We recently had the privilege of visiting Italy, Pozzuolli near Naples, to be precise. We stayed with Alec and Patrizia Catchpole and their family. You can find out more about their ministry through these links here and here.
The River of Life church of which Alec is one of the elders is essentially a first generation church made up of those who have been converted within the last fifteen years. It was beautiful to be able to attend their service on a Sunday morning, to be a part of their worship and to meet some of the people.
Their worship service was not dissimilar to ours at Feltham on a Sunday morning. They would not have a split in the service, though, like we have at Feltham with the Lord’s Supper service and preaching and worship all is included in one service in Pozzuolli.
Graciously Alec’s wife Patrizia, and son, Joseph, translated for us and so we could follow what was going on. The preaching by Stephano was sound and lively. The main message was that we are to glory in the Lord and not in his gifts.
Hearing one or two of the testimonies of those converted was such a joy. They were really encouraging to my faith as I was faced with living demonstrations of the grace of our God. This brings me to ponder on the similarity to Barnabas’s experience at Antioch. In Acts 11:22-23 we read: The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,
I attended a house group on the Tuesday morning and was struck by their desire to hear God’s word, their affection for Alec and their delight in being together.
Three things I have been left to ponder upon:
- Getting involved in the community. Alec is a gregarious individual and very much a people person. He obviously has a lot of contacts through his mingling in the community of Pozzuolli.
- House groups These seem to be quite fluid in their arrangements. There is one for students and one for the younger adults. Otherwise you can get involved in whatever one you want to and whenever you want to. This may all reflect the haphazardness of the Neapolitan culture, but it has a certain attractiveness.
- Gospel Engagement The commitment to get contact with as many people as possible and get the Word of the gospel, out to as many as possible was striking. I am left thinking about whether we should be more thoughtful about 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. There, in Pozzuolli, they have done various things such as karaoke, concerts, tent missions, watching football on a big screen, playing football amongst others all with a view to making the gospel known to people.
One of the hard experiences of pastoral ministry is to see people either drifting away from the Lord, turning away from the lord or not going on to follow the Lord. It is a source of distress and grief that such happens. The sense of wastage of life in people not wanting to go the Lord’s way is hard to take.
When this happens there is the inclination to dwell upon the loss. There is the desire to chase after the people and get them back in the right way. These responses are legitimate and are understandable if you have a caring shepherd heart. To see people go off and to greet that with a sense of “good riddance” is not the godly response of a true shepherd.
However, when people reject all your advances to restoration or just ignore the loving exhortation of the godly then there is a time when you have to move on. Not that these people should leave our hearts or our prayers. But to continue to pursue can amount to harassment and a lot of wasted time.
Moreover, we must be reminded that there are others we need to care for and go and seek after. In fact we should be continually praying that the Lord would be bring us the next set of sheep to care for and nourish and look after. Pursuing those who do not want the rich pasture of the Lord is time not well spent.
There are obviously balances to be struck here because we do not want to be too quick in giving up our pursuit of people for the Lord. But we do need to exercise wisdom.
” I prefer the evangelism I am doing to the evangelism that you are not doing” is a well-worn quote. However, it has a certain poignancy to it.
We can sit around all day and night pondering what might be the best form of evangelism and never get round to actually going to tell people about Christ. The important thing is that we get out and about to share the message of our Lord with others.
We may be scornful of “negative” methods, of pointed messages on sandwich boards, or preachers haranguing people about their sin, But at least they are doing some evangelism. So many of us are just doing nothing.
None of this takes away from the necessity for us to strive for excellence in evangelism. I have written about the whole issue of excellency here and the need to be careful in how we present ourselves. But we do have to take the Nike strap-line and “Just do It”.
Finally, be very careful of criticising from your ivory tower and comfy chair those who are out there sharing the Lord. Because remember “I prefer the evangelism I am doing to the evangelism you are not doing.”
When potentially meeting people and thinking about talking with them I have often been deterred from doing so because of a mental malfunction. I reason it out that as a Christian I should talk to them about the Lord and His salvation. However, in the presenting situation, I feel that that would be difficult and perhaps awkward. So I conclude in my deluded way that I won’t speak to them at all!
What I have sought to do of late is to ditch that way of thinking and rather just speak to people normally. I have sought to simply interact with people about this and that; anything that might be of mutual interest. In doing this I have desired to enjoy the interaction with the other person. In taking this approach I am to freed myself of the perceived burden of having to introduce spiritual things.
So if nothing about scripture or the bible develops then I hang loose about that. However, should the opportunity arise to move things on to a more spiritual level then I trust the Lord to take advantage of such opportunities.
In all this I feel that the ministry of the Lord was of this ilk. As i read the gospels i sense a calm reasonableness to His approach to the general circumstances of life. When he was interacting with people there was nothing off putting about him. There was no Bible bashing or contrived spiritual conversations. He simply talked to people and naturally introduced spiritual matters
Of course He was the ultimate Holy Spirit led man who was always anointed into the right way. However, He is also our example in all things. And when we are enabled and anointed by the Holy Spirit we will be ministering in a way that is in the likeness of our Lord.
The plan of God as it unfolds in the book of Acts and into the epistles is to have churches established and built-up. This is God’s agenda for this age. In one sense the church is His mission plan for this age. Churches are established and out of those churches other churches are established.
I have been pondering on this issue particularly as regards to the sending out of missionaries to other pasts of the world. The goal should always be for those sent out either to link with churches which are already in situ in the location where they go to, or if it is a completely spiritually barren area to establish new churches.
There is something wrong for people to be just loan rangers or loan groups operating independent of churches.
This also raises issues more close to home. To engage in evangelism is absolutely vital and we give thanks to the Lord for all mission agencies who are labouring for the Lord. But these should always be operating in connection with local churches.
The commission of our Lord is to go and make disciples. Disciples are formed in the context of a local church. A convert can be any where, but a disciple should always be in a church. Evangelism should always be about recruiting disciples.
Let me make it clear that I am a lover of Muslims. I passionately love Muslims I pray for Muslims. I have Muslims, I would consider as friends. I am a total muslimphile; that means I am a lover of Muslims. So as Eid is celebrated in the UK today I would want to declare that.
However, I have to acknowledge and declare that I am also an Islamophobe. I was pondering upon this in respect of the slogan on the man’s T-shirt next to Jordan Peterson here. I am, dare I say, a hater of Islam. And I am a hater of Islam because I am a lover of Muslims. I love Muslims so much that I don’t want them to follow a false religious system.
I would go further and say that any real Christian must be an Islamphobe. To be otherwise is a complete contradiction and denial of our faith. This is because the faith of God revealed in Christ is a faith about how we can reach God through Jesus Christ and Him alone. He, Himself, said to Thomas “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
If we say that Islam or Mohammed is an acceptable way to God then we are declaring Jesus Christ to be a liar and should reject Him as a fraud. If, as is the case, Jesus Christ is true and the only way to God we should long that all Muslims, and all other followers of any religion, come to faith in Jesus Christ and be a follower of Him.
This Jesus is the one who died on the cross and rose again to bring salvation to all who believe. We believe that there is salvation in no other. We passionately want all, including Muslims, to come to faith in this Lord. We want them to turn from their false gods like the Thessalonian Christians did. It is said of them that they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:9b-10).
I love Muslims so much that I want them to turn from their religion and escape the wrath to come. I want them to become followers of Jesus Christ the Lord who died to cleanse and lives to save them.
Here is a report lasting about 25 mins on God’s work in a church in Pozzuoli in southern Italy. Alec Catchpole is a missionary there. He is originally from London.