Reaching Out In Difficult Situations — Dudley Foord

 

Bishop Dudley Foord gave this address to the Anglican Church League’s 1988 Annual General Meeting. It was published in ACL News in October 1988.

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Reaching Out In Difficult Situations

THE APOSTOLIC PATTERN

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Timothy has been given a tough assignment — he has been designated to supervise the churches in the regions of Ephesus. He is to proclaim the gospel positively; he is to correct the damage done by the false teachers; and he is to lay down patterns of proper congregational life.

In this section in 1 Timothy 2, directions are being given by Paul in respect to public worship, and he is saying here that the first priority for a congregation is that it is to be a worshipping and a praying community. Evangelicals over the years have been prone to say that evangelism is the first priority. But surely our first priority is God-ward before we come to our duty man-ward. If we adopt the first priority (that is, a praying and a worshipping community) then we will be prepared to be more effective in our duty to man in terms of outreach.

In this passage observe with me four clear features:

First of all, here is a church praying for all people. (verses 1-2) I wonder, is the church that you are in a church that really is praying for all people? Frankly, I pray every day — for key leaders — that they might know the will of God — that God might constrain them and restrain them — because this is the first priority. Prayer is fundamental to reaching people.

Second, God wants all men to be saved. (verse 4)

Third, Christ died for all men. (verse 6) I hope that we haven’t lost our sense of being overawed at the wonder and the magnificence of the gospel. Isn’t it absolutely incredible that God’s love should be manifested in such an amazing way — that Christ should come and die as our substitute?

And fourth, Christians witnessing to all people. In verse 7 Paul talks about the fact that he has been appointed as a herald, an apostle and a teacher to all nations. Putting that last statement in the wider context of the New Testament it would be right to say that Christians are to witness to all men. I want to suggest that the above represents the apostolic pattern, and it needs to be our pattern. I am praying that it will be true in my congregation and I hope it will be in yours.

THE BASE OF OUTREACH

In God’s economy, a central place has been assigned to the local church. Clearly for evangelism and outreach the local church must be the base. Everything in evangelism must be rooted there.

We need to pay attention to three aspects of our congregational life:

First, the minister and the people need to get their lives together in terms of godliness and holiness of living. Unless the lives of the minister and the congregation are exhibiting holiness and godliness — unless our lives are consistent — all the outreach will lead to despair and will be hollow and empty. Do you not agree? The constant, regular reading of and meditation on God’s word is the thing that is going to help us to become godly.

Second, we should get our homes together. A stable Christian home has a mighty power for the gospel.

Third, we need to get the congregation together. It is useless to go out in outreach and to bring people into a refrigerator or into a place where there is bickering and division. A congregation is to be warm and welcoming, caring and loving, accepting with compassion, joy and enthusiasm. Would you think that your congregation is like that? It needs to be! Not only that, but the sermons need to be interesting — and I am finding it a tremendous challenge to make sermons a little more simple but also to be interesting.

There needs to be provision made, both morning and night after the service, for tea and coffee to be served in order that there is this opportunity for friendship and fellowship to be developed. So I want to suggest that a congregation should become a friendship centre. Wasn’t Jesus described as a “friend of sinners”? We are trying to encourage our people to do these simple things in terms of this:

I am convinced that the evangelistic clout of a warm, loving, accepting and welcoming congregation is very great indeed. Is it not the arena where the love of God becomes incarnated and we can see it?

Think of that interesting statement in 1 John 4:12 where it says, “No-one has seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete and perfect in us”. God’s present and continuous activity is seen in loving others through us — and that becomes an obvious demonstration of the Power of God. And frankly, people will never see the love of God until they really see it in those sorts of loving relationships.

I can think of the lady who said to me the other day, “I can’t help coming because I feel as if there’s a magnet over this church that just draws me in.” We live in a love-starved world, and I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t want to be where there’s love. Love is very contagious.–

THE AUDIENCE TO WHOM WE GO

The Puritans were right when they said that we must be constantly studying two books: The word of God, and the book of the human heart. We need a close acquaintance with the audience to whom we go. I really believe that where I am now, I’m in a culture that I’m not familiar with. And so I have to take pains to become aware and to understand the area, the people, the culture, and their needs.

So, when I first arrived there, I made a whole series of appointments — I phoned the mayor and the town clerk, social workers and medicos and school principals and I just did a lot of listening. I’m still doing it! I’ve found that I need to read the local rag, and I’ve tried to get into homes because I think I can learn most about the culture and about the people there. I’ve had about a hundred requests for baptisms in the seven months that I’ve been there — sixty from our parish. Elizabeth and I have gone and visited every one of those sixty homes. That’s meant a tremendous outlay of time — to just get beside them and to listen to them and to meet them in their homes. It’s been a tremendous education!

