- A SAD REALITY:
After years of mission work in South-East Asia, I moved back to France in April 2019.
Since my return, I have realised, visiting evangelical churches of different denominations, that there are hardly any meetings left for the unconverted.
In the 1990s I served the Lord in the Assemblies of God and the Salvation Army. We had what we called ‘evangelistic meetings’.
What these meetings had in common were songs, testimonies and messages designed for those who had never heard the Gospel message before.
Hundreds of churches in France started out decades ago with meetings where, at least once a week, the Plan of Salvation was presented.
Many observers today recognise that the phenomenal growth of the Pentecostal movement in France (and throughout the world) is largely due to the fact that their churches were born out of evangelistic meetings. If the ABC of the Gospel is not proclaimed in these new church plants, the rest of the alphabet makes little sense.
The assemblies that my parents planted in France were all born that way: in the towns of Gannat, Le Puy en Velay, La Bourboule, Péronne and Boulogne sur Mer. These churches did not start with a Worship service but with an evangelistic meeting.
Since these types of meetings no longer exist, it can sometimes be difficult nowadays to invite our unconverted neighbours or work colleagues to church.
Have you ever invited non-Christian friends to join you to church? Out of politeness or curiosity, they agree to come. You are really happy that they have accepted your invitation, but at the same time you are a little anxious about whether they will like it or not. Sitting next to them in that Sunday morning service, you silently pray that the worship and preaching will touch their hearts. On the way home, you ask them if they enjoyed their first experience in an evangelical church. In their eyes you can read: “Actually, I didn’t quite understand. I’m not sure I want to go back”.
Though the church was welcoming and the worship lively, the hearts of the unconverted were not necessarily touched.
I am not saying that we must at all costs return to the same format that existed in the 1950s or 1960s. What is needed, however, is a return to meetings for those who do not know Jesus as their Saviour or that in our Sunday morning churches, unconverted have the opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Of course, these evangelistic meetings only make sense if we are already sharing our faith with our neighbours and unconverted friends. They will come more easily to a gospel service if we have already established a relationship with them.
After visiting over the years hundreds of churches in France and on all 5 continents, I fear that many of our churches have never (or have not for a long time) proclaimed the Salvation message. I fear that many precious souls in our audiences feel comfortable among us without having understood that they are lost and in need of a Saviour.
I am concerned that many pastors have ended up convinced that some of those who attend their congregation are actually members of the Body of Christ when they have actually never experienced conversion.
I can see that what we Evangelicals used to criticize in the Catholic Church is actually happening now in our midst: Church goers who think they are saved.
- WHAT CAN WE DO?
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die…” Revelation 3: 2
What if we first had to review the content of our songs?
Songs of praise are the expression of our grateful hearts to God, the expression of hearts already regenerated.
While worship songs are excellent and do much good for God’s people, we also need to find (and write!) songs that appeal to those who have not yet given their lives to Christ. The characteristic of evangelistic songs (which have practically disappeared from our repertoires) is that they address the heart of the sinner.
What is for example, unique about this well-known Gospel song?
” There’s room at the Cross for you,
Yes, there’s room at the Cross for you,
For millions have come and there’s still room for one,
Yes, there’s room at the Cross for you.'”
It is a song addressed to those who do not yet know Jesus.
The Holy Spirit often uses simple choruses to work on hearts. How often such songs have succeeded in melting the hearts of the most resistant.
These songs have also become the preacher’s best allies. They will make his task easier when it comes to preaching the Gospel.
The heart, like hardened earth, has been ploughed by the singing. It is then often ready for the seed that will be planted during the preaching.
The Gospel in music is intended to prepare hearts for the Gospel preached.
Maryvonne, a retired French woman, recently told me how she became a believer, back in 1992. She entered a tent where an evangelistic campaign was being held. Before the preaching, a choir sang the well-known French hymn: Attaché à la Croix pour moi” (“Nailed to the Cross for Me”). As she listened to the song for the first time, she saw on the platform the face of Jesus crucified.
By the end of the singing, Maryvonne’s heart was ready to listen to the Gospel preached. That evening, when the invitation was given, she stepped forward to give her life to God.
