By all means, save some!
From time to time, as church leaders, our hopes for a sudden gain in church growth are raised by news of a fresh and creative initiative. Whether this is a specific evangelistic strategy or whether it’s in connection with church management our response is often similar: We do the research, hear the testimonies, read the materials, pray and prepare to launch into new territory which we hope will yield better results.
None of this is wrong, of course. In fact, we ought to be on our toes for spotting effective means of communicating the gospel message. We must keep imagining and learning and trying all that we can, that ‘by all means we might save some.’ (1 Cor 9:22)
But in all of this we need to remember that this is a life’s work. We are not just jumping from project to project – we are living all of life in the context of God’s mission to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ; all of life and for the duration of our life.
And this is where Hudson Taylor’s example of perseverance can encourage us. By the time of these events he had been serving in China nearly 40 years.
Christians worship a pig!
In the early 1890s leaflets were distributed throughout Hunan Province that misrepresented the CIM and other missionary organisations working in China:
‘Missionaries are the frontline troops of western nations in their designs on China; they use magic powers to corrupt the Chinese; they extract unborn children from their mothers’ wombs and scoop out the eyes of the dead to make silver;
Jesus debauched the women of Judea and was put to death for violating the king’s harem;
Christians worship a pig and refuse to honour heaven, earth, the sun, moon, stars, ancestors and the sages.’[i]
As a result of the publication of these leaflets, and the growing resentment of colonial rule, several missionaries lost their lives, and most were living in real danger.
Taylor wrote, ‘We are continually encouraging our converts to brave persecution and to suffer loss for Christ’s sake, and they are apt to think that it is easy for us to speak in this way, seeing that, as far as they can tell, we are well-off and exposed to no danger or loss.
When, therefore, we are in danger they will mark our conduct very closely, and judge for themselves how far we really believe…Years of teaching would not impress them as our conduct at such times may do.’[ii]
Slow Progress and our response to it
Like Taylor’s men and women, we also battle misunderstanding as to our purpose or motive. And, just like Taylor’s troops, we also wrestle with slow progress.
We are heartened by bursts of growth and by news of growth in other situations but we must hold steady and persevere in order to build the church in a spiritually bewildered culture.
Writing back in March 1892, Hudson Taylor, after 38 years of hard work, said, ‘The supreme want of all missions in the present day is the manifested presence of the Holy Ghost.
Hundreds of thousands of tracts and portions of Scripture have been put into circulation; thousands of gospel addresses have been given; tens of thousands of miles have been traversed in missionary journeys but how small has been the issue in the way of definite conversions!
We…have much need to humble ourselves before God…’
Seeking the power of the Holy Spirit
‘Few of us, perhaps, are satisfied with the results of our work, and some may think that if we had more, or more costly machinery we should do better. But oh, I feel it is divine power we want…!
Should we not do well, rather, to suspend our present operations and give ourselves to humiliation and prayer for nothing less that to be filled with the Spirit, and made channels through which He shall work with resistless power?
Souls are perishing now for lack of this power!’[iii]
Sure enough, the following month, instead of the normal business meeting of the directors of the Chinese operation, the minutes recorded: ‘Instead of meeting for conference, the China Council united with the members of the mission in Shanghai in seeking for themselves, the whole mission in China and the Home Councils, the filling of the Holy Spirit.’[iv]
Soon after, news was spread of the power of God working in a new way amongst them.
Let’s learn from history – in order to persevere in the mission we are on, we need encounters with God, to be both humbled and empowered by the Spirit of God.
We never graduate from this…this is our life’s work.
For the first part of the Hudson Taylor story click here
© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides
[i] A Man In Christ, p.324, Roger Steer, Singapore, OMF Books, 1990
[ii] ibid, p.325
[iii] ibid p.328
[iv] ibid p.329