Taking responsibility for new converts
I am fairly involved with evangelism, amongst others assisting with the training of people in Evangelism Explosion. Obviously, in Swaziland, evangelism is also important. Through the years I have however changed somewhat in my approach towards evangelism. In Swaziland, and I believe the same could probably be said about many other countries, the pattern followed for an evangelism outreach is the Billy Graham type of campaign. Now, don’t get me wrong – Billy Graham was used and still is being used in a mighty way by the Lord. But for many preachers / evangelists, this method is a quick way of making a name for themselves. I’ve seen this over and over again, that a campaign is organised by a well-known evangelist, that people from the area will attend the campaign, that a number of people will make the decision of following Christ, and then, after the campaign, nothing happens. I have often compared this with people who go around making babies, but without wanting to take the responsibility of raising the children. In normal life such a person would be despised, yet in our faith life we seem to tolerate this type of conduct. The well-known German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, once wrote in a book that this is one of the greatest reasons why people harden their hearts against the Lord: because they have only been slightly touched by the gospel, without really allowing the Lord to envelop their lives completely, they seem to become immune towards the gospel.
I recently saw the same things happening in the town where I live when Book of Hope came to the town and the surrounding area to hand out copies of their books. I think the books are wonderfully written. I think their eagerness to spread the gospel is something to envy. But my problem comes in with many of the local churches who organised the outreach but did not want to take responsibility for the children who had made a commitment for the Lord. Tens of thousands of books were handed out at schools and at present I know of a handful of individuals (less than five) who are committed to do follow-up with these children. And this makes me angry!
I have a new approach to people wanting to start with an evangelism program. I discourage them to do this! No, not really, but let me explain. If a church should ask me for advice on how to start with an evangelism program, I challenge them to develop a follow-up program first. In other words, I need to know from them what they are going to do, should a person come to the point of accepting the Lord as Saviour. (Getting the baby-room ready, as someone once said to me). Only after a plan has been developed, would I consider assisting them to start with the evangelism program. Evangelism is fun! A church with a well-developed evangelism program always have wonderful stories to tell. But this is like giving birth to a child. For the first few days, all the friends and family come to visit, wanting to hold the baby, patting out the winds, laughing when the baby “burps” and even offering to change the diapers. But at some point this changes. Then people have to return to their normal schedule and the mother is usually left with the task of lovingly caring for the child. But what would happen if the mother also says that she enjoyed having the baby and caring for it for the first few weeks, but now she no longer wants to have that responsibility?
Unfortunately, I too often see this happening in the church in a spiritual way. People, enthusiastic about evangelism, need to take a stand that proper follow-up programs (discipleship, maturity, new-believers or whatever one wants to name it) be put in place, before embarking on the road of evangelism. Otherwise we are irresponsibly bringing spiritual children into the world of which a great number will not only back-slide but will become so negative that they will advise others, even their own children, not to have anything to do with Christianity.