One of the leaders of the Salvation Army for France and Belgium recently wrote to me: ” Certain songs of the past truly prepared hearts for preaching. There was a song in particular that moved hard hearts: ‘I would like to tell you on my knees how sweet the love of Christ is…’
If we look closely at the history of the Church, we can see how those ” appeal songs” contributed to the conversion of the masses. All the great evangelists and revivalists have understood the importance of evangelistic songs in challenging the audience about their sinful condition.
From George Whitfield, the great English revivalist, to 20th century Finish missionary Kalevi Lehtinen. From Chinese minister John Sung to Dutch evangelist Johann Marsbach.
There are many testimonies of those ‘notorious sinners’ who came under conviction of sin at the moment the Gospel was sung.
Yukki and I were recently sharing a meal with a couple serving God in Paris. The wife mentioned a time when her husband, who now leads worship in church, was part of a group that sang the Gospel some 30 years ago. She spoke of those days with some nostalgia, recognising the hand of God on that group of young singers who proclaimed across France the Good News through their music. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Ah, that brings back good memories, but now it’s over.” I replied, “And why should it be over? ”
While the style of music may indeed change over time, the idea of singing the Gospel should remain. May God raise up new song writers who will create songs calling sinners to Salvation for today’s audiences.
21st century composers need to be inspired by hymn writers such as John H. Stockton who wrote:
” Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
There’s mercy with the Lord.
And He will surely give you rest,
By trusting in His Word,
Only trust Him, only trust Him,
Only trust Him now.”
Or by E. A. Hoffman who wrote a song still popular today:
” Down at the Cross where my Saviour died,
Down where the cleansing from sin I cried,
There to my heart was the blood applied,
Glory to His name.”
For some reason, some of the great themes of the Bible have been removed from our song repertoires. The return of Jesus, hell and the call to mission for example.
If we had the misfortune to spend one minute in hell, the content of our songs, our preaching, our Christian books and our conferences would not look the same as they do today.
Some churches have not mentioned the return of Jesus for so many years that some of their members will be the first to be surprised when the trumpet sounds, and Jesus appears.
A Swiss missionary, who has served in France for a long time, told me once: “I have noticed for some years that in our churches, everything has become uniformed: the content of our services, the instruments and our songs. There is no longer any originality. All churches look the same.”
As I type this, I am listening to French Gospel artist and evangelist Gilbert Ringenbach singing. The album I admit is an old one. Although his style (jazz gipsy) is a genre of music I like, it is the content of his songs that appeals to me. His album, 30 or 40 years ago, could be put in the hands of any non-Christian. Throughout his whole life, Gilbert Ringenbach has succeeded where many Christian artists have not: singing the message of the Gospel.
Around the year 2000, it seems to me that there was a great turning point in the world of Christian music: Many artists abandoned what was their DNA: singing for those who do not know Jesus and turned exclusively to worship. These artists stopped their evangelistic tours. Worship concerts replaced evangelistic meetings. While worship obviously has its place (don’t get me wrong!), we should not ignore from our churches those artists whom God has called to sing the Gospel.
What characterised performing artists like Andréa Crouch, Evie, or groups like Petra or The Gaither Vocal Band was that they not only sang for non-Christian audiences but also had their own style of music. As my Swiss missionary friend said: “We all ended up becoming the same”.
Recently I was with two missionary friends at a restaurant. The conversation turned to the question: “What is the best way to reach the French people with the Gospel?
The next day, I may have found an answer.
My wife and I drove to the village of Bergheim, near Colmar.
The Catholic church filled up quickly in that late afternoon. We were there to attend the concert of the “Alsace Gospel Choir”, an ensemble of several dozen evangelical Christian singers under the direction of Don Grigg.
What an evening! For almost two hours, 350 people heard the Good News.
The priest said that he had never seen so many people in his parish!
Don Grigg has undoubtedly found a key: using Black Gospel to present Jesus: a genre of music that is very much accepted, even in a secular country like France.
During the evening, the anointing of the Holy Spirit was palpable. I was so moved at the beauty of the songs but also at seeing so many French people (most of them elderly) hearing the Good News.
