“So how many of those we served yesterday came today?”
That was the question Big Dave Cain asked in July of 1985, a couple of weeks after we had gone “public.” In the weeks prior to our launch we had a weekly group of what I affectionately termed the “Rambos.” They were up for literally any and all outreach ideas I came up with – never once was any of my ideas resisted in the least!…It takes a special breed of person to pioneer this sort of outreach.
After going out every single Saturday from 11:00 until 1:00 with a team of 10 to 15 we had served a cumulative group of maybe 10,000. We were learning our “riffs” in the serving game. Since then, if high volume is the goal, we have learned to serve as many as 10,000 in 90 minutes with a group of 15 – no kidding!
“Well, of the 50 people who came today, I think there might have been 3 people we served, but I’m not absolutely certain.
As you read this you might be discouraged at the sheer numbers involved – 10,000 seeds and several weeks or months later 3 people show up on a Sunday. But you might be surprised that we were both ecstatic at what was happening in our midst.
Keep in mind, we were the very first church in the world that we were aware of that was taking this approach to sharing Christ’s love to our city. We had nothing by which to measure our success or lack thereof. We were simply utterly convinced that we were slowly, bit by bit, in this city that had been objectively measured as the “Crabbiest City” in the US, changing the spiritual atmosphere. We were convinced that as we did the deeds of Jesus we were going to see the Holy Spirit change our city.
Since the first edition of this ezine, I have received 99.9% absolutely super positive, enthusiastic responses from readers. Comments have come in like, “Wow! This is exactly what I have been looking for!” and “Thanks SO MUCH for taking the time and effort to put together the stories and encouraging ideas that challenge me and my people to aim out – this is just what the doctor ordered.” On the other hand I have received a couple of dissenting emails. My “favorite” one was from a guy who “confronted” me personally as the “leader of this thing.”
“I don’t believe one bit in this kindness and generosity garbage. I believe in confronting people just like Jesus did.” I asked this guy exactly where did Jesus confront people other than the Pharisees? Jesus went from person to person meeting needs, showing generosity in abundance – at least a hundred individual times in the four gospels.
I’ve spoken with scads of people with “strong convictions” about how evangelism should and shouldn’t be done. I literally have yet to meet one such highly opinionated person who strongly reacts to our stories of kindness and generosity who had done any attempt at evangelism in many years – sometimes never in their life.
I Scattered, Watered… and Waited
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like the wind – he (not IT – please, never refer to the Holy Spirit as “it” – that is incredibly offensive to him) is not one who can be controlled. We see the effect of wind on the trees when the wind blows, but where it comes from or where it goes, we do not know (John 3). Lasting conversions are wrought by the power of the Spirit, not by a slick sounding, win-the-argument approach. How many of you have won the argument but lost the battle? Lasting, deep down conversions are very rarely quick. Don’t fret about the waiting period between scattering your seeds of generosity and what is going to take place once the Holy Spirit begins to shape people’s hearts in a large-scale fashion. That’s God’s business. You keep on scattering your seeds – ideally with your people living a lifestyle of generosity and kindness. Sooner or later your crops will come in…as Jude writes, “Walk by love.”
Billy Graham’s Words of Encouragement
A couple of years ago I had occasion to spend time with Billy Graham for an extended time with just him and a couple of his associates in his hotel room. It’s a long story as to how this came about that I’ll tell some other time, but suffice it to say that Billy was very curious about our outward focused approach to sharing Christ and living out the message of the kingdom. The day he arrived in town for a 90 minute event we had organized with about 300 churches locally that touched around 350,000 with God’s kindness. Billy was blown away. He asked for a special meeting with me. When asked if I could make it I told the Graham people, “I think I can clear my schedule for that!”
Billy told me: “I have been praying for years upon end for what seemed until today in vain… that God would raise up people – many people who would see the value of planting in the evangelism process. If the Church doesn’t begin to grab onto the value of planting as part of the evangelism process – and get that value rather quickly – I fear for the future of evangelism in the US. We are going to end up with everything harvested and no new crops in process – on their way toward the harvest.”
Then he finished out his intense impartation to me with a charge that I will no doubt go to my grave pondering… “Promise me one thing Steve…That you will spend the rest of your life not just planting seeds as Jesus did – the seeds of the kingdom that will lead ultimately to the harvest – but that you will stir up many, many around the world who will get the value for this idea that Paul wrote of ‘Planting – Watering – Harvesting’ (1 Cor. 3:6).”
I told him, “Billy, I will spend the rest of my life doing this – I’ll gather, I’ll connect, I’ll write, talk, whatever it takes.”
I don’t know if Billy believes in or would be comfortable using the word “prophecy” as some reading this would, but as one who has received many prophecies in my decades as a Christ-follower, what Billy spoke over me that day had all the elements of a life-changing prophecy.
He spoke not just to me, but – and here’s the most important line of this issue of Serve! for this month – Billy was speaking to each of you! It is highly likely that Jesus is calling you too to spend your life carrying this message of seed-flinging of generosity, kindness, practical love – living as Jesus lived – loving as Jesus loved. We are out to change the world. Talking is a part of it, but the lion’s share is going to be spent with us first living, showing, walking it out with a gigantic smile on our faces!