By Wayne Partain
“The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37). This is very true today. Why? What are we doing to correct the situation? What do we plan to do about it?
Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus told His apostles to preach the gospel to all the world. The book of Acts tells us that they did. In his letters Paul could say that the gospel had been preached to the whole world in that generation. “But I say, Did they not hear? Yea, verily, their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:18); “the gospel which ye heard, which was preached in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23).
But how are we doing today? Is the gospel being preached in all the world in our generation? If not, how concerned are we?
I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject of world evangelism, but I do speak with the voice of experience. I first went to Mexico June 20, 1945 – forty-one years ago – and have continued to be involved in the Spanish work until the present, having been permitted by God’s kind providence to preach in twelve Spanish-speaking countries, and hope to continue to preach in these and still others. Now, perhaps more than ever, these fields are white unto the harvest. The Lord is opening doors for us faster than we can enter them. There is an urgent need for more workers in this field Oust as there is in all other foreign fields, and even in many parts of our own country).
We need to stimulate more thought on world evangelism. We need to do more preaching and writing on the subject and be more involved in it. More preachers – especially young preachers – should become increasingly determined to take the gospel to other countries. The Spanish work has never been more encouraging and rewarding than now, and I imagine the same can be said about other fields. I certainly hope this article will spark the interest of some preachers, young or old, who would like to consider such work.
First Century Preachers “Went”
We must speak as the Bible speaks. We must learn about the work of an evangelist from the New Testament evangelists, and then preach and practice this evangelism – according to the pattern. Jesus didn’t travel very far because His ministry was to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the apostles did. Paul “went” and all the New Testament evangelists “went.” They went all over the world.
“From Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ; yea, making it my aim so to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named” (Rom. 15:19,20). “As I exhorted thee to tarry at Ephesus. . ” (I Tim. 1:3). “For this cause left I thee at Crete. (Tit. 1:5). “Now if Timothy come (to Corinth) . . .” (1 Cor. 16: 10). “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia. . . ” (Acts 18:5). The book of Acts traces the work of these New Testament evangelists throughout the Roman Empire.
Are we “going” as they did? If not, are we really “speaking where the Scriptures speak”? Is the Book of Acts really a model for us? Do we respect the authority of the Scriptures, and hold the pattern of sound words if we don’t? Are we keeping the church pure if we fail to teach, preach and practice New Testament (worldwide) evangelism? Is it a part of the faith or merely incidental to it? Are we justified before God so long as we faithfully defend the rest of the faith, even though we are weak and neglectful in contending for and practicing New Testament evangelism? Is this doctrine (commandment) less important than other doctrines for which we contend so strongly? Is not “going into all the world” a very basic part of the faith? Just how sound and scriptural are we if we downplay or ignore its importance?
Why Do So Few Go Into Foreign Fields?
Are few preachers going into foreign fields because it’s so hard to leave family, friends, native language and culture, and familiar surroundings? What do we have in mind when we preach Sunday after Sunday about sacrificing for the cause of Christ? When we tell people to be strong and take up their cross and follow Jesus, do we ever think about applying this to ourselves regarding our duty to go into all the world?
It’s a fact that just about anywhere we go when we leave the U.S.A. is “down.” Many countries are more backward. They don’t have many of the conveniences that we take for granted in this country. Those who go into various foreign countries find inferior merchandise, inferior medical attention, inferior education, even less law and order, and less sanitation (not to say downright filth in some places).
This great country of ours has advanced far ahead of most of the rest of the world. In many ways it is by far the greatest nation on earth. Nor should Americans feel guilty about being prosperous; God has richly blessed this nation. Some of the basic principles on which this country was built and continues to function come right out of the Word of God. These have produced material abundance, along with numerous other blessings.
But if we are so attached to our country, and especially to our high living standard, that we refuse to take the gospel to other nations, we will have to answer to God for it. We must never let God’s blessings keep us from serving Him effectively. We often preach 1 Timothy 6:6-10 to the brethren, but we must be sure to apply it to ourselves also. Preachers can fall into the snare Paul discusses in this text.
When we compare America with many other nations, it’s a veritable “fantasy land.” Leaving “all this” to go to some other countries is like leaving paradise. But we need to take a careful look at those sermons we preach about the danger of sacrificing future well-being for present comfort and satisfaction.
