By Richard Whitman
I recently was asked the question, “How long has it been since you won a soul to the Lord.”
At first I was pleased to answer, “Just last week.” After all, last Sunday we had a man baptized in Jesus name and filled with the Holy Ghost. Then I began to relish some other memories of similar weekend services. Unfortunately, I also began to realize that several of the ones that I had “won to the Lord” were not living for God now and so I questioned if I had cold say I had won them. As I pondered that disturbing news, it caused me to begin to rethink some common terms which we preachers seem to easily toss around – “won to the Lord” and “soul winning – and how we define them.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand what the well-intentioned question meant and recognized that the one asking was simply trying to encourage more outreach. We do need to evaluate ourselves and so it is a good question. Truly this was our first calling before we ever were invited to preach, teach, pastor or evangelize. I do not believe that we are allowed to abandon our first works simply because we now have a “higher calling” (interpreted “title”).
Bear with me for a moment as I review the following scenarios in my own ministry…
Two weeks ago, I baptized a 62 year old Church of God preacher and watched as God gloriously filled him with the Holy Ghost. He is blown away with his new experience and wants everyone to receive the Holy Ghost and to meet the man [me] who introduced him to this wonderful truth.
At the gas station where I get my gas every week, there is clerk whom I have been talking to for over a year. In the last 2 months, she has started attending almost every Sunday morning with her child. Sometimes she comes up front for prayer, but she hasn’t been baptized or filled with the Holy Ghost yet.
I have a catholic school teacher who after numerous invitations from me has now come to church twice in the last month and a half. She says it’s really different from Mass, but that she likes it. She has asked me for a Bible study, but I haven’t got it started yet.
I talked to a man this week whom I had invited to a “Miracle, Healing, Deliverance Weekend” which we had advertised in the community a few weeks ago. He came, got healed, received the Holy Ghost and got baptized. He shouted in the baptismal tank and declared in his testimony afterwards that this was now his church. He hasn’t been back since.
I have a family that we invited; they came, liked it and saw the need for Jesus name baptism. They were baptized and received the Holy Ghost. Since then, they have persevered through some amazing stuff for the last 3 years. I am still discipling them through some trials and hardships, but they are staying faithful.
I have some members of my church who transferred in after it was revealed that their apostolic pastor had been having an ongoing affair with his secretary for over 10 years. During this time, he preached mightily and operated frequently in the gifts of the Spirit. Healings happened, miracles occurred, deliverances occurred, people filled and baptized regularly – all while he was living in sin. Even though they had been saved for years, they were in the process of abandoning ship when I reached them. They questioned the validity of their own experience and almost everything else the man had taught them. The past five years, I have ministered healing to them, modeled integrity before them and maintained influence with them. Today they still struggle with some issues of authority, trust and the workings of the supernatural, but we are getting there.
Those who have ever eaten with me at Lamberts, a well known local restaurant, have met Maxine. She introduces me as Pastor to everyone she knows. In fifteen years, she has been to my church one time. She cried and loved the service so much that she tells everyone what a great church we have and that they need to visit it.
I have young adults who are faithful today because of a youth pastor that I brought on staff several years ago and paid out of my own pocket so he could help guide our youth through the “perils” of the teenage years.
In the office foyer hangs numerous Partners in Missions certificates and award plaques representing the money we gave and continue to give to support the cause of both home and foreign missions. I have never preached or witnessed in any of the countries or towns where we help support the work of God, but souls are being saved there.
My 15 year old son, who I have raised to love God and tried to impart ministry into, went to El Salvador last spring. During the Holy Ghost crusade on Easter Sunday, he personally prayed with two locals who received the Holy Ghost.
Now I ask you…which of these souls have I won?
In the apostolic movement, there is a tendency to get so caught up in numbers and instant visible results that we forget soul winning is a multi-faceted process. We tend to admire people who put up big numbers – the evangelist who has 40 to 50 people get the Holy Ghost in a three week revival or the pastor who takes a run-down church and experiences explosive “growth” in his first year or two as the church increases from about 10 people in weekend attendance to over 150 members.
Those are great men and I wish I was more like them in many ways. However, in setting them as the prime examples, the problem is that we neglect the fact that soul winning is much more than just getting someone to come to church and receive the Holy Ghost – it is a life long process. He that endures to the end…the same shall be saved.
As a further thought, I have a gifted evangelist friend who goes from church to church and will create 50 – 60 new guests for a church in just a few of weeks. Many of the ones who come are contacts who others have been previously inviting and working to reach. When he leaves the town, there are glowing reports of how many souls were won to the Lord. However, he is gone and what happens to them is up to the local church.
I also have a friend who holds a doctorate and teaches at an Apostolic Seminary. He is training men and women who will leave there to go establish churches and do ministry in many other areas of the nation. In addition, he flies out most weekend and all summer to teach and train pastors around the world. Little of what he does has any direct contact with sinners.
And then there is the 93 year old saint of God who has attended our church for over 50 years. She doesn’t knock doors any more, nor does she bring visitors to church. However, it is nothing for her to spend an hour or two a day in prayer for her pastor, her church and the lost people of this community.
Which of them has won a soul lately?
I do believe that we have a personal responsibility to advance the kingdom. However, I refuse to get caught up in the fallacy of limiting soul winning to getting someone to speak in tongues for the first time. Is their soul truly won before they arrive in heaven?
I am winning souls, but only time will tell which ones I have actually won. One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase.