Given the prominence of preaching in the book of Acts and the Epistles, we must wonder why so little attention is given to proclamation in contemporary missions. Two reasons seem to come to the forefront—the wisdom of man and the fear of man.
Unless a man is truly converted, has renounced human resource, and committed himself entirely to the wisdom of God in the Scriptures and the power of God through prayer, he will always choose pragmatism over God’s commands. This has proved especially true in the matter of the Great Commission and in all forms of evangelism and church planting. We seem bent on choosing every manner of scheme instead of God’s simple plan of proclamation even when He plainly warns us against it. In his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes:
“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”1
A few verses later, Paul informs us of God’s reason for His choice, “So that our faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”2 And again, “So that he who boasts might boast in the Lord.”3 This has always been God’s way, as Paul writes:
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.”4
Sending an exiled shepherd to conquer the greatest kingdom on earth, free its slaves, and establish them as a nation would appear a bit irrational.5 It makes little sense to march around Jericho seven days to bring down a wall that no army on earth could penetrate.6 Sending three hundred men against an army of over 120,000 swordsmen, and arming them with trumpets, torches, and jars seems rather reckless.7 Calling a shepherd boy to take on a well-armed giant with a slingshot is nothing short of suicidal.8 Instructing a pagan commander to bathe in the Jordan to be cleansed from his leprosy when the rivers of Damascus were far more pristine seems unnecessary?9 Calling a prophet to command dead bones to live and to prophesy to the wind is definitely counterintuitive.10 Sending an unlearned fisherman to religious scholars and sending a religious scholar to unlearned pagans cannot be a good strategy for proselytizing the world.11 Yet God has done all these things and more. In fact, if we were able to write down all the seemingly “foolish” acts of God, “I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”12 Yet in all these things, God prevailed, and the wise and strong among men were shamed.13
The second reason for a lack of proclamation on the mission field is the fear of man. The missionary who bears the fruit of the spirit, loves his neighbor as himself, and treats other as he himself wishes to be treated, will be liked by most, if not all, who know him. However, if the gospel is going to be advanced, sooner or later he has to open his mouth, and when he does, heaven will come down and all hell will break loose. Everyone is OK with a missionary who simply seeks to live out his faith among others as long as he keeps his mouth shut. It is the proclaimer of the gospel that bring salvation to the hearers, and oftentimes, persecution to himself.
Before a hearty “amen” is given to the above paragraph, it must be tempered with wisdom. The last thing we need on the mission field is a fool who desires martyrdom. Many a missionary zealot has brought needless harm to himself and the indigenous believers around him by not following Christ’s command to be “shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove.”14 We must always remember that we are guests in a country. When persecution is dire, the cross-cultural missionary can board a plane before the bullets fly, but our indigenous brothers have no such luxury.
How then are we to go about this ministry of proclamation on the mission field, especially in the midst of opposition? First, as missionaries, we must teach and preach, and if we cannot, we are not much use to anyone. In the places where we can, we should witness and preach publicly and openly. In other places, we may need to confine ourselves to a teaching and preaching ministry among believers, or to the training of preachers. One question that is helpful for every missionary to ask of himself is this: “What is in my hand?” That is, “What do I have to give that is lacking in the people group and church to which I have been sent?” Most indigenous believers and pastors have never had the privilege of training in the languages, hermeneutics, systematic theology, church history, etc. The missionary who is trained in all these disciplines would better spend his time behind closed doors pouring his life into pastors and disciples, rather than preaching a week in the streets and getting thrown out of the country!
In the above matter, great wisdom is required, and there are a variety of avenues and options. However, one thing is not an option and will never be an option—the missionary has been sent to preach and teach. In fact, we should prefer one man devoted to the Scriptures and prayer, who spends his day preaching the gospel to the lost and discipling believers, over one thousand missionaries involved in other things.
- I Corinthians 1:21
- I Corinthians 2:5
- I Corinthians 1:31
- I Corinthians 1:27
- Exodus 3:10
- Joshua 6
- Judges 7; 8:10
- I Samuel 17
- II Kings 5:1-14
- Ezekiel 37
- Galatians 2:7
- John 21:25
- I Corinthians 1:27
- Matthew 10:16
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer