James G. Raymo, M.A.
Use of Strategy
One discussion that arises periodically among advocates of the world Christian movement concerns the use of strategy and planning in missions versus the spontaneous guidance of the Holy Spirit. Recently in a missions class at a local seminary a professor referred to the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in the early Church in contrast to our modern tendency to highlight the need for cultural analysis, church and parachurch cooperation, and use of hi-tech methods and equipment. He argued that we are becoming lopsided in our dependence upon human means and planning strategies.
Human Means versus Spontaneity
The discussion of human means versus spontaneity is not a new one. Both have been advocated for years. In 1962, Roland Martin wrote The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. His point was that the early Church grew by the “unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the church explaining to others the Gospel which they had found for themselves.” He went on to say that churches and mission agencies have lost the sense of conscious and deliberate reliance upon God in this day of highly organized mission activity.
Carey’s Enquiry, an Earlier Version of Operation World!
In 1792, an impoverished and youthful English pastor, part-time teacher, and shoemaker1 wrote a small pamphlet urging upon the English church An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. William Carey, considered by many to be the father of modern missions, exhorted himself and others to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” In it’s style and purpose the Enquiry seems to be a forerunner to today’s Operation World, with its charts detailing the various countries of the world, their size and population, and the religions they represented.
A Committee Report Or a Prophetic Call?
Dr. Ernest Payne says of Carey’s book, “The contents are brief, logical, precise – more like a … committee report than a prophetic call to the Church of Christ. There is here, not appeal to eloquence or sentiment, or elaborate building up of proof texts from the Bible . . . but a careful setting down of facts.”2 No one can doubt the tremendous impact this book had for the worldwide missionary movement with its appeal for strategy and planning.
Carey argues that through God’s promise to increase His kingdom, we who are joined to the Lord and made one with Him in Spirit, ought to begin forming committees, making plans, and gathering monies for the propagation of the Gospel. Of course Carey had no idea of the interfacing and cooperating that is possible in today’s IT world. But an unbiased reading of his Enquiry would suggest his approval of all these methods or means.
Those who argue for more planning cite Carey and his promotion of these methods, while others argue for spontaneity from study of the New Testament church. Some say we ought to copy verbatim the New Testament church and it’s approach to pioneer church planting.
A Different Position
Michael Green, a British scholar studying the early church, takes a third position, arguing that though strategies will vary with time and culture, the necessary common factor is the fire of the Lord in the lives of His people.
Following his thorough study of evangelism in the New Testament he says:
There does not seem to have been anything very remarkable in the strategy [of the early church] . . . They had an unquenchable conviction that Jesus was the key to life and death, happiness and purpose, and they simply could not keep quiet about Him. The Spirit of Jesus within them drove them out into mission.3
On Hi-tech Means for World Evangelization
Dayton and Fraser in their book Planning Strategies for World Evangelization make the following comment after a discussion on the use of hi-tech means to complete the task of worldwide evangelization:
Yet Jesus did use all the means at his disposal to relate the message of the kingdom of God to his target group . . . It is not the specific form of early church methods that instructs us. It is the example they leave of spiritually empowered, faithfully motivated . . . communication of the good news. 4
How do the Scriptures help us as we approach this question?
In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus is speaking primarily about the cost of discipleship. By way of illustration he suggests the wisdom of assessing the task in front of us and moving accordingly. By using this illustration he seems to suggest that a lack of concern for planning and results is inappropriate.
Helpful Difficult Passages!
Two difficult passages found in 2 Samuel 1-17 and 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 are helpful in our understanding of the pitfalls associated with human plans and assessment. In these passages David assesses his army (takes a census) and it’s ability to “get the job done.” David’s concern for appraisal of his army meets with God’s disapproval and judgment.
Why judgment for simply taking a census? Does this taking of the census and assessing of his army demonstrate pride and security in human strength and equipment? God has had to deal repeatedly with His people’s tendency to rely on their own independent strength to accomplish His work.
Only the Power of the Lamb
Many of us are happy to see twenty-first century technology used for God’s kingdom, but we recognize that through history God’s power has been demonstrated through the power of the Lamb. Only as we surrender ourselves to Jesus with the possibility of death to our future aspirations and dreams will we experience the empowering of His Spirit to accomplish His work.
Surely God would have us use every legitimate technological means at our disposal to accomplish His will, but with an attitude that recognizes that these tools alone will never get the job done apart from His power at work in us. We and our strategies are hollow instruments made effective by the power of God’s Spirit.
We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28, 29, NIV).
1. Steven C. Hawthorne and Ralph Winter, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1991), p. 227. 2. Ibid, p. 228. 3. Edward R. Dayton and David A. Fraser, eds., Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 196. (Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, pp. 165,166,168,171,172.) 4. Ibid, p. 197
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James G. Raymo, M.A.
Department of Intercultural Studies
3003 Snelling Ave. N.