by Brian Russell-Jones
Belgium is still a mission field. If missionary work as traditionally understood is needed anywhere in the world, it is needed in Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and Greece. A Congo missionary told me that the Belgian churches— the free evangelical ones— are way behind the Congo churches.
Belgium is still a mission field. If missionary work as traditionally understood is needed anywhere in the world, it is needed in Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and Greece. A Congo missionary told me that the Belgian churches— the free evangelical ones— are way behind the Congo churches. Yet, we continue to send missionaries to African countries because the churches in those countries, though far stronger than our European churches, ask for them.
The question is, How do you evangelize a country like Belgium? I believe we must start with the New Testament pattern. In the New Testament, pioneer evangelism was rarely, if ever, done by single workers, or by married couples, alone, but by teams.
Evangelism should not be restricted to the occasional campaigns, which have been the chief means of outreach up until now. That is not sufficient. We need a program of continuous evangelism in which, for example, a team goes into a new area. The team battles through by prayer and labor until a nucleus of believers is formed. They are then built up by simple Bible teaching and by seeing the walk of faith demonstrated in the lives of team members.
In Brittany, France, thought to be one of the hardest areas in a hard country, there’s an example of how this team approach works. Over three years church membership doubled, attendance tripled, and many homes were open to receive visits. During this period four people worked full-time and others came part-time, in addition to the pastor and his wife.
Such an intensive program of evangelism requires people who can give themselves full-time to this most exacting and demanding of tasks, physically as well as spiritually. Our Lord trained and sent out full-time workers; so did Paul. Where do we get such people?
Nationality is of secondary importance. What matters are the "gifts and calling of God." It is essential that those who engage in church planting should have a specific gift of the Holy Spirit for this. They should exercise it in the place to which God calls them. Paul, a most fanatical Jew, was the apostle to the Gentiles by God’s call. A member of the Body of Christ in one country may well have a ministry to supply deficiencies in the Body of Christ in another country.
Two American pastors now serving in France, illustrate the kind of people needed by missions for church planting in Europe. One of them first had long years of experience in the U.S. He has built up a church of thirty to forty in about three years, starting from scratch. He also helped to start another church. It is under the guidance of another American pastor who after fifteen years in church work in the U.S. came to lead this second group.
In both cases their gifts and calling had been well demonstrated in their own country first. The greater difficulty they had in learning a foreign language in middle age was more than compensated for by their mature approach and their refusal to allow difficulties to throw them off balance. It is evidently a greater sacrifice for men of this caliber to forsake prosperous home churches and bring teen-age families to Europe, but it is a sacrifice that God honors and that is appreciated by national believers.
Free, evangelical Belgian churches need help from outside to fulfill their task of evangelism. However, those who come to help from outside Belgium must work under the direction of existing church groups.
The plan of the French Baptist Federation could well serve as a basis for fruitful mission-church relations in Europe in the future. The churches through their annual congress elect a council. This council in turn appoints committees that are responsible for different aspects of the work. Among these committees there is a home mission board. The home mission board welcomes the help of a number of different British and American missionary societies. These foreign societies have a large measure of liberty to develop their evangelistic thrusts as they feel God would have them do, but they are finally responsible to the national home mission board.
At the same time, effective evangelism in Europe is directly related to the condition of existing evangelical churches. In European churches (in Catholic countries) there is a tremendous lack of qualified lay leadership. One pastor of a free church said, "We have elders because the constitution demands them." He implied that none of his elders really had the capacities to be elders in the New Testament sense of the term.
The weakness of existing evangelical churches can perhaps be traced to a lack of systematic Bible teaching and Christian education. In the French and Belgian situations there are very few men exercising the kind of Bible teaching and expository ministry that is so sorely needed in the churches. Perhaps the fact that so many pastors have to do other work to earn their living is responsible for this. The few who have the luxury of being able to devote all their time to the Lord’s work are run off their feet. Neither one has the time to give to the study indispensible for such a ministry.
To help these men, especially the younger ones, refresher courses are needed. There is equally a need for training sessions for elders, and training courses for young people’s workers, Sunday school teachers, and new converts.
This is perhaps a greater need than that of "evangelism" in its narrower sense. Healthy churches, like healthy children, grow without worrying too much about it. But health is partly, at any rate, a question of a good diet.
Evangelizing Europe from the outside demands teams of experienced, fully committed people – willing to work with small, understaffed, insufficiently taught groups of believers – teaching them God’s Word and setting an example in patient personal work.
Copyright © 1972 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.