Monday, May 2, 2011

The Secret to Building a Soul-Winning Church

by Rev. Charles T. Crabtree

Springfield, Missouri, is a beautiful city nestled in the Ozark Mountains. It is the home of several powerful businesses and religious enterprises. Springfield is the headquarters city for the Assemblies of God and Bass Pro Shops, the undisputed champion of sporting goods stores. Added to the allure of this mecca of sporting goods are several wonderful lakes in the Springfield/Branson area.

Among my friends in Springfield is a rather wealthy businessman who claims to have visited Bass Pro Shops only once or twice because friends wanted to see it. He is not the least bit interested in fishing, so the new equipment he could buy stays on the store’s shelves. The sleek new bass boat he could purchase stays on the showroom floor. And the fish he could catch in nearby lakes continue to swim unmolested.
Another friend who also lives in Springfield is not nearly as well off as my other friend, but no fish is safe anywhere in the region. He is a dedicated fisherman who does not let the lack of new equipment stop him from catching fish. He goes to Bass Pro Shops on a regular basis to buy what he really needs and to drool over what he cannot afford.

Both of my friends live in proximity to a major supplier of fishing equipment and wonderful lakes full of fish. Both could be effective fishermen, but only one chooses to catch fish. Therein lies the secret to a soul-winning church.

It was not by coincidence Jesus began to build His Church initially by choosing a number of disciples out of the fishing industry. His call to these men included a promise which interested them: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). He was saying to them, "Your motivation and skills in fishing are the dynamics I am looking for in a new kind of fishing industry."

Every believer should follow the Master and become a soul winner. Since the Church consists of believers who are called to be witnesses, it is logical to expect every church to be a soul-winning church. Sadly, this is not the case. Far too many believers, including clergy and laity, are apathetic to the opportunity for soul winning. If Jesus promised to make His followers fishers of men, it raises a question whether those who choose not to win souls are closely following the Master.

The soul-winning church begins with the want to before it can move to the how to. My friend who does not fish could be scolded over and over for not fishing, or he could be instructed against his will in how to fish and what equipment he needs for fishing; but it would do no good. The want to has to be born in his heart. Fishing has to become a desire. It must become a significant factor in his life. 

How can I possibly make my disinterested friend become a fisherman? How can I motivate believers to become soul winners? How can leaders create a soul-winning church when there is no passion to reach the lost?

It all begins with the birth or renewal of desire. Somehow, soul winning must be seen as a joy, not a drudgery; a passion, not a duty; a thrill, not a downer.

We would do well to remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength. This principle is at the heart of soul-winning motivation.

When Jesus said, "I will make you fishers of men," He was offering His followers a better way of life. Before Jesus came, they had been satisfied to catch a certain kind of fish. Their lives revolved around the fishing business so they could exist. Jesus came to them with a new basis for living so others could live.

No pastor or spiritual leader will ever motivate believers to become soul winners by making them feel guilty, pressured, or coerced. The only way believers will become soul winners is if they can experience the joy and fulfillment of leading someone to Christ.

Believers will only be motivated to become soul winners by soul winners. My disinterested friend will never get into fishing by himself. He is only going to get interested when somebody he cares for begins to testify about the thrill and satisfaction of catching fish. He will never head for the lake with fishing tackle if simply told he should by someone who does not fish. He will not get the urge to buy a boat if he hears horror stories about fishing—no nibbles for 8 hours, the one that got away, the boat that went aground, everyone got motion sickness.

The main reasons we do not have enough soul winners are:
1. We do not have enough soul-winning pastors and leaders. If soul winning is not a passion and joy in the life of leadership, it will certainly have no place in the lives of those who follow. People are not interested in theoretical truth.

2. We drive people by guilt rather than leading them by an excited and effective role model. Lots of people are turned off by preachers and teachers who shout mandates but leave out the promises.

3. Soul winners talk too much of their failures and have no record of effectiveness. You can just imagine how motivated new believers will become when they hear about doors being slammed, testimonies being refused, and statistics showing how few who pray the sinner’s prayer really become true believers. It reminds me of the proverbial ineffective broom salesman who knocked on the door with the question: "You don’t want to buy a broom, do you?"

The soul-winning church begins with an excited, influential soul winner. No person in the church is more influential than the pastor. Pastors can have soul-winning churches if they are soul winners themselves—in the pulpit and outside the pulpit.
Believers are weary of being told what to do. They want to be shown what to do. They must be shown how to be effective witnesses and soul winners in the marketplace. A revival of soul winning in the church will take place when spiritual leaders become fishers of men outside the pulpit and then share the joy and fulfillment of these new experiences from the pulpit.
The most effective motivation in creating soul winners is not preaching about soul winning but telling about it. I saw this over and over in my own ministry. When I was pastoring, I would often preach about soul winning, but I was most effective when I could tell the congregation about a soul I had led to the Lord that week. What a joy I felt when people I was baptizing turned to me and thanked me for leading them to Christ at their workplace or in their home. In those moments, my congregation was able to relate to me as a witness of Christ as well as a pastor. As an undershepherd, I was able to say to them with authority, "Follow me as I follow the Lord, and I will help you become fishers of men."

1. The soul-winning church has soul-winning leaders. They create a hunger in others to become effective witnesses.

2. The soul-winning church makes room for those who win souls to share their joy and testimony with the congregation. Pastors would do well to have a witness box or a soul-winning window—time set aside in the service—to give opportunity for others to share the joy of fishing for men.

3. A soul-winning pastor will give opportunity for souls to come to Christ service after service. Altar calls are a priority in a Pentecostal church. If no one comes, it is still a victory because the opening of the altars reminds people why the church exists. Of course, when someone responds, the joy on earth becomes the joy of heaven.

4. The soul-winning church has effective altar workers. The training of altar workers creates soul winners. If people learn how to lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ at an altar, they will be able to do the same in a car, in a cafeteria, and in the corner of an office.

Some time ago, I was preaching in a soul-winning church that had a wonderful choir. I learned that a person wanting to join the choir had to attend one musical tryout and three training sessions for altar ministry before they could take their place in the choir. When I gave the altar call, choir members streamed out of the choir loft to meet those coming to Christ. It is no wonder this particular church is flourishing.

Recently, one of my grandsons came to visit. He was barely in the door when he began to beg me to take him fishing. We had gone on his previous visit, and he had caught the fishing "bug" rather severely. At the time I could not go, but did that stop him? Oh, no! He and grandma took off with a couple of poles and a few worms to go fishing. They did not catch much, but they caught more than I did. He did it! A 6-year-old with a pole, a hook, and a worm.

You may have started reading this article with a desire to find some new ideas and techniques to build a soul-winning church. Hopefully, the Spirit of God has gripped you with the secret of building a soul-winning church—a love for souls with the accompanying invitation to go fishing with the Master.

To me, the Parable of the Two Headquarters in Springfield is profound. The Assemblies of God and Bass Pro Shops are both in the fishing business. Both of these dynamic institutions are centers for equipping fishermen; however, neither of them can create a fisherman. They are only of interest and value to those who want to catch fish.

If you ever get an insatiable desire to catch bass, I recommend you visit Bass Pro Shops. They will really be able to help you. They will offer you the latest in techniques and equipment. They are very effective in helping the person who really wants to catch bass.

If you ever get an insatiable desire to win souls, I recommend you call the headquarters of the Assemblies of God. They will really be able to help you. They will offer you the latest in materials and guidance. Every department from children through senior citizens is effective in helping the person who really wants to catch souls.

If you have no interest in fishing for bass or men, neither organization can help you. However, if you really want to fish, you will find a way even if the preacher cannot go with you. Just a fishing pole, a hook, a worm, and a grandma will do.

Charles T. Crabtree is the Assemblies of God assistant general superintendent.
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