We’ve found that many people hold onto baptism as a big festival, and with a superstition which I’ve never encountered before. However, it does constitute a great opportunity!

THE METHODS WE EMPLOY

The methods we use need to be flexible, adaptable, and we need to have a variety — and not lock in on just one method (like Evangelism Explosion or Christianity Explained).

Now I am convinced of this — that there exists a vast chasm between our church, and the forty thousand people who live in our parish. They’ve bypassed the church as being totally irrelevant. They’re not interested, they don’t know it’s there, nor do they want to know.

First, we must develop bridges of friendship. We’ve got to take a step back and try to teach Christian people how to develop these bridges. We teach by modelling it. So, Elizabeth and I have set ourselves a four tiered strategy for the immediate block where we live.

We’ve visited every home in that block just to offer friendship, to tell people who we are, and so on. We will be inviting them in for dessert and coffee. We will take a hand-written invitation and we will go and deliver it by hand.

In another parish, someone duplicated an invitation, signed it and sent it to a hundred people. He invited them to a dessert and coffee at his home. Three people responded. Now if you write out the invitation and if you go personally, you are more likely to get a hundred percent response — and that’s what we are finding.

We will be inviting them in for meals or barbeques. We hope then to pick some who seem interested, and try to explain to them the gospel.

So that’s what we are now involved in doing — in trying to model to our little congregation how to build bridges of friendship.

Secondly, outreach must be person to person.

What did Paul say in his famous address to the Ephesians elders in Acts 20, “that I proclaimed the gospel publicly, but I also went house to house.” Go back a little to Spurgeon. Between the morning service and the evening service he visited seventy homes every Sunday. What energy, what zeal! What fires were burning in the bones of those men for the gospel! And what about Richard Baxter in Kidderminster, three hundred years ago? An amazing example of house to house visitation and house to house teaching. It changed the face of Kidderminster.

Now I want to suggest to you that the day of door to door knocking is not finished. And so I have established a pattern of putting aside one whole day — and I will not let anything stop me from doing it — of doorknocking — starting at nine-thirty in the morning until five-thirty in the afternoon. It’s hard work, but I do it. I’m learning a lot from it.

Thirdly, people need to be trained.

The worst thing to say from the pulpit is, “You must go and evangelise”, etc. without showing them how to do it. “On the job training” is absolutely essential. In other words, we must never send them on a guilt trip. We must say, “Come with me, and we will do it together.” I rarely go visiting without taking somebody with me. That’s exactly the pattern that Christ demonstrated and that Paul adopted. Handpick people and then take them with you in order to train them.

Fourthly, Outreach should be prominent on the Parish Council agenda.

I’d love to have a peep at your Parish Council agenda. Where does Outreach come on it, brothers? Why not select a book and give a copy to each member of Parish Council. Each month designate a chapter to read and get someone to summarise it and give a five minute presentation. Then talk about the significance of that for your situation. Get them thinking, reading, talking and fellowshipping over this issue. Then why not have a day retreat on which you can have just one item on the agenda — Outreach.

Fifthly, I want to suggest that we want to make reaching men a high priority.

If you are just interested in reaching women, you will get them — but not the men. But if you reach the men, often you will get the whole family. Let me suggest a regular meeting with men in the church maybe for just twelve weeks one night a week — where you really need to get down to the basics of helping them to read the Bible, how to develop a Quiet Time, and so on. We need some sort of specific outreach among men.

With leadership men will become amazed by what God is doing. The first men’s dinner, twelve attended. The second one, thirty. Then fifty. Because the men are catching a vision they are working hard at it. I would also suggest an annual men’s retreat.

Sixthly, reach whole families.

In God’s economy, the family unit is especially important. To do this the church needs adequate ministry to children, for youth, and for adults. Related to this, I am now in the process of purchasing a wide selection of children’s videos. As I visit, I put those videos into the hands of people — rank outsiders — because videos are shaping the minds of our kids.

Lastly, one of our goals is to establish a home fellowship group in every block in the whole geographical unit.

But the bigger the vision, the bigger the suffering. But let the fire of the gospel burn within you, and let us see people through the eyes of Christ, for when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion. We need to see people as Jesus saw them — lost, confused, without hope. We need to feel as Jesus did. And when the compassion of Christ grabs you, it alters priorities. What did Jesus do? He went and taught them. And so must we!

Bishop Dudley Foord served as Rector of several parishes in Sydney; as Bishop of the Church of England in South Africa, and with the Department of Evangelism in Sydney Diocese.