Saturday, August 11, 2012

Praying For a Declining Church

I am going to try and post something on a weekly basis here, now that I've had some time to get back into the routine of life back home and process this year's trip. This year was exciting as we saw some breakthroughs in significant areas. Before I get into that though, its important to understand why we go to Bulgaria every year in the first place.

We are not a missions team in the traditional sense. We are not evangelists sent over to win the nation of Bulgaria for Jesus. In fact, the idea is somewhat preposterous. Our small team giving up two weeks a year is not going to make a dent in the evangelistic needs of the country. The nation certainly needs to hear the gospel, but the work must be done by committed, full-time witnesses who live and work among them. Should the Lord ever call me and my wife to such a life, I would gladly obey and move there because that's what it would take.

However, there already is a Church in Bulgaria tasked with the Great Commission of reaching their nation for Christ. They have the message of the gospel and the language to communicate it in. Unfortunately, the Church is small and shrinking in Bulgaria* and it is our privilege to come alongside support them in any way we can. We are a Servant Team and our primary role is to encourage and strengthen our brothers and sisters in their fight for the land God is giving them.
* According to census data, Protestant Christianity has shrunk from 3% of the population to 1.5%.

I have given much thought and prayer to the reasons for the erosion of Christianity in Bulgaria and want to share my perspective on this. It is not my heart to offend any of my Bulgarian brothers and sisters, who love the Lord dearly and are often doing the best they know how. Part of the problem, as I see it, is a lack of active, concerted and ongoing evangelism from the Body of Christ.

  • Active: Much of the evangelism I have seen in Bulgaria is passive. Subtle references to God and spiritual issues, casual invitations to attend church, unwillingness to participate in ungodly activities... All of these are good but not enough. We are told to let our light shine before men. This light should be bright and intense, not dimmed and veiled. We must be able to boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel, not only in actions, but in words backed up by our actions.
  • Concerted: The Body of Christ is strongest when it works together. Evangelism should be a corporate function of the church family, something done in fellowship together as our primary purpose. The Church was not simply created as a place for Christians to hang out together apart from the world, but as a symbol of hope and life-changing power for the world to see clearly.
  • Ongoing: Sharing the good news of Christ's plan for salvation must become a regular part of who we are as Christians. A follower of Christ should find themselves talking about Him without even thinking about it! We must share the gospel at every opportunity, even if it costs us.
This seems self-evident to many of us American Christians. The American Church was born in an era of personal rights and freedom. We have always had the right to exercise and proclaim our faith without opposition from our government. Our history is full of street preachers and fiery evangelists, tent crusades drawing tens of thousands, and the personal freedom to share the gospel whenever and wherever we want. Its easy to look elsewhere and wonder why others are not so overtly evangelistic, but to do so would be hypocritical.

We have more freedom than anyone to share Christ, yet we do so less often than many Christians in persecuted countries like China and the Sudan. We have the right to preach the gospel, but how many of us have ever stood in a crowd and proclaimed the name of Jesus? "Well, that's just crazy and would turn people off!" Maybe... or maybe it just makes us uncomfortable to even think of doing something like that. After all, it worked in the New Testament and it still works all over the world. God's word clearly states that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying in their sin. I think many of us just don't want to look like fools to the world. For that matter, how many of us go weeks (or even longer) at a time without telling someone about Jesus in a simple one-on-one conversation?

My point is, we are in no position to lecture anybody on evangelism. Our Church family in Bulgaria has only recently been delivered from the oppression of Communism, when overt evangelism led to certain persecution. Before that, the Church was oppressed by their Turkish occupiers who also fought against Christianity. The fact is, it has never been easy for a Bulgarian Christian to boldly share Christ with unbelievers. It has always cost them to do so.

However, as a brother in Christ who loves the Bulgarian people, my heart breaks at the fact that a huge percentage of them do not know Jesus Christ personally and have not given their lives to Him. The simple fact is, nothing will change that but the Church stepping out in boldness and sharing the good news of the gospel with as many people as possible.

Romans 10:14  How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed. And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

Bulgaria is a nation of unbelievers who need to hear about Jesus. My prayer is for God to raise up preachers among the men and women of the Church. Bulgaria does not simply need more pastors. Pastors preach their sermons in churches. Most unbelievers will never come to a church to hear about God. Bulgaria, and America, need preachers... followers of Christ who will simply share what they know to anybody who will listen... Anywhere... Any time!

To my beloved family in Bulgaria: I love you with all my heart. I cry for you and the struggle you face. I know you have it much harder there than we do here in America. But God's Great Commission has not changed. Your nation must be reached with the gospel if they are to be saved and you are the ones to reach them. Be strong and courageous. Be bold in your witness. You may face persecution, you may be mocked and ridiculed, you may simply be ignored. But you cannot afford to be quiet!

Acts 4:13  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. I am so encouraged by the work God did and is continuing to do through this years team. Talking with you this weekend was so refreshing, to hear about the new directions God is taking you. I love them, you know I love them so much, it kills me to be here and not there. And you are so right all God's people in all the nations need to be bold in sharing the Gospel, we all are apprehensive, let us pray for boldness and power to share the Gospel for ourselves and our brothers and sisters through out the world. The time is short and the hour is late, He is coming soon!