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How not to win souls

by Church Times



Proverbs 11:30
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that wins souls is wise.

Winning souls is not a tea party. It takes tact. It takes the leading of the Holy Spirit. It takes God. It is not by accident that the Bible says he that wins souls is wise.

But over the years we have witnessed several ways of winning souls that sometimes one begins to wonder whether the church is winning souls or just gathering souls. 

It takes just some human wisdom to gather souls. For instance a church can decide to hold a concert with a popular artiste. Such artiste will naturally draw crowd. What follows will determine whether souls were won or were just gathered.

In many cases when churches engage in such jamboree what we have in return is the gathering of souls who just want fun. But the idea of just gathering souls seems to be the genesis of the problem we have in the church. The entry point for souls to the kingdom has been compromised. The apostles preached so powerfully that the people who heard them were asking how to be saved.

Today, we are the ones who ask our listeners if they want to give their lives to Jesus. And when they indicate their interest we ask them to say some shop-soiled prayers after us and thereafter declare that they have been saved. No problem with that. But the truth is that the confession people make after a gospel message is only a declaration of interest. Though some genuinely get saved at that instance many still have to be painstakingly followed up with prayers.

The issue however is that the kind of message we preach at the point of winning a soul goes a long way to determine the quality of the believer. And this was well captured at a forum in Lagos just before the May 28 World Evangelism Day. Professor Duro Adebgboye, President of Gospel Unlimited observed at the forum that there are three categories of converts in the church.

He said there are people who get born again because they heard the preacher preach about prosperity. And since they so desire to be rich, they embrace Jesus. Such believer sees God as a Father Christmas who dotes around His children. Some get converted having heard a message on healing. Such people are those who see God as healer. And yet there are those who got saved because they heard the preacher preach about the salvation of their souls. And since that appears to be what they are looking for, they embrace Jesus.

So the entry point in a way determines the kind of believer that we have. The issue then is: How should we present the gospel and perhaps how should we not present the gospel. We believe that the Christian who goes on evangelism should not present a cheap gospel to the unbeliever. It is not about ‘’come to our Church God will heal you’’. It is not ‘come to our church you will become rich’. It is not ‘come to our church our pastor will see vision for you. It is not ‘come to our church your problems will vanish’.

The danger in presenting a simplistic gospel on mundane needs is that the product thereof may pose a danger to the church. There is no doubt that God is in the business of blessing His people with all good things. But God is not interested in people who serve Him for pecuniary purpose alone.

The church today is making the mistake of using charity to win people to God. While God commands that we be a blessing to people; charity should not be the basis of our gospel message. We are commanded to love our neighbour and do good to those who hate us. We do good not because we want them to come to God. We do good because that is our lifestyle. If they now come to know God because of the good we do; fine. But whether they come to Jesus, or not, should not stop us from being who we are.

The point we are making is that the gospel message is simple: God loves the world. He does not want anybody to perish. He sent Jesus to die for us. Those who believe in Him will be saved. Our message should basically hinge on the saving grace of Jesus and not using ephemeral things as a bait to win them.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus compared a soul with the whole world? The import of such comparison is that the salvation of soul is so important that no wealth or health can compare with it. What use is a healthy body that ends up in hell? What use is wealth without Jesus in a transient world?

By the way, why do we place so much emphasis on miracles and use it as a bait to bring people to Jesus?  Do we realize that many of the miracles that we promise people are things they get freely without ever stepping into the church? There are people who live long who don’t know Jesus. Perhaps the wealthiest man on earth never entered the church. There are people who have had all the good things of life who don’t believe in Jesus. So it tends to cheapen the gospel when we equate what God gives with what the world also gives.

The believer must also understand that the business of soul winning is to bring people to the saving knowledge of Jesus and not to our church. We must be able to settle the question of whether we are winning people to our fiefdom or to God’s kingdom. People may come to our church in response to our message; but we must not use that as a yardstick to measure our level of compliance with His command. It is for us to preach the good news. It is for God to win the sinner through the message we preach.

What we do with a sinner depends on how we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Every situation has its own peculiarity. The bottom line is not to use human wisdom or methodology.  It is the inspired word of God in us that does the work. Our message is: Christ came to reconcile man to God.

But the Christian must not at any time present a cheap gospel of materialism or make the sinner feel he is doing God a favour by surrendering his life to Jesus. We must bear in mind that Jesus is not in contest with the devil. The devil has been put where he belongs. Our message should centre on the soul of the unbeliever and his need for a savior. 

We should tell the truth about the gospel. Jesus did not mince words when people came to him. He told them the truth. He rebuked the Pharisees of His days. He impressed on his listeners that those who want to follow Him must be willing to grapple with the  cross.

John the Baptist did not mince words with the people of his days? He preached a raw message targeted at the souls of his listeners. We should not be beggarly about the salvation message. The word of God is the power of God. While we are not suggesting that we call our listeners brood of vipers the way John the Baptist did, we must not shy away from presenting the gospel in an undiluted form.

We must not preach the gospel with the pity mentality. Some people present the gospel in a way that suggests they pity God. Oh, they wonder, God is losing out on souls! Could that be true? It does not cost  God anything to dispense with the human race if He wants to. But since he created us in His image, we have been endued with His spirit and He does not want us to perish. But that does not suggest we can’t perish if we continue to go our own way.

The soul of everybody is precious to God. He certainly does not want the death of anybody. Death in that context means eternal separation from God.

When next you go preaching to the sinner, impress on him the importance of His soul. Let him realise he may be rich but spiritually wretched. He may be healthy but hurting in his spirit. He may be happy but hopeless. He may be blessed with material things but bereft of the blessings of heaven. Let him realize that what you are offering him is too precious to be bought with money.

Don’t ever be beggarly about the gospel. But let the unbeliever realize his vulnerability without the savior who loves him and cares for him. Also bear in mind that we are working to bring souls to God’s kingdom not to our little empires. If the soul comes to our church, fine. If the soul does not; we should not be bothered. What should really bother us is the salvation of the sinner and how he is being nurtured in faith.

Gbenga Osinaike


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