We love to sing “Anywhere He leads me I will gladly go.” Do we mean “so long as it is somewhere in the U.S.A. -preferably in the South, and not too far from our family”? This country makes up about six per cent of the world’s population. But I would imagine that at least around 95 percent or more of all American gospel preachers are preaching in this country. Furthermore, many people across the northern States in this country aren’t hearing too much gospel preaching.
When we sing “Lord, send me,” do we mean “Send me to some well-established church that can pay a good salary and preferably one that is close to my wife’s relatives, or close to our children and grandchildren, or close to a university?” Does the place have to have a good golf course or be near good fishing and hunting? Is the Lord obligated to “send” us to a place that has good shopping malls? And with a moderate climate?
Incidentally, preachers and their wives must be concerned about the education of their children, and beyond doubt this has kept many from seriously considering foreign fields. But in view of the extreme danger caused by the acceptance of secular humanism in our schools, this country is not exactly the ideal place for educating our children. So preachers and their families would do well to reexamine this factor.
“Located Preachers,” “Local Work”
Perhaps one of the most serious mistakes we preachers make is in thinking that one option we have is simply to be “local preachers” in the spot of our choice in the U.S.A. Where do we learn this? Which passages of Scripture lead us to believe that we can be just “local preachers” in our native land, devoting all or nearly all our time to preaching and teaching in a given community (even though the gospel has been preached there for many years, even generations), without being seriously involved in getting the gospel into other areas of the world where Christ has not been preached?
All the preachers we read about in the New Testament were “located preachers,” but we need to take a careful look at where they were located! The “church . . . in Jerusalem . . . sent forth Paul and Barnabas as far As Antioch. . . even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people” (Acts 11:22,26). They were “located” for a year in Antioch of Syria. Paul “dwelt (in Corinth) a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11). “By the space of three years (while with you in Ephesus) I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).
We’ve already mentioned Titus in Crete, Timothy in Ephesus, and how many times have we traced the journeys of Paul and other evangelists in the book of Acts? Remember, New Testament evangelists went all over the Roman Empire preaching the gospel. They were “located preachers” – but did they spend their entire lives preaching in their native countries? They were “located” all over the Roman Empire!
There are a number of faithful gospel preachers from this country who are “located” now in Japan, Germany, South Africa, England, Norway, etc. They’re doing “local” work, and extending their gospel ministry as far as they can in the countries where they are “located.”
If we speak as the Bible speaks, we will make no distinction between “local preachers” and other preachers. The Bible makes no such distinction. Nor will we find the word “missionary” in the Bible. This term, as used by sectarians and liberal brethren, is foreign to Bible terminology. We need to get our thinking straight on this point: The Bible does not talk about “missionaries” and the other preachers who remain in their native land doing “local work. ” So why do we? A preacher is an evangelist – a minister of the gospel – and should preach the Word as extensively as possible!
Time and time again we hear or read the comment (criticism) that “located preachers” are doing the work of elders. It is true that the work of elders and the work of preachers overlap. But is it not an undeniable fact that a great deal of what is done by preachers in “local work” could be (and should be) done by elders and other men in the congregation – even in the pulpit and class rooms -thus enabling preachers to concentrate more time and energy in getting the gospel to those who haven’t heard, and in building up smaller congregations (setting in order the things that are lacking)?
What preachers do in “local work” is extremely important. But wouldn’t we be far more scriptural in doing the work of evangelists and in fulfilling our ministry if we insisted that the elders and other brethren shoulder more of the load locally and send us out more often into areas where Christ has not been preached or where the cause is weak? Many elders and preachers understand this – and practice it! Many elders realize that not only they themselves but also other men in the congregation should be more active in doing more preaching, teaching and personal work, and not only “let” the preacher go into destitute fields, but gladly provide the financial assistance (fellowship) he needs in order to go.
Every gospel preacher is privileged, obligated and should be determined to take the gospel as far as he possibly can, just as Paul did (Rom. 15:19). He should be deeply interested in places where the gospel has never gone, and in places where the cause is barely getting started and needs much attention. Every gospel preacher should be ready and willing to go into such places. And every congregation should be willing to send preachers, to the fullest extent of its ability.