Witnessing publicly to what Jesus has done in our lives is a powerful way to touch hearts.
As with evangelistic songs, testimonies of conversion and of healing can challenge the audience and prepare hearts for the preaching of God’s Word.
Testimonies are so powerful that an evangelistic movement like the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International built each of its public meetings around a testimony. Their magazine ‘Voice’, translated into many languages and distributed worldwide, contained only testimonies.
My mother used to say to me: “If Jehovah’s Witnesses ever come knocking at the door, don’t waste your time arguing about doctrine. Just tell them your testimony.”
It is more difficult to refute a testimony than a point of doctrine because the testimony is our own history and experience.
As a child, I used to hang out with Gipsies. My father began his ministry among the gipsies back in the early 1960s. The “Life and Light” gatherings, often under a big tent, were characterised by evangelistic songs followed by testimonies.
Those in the audience hearing a testimony of a changed life would often say to themselves, “If Jesus did it for them, He could do it for me too.”
Nicky Cruz, a former gang leader, spent his entire life testifying around the world about his encounter with Jesus. His story has touched millions. His testimony has become more powerful than his switchblade.
The Bible says, “They overcame him because of the blood of the lamb and because of the word of their testimony.”
Every service in our churches includes a sermon.
Thank God the sermon is still there! (Although sometimes the praise time is so long that the message is somewhere at the end of the service).
Though preaching is always present, the preaching of the Gospel is becoming increasingly rare.
The last 20 years have shown the great decline in the proclamation of Salvation in and out of the Church.
Winston Churchill once said, “The relaxation of morality in Britain can be attributed to the fact that throughout the country, heaven and hell are no longer proclaimed.”
When the Gospel meetings ceased, the preaching of the Gospel was often not preserved in the Sunday morning worship.
The sermon has remained but the proclamation of salvation for the lost has, in the majority of churches, disappeared.
Some churches no longer preach repentance and faith in Jesus; As a result, many of those who attend worship still do not know that they are lost. They come faithfully to church, they sing like others, they raise their hands, they even give to the offering, without knowing that they are lost.
Not only do these precious souls not know that they are lost, but the Christians around them do not know it either. The pastor has sympathisers in his congregation but not necessarily followers of Christ.
Erlo Stegen in his book Revival Amongst the Zulus, writes: “It is no use asking someone to accept Jesus Christ until they realise, they are a sinner. It is useless to tell someone to go to the doctor if he does not know he has cancer. Prove to him that he has cancer, and you don’t have to tell him to go to the doctor, he will go by himself.”
I see many people singing in church: “I am saved, hallelujah, I am saved…” without knowing that they are not. It’s a bit like a single person singing, “I’m married, I’m married, hallelujah, I’m married…”
The Church is in dire need of reconnecting with the preaching of the Cross.
“Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” Acts 5:42
” Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.” Acts 8:5-6
For the past 3 years I have been preaching the Gospel (or including it in my sermon) in most services of the churches I’ve visited. I have been pleasantly surprised to see that at the time of the call to conversion, men, women and children give themselves to Christ. Sometimes it is the pastor who is the first to be surprised to see folks stand up to receive Jesus as their personal Saviour.
I was preaching recently at a youth meeting. Some of the young people, as the Gospel was being presented, looked at me intently and with amazement. I wondered as I preached if these teenagers who attend church week after week had actually ever heard the need to be born again.
The famous English preacher Spurgeon said: “I build my whole theology on these four words: Jesus died for me.”
The Church is also in dire need of a new generation of evangelists. Scripture teaches us that there are 5 ministries. Today I observe that in many churches there is a pastor and a worship leader.
Many of the evangelists have for some reason taken on the mantle of pastor. They remind me of the young David who was given his armour by King Saul to fight Goliath.
David wore an outfit that didn’t suit him. But with a slingshot and some stones he went into battle and won.
I have just finished reading the biography of Evangelist Archange Schténégry. A Belgium born Gipsy preacher who spent only two weeks in school. He became, with his slingshot and a few stones, a powerful tool in the hands of God. Archange understood that he was not called to the pastoral ministry but to the high calling of an evangelist. I only heard him preach once, in 1995 in his church Rencontre et Espérance in Paris. I have never forgotten that wonderful meeting. Archange worked alongside Brother Barma who had the ministry of a pastor and teacher.
