Christians, are we failing our Lord?

Christ Commands Worldwide Evangelism

John R. Mott: The supreme purpose of the Christian Church is to make Jesus Christ known, trusted, loved, obeyed, and exemplified in the whole range of individual life - body, mind, and spirit - and also in all human relationships. "This is incomparably the most important work for every Christian. It is the service most needed and, generally speaking, most neglected. What activity is so highly multiplying in its influence? What so enduring in results? The present is the time of times to lift up this whole subject of comprehensive evangelism into a place of central prominence.

Throughout the world there is need of a summons to the larger evangelism. Larger in what sense? Larger in the sense of larger desire. A precursor and an accompaniment of the most spontaneous and fruitful evangelism has ever been unselfish and compelling desire. All of us are in the habit of doing what we unselfishly and supremely desire. Happily this desire can be created and developed.

What is the secret of generating such a pure and mastering desire to win men to Christ and his program? First, meditation on the need of men without Christ. I suggest that right here and now we take time to let our minds dwell on those we know who have not come under the sway of this wonderful Saviour and Master. Think of those who are living worldly, selfish, proud lives; of others who are living indifferent, apathetic, unresponsive lives; of those who are living narrow, contracted, atrophied lives; of those who are sorrowing and lonely; of those who are hungering and thirsting for something purer and nobler; of the many who are fiercely tempted, sin-bound, habit-bound; of men defeated and discouraged; of multitudes in the mazes of skepticism and unbelief, bewildered and in a true and graphic sense literally lost - lost in the sense Christ himself had in mind when he said he was come to seek and save that which was lost.

Upon fellow men near and far in the midst of such need and bearing such burdens no sincere Christian can thus meditate without the generating in him of a Christlike desire to bring relief.

Another and an even more potent source of unselfish desire that issues in action is reverent and responsive meditation on God as revealed in Christ - who he is, where he is, what his character is, what his ways have ever been, what his resources are, what his desires and designs on behalf of his children are, and what his commands are. Here again let it be said that such dwelling on the loving heavenly Father, the mighty Saviour, and his provision and wishes for all his human creatures invariably must prompt one to unselfish action.

The larger desire so essential to evangelism is a product not only of meditation but also of contagion. It is communicated by Christ himself. One of the most helpful sermons I ever heard was by Bishop Thoburn of India on the text, "The love of Christ constraineth us" [controls us] (2 Cor. 5:14). The truth in his message which laid most powerful hold and wrought a great change in me was that love of Christ enables one to love the unlovable. I do not find this in non-Christian faiths or in the areas of unbelief. It is a divine product.

The larger evangelism so much needed today must be characterized by larger understanding or comprehension. In what respects? Larger understanding on the part of Christian workers everywhere of the antecedents, the background, and the traditions of the people whom they would win for our Lord. In my years of serving the peoples of many nations and races I have long since learned that you cannot really know a people, or an individual, unless you know their most powerful and deeply moving traditions.

There must also be far greater recognition of the changed psychology of men in virtually every part of the world; emphatically we are in a different world. There must indeed be an understanding of our times, and likewise of our destiny. Old things are passing away; all things are becoming new. There must be larger knowledge of the unanswered questions on matters of religion among thoughtful and inquiring men everywhere; without this how impossible to bring to them a truly relevant message.

We must above all things have a thorough and profound understanding of the faith we profess and the message to be proclaimed.

We must also familiarize ourselves with the battleground of those whom we would win - the tug of their temptations, the grounds of their discouragement, pessimism, and despair. In this connection we must be aware not only of the forces arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare but also and especially of the forces and factors that favor us.

We need acquaintance with a more masterly strategy in the sense of recognizing and utilizing, as never before, key positions, significant groups, dynamic personalities, and providential occasions. We must acquire a more profound knowledge of man himself and of the possibilities of human nature; and that this need is recognized is seen in the widening attention being paid by missionaries to the study of anthropology. And of supreme importance is the emphasis on the limitless, invisible, spiritual, super-human resources of the living God.

Larger plans by far should characterize the evangelism so imperatively needed in these fateful days. How pitiably inadequate are the plans of the Christians in contrast with the wide areas and indescribable depths of human need, and with the all-embracing designs of the divine Saviour of men. How little the evangelistic programs of our churches remind one of the spacious conceptions and vast proposals of Christ - such as, "Ye are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14); "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13); "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15); "Ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8); "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32).

We should be put to shame and greatly stimulated by the recent truly wide-ranging and worthy planning of the Christians in Japan in their Kingdom of God Movement, of the national Christian Council of China in their Five Year Movement, and of the Indian Christian Council in their Week of Witness program.

Great also is the need in all the churches and their auxiliary agencies of a greater adaptation of ways and means to meet the requirements of modern evangelism. A somewhat comprehensive study of recent notably successful evangelistic movements and experiences in the Orient, as well as in the Occident, reveals the value of such emphases, practices, and means as the following:

Programs of publicity calculated to arrest and hold attention on the subject of religion and its relevancy to present-day felt needs.

The recognition of certain times or seasons for evangelistic effort - for example, Holy Week, or the period of the turning of the year, or very notably the present tragic time of war [1944].

Concentrating all the Christian forces on a given area, or class, or interest - for example, an entire city, the students of an entire country.

