Chapter OneSpiritual Economics
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In 1921, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was stricken with polio, a
disease he struggled with until his death in April 1945. On the tenth
anniversary of FDR's death, Dr. Jonas Salk announced that the polio
vaccine he had developed was ready for use by the general public.
Over thirty years later, in the late 1980s, thousands of doses of oral
polio vaccine were being stored in drug company refrigerators. Yet
hundreds of thousands of polio cases were still being reported
around the globe. The supply was plentiful. The problem was a
failure of distribution.
In stepped Rotary International, which set a lofty goal-to eradicate
polio from the world. The organization raised more than $200
million to buy enough vaccine to meet the entire global need. But they,
too, confronted the same massive problem-distribution. Working in
conjunction with the World Health Organization, Rotarians developed
a strategy that called for identifying the most needy countries
and designating "national vaccination days." Thousands of health
officials and volunteers vaccinated entire countries against polio in a
matter of days or weeks. By 2001, only 500 cases of polio were
reported worldwide. By addressing the challenge of distribution, the
Rotarians have saved thousands from premature death or disability.
Basic economic principles revolve around supply, demand, and
distribution. A business enterprise may have abundant capital, solid
management, and a worthy product. None of it will matter even a
little bit if the enterprise cannot address the challenge of distribution.
No matter how strong the demand or how abundant the supply in
the warehouse, if the enterprise cannot get the product into the hands
of the consumer, its demise is inevitable.
Many of the world's problems are a result of failure to meet the
challenge of distribution. While the granaries in many developed
nations overflow, millions go to bed hungry each night. We've all
read the accounts of how rival factions in various Third World countries
prevent grain from reaching starving people. The problem isdistribution-figuring out how to bridge the gap between abundant
resources and desperate demand. Tons of much-needed food and
water sat in warehouses in Umm Qasr in the spring of 2003 while
Iraqis went without basic necessities because Iraq's distribution
system was virtually non-existent.
One of the key components to America's prosperity is its distribution
system, that is, our ability to identify a need, develop a product
or service to meet the need, and then deliver it to the customer quickly
and efficiently. Although Sam Walton (the richest man in America
until his death in 1992) has been called a retailer, the true key to the
success of Wal-Mart is automated distribution. It efficiently delivers
goods to its more than 3,200 facilities in the United States and passes
on the savings to its more than 100 million weekly customers.
The Spiritual Challenge
This same dynamic applies to the realm of spiritual resources. All
over the world, people are looking as never before for spiritual answers
and resources. As human solutions continue to fail, more and more
people are seeking divine help. Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech
Republic, has said, "Communism has left a vacuum in the hearts of
men." Stories of spiritual hunger from the former Soviet bloc pour into
But by no means do the spiritually oppressed in the former Soviet
Union have a corner on spiritual need. In 1995 researcher and futurist
George Barna estimated that the number of people in the United
States who do not have a relationship with Jesus would reach 235
million by 2000, making the U.S. home to the world's fourth largest
Americans are not so much antispiritual as they are indifferent to
religious institutions. In 2000, Barna reported that the number of
unchurched adults had been on the rise for three years, leaving one
out of three adults unchurched. Nevertheless, there is more openness
to spiritual answers today than in previous decades. Two-thirds of
unchurched adults want to experience God in a deeper and more tangible
and significant way. But Americans are not automatically turning
to the church for this experience, as did their grandfathers and
grandmothers. Instead they are trying counterfeit spiritual remedies.
If you know the God of the Bible, you certainly know there is no
problem on the supply side of the spiritual economics equation.
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask
or imagine," wrote the apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:20-21), "according
to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the
church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and
God's resources are limitless; his grace and love have no boundaries.
And he longs to pour out this spiritual wealth on desperate and
spiritually needy people. Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi,
"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious
riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
Given that we worship a God of unlimited abundance, the spiritual
problem is clearly not a matter of supply. This leaves only one alternative:
distribution. Simply put, the ways in which we've been delivering
the spiritual goods have not been working. The idea, for example,
that we can open a "distribution center" on some street corner and
expect those in spiritual need to come to us has not worked. In fact,
God did not intend for it to work. God is not in the retail business. He
has chosen one-on-one mass distribution as his method to distribute
God's Distribution Method
It's fascinating to consider that, of all the methods the Creator of
the universe could have used to spread his grace to the world, he chose
to use men and women-ordinary Christians-not a few select, elite
spokespersons. As he departed this earth, Jesus told his followers,
"And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and
Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
God calls you and me as his witnesses, and we do not need to
search hard to find a mission field. Our mission field is the place
where we already spend most of our time, namely, our workplace.
By being an ambassador for Jesus in the workplace, each of us can
become a pipeline of God's grace to people who would never darken
the doorway of a church. Now that is distribution!
God wants to use us to accomplish something so grand we can
hardly imagine its significance. For each person this something to be
accomplished is totally unique. Sound daunting? Relax! God has
given you everything you need.