If a man doesn’t want to go, if he isn’t interested in preaching in a foreign field, or in more neglected areas in our country, he has the wrong attitude about preaching. No church should want him for a “local preacher” if this is the attitude. On the other hand, if a congregation that pays his salary doesn’t want to send him (or doesn’t even want to “release him from his duties to the local church” so someone else can send him), then it is wrong, and is in need of teaching and admonition. A preacher who finds himself with such a church has an obligation to preach on the scriptural work of elders and preachers, speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent. Such a situation should be corrected, just as any other error should be corrected.
“You Don’t Have To Get Seasick”
Did you hear anyone say, “Well you don’t have to get seasick to preach the gospel”? Or, “we have lots of unconverted folks (‘heathen’) right here at home”? Just what are such expressions supposed to mean? Exactly which preachers are obligated to take the gospel into destitute fields, and which ones are at liberty to stay with well-established congregations all their lives and never go? How is this to be decided? Is any gospel preacher really obligated to go overseas? Or to Canada or Mexico? Or into the Northern States of this country where very few or no congregations exist?
Would it be all right if every preacher in this country stayed his entire preaching life with well-established congregations and never participated in foreign evangelism? If so, how is world evangelism to be carried out? In other words, does any preacher really have to “go”? Do we fully meet our obligations by just doing “local work” and holding meetings with other congregations that have been hearing “the best preachers in the brotherhood for nigh on to forty years”?
“If thou put the brethren in mind of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 4:6). There is no argument here. Gospel preachers must teach the brethren; we preach the whole counsel of God to His people, as well as to the world. There is a constant battle over worldliness, doctrinal softness, institutionalism, all forms of Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism, humanism, divorce and remarriage heresies, etc. The work being done by a large number of “local preachers” in this country is extremely important and effective! Absolutely nothing is being said here to detract from this.
Let one thing be very clear: this article has nothing to do with the right of a church to have a located preacher, nor the right of a preacher to locate with a church. This question has always seemed to me to be without much substance, since everybody has to be located somewhere! Whether it’s for a day, a week, a month, a year or many years is beside the point. What in the world is a “dislocated” preacher anyway? New Testament evangelists were located preachers. We know this is so because the Bible tells us where they were located. American preachers working overseas are located preachers. Many of them have lived in the same place for years. They have homes. Some of them have educated their children in these countries.
So that’s not the question. What we’re getting at is the need for us to be sure we are not just working with congregations (in local work and in meetings) that are well-established and doing what the elders and others could be and should be doing, and failing to launch out into neglected fields.
We must strongly emphasize what Paul told Titus (1:9-11) about the work of elders: “holding to the faithful word . . . that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers. For there are many unruly men . . . whose mouths must be stopped.” To the extent that elders do this (and meet their responsibilities in general) and free the preachers to work more in unevangelized areas, to that extent the churches will grow stronger, spiritually, and then numerically, and far greater progress will be made in evangelizing the world.
A sound congregation with a strong eldership will not “fail apart” when it sends the preacher into some destitute field for a few weeks or months (or even years).
“But Some Do Go Into Foreign Fields”
Very true! but the fact that some do go means simply that these men are fulfilling their responsibility. They are not going for other preachers. So this has nothing to do with the individual responsibility of all other preachers. In the first place, there are very few in foreign fields; proportionately, there are very few across the northern States. Nor are there large numbers of preachers who go into foreign or other destitute fields even for shorter periods of time.
But if there were ever so many, this wouldn’t lessen the responsibility of others. Every preacher is an evangelist. The Bible makes no distinction between the two terms. An evangelist certainly teaches the brethren, but he also does all he can to get the gospel to the lost, here at home and in other countries. He is to “go” – as far and as often as he possibly can, according to circumstances and opportunities.
“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according as a man hath” (2 Cor. 8:12) – this will apply to our work, as well as to our giving. God doesn’t require a blind man to do work that requires sight. Some preachers are more limited than others with regard to how much “going” they can do. Poor health limits some. Many preachers work at secular work to support their families, and are not as free to travel as those who are supported by the church. But all of us, as we’re able, must allow the Lord of harvest to send us into His harvest throughout the world. We must take the gospel to the lost and work to build up smaller congregations.
No one should ever try to tell us exactly where we should go, or when, or how far, or how often, or how long to stay. But “go” we must!
We will all give account of our stewardship one of these days. And we should be sure that we shall have ordered this ministry according to the will of God – in keeping with the blessings and opportunities he has given to us. In this as in everything else we should say, “Thy will and not mine be done.”
Guardian of Truth XXX: 16, pp. 490-491, 500-501
August 21, 1986