Pradip Ayer draws from his many years of experience and then adds a solid Biblical foundation to the idea of reaching whole families.
In the late 1980’s a few of us began to seriously think about the whole area of evangelism in OM India. We started with the desire to first understand what we meant by “evangelism “ and “evangelization.” This led us to modify, change and add new dimensions to our evangelistic activities. In those days our short purpose statement read “Evangelization of India in partnership with the church.” We started thinking about moving beyond mass evangelism and training into long-term follow-up and church planting.
This change brought us face-to-face with a new reality of witnessing to entire families instead of multitudes of individuals. Previously, in literature distribution, open air preaching and film shows, we seldom came in contact with entire families. Now, with almost twenty long-term teams, we are coming in contact with many families. Last year about twenty families (some extended families) took baptism and many more are ready to follow this year.
Since our audience has changed from unrelated individuals to family units, I have begun to study, Biblically and missiologically, the subject of Household Evangelism. The book of Acts is our most reliable source in embarking on such a study. I have therefore focused mostly on Luke’s writings with a few references from the epistles.
I. Theology of Household Evangelism Upon careful study of the book of Acts it is evident that Luke has given significant prominence to household evangelism. The Greek word ‘oikos’ (oixos), commonly translated as household, is used about eighty-seven times by Luke in his two books. The English translation of this word has a range of meanings depending upon the context in which it is used. The most common usage’s are: 1) a dwelling place or a building, and 2) a household, meaning the family members.
“Household evangelism doesn’t mean that children become Christians when their parents believe, although as Paul told the Corinthians (I Cor 7:14), this does give them a spiritual advantage over children in a pagan home.”1 Household evangelism is the basic decision made by a parent, (father or an elder in the family), to believe and to follow Jesus Christ as his disciple, followed by consultation with other members of the family so that they corporately decide to follow Jesus Christ resulting in a Christian household.
II. Biblical Examples
The royal official in Cana believed in Jesus and his whole household with him (John 4:53). Zaccheus, a tax-gatherer, responded to Jesus and Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this household” (Luke 19:8). Paul taught people publicly and “by households” (Acts 20:20). Cornelius feared God with all his household and the promise that he and his household were saved was given to him by the Spirit of God. (Acts 10:2 and 11:14). Lydia with her household was baptized (Acts 16:14). The Philippian jailer and his whole household believed in the Lord and they were baptized (Acts 16:30-34). Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue in the city of Corinth, “believed on the Lord with all his household” (Acts 18:8).
Paul baptized the household of Stephanus (1 Cor 1:16).
Jason’s house at Thessalonica was used by Paul for the ministry (Acts 17). The disciples broke their bread by households (Acts 2:46). Titus’ house which was situated opposite the synagogue in Corinth was used by Paul for the ministry (Acts 18:7). There is a glimpse of whole families involved in giving Paul a farewell (Acts 21:5). The household of Onesiphorus refreshed Paul (2 Tim. 1:16).
In the time of the New Testament, households were the prominent social units. “The emphasis on the house as the fundamental unit of society had a very long history both in Israelite and Roman culture.”2 Households had great influence on society at political, economic and religious levels. The household included more than just parents and children “The family, understood in this broad sense, consisted of blood relatives, slaves, clients and friends, one of the bastions of Greek-Roman Society.”3 The importance of the household in society and its make-up made it an obvious place for evangelism. The examples given above suggest that households (families) were both the means and goal of evangelism.
1. Household Evangelism has Biblical and especially Lukan support. It involves two ideas:
1) the Christian home is a means of evangelism, and
2) the pagan family is a goal of evangelism. This is Lukan theology of Household Evangelism.
2. The theology of Household Evangelism is not exclusively normative in Lukan writings but considering the make-up of the society and the importance of households it was a very effective method used in the first century.
3. The nature of households and the way they were organized required initial contact with the head of the household, (e.g. Cornelius – Acts 10, Lydia – Acts 16, Philippian Jailer- Acts 16, Crispus – Acts 18, Stephanus -1 Cor 1, etc.).
4. Christian families played a crucial role in the spread of the Gospel and in church growth. Paul’s many references to “the church in the house of…” illustrate this. “Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which they could illuminate the surrounding darkness.” Although Paul was mightily used by God as an evangelist it was actually the Christian household that God used for continual church growth. Church history of the first two centuries show this as well.
IV. Our Context
Indian society comprised of almost four thousand distinct communities (people groups) is still largely made up of united households. In some cases the family members are separated geographically but socially they are united with their larger family, and the elders of the family have strong influence over them. The degree to which decision-making is part of a family process is particularly observable in rural India where almost eighty percent of India’s population is to be found. The head of the household, either the father or a grandfather, exercises tremendous influence in making almost all major decisions such as the choosing of life partners for eligible girls and boys, the investment of money, the resolving of interpersonal conflicts, etc. These decisions are made by consultation between adult male members of the family under the authority of the head of the family. Women play a role by privately influencing their men counterparts. It seems that, in most Asian, African, Eastern European and developing Western nations, united households are prominent in society.
V. Strategic Implications
The following strategic implications are drawn from: 1) the Biblical study of Household Evangelism, 2) numerous sociological insights into Indian communities and their family make-up, and 3) experience gained from our North Indian church-planting teams.
1. In long term teams, where church planting is the goal, married missionary couples should be given priority for this work for they will receive a much greater response in establishing lasting and growing ministries.
2. Whenever possible, the elders of the household should be the first ones contacted and their sympathy won towards God’s Word and the Gospel. This would make conducting Bible study in their homes very easy and the elders would influence other family members to participate.
3. The pattern of using Christian homes as a means of spreading the Gospel should be followed. Gospel communication would then take place in the relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the home rather than in the intimidating atmosphere of the church or mission compound.
4. The homes of non-Christian responsive people should be visited regularly for prayer, fellowship and Bible Study.
5. The approach of ministry should be family- centered. Bible study and Gospel meetings with the entire family should be given priority over children’s or youth meetings.
6. Extraction of converts from their families should be absolutely avoided. Among non-Christian communities extraction evangelism generates ill feeling and opposition. Even in cases where there is no opposition, converts extracted from their communities and families usually destroy bridges back to their own people. This hinders church growth especially among the peoples of strongly united families. Reaching households helps to solve this problem.
7. A movement of households turning to Christ should be our goal. Christian households, trained and equipped to reach non-Christian households by becoming one with them, is the most adequate method by which to reach this goal.
1 Terry C. Hulbert, “Families Both the Means and Goal of Evangelism”, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, (Wheaton: Evangelical Missions Information Service, Inc. vol.14, 1978), p.171.
2 Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, (Kent, UK: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1970), p. 208.
3 Ibid., p.210.
4 Ibid., p.210.