America will yield no results among the many Americans who have not graduated from grade school. Those effective in London’s West End are ineffective in the East End, where 98 percent of the English remain out of the church.
Therefore, all theological faculties should include professors who carry out scientific surveys of their communities to find out how Christian each segment of the mosaic is. They will also need to find out what methods God has blessed and what methods he has obviously not blessed. Every denomination in the United States should survey scientifically those of its programs that are establishing new congregations. Christians must not work blindfolded.
The five required courses must be taught by professors who have been effective evangelists, who have either doubled existing churches or multiplied new congregations by converting secularists and other non-Christians. In all nations, devout Christians, both ordained and lay, have won many unbelievers to Christ and multiplied new churches. This is as distinct a career as that of teaching systematic theology, church history, or homiletics. Men and women who know how God has worked through his disciples, and who can teach their students—pastors in training—to become multipliers of churches must become a part of theological faculties.
Effective evangelism must not be a subject dealt with by an outside speaker once a year. It must not be a study seminar of a few days. Students must be prepared to start and maintain effective evangelism in congregation after congregation, city after city, rural district after rural district.
In all such courses the key question should be: Are we producing leaders who fold multitudes of the lost and multiply congregations? The goal must not be mere academic excellence. It must be Christian effectiveness.
DONALD MCGAVRANRecognized as the “father” of the church-growth movement, Donald McGavran is professor of missiology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
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