The men who left Antioch were at last fulfilling the Lords command to carry the gospel to "the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1.8). Theirs was a pioneering spirit, and Paul never lost it. Throughout life his ambition had been "to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named" (Rom 15.20), and even then he had aspirations to reach as far as Spain (vv.24,28). To the Corinthians he expressed the desire to "preach the gospel in the regions beyond you" (2 Cor 10.16). Has that pioneering spirit been lost altogether? Has God stopped calling people to forge into untouched areas? Has the whole world been covered? Have all our own neighbourhoods had exposure to the gospel? Or have lack of inclination and the baneful spirit of pessimism destroyed the urge to break new ground? Have we become so comfortable with things as they are, that contemplating some fresh enterprise exhausts us? C T Studds rhyme is so challenging;
Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.
It Can Be Done is the life-story of William Williams. It is the record of how New Testament principles of evangelism were used to great effect, showing that Biblical principles cannot be bettered and still produce fruit. Some may argue that Mr Williams laboured in South America and in a former generation, and that the present western world presents a vastly different picture. True, social structures, religious thinking, and moral values have changed beyond recognition, but God is not localised, nor is His presence and power confined to any particular generation. As with other aspects of evangelism then, believers who feel called by God to pioneer new areas must find a pattern for their labours in the New Testament. The need for sound preaching and the activity of the Holy Spirit is assumed, but, in practical terms, how did these early pioneers go about things?
It may seem superfluous to say it, but they preached (Acts 13.5). Paul never lost the conviction that preaching was crucial; "Preach the word", was among his last instructions (2 Tim 4.2). The New Testament has no record of drama or music being used as a medium to communicate the gospel. Recently, a brochure was delivered to our home advertising puppets for use in evangelism. These were expensive, as were the various outfits that could be used to clothe them! Training days had been scheduled to tutor prospective users. To me, it seemed a far cry from New Testament evangelism, and appeared to demean the dignity of the gospel and impinge on the majesty of the God from whom it emanates. The Bible method was to preach, and, as observed formerly, that can be done both personally and publicly.
Public preaching needs an audience, and a venue is required at which that audience can congregate. Paul preached outside, most notably at Mars Hill (Acts 17.22-34). There are still opportunities for open-air preaching, but, if the pattern is followed, this will be convened where the people congregate. There is nothing more futile than persisting with open-air preaching where the properties are now derelict, or the district has become commercial rather than residential. Some take advantage of agricultural shows in their areas, or gala days, to convene some kind of witness; the crowds will be there. At some of these events preaching may be prohibited, but there will be openings to display the Word, and to distribute literature. Some of us have opportunity to preach in our shopping precincts, and we need wisdom in the use of the PA system. Set the level so that those around can hear clearly, without creating the kind of noise pollution that would see you expelled from your site.
It has to be acknowledged, though, that generally speaking, the modern western world has neither the climate nor the culture of Bible days, in the sense that people do not loiter around markets and town squares as they once did. Traditionally, that created a ready-made audience for preaching. In the modern context a location has to be provided for people to hear the Word in comfort. Our own buildings are an option, but believers constantly find that very few of the public cross the threshold. We know that Gods assembly is not a sect or denomination, but others may perceive it to be that, and judge a series in a Gospel Hall to be a recruitment drive for some minor religious group. Are there any alternatives? This is where the pioneering spirit comes into play; this is where initiative scores. At Ephesus Paul used a school (Acts 19.9-10). In some places schools or other public buildings can still be rented, although they are seldom available as frequently as was the school of Tyrannus. Paul preached there seven days a week for two years! In many instances, pioneering requires that kind of long-term dedication. There is a mindset among us that recoils from a commitment of more than two or three weeks of concentrated gospel effort. I know that life is busy, but then, we can normally find time for the things that we want to do; it becomes a matter of priorities.
Another option is the use of a marquee in the summer months. If the school or public hall has drawbacks because of limited availability, the tent has the problem of vulnerability. It is an easy target for the thief or vandal, and may require 24-hour surveillance. Again, there is the need for commitment. Another alternative is the portable hall, a tool that is used extensively by believers in Northern Ireland. The cost and trouble of erecting and dismantling such a structure demands that it be on site for a reasonable length of time. There are no easy options when it comes to pioneer evangelism! Recently I heard of a hotel function room being used for a months preaching. Reports tell of more strangers attending than would have been expected at the local Gospel Hall; such initiatives must be commended. From personal experience, I have found that more people attend tents or portable halls than either existing Gospel Halls or public buildings. Fellow-servants corroborate these findings, although some will be able to cite exceptions to that general observation.
A ready made venue for a new gospel work is the home. When the message was first preached to the Gentiles, the meeting was convened in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10.22). At Corinth, opposition to Pauls preaching in the synagogue drove him to the neighbouring building, the house of Justus. Matthew used his home to introduce former colleagues to his new Master (Lk 5.27-29). Perhaps it is stretching things to suggest that the fact that he provided a meal indicates that it is not altogether unscriptural to provide refreshments when trying to interest people in the gospel! There may be a case for it though in the context of the house meeting, in that it could give opportunity for further conversation about what has been preached, but from personal experience I have found that refreshments at the end of a solemn gospel meeting are intrusive.
The gospel first made inroads into our family when my eldest aunt attended what were then called "kitchen meetings" in a mining community. Elsewhere these were called "cottage meetings". Gatherings in homes can be used as a series in itself, or in conjunction with meetings in a hall, giving strangers opportunity to meet the preacher face to face. Getting to know him may make it less intimidating for them to attend the public meeting. Recently I have had experience of this. Many more came to the home than to the hall, but some made the transition, and of course, the others did have the seed sown into their hearts in the home environment. Just a word of caution; in such circumstances we have to guard against preaching an anaemic gospel. Reference has been made to Pauls public preaching in the school at Ephesus. The gospel that he taught "from house to house" was the same as he communicated publicly in the school, involving the insistence on both repentance and faith (Acts 20.20-21). There is a danger of soft-pedalling the message in the house meeting.
It is not unscriptural to use the homes of unbelievers as a venue for meetings as seen in the case of Cornelius. He was able to interest his "kinsmen and near friends" to attend (Acts 10.24). Experience has shown that unbelievers or new believers have a wider circle of contacts who can be encouraged to come to their homes to listen. Pioneer evangelism demands taking full advantage of such opportunities. Someone has to take the initiative on these issues; will you be that someone? If not, be prepared to give maximum support to those who do see these open doors of opportunity.
To be continued.