The Challenge Of A Metropolitan Church
The geographical location of a metropolitan church undoubtedly means that it faces peculiar difficulties which are not so prominent in the life of a fellowship whose members live within the immediate radius of the church building. Nevertheless, there are basic principles of church testimony which apply regardless of any geographical location. For a metropolitan community to become no more than a preaching station in which a large number of people assemble to listen to a preacher and to be spectators of a program, rather than to be personally committed to the task of evangelism, is to spell the doom of such a fellowship and to write “Ichabod” over the door.
The task of any preacher is not primarily that of attracting a large congregation around him; it is rather to train those patient enough to attend his ministry in the supreme task and responsibility of every Christian for witnessing. No one is entitled to accept the invitation of our Lord Jesus Christ to come unto Him for forgiveness and cleansing without also facing the responsibility which He places upon all who have so come to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. The come and the go are inseparable. Salvation without sovereignty is a misnomer. This, of course, is a very elementary principle of theology and of Christian life, but in many cases it seems to have been forgotten and needs to be stressed with Holy Spirit authority and urgency, especially in the life of a metropolitan community.
I would like, therefore, to take some time in this article to underline some of the principles which, under God, we are seeking to bring to pass in the ministry of The Moody Church in Chicago. Our membership is scattered over a very wide area of this city and its suburbs and therefore obligated to travel some considerable distance in order to attend this place of worship.
The immediate neighborhood surrounding the church is nothing less than an international mission field. Eastward as far as Lake Michigan, a distance of about half a mile, but covering an area of some three miles there is a varied segment of population. Many of them are wealthy people living by the lakeshore; others live in apartment buildings and are mostly business people. North, south, and westward the situation is entirely different. Here there are Puerto Ricans and other nationalities who are coming to this area in thousands, many of them with very little knowledge of the English language. Hundreds of others have come up from the Southern states to seek better employment and a higher standard of life. They live, for the most part, in poor tenement buildings and in squalid surroundings. In addition, the Moody Bible Institute is within a mile of us with over a thousand resident students, a number of whom make this their home church, and who present in themselves a unique opportunity of ministry. It might truly be said that within two miles of this church there are indeed all sorts and conditions of men.
The task, therefore, is twofold: first to ensure that all who live in the immediate area of the church receive the message of the Gospel. Many of these are Roman Catholics and as I have indicated foreign-speaking people.
The second is to create within the life of a scattered membership such a flaming passion for the souls of those who are without Christ, that the whole membership of the church will be mobilized into a witnessing fellowship, not merely in the immediate area of the church, but in the vicinity in which our members live.
In order to accomplish this task, there are five main thrusts which we have sought to put into effect. The first three are outward, the fourth is inward, and the fifth, the most important of all, is upward. This is an over-all three dimensional plan of attack. Let me say just a brief word about each of them.
- The Outward Thrust
The outward thrust is in three parts. I would mention first that Home Evangelism has taken a place of real prominence. The motive of this is to shift the emphasis of evangelistic preaching from Sunday services in church to a sense of personal responsibility in the home. The membership of the church is divided into 25 groups, each group being under the supervision of a deacon or an elder of the church. The group is asked to meet monthly for prayer and fellowship. Guidance is given to the leader by the pastoral staff as to the general conduct of such a meeting which is partly in the form of conversational Bible study followed by a season of prayer. The object of such a meeting is to unite a scattered membership into little cells of Christian fellowship in which a sense of unity may be recognized and the concern for others may be developed as they seek the Lord in His Word and in prayer.
Each of these groups is allotted a monthly visitation evening when responsibility is to visit church members of the group who may be out of fellowship, disinterested or ill. In addition, all those whose names are known to us as having yielded their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ in the services of the church on the Lord’s Day, or at another time, are forwarded to the group leaders in the area in which each lives so that all such may receive a personal visit from a member of this group as soon as possible. This is a most vital aspect of follow-up ministry. Each group is also charged with the responsibility of visiting people who are not in fellowship with any other church and who are known to be interested in spiritual things. The main object is to lead such folks to the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not always expect to lead them into the fellowship of The Moody Church, because there are other evangelical churches in these areas which they could attend. We do seek, however, to recognize that our primary responsibility is to present Christ to the people. In these ways each group becomes a fellowship for evangelism, operating separately and yet as part of the over-all fellowship of the church as a whole. The home, rather than the church building, becomes a center of evangelistic strategy. The family becomes the key to reaching others, for as far as possible each family within each group is given responsibility for another family in the area, to visit and pray until that family is really reached for Christ.
Suggestions are also given to leaders for the conduct of an informal evangelistic evening in one of the homes in each group to which neighbors may be invited and where testimonies are given by group members to the reality of the saving power of Christ in their lives. The approach is essentially informal, and yet by these means many are brought under the sound of the Gospel for the first time.
