I am burdened to bring to our attention a greatly endangered species in the UK church.
The creature I’m referring to is the ‘soul-winner’. May I say that I am in no way campaigning for the protection of the name (which although so accurately descriptive, sounds strangely archaic today) but, rather, seeking passionately to revive the health-giving lifestyle it embodied.
There was a time when every Christian was expected to be a soul-winner. If a person was ‘born again’, they, motivated by the same love that had taken hold of them, automatically went to seek others for Christ. Admittedly, it was a daunting prospect for a new Christian, but there was something noble and courageous about it – a ‘baptism of fire’ which would leave an indelible mark upon the fledgling disciple.
Why is the soul-winner in grave danger of dying? Perhaps two main reasons, which work powerfully as a pincer movement squeezing life and power from the disciple of Jesus Christ. Both are fairly obvious, yet their effect is strangely subtle and potentially devastating.
Firstly, we are called to live for Christ in a smug postmodern atmosphere. A simple faith in Christ for salvation is deemed an extremely simplistic message – one which any thinking person could never seriously be expected to embrace. We are embarrassed into silence.
Secondly, Britain is a multicultural society and there is increasing pressure upon us to ‘tread softly’, carefully avoiding any accusation of being labelled ‘extremist’. We are bullied into silence.
As a result, we are being pressurised into becoming so compliant that a certain ‘bite’ is disappearing from our evangelism and it is in danger of becoming rather bland. ‘Nice’, but bland! We have no end of evangelistic programmes on the church calendar, but Christians can be involved in them without any healthy ‘eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart’ sharing of their faith and as a result fail to develop that gritty cross-carrying type of dis-cipleship – which surely is true discipleship.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not appealing for that brash, insensitive ‘’ave it!’ approach which is always repugnant in whatever form it appears. But rather for that fragrant, bold, ‘taking on the world’ spirit that we see so clearly in those weak, infant churches in the New Testament.
If it is true, as many tell us, that Britain has almost become ‘first century’ then surely it is time to imitate the faith of those who, despite pressure not to speak in the name of Jesus, replied ‘we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4.20), and, as it was said of the infant church in Thessalonica, ‘the Lord’s message rang out from them’ and ‘your faith in God had become known everywhere’ (1 Thessalonians 1.8).
These guys had no reputation to lose. They were nobodies and rejoiced in it. If they were to die, it would certainly not be of dignity! That irrepressible apostle Paul seemed to delight in his titles, ‘scum of the earth and refuse of the world’ (1 Corinthians 4.13) and no doubt ensured that both were listed on his CV!
In comparison we think we may win a lost world by the quality of our website, literature, buildings, etc. Of course, we should aim for all of these to be the best. (Let us never think that being shoddy, cheapskate or antiquated is ‘spiritual’!) But if our trust is in them, we shall depart from that vital New Testament authenticity and power – and may not even realise it in our blur of organisational activity
The blessing of persecution
Whilst losing the freedom to worship and evangelise are the last thing we would wish for in the UK, we perhaps know, deep within, that it is on the way. Could it be that we are going to be forced into being the bold soul-winning witnesses we should be?
Andrea Williams of Christian Concern reported recently how she went, ‘worn down by the woes of our nation’, to a service of dedication to mark the translation of the Bible into modern Persian, and was greatly lifted in her spirit as she listened to the testimony of the Iranian believers at the meeting: ‘Oh what delight! And what joy in their singing as they praised Jesus! Then I was awestruck by their stories. Christians in Iran are paying a high price for their faith in Jesus. They have lost jobs, homes and even custody of their children. Some have been physically abused. Hundreds are rejected by friends and family. And some are unjustly detained in Iran’s notorious prison system. There are many martyrs – everyone in that room knew a martyr. Iranians are killed or imprisoned on false political charges relating to their Christian faith; usually they are convicted of “undermining national security” through attending or organising house-church meetings, or sharing their faith…’ 1.
It seems that God has so wired the Christian to speak of Jesus that joy always seems an inevitable offspin! Ministering in an altogether-different time and culture, CH Spurgeon testified: ‘Even if I were utterly selfish and had no care for anything but my own happiness, I would choose to be a soul-winner…’.
There is an enemy who knows only too well the importance of soul-winning. Have you noticed that JWs are now not content to visit door to door only, but have stepped up their game and can be seen on street corners and in town centres everywhere?
Have you noticed (how could you fail to) the blood-curdling zeal of men and women only too willing to lay down their lives for their vile and destructive ideology?
Equipped for the work
The New Testament speaks clearly of Christian warfare and, naturally, soldiers engaged in this great and noble battle for souls need training (see below). However the beauty of being a soul-winner is that God delights to use us despite all our fears and foibles, our felt weaknesses and lack of confidence.
The internationally appreciated Rebecca Manley Pippert says helpfully regarding our reluctance to share our faith personally: ‘Our problem in evangelism is not that we don’t have enough information – it is that we don’t know how to be ourselves. We forget we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen and know, not to what we don’t know. The key on our part is authenticity and obedience, not a doctorate in theology’ 2 .
Another of the great advantages of having a soul-winner lifestyle is that it drives one to a greater dependency on God.
Evangelist Roger Carswell, sharing in a recent prayer letter how he personally stirs himself to motivation, has taken a verse of an old soul-winner’s hymn and made it his prayer through the years of his ministry: ‘I want the passionate power of prayer / That yearns for the great crowd’s soul; / I want to go ’mongst the fainting sheep / And tell them my Lord makes whole’.
I am in no way appealing for a type of Christianity of a bygone era out of a sense of nostalgia (‘Oh, do you remember when Billy Graham came to London in the 1950s!’), but rather for us to recapture in our day that fire-filled sort we read of in times when the Spirit was poured out abundantly on the church when every believer automatically became a witness.
Train and go!
Without doubt we all need to feel we are equipped for the task to some degree, and also the opportunity to put what we are learning into practice. Why not invite a trusted person/organisation for some help in this area? 3. It could result in the transformation of your life, church and nation!