A 1975 publication that shook up mission leaders by its very title was James Engel’s What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest? The book exposed the fact that despite all the effort and energy put into the church’s mission of evangelism, the harvest of souls” has been sparse. We could discuss the lack of manpower, or deficiencies in methodology or materials, but these are side issues. The real reason for the 20th century church’s failure to accomplish the degree of evangelism that it should is its lack of “go power.” When Jesus ascended to heaven, he told his disciples to tarry at Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit would come. He would then move them out to the uttermost parts of the earth as witnesses for him. Obediently they stayed put, perhaps as much out of their own timidity as out of compliance with the Lord’s instructions. But then came Pentecost—and suddenly everything was different. The meek became bold, the weak became strong and the method and manner of proclaiming God’s message were changed.
The Old Testament way invited seekers of the One True God to come up to the Temple at Jerusalem, the one established place of worship. Yeshua, while he was yet on earth, foretold a new order. Soon there would come a time when it would no longer be necessary to come to the Temple to worship God, for he would be worshiped in spirit and in truth. The heart of every believer would be his dwelling place, and the mouth of every believer would proclaim the good news.
The new order began on that first Pentecost after the Resurrection. Those who received the power of the Spirit in that upper room didn’t stop to discuss the new method; they merely allowed themselves to be propelled into immediate action. Their subsequent acts ought to be a pattern for the church today. Yet our modern methods of evangelism negate the fact of the new order. We make our church buildings “temples” and proceed to invite would-be worshipers to come, when we ought to be bringing them the message where they live and move and conduct their affairs. The Great Commission for evangelism was not “come,” but “go,” and Pentecost provided the “go-power.”
The message of Pentecost is that God’s presence provides God’s power. When the Holy Spirit came, the disciples did not linger in the upper room, nor did they try to enshrine their experience within sanctuary walls. They took to the streets where the people were. Those who had never before “witnessed” found themselves proclaiming the wonderful works of God in languages they had never learned, with a boldness they had never possessed. The results were electric! Those who heard were polarized by the charge of the Holy Spirit, and spiritual sparks flew to ignite revival in receptive hearts.
No, when the disciples had that upper room experience, they didn’t stay and celebrate. They didn’t lean out of the window and shout, “Hey, you guys! Come up here and see what God is doing!” Yet isn’t that just how the church tries to do it today? We feel a burden for those without God, so we invite them to come and join us. We invite them to come to Sunday school; we invite them to come to church picnics and church socials. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we should not stop inviting people; but invitations cannot and must not replace compliance with God’s directive. His directive was to “go.” Inviting people to come is a courtesy that we extend; but going out to tell them about the Living God is his command. If we expect to be effective, we must obey it. When the Holy Spirit came, he did not empower the church to invite to meetings; he empowered the church to go and tell. Too many who sincerely desire to proclaim the good news of salvation have reversed the direction of God’s Great Commission—and they are doomed to mediocrity if not actual failure.
It’s true that under the Old Covenant all who wanted to worship the One True God were invited to come and be part of Israel. Those who did this placed themselves under the Law, which required them to worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. Would-be worshipers of Jehovah were obliged to separate themselves from their native lands and to divest themselves of their national cultures and identities. But under the New Covenant God’s people were told to go to all nations with the proclamation of salvation in Christ. They were to publish the good news that those who had been alienated were now free to become part of the community of faith.
At Pentecost, Jews living as aliens in many countries had come to Jerusalem to celebrate that pilgrim festival. When the Pentecost event happened and they became charged with the electricity of the Holy Spirit, they did not linger at Jerusalem where the current flowed most strongly. They did not send letters home to their relatives and friends inviting them to come to the happening. They brought the happening back with them. And as they returned to the places from which they came, the power imparted by God at Pentecost manifested itself through their witness to those around them. Those who had received this power began to turn the world upside down.
The 20th century church tends to regard its congregations and religious gatherings the way the ancient Hebrews regarded the Temple at Jerusalem—as God’s official headquarters. This inaccurate interpretation leads to ineffectual methods of evangelism. No church building or church gathering is God’s headquarters. The Holy Spirit has made each believing heart his headquarters—his command post, from which he may conduct his campaign for us to win others. As yielded believers, we are mobile units awaiting his instructions. At his command we are to go forward, energized and enabled by his power. That’s real go power, the dynamo that can make us effective evangelists.