Centering efforts on the youth, especially the age of adolescence.

Training of personal workers.

The group method, that is, the work of bands for the express purpose of leading persons one by one to Christ.

Individual work for individuals, the most fruitful of all methods.

Religious education, ably planned and conducted.

Larger use of pertinent religious literature.

Multiplying the number of capable apologetic [speaking in defense] pens and voices.

Improving greatly the processes of preparation for, and following up of, evangelistic campaigns.

It would be difficult to mention any one of these methods or practices which can wisely be omitted or neglected in any field where the largest, most satisfactory evangelistic results are desired.

In this connection another point of front-line importance should be emphasized, and that is to give very special heed to what should precede and what should follow any special evangelistic effort such as the employment of the foregoing means. Every such campaign should be preceded by retreats, that is, the going apart of groups of workers and leaders, those who are to have the major part or responsibility for the special action, to wait unitedly and unhurriedly on God for spiritual preparation of mind and heart and for ensuring triumphant unity. On the authority of Christ, by injunction and practice, this procedure was the precursor to Pentecost.

The other indispensable means to ensure the unutterably vital result has ever been the practice of intercession on the part of Christ's disciples, whether few or many. There is no authentic instance where the employment of these spiritual methods has been fruitless.

Then, of like importance, after the period of direct evangelistic effort it is absolutely essential to give immediate and continuous attention to safeguarding results. Why? On the authority of Christ himself, "Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts" (Mark 4:15).

My world-wide study of revivals in recent as well as former times has profoundly impressed me with the absolute necessity of giving most earnest heed to these cardinal points of preparation and conservation.

Moreover, in and through all must be reliance on the Holy Spirit at work not alone in the messenger of the gospel but also in the hearers. In other words, the evangelization and conversion of men is a super-human process. If the leaders of individual churches or groups of churches do nothing more than restudy, restate, revise, and, where necessary, revolutionize programs and plans of evangelization, it will make the period before us stand out as one of the greatest significance.

The larger evangelism which we long to see will result inevitably from a larger unity. On the authority of Christ himself real unity is an absolute essential to the realization of the highest evangelistic objective. He prayed - think of it - our Lord in his high-priestly prayer prayed that we all might be one, not as an end in itself, but "that the world may believe" (John 17:21). Thus the unity of his followers constitutes the triumphant apologetic. If some of us have come from fields in which there are individuals, groups, or large numbers who are unbelieving, may it not be that one, possibly the principal, cause is the lack of unity among his professed followers.

Whenever I visit a field and find widespread unbelief and a dearth of evangelistic effort and fruits, I raise the question whether the secret does not lie right here the Christian workers through envy, jealousy, self-seeking, profitless controversy, or lack of real sacrifice have failed to present a united front. The dimensions of the task of bringing whole communities and inflamed human relationships under the sway of Christ are so vast, and the difficulties are so very great, that nothing less than actual unity in objectives, in organization, in sacrificial action, in intercession, and in spirit will prevail. The clock has struck, the hour has come when in this vital matter of evangelization all who acknowledge the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ should pool not only knowledge and experience but personalities, funds, plans in the making, and measures for the triumphant conduct of the work itself.

The larger evangelism demands a larger message. Nothing short of the integral individual and social gospel will suffice. At the notable World Missionary Conference on the Mount of Olives a few years ago, the company of Christian leaders from all parts of the world unanimously adopted a Christian message for the world mission of Christianity. This message was prepared by a very representative committee of outstanding Christian scholars of the churches of Europe, America, Asia, and Africa with the present Archbishop of Canterbury and Dr. Robert E. Speer as co-chairmen. This statement covered some eighteen pages, but it could be summed up in five words near the heart of the report:

"Our message is Jesus Christ."

It is well to remind ourselves that we have a larger Christ. Not a new Christ, for he is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8), but a larger Christ. Larger in what sense? Larger in that there are today millions more men and women than a few years ago who have come into an authentic, firsthand knowledge and experience of Christ. Larger in that there are so many entire communities such as Mass Movement villages of India and certain slums of Western cities profoundly changed by the power of the living Christ. Larger, thank God, in that in situations of impossible tension and conflict in such areas as some of the hottest spots inter-racially, Christ has shown himself able through his followers in so many instances to transcend these alarming differences.

We might sum up this challenge to the larger, the more comprehensive, the more truly adequate evangelism by saying that it is a demand for the larger exposure of men to the living Christ. It is not in man that walketh to convert others to Christ. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). And how gloriously true it is that "we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed [we do not change ourselves] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). And how shall the face be unveiled? We all who bear his name can by life, by word, by direction to the original writings of the faith, by multiplying contacts with trustworthy witnesses who have had indubitable experience of Christ - by these and other means - expose men to Christ.

Christ will then make his own impression. It will be a profound impression if he makes it. It will be a transforming impression if he makes it. It will be an enduring impression if he makes it.

A "Sam P. Jones Lecture" by John R. Mott (1865-1955) at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, 1944

  1. Christ Commands Worldwide Evangelism.
  2. The World is Ready for Evangelism.
  3. Dwight Moody, the Greatest Evangelist of the 19th Century.
  4. Individual Work to Convert Individuals.
  5. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation.

Go to Literature Index Page

This URL is abcog.org/mott1.htm