Evangelism as a Process
Many Christians of our generation were taught mechanical, aggressive
(some would say intrusive) methods of evangelism that produced
minimal results, despite the claims made by the organizations espousing
these methods. I (Bill),
motivated partly by guilt, took
part in several evangelism seminars
or courses, but the results
became predictable. I would get
inspired, go out and try what
I'd learned, fail, stop trying-and
feel even more guilty. I
finally concluded that I just
wasn't gifted to share my
faith with others, which made
me feel like a substandard
In the medical arena, I
(Walt) found that an aggressive approach to evangelism was not only
uncomfortable (both for me and my patients) but was also largely
unfruitful. One day I just quit trying, content to consider my practice
as merely a secular "tentmaking" operation while carrying on my
ministry in the context of church life. Yet my heart was troubled.
Every day I saw twenty to thirty non-Christian patients who desperately
needed both physical and spiritual healing, and I came to believe
I had nothing to offer them in the latter area.
The problem was that, as with many Christians, we (both authors)
thought of evangelism as an event-a point in time when we mechanically
recite the facts of the gospel message and encourage non-Christians
to place their faith in Jesus. It was liberating for each of us
to discover that evangelism, according to the Bible, is not an event
but a process. Evangelism is organic-a lot more like farming than
selling. This concept radically changed our lives and our ministries-Walt's
in medicine and Bill's in professional ministry.
Event-centered evangelism defines success as getting a person to
pray to receive Jesus as personal Savior. But when evangelism is seen
as an organic process, this "decision" is only the climactic step of a
long process that God uses to draw a person to himself. God's process
typically enlists a number of people with a variety of gifts-each playing
a different but vital role in helping someone take a step closer to
Jesus. Accepting God's gift of salvation-obviously the goal of evangelism-is
dependent on many steps before it. Bill Kraftson of Search
Ministries observes that each Christian who encounters a non-Christian
is like a link in a chain. "It's great to be the last link in the
chain," says Kraftson, "but it's not more important than any other
link. We just need to make sure we're not the missing link." Jim
Petersen of the Navigators likewise views conversion as a process:
"Few of us make it in one big decision. Instead, it's a multitude of
small choices-mini-decisions that a person makes toward Jesus."
The Distribution Process
The Bible consistently employs an organic rather than a mechanical
model to explain how God draws a person to himself. Paul uses
the agrarian analogy in his passionate comments about the growing
factions competing in the Corinthian church:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-as the Lord has assigned to
each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made
it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and
the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded
according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you
are God's field, God's building.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
After speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus uses
the organic model to teach his disciples about the process of evangelism.
The disciples were about to lead people to Jesus-or as he puts
it, "reap" in a field that had previously been cultivated and planted
Do you not say, "Four months more and then the harvest"? I
tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for
harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests
the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may
be glad together. Thus the saying "One sows and another reaps"
is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others
have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their
Jesus also uses an agrarian analogy to explain why some people
respond to the word of God while others don't:
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the
seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It
sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun
came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they
had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and
choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced
a crop-a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
The seed-"the message about the kingdom" (Matthew 13:19)-falls
on soils at varying stages of cultivation, representing the varying
degrees of readiness of the human heart. The path-representing hard,
uncultivated hearts-can't receive God's word. The rocky places and
thorny soils-partially cultivated hearts-receive the words, but life
can't flourish. The good soil-well-cultivated hearts-brings forth an
Jesus' point is clear: A person's journey toward a relationship with
him and the experience of eternal life is a process-a long process.
And as with raising a crop, a lot of hard work is required before there
is any talk of harvesting.
Jesus' Guide to Organic Evangelism
Based on an agrarian model, evangelism can be divided into four
phases: cultivating, planting, harvesting, and multiplying. According
to Jesus, the hard work of evangelism is not the harvest phase but thecultivation phase. Cultivation focuses on the soil of the human heart,
which includes addressing emotional barriers. It requires our presence
with non-Christians. The goal of cultivation is to help others begin to
see the benefits of being a child of God. An important part of
cultivation is to develop trust in the messenger, for if people don't
trust us, they will never trust our message. Thus, the first step entails
building relationships and then living in a way that creates trust. This
does not mean we must live impeccable lives, which is something that
can't be done anyway. But we can live authentically and honestly-demonstrating
to others that we ourselves are in need of grace.
The planting phase addresses intellectual barriers-misconceptions,
misinformation, and ignorance about God and the Christian faith. It
requires thoughtful conversation as part of planting seeds of biblical
truth, seeds designed to build an understanding of who Jesus is, what
he wants from us, and what he wants to do for us. As we develop
relationships with non-Christians and they become attracted to what
Jesus is doing in us, we can begin to explain how Jesus has made, and
continues to make, a difference in our lives. It begins slowly, with just
enough truth to pique interest. As curiosity grows, so does the appetite
for the truth. As non-Christians come to grips with spiritual truth, they
are likely to discover significant discrepancies between the Bible and
their way of thinking or philosophy of life. They'll need answers-presented
patiently and humbly-to their intellectual questions.
The harvesting phase focuses on a person's will and its resistance
to make a decision to trust Jesus. Even after someone's emotional and
intellectual barriers have been broken down, the will remains. Men
and women can neither think nor feel their way into God's kingdom.
Though these elements are foundational, ultimately every human
being must make a choice. Involvement during this phase requires
prayer and continued conversation toward the goal of the person's
receiving Jesus as Savior.