One of the worst things that can happen to servants of God is to realise at the end of their lives that they had taken on a ministry that was not their true calling.
I was recently preaching in the Paris region to a group of pastors serving in various parts of France. I told them: “Where are the French evangelists? Where are the French Luis Palau and Reinhard Bonnke? ”
Luis Palau, who was one of the greatest evangelists of the 20th century, often reminded the Church that we must witness individually, one by one, but we must also proclaim Christ to the crowds. We need both. Both forms of evangelism are found in the ministry of the Apostle Paul as well as evangelists such as Catherine Booth or Billy Graham.
Catherine Booth, the founder along with her husband of the Salvation Army, sounded the alarm in the 19 th century when she wrote:
“An excellent man said to me a little while ago, ‘I have not seen a single conversion in my church in the last two years.’ Many are forced to say the same thing. Why this, for there is a why. The unconverted are there though; a work should be done in them. They receive enough light to lead them to hell, but not enough to bring them to Salvation. So what is it? Surely something is wrong. Will you please realise this? It is your imperative duty. Things should not be like this. God has not changed; He is just as interested in the Salvation of men today as He was in the past.”
Jesus sometimes spoke with one person, as seen at the well with the Samaritan woman, or in front of an audience in a synagogue or in the open air.
We need to create or recreate places where the Gospel is proclaimed.
I am also aware that evangelistic meetings are not the only form of evangelism: The Alpha Course for example has enabled millions around the world to discover the Bible. Gospel meetings are one of the many tools. I am writing today to encourage us not to neglect a tool that has in recent years gone unused.
I am convinced that the preaching of the Cross is our only hope. In the unstable world we are living in, calling sinners to Christ is our true calling. Our generation desperately needs to know God’s incredible love for us and His free gift of forgiveness.
Gavin Calver, head of the Evangelical Alliance for the UK said: ” Where the Gospel is preached and the Bible is lived by, churches are growing.”
An Italian preacher was sharing the Gospel in the Calabria region.
In a small village, a poor woman whose husband was an abusive alcoholic went to hear the Gospel. She was so touched by the message of God’s love that she told her husband. He replied, “If you go back there, I’ll kill you! ” Although she knew her husband would carry out his terrible threat, she went early to the gospel meeting.
She told the evangelist about her situation. He encouraged her and assured her that God was stronger than her husband.
The man, noticing his wife’s absence, suspected where she might be. Furious, he went and stood at the door of the hall with an axe in his hand. Because of the heat, the door was open, and the loud voice of the preacher could be heard. The Word began to break the hard heart of that husband. He dropped his axe…
Towards the end of the meeting, the evangelist, who did not know that the man was hiding behind the door, prayed for him, asking God to deliver him from the grip of alcohol and make him happy.
The audience dispersed. When the husband saw his wife pass by, he gently took her by the arm and went home. They both knelt down and gave themselves to Christ. They later became faithful witnesses of God’s unconditional grace.
“The preaching of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1 v 18)
- AN IDEA
Have you considered creating an evangelistic meeting using the following 3 components:
Music and other art forms:
In 2012, I launched in Cambodia “You’ve Got Talent!”
“You’ve Got Talent!” held once a month at an International Church in Phnom Penh was both an art show and an evening of evangelism.
During these events, many Cambodians, who would never have entered a church, had the opportunity to discover the Good News.
While music is one way to reach the unconverted, it is not the only art form. Dance, theatre, puppets, comedians, storytellers, painters, can also contribute to a powerful presentation of the Gospel.
During a meeting, one or two guests can share their testimony. Either in the traditional way (alone in front of the audience) or in the form of a talk show: sitting in an armchair, an interviewer and the interviewee.
Guests of all ages and from all walks of life can talk about how God has changed their lives.
A speaker communicates the message of Salvation, inviting the audience to turn to Jesus.
These meetings can take place anywhere: in a church, a village hall, a coffee house, a school, a theatre, outside …
They are not intended to highlight any particular church. Their only aim is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel.
Sausheim, France – April 27th, 2022