The second part of this outward thrust consists of what I would call Visitation Evangelism, which is the house to house canvassing of the neighborhood within an area of about two miles of the church building itself. This task cannot be undertaken in addition to the one referred to above primarily by a widely scattered membership. It is therefore given in the main as a responsibility to Sunday school teachers, assisted by students from Moody Bible Institute assigned to us for this particular task. We also employ two fulltime workers from the Missionary Internship program for six months in each year. This program operates through our Board of Christian Education and ensures a thorough system of canvass and follow-up. It is very largely as a result of this that our Sunday school attendance, up to and through high school age, is the highest it has been for 17 years. The secret is not simply one visit to a home, but constant visits and the immediate contact of Sunday school children who are absent.
In order to cope with the Spanish-speaking people, we have in our Sunday school a class conducted in Spanish which is led by missionaries who are on furlough from Spanish-speaking countries.
One of the great challenges of all this program is that annually we have at least 50% turnover in the enrollment of our Sunday school up through high school age because of people coming into the area for a while and then moving on. Because of this turnover we cannot build up the membership of The Moody Church through our Sunday school, but then that is not our primary task. It seems to me that we are not called upon to build up anything, but rather to build the church out constantly, and we seek by every means possible to ensure that while people live in this area they hear the message of the Gospel through our Visitation Evangelism.
The third part of outward thrust might be termed Personal Evangelism, and this involves the Christian Service Training School which is an intensive six week course held on Saturdays in the early part of the autumn of each year, during which young and old alike are trained in leading people to Christ. They are taught something of the art of diagnosis, and of the discerning approach to a soul in need as followed so clearly by the Master Himself. Sessions are also held dealing with social relationships among Christians, youth problems, leadership of youth programs, etc. By this means a trained group of people is prepared for the task of Personal Evangelism and also for inquiry room work following Sunday services.
Far too often the plan of salvation has been reduced to a mere formula. People have been expected simply to believe a few proof texts and then are told that they are Christians. This treatment is surely altogether too superficial. It is pointless to put poultice on a cancer. The need is for a drastic, surgical operation. What is true in the physical is far more true in the spiritual realm. Leading a soul to Christ demands trained personnel who know the Lord and the Book and who know people and their needs.
These three aspects of evangelism combine together to make the outward thrust of the church program in a metropolitan community. It will readily be seen that at least an attempt is made to ensure that the principles of New Testament church witness are followed up, not simply through the regular organized services of the church, but through the daily life of its membership, scattered over a very wide area. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the conception of a New Testament fellowship operating in a metropolitan area is something which does not come alive even in a few years. It takes time for the Holy Spirit to teach people, to teach us all, indeed, that the principles of church life are the same anywhere, and that the metropolitan preaching station without any church membership outlet in witness and testimony has no place in the New Testament and therefore should have no place in church life today.
- The Inward Thrust
But something much more is needed than a program and a plan of campaign. It must have a dynamic source of inspiration, and therefore the second thrust is the inward one. The outward thrust is concerned with evangelism. The inward thrust is concerned with the application of the message of full salvation to the life of the child of God. Here, I believe, we touch upon something that is absolutely crucial. Fundamentalism today has been guilty, in my humble judgment, of presenting the message of forgiveness of sins through the Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ without at the same time, in many cases, presenting the message of deliverance from the principle of SIN through the Cross, and by the power of the indwelling Spirit. This is not merely half a Gospel; it is no Gospel at all. To call people to decision for Christ, to offer certain proof texts as a test of their salvation and then to leave them, is to do infinitely more harm than good, and to do tragic injustice to the whole message of the Gospel.
It is not long before a man who has claimed forgiveness of sin on that basis discovers that the sins for which he was forgiven are but a symptom of a disease which goes far deeper in his life, and he is left to battle and grapple with the principle of self which is at the root of the whole problem. Unless he finds the answer he discovers that though apparently claiming forgiveness, the whole tenor of his life is still downward.
Any decision which is made to trust Christ for salvation, no matter how sincere, unless supported by a life of submission to His authority and a deepening experience of His power to conquer the captial “I”, is surely invalid in New Testament Christianity. It is not decision but direction which decides destiny. The Lord Jesus was laying down, surely, for all time the principles of genuine Christian experience when He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
I am very much afraid that we have been guilty before God of making the terms of salvation too cheap. I am fully aware, of course, that salvation is all of grace, not of works, but I cannot escape the truth also that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:10. And as James says, “Faith without works is dead.” We are perhaps in grave danger of confusing in our thinking works by which no man can be saved, with the working of the Holy Spirit within us which is the inevitable result of salvation. Simply to present the claims of Christ and to ask for decisions without at the same time presenting the message of identification with Christ in His death and the absolute futility of anything of the flesh to serve Him, is to present a travesty of the Gospel.
Along with the glorious message of full and free forgiveness through the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, has to be stressed, surely, the message of full deliverance from the disease of sin, of which all our sins are but the fruit. Men must be brought to see that God expects nothing of the flesh except failure, but that He gives the Holy Spirit to dwell within us that we need not fail. Through His power the flesh may be kept in subjection so that we may be able to say that, “it is no longer I that live, but Christ Who liveth in me.”
This double message of full salvation is the main inward thrust of any church, if her testimony is to be vital. Toplady knew full well what he was saying when he wrote,
“Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.”
Thank the Lord for no condemnation and for deliverance from guilt. Thank the Lord also that He has not left us to battle with the self-like to find ourselves utterly and completely beaten. Rather, He has implanted within us by the Holy Spirit a new nature, in whose strength alone we can overcome.
Now whether we be a metropolitan church or a community fellowship, to go out into a neighborhood these days and to witness for Christ, simply speaking of His death for our sins and asking people to trust Him as an historic person, is to invite utter frustration. But when every member of a church knows something of the reality of the delivering power of the indwelling Christ over a principle of selfishness, lust, jealousy and envy, then such a testimony is mighty, for this is the overflow of Holy Spirit life through the fellowship as a whole. It is then no longer an effort to plan a program, ot to organize an evangelistic campaign. It is then we cease to struggle along in the energy of the flesh. Rather is this the flowing of “rivers of living water” through the hearts and lives of people who are thirsty for God and who have discovered that Jesus does indeed satisfy.
The preaching of such a message is, of course, not popular. Apparently saints must not be disturbed. Christians must be allowed to go on slumbering and sinners must be allowed to go on sinning, except insofar as the preacher by his ministry in the pulpit is able to rescue a few of them! One immediate effect of the message of full salvation and deliverance, however, is that though some people may be made mad and others may be made glad, none can be left indifferent. The awakening of slumbering, sleepy, carnal Christians from a state of total indifference to the fate of others; to an alertness and awareness of their own need first, and because of that discovery to the need of millions of others around them, is to see God begin to work in revival and victorious power.
One of the very wonderful things to which we look forward is the possibility of a visit from Dr. Billy Graham to Chicago for a mass evangelistic attack on the city. Were he to come now I would tremble at the outcome, because so many people who profess conversion are so often introduced into churches which are like refrigerators and they are frozen out. We must not blame the evangelist for that, but as we anticipate the possibility of his visit to this city our hearts are deeply stirred and our concern is that when he comes there may be throughout this city an awakened church which is alert and fully aware of the need of the millions around, and has begun to see God work in revival and victorious power.
- The Upward Thrust
The two previous thrusts of such a program are dependent upon a third, and that is the upward thrust, and by that I mean a church that is not only on its toes in expectancy and in service, but on its knees in humility, in earnest, believing, prevailing prayer. It is this which releases Holy Spirit power. It is this which brings Holy Spirit authority upon the message, not only in the pulpit, but upon the message of every individual Christian. It is the life lived transparently before God that has its impact upon men, for then the reality of the living Christ is revealed through that life to others.
We have laid hold of God through many whole nights of prayer, as well as at other seasons, that He would break through in revival and that He would challenge this great city with the message of full salvation. We have seen the cloud as the size of a man’s hand; there has been the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees; there have been the breathings of the Spirit of God in conviction evidenced by many coming through to Him in deep repentance and in living faith. But, oh, compared with the massive need all around us, how small it all seems and how insignificant. How we need constantly to pray,
“O Breath of Life,
come sweeping through us,
Revive Thy Church
with life and power;
O Breath of Life, come,
cleanse, renew us,
And fit Thy Church
to meet this hour.”
Our prayer is that somehow the Holy Spirit may cause that which burns within our hearts to spread as a fire, not only through the immediate ministry of the church in the area, but through the country and on the mission fields of the world. After all, the conditions on the mission field are merely the projection of conditions at home, and the message of the Cross in all its implications is surely the only answer to the desperate need of the hour.
Pastors and missionaries in many places are beginning to be alerted to the breakdown of our testimony and the shallowness of our witness. We are only a very small part of the body of Christ, but as far as we are concerned at least we can say the course of the ship is set. We believe the Master’s hand is on the helm; that He is leading and guiding us, and that the convictions which burn within us are from Him. We have seen enough evidence of His goodness in recent months and years to believe that He has not forsaken us. Though there are many pitfalls and though the Devil is very subtle and very powerful, yet how good it is to know that He that is within us is mightier than all that can come against us.
As you think and pray for us in the fellowship of this church, we invite each one of you who have read this article to seek the Lord afresh in your own life for the anointing of His Spirit; for a fresh recognition of the complete futility of anything that we in ourselves may attempt to do for Him. May God give to us all a new recognition, not as a theory but as a reality, that the thing that really counts is not what we do for God but what He does in and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit.