There was the wide open door for the gospel! Right in front of me. In our ministry in Sudan, we had won over the hearts of people and their leaders. We had served them in the civil war with mobile clinics and a feeding center for malnourished children. Those acts of compassion opened their ears to us and to what we wanted to say, which was essentially the good news.
We built relationships focusing on the sheikhs, the village chiefs. God had promised there would be a movement, and in order to see a movement we needed to win over the key influencers and power holders of society. These were the skeikhs. We aimed to turn any and every conversation into a Jesus conversation. To any question they asked, we had only one answer – Jesus; directly or indirectly. “Why did you leave the wealth of your home country to come to our misery?” Answer: Jesus! “You know, I am a follower of Jesus, and Jesus teaches his followers to care for the poor and needy, and I heard about your civil war, and that is why I came.” – “What do you think is the reason of our war and our troubles?” Answer: Jesus! Okay, not directly 😊. But indirectly: “You know, God created a perfect world, but then… [you fill in the creation, the Fall, and redemption story].” – “How do you think we can have peace again?” Answer: Jesus! “Well, we all believe that Jesus is the Prophet of Peace (a Qur’anic title of Jesus). We can only have peace with our follow-humans when we first find peace with God. Jesus can help you find peace with God, if you put your trust in him and become his follower.” And so on. You get the picture. First, they listened out of respect for me. After all, I was the NGO director, so they showed me honor by listening to my stories. After a while, I realized, this polite interest turned gradually into genuine interest. They wanted to talk more, and they asked serious questions. Their hearts began to open up to the gospel, because they began to see the beauty and power of the gospel message itself.
Then I had a shocking insight. If I were bold enough, we could confidently share our message with these men in power, and the entire region under their reign could open up to the gospel.
If I were bold enough. If… Small problem: I wasn’t.
I am naturally shy, the opposite of bold. Oh, how I hated that trait of shyness that had characterized me all my life! I vividly recalled the many times in high school when the teacher asked the class a question, and I instantly raised my hand to offer an answer. I knew I could likely give the right answer. I knew I was among the more intelligent kids in class. So I quickly raised my hand – only to pull it down again even more quickly. Because what if my answer was not 100% accurate? Worse, what if one of my classmates made a mocking comment that embarrassed me? So, arm down! I was that shy as a teenager and young adult. And now the idea of sharing the good news with those in power over this land? What a frightening thought!
Others might have described me as bold. Moving to a place as rugged as Sudan. Sharing Jesus with Muslims. Moving into a civil war. Taking our baby boys along. I had certainly grown in boldness since my high school days. But I didn’t feel bold at all. And I certainly wasn’t bold enough to make full use of this gospel opportunity.
If this were the case, if they were really open to explore the gospel more, then my boldness, or rather lack of it, was the bottleneck. I needed more boldness. The shy Emanuel needed a massive leap in his boldness level.
So I turned to the Lord of the Harvest, my Papa: “Father, please don’t let me squander this opportunity. Please fill me with more boldness.” I prayed like this for a little less than two weeks. One morning, as I was sitting on a chair in our courtyard doing my morning devotions, I literally jumped up from my chair, exclaiming: “I am gonna preach to them!”
What did I need boldness for?
I’ll share the factors for which I needed to act boldly. They may give you ideas of areas where you are challenged to act boldly:
Sharing Jesus in a society that was 100% Muslim, and had been so for more than 500 years
The shy young guy I was, publicly addressing the political leaders, sheikhs all more than twice my age
Rebel army commanders ever present, playing around with their Kalashnikovs
Political leaders could decide any moment that they didn’t like us sharing the gospel and tell us: “Leave our area at once!”
Government spies reporting on us, with the constantly lingering threat of closing down our NGO and expelling us from the country within a matter of days
The secular NGO community scorning our “strange Christian NGO”
Institutional donors withdraw funding and thereby the very foundation of our projects
Essentially, everyone in power in the country could turn against us in an instant.
“God said there will be a movement. You must be bold. Be bold NOW!”
How boldness contributes to a movement
I felt so small, surrounded by these powers, all much more powerful than I. Like David against Goliath, actually more like a mosquito against Goliath…
But preach I did!
I broached the idea of a meeting where we would discuss Isa (Jesus) and the Injil (gospel) with Adam, the senior sheikh of the region. He could invite any other sheikh he wanted to invite to such a gathering.
More than 50 sheikhs showed up for the meeting. They came from up to six hours’ donkey ride, from the entire region. We started the meeting by planning our NGO’s next vaccination campaign in the villages. After that, the thought crossed my mind like an arrow: “Emanuel, dismiss the meeting. You certainly don’t want to preach Jesus here! This is ridiculous. Remember the likely consequences. You’ll be kicked out.”
I was about to open my mouth and announce: “Thank you for coming today. Remember to send your delegates to the vaccination training. Go in peace!” But then I told my spirit a harsh “No! --- No! God said there will be a movement. You must be bold. Be bold NOW!” I got up on my feet again, raised my voice, and announced: “Many of you have had conversations with me in the past months about God’s truth, His word, and Isa and the Injil. Sheikh Adam invited you all today to further discuss these important matters…”
This initial meeting with more than 50 sheikhs led to all of them coming into the kingdom some months later. The movement God had said we would see was underway. The movement for which we had had expectant faith. The movement we had prayed for. The movement we had acted boldly for.
What would have happened, had I given in to my fears and chosen not to share Jesus boldly in that moment? I’ve often asked myself that question. The movement might have never happened…
How the story continued and how movement breakthrough happened, I will share in one of my next blogs.
What would have happened, had I given in to my fears and chosen not to share Jesus boldly in that moment? The movement might have never happened.
What does boldness look like in catalysts?
Now that you have heard my story, I want to widen it to movement catalysts across the board. Because almost all catalysts face challenges that require them to act boldly.
Universally, this is what catalysts look like: effective catalysts are bold and brave in advancing the gospel, even in the face of danger and threat. They are courageous in holding on to their convictions, in spite of difficulty and resistance.
In the process of catalyzing a movement, most of us face difficulty, resistance, threat, and danger. The qualities required to face these challenges include being courageous, brave, holding on to own convictions. In one word, boldness.
The cycle of expectant faith and boldness
After listening to the stories of numerous catalysts and analyzing surveys in which they self-assessed their traits and competencies, a distinct picture emerged. I shared it in my recent post on Expectant Faith, and briefly recap here. I will depict it as a cycle, then explain.
The roots of boldness are found in a catalyst’s deep hunger for God. As a catalyst yearns to know and love God more deeply and seeks him, God gives revelation. Most catalysts report that God spoke to them about his plans with them and their ministry and/or his plans for what he desires to accomplish among the people they serve. Many receive such revelation through a dream or vision or prophetic word, others through a Scripture that God gives them. Based on that revelation, Expectant Faith is built that God will start a movement. This revelation also births boldness in a catalyst – bold action and bold prayer. Out of that boldness, a catalyst is emboldened to take steps of faith. As they take those steps, God intervenes and moves to show his power. This leads to deeper hunger for God, and so the cycle continues. God’s revelation is the divine element in this cycle. We cannot manufacture it. All the other elements, including boldness, are very much in the hands of us as catalysts. It depends on us whether we pray for boldness and an infilling with the Spirit or not, whether we choose boldness or give in to our fears, and whether we grow in boldness over time to have the courage to the tackle the challenges we face on the road to movement. This is the journey I have seen in the lives of many catalysts; not mechanically, since God deals with each of us in unique ways, but a pretty consistent pattern appears in story after story.
Best Practices from the lives of effective catalysts These are practices gleaned from surveys of effective catalysts, which they report to have incorporated in their lives and assess to contribute to their movement catalyzing: BEST PRACTICE 1: Developing a deep consciousness of carrying out the will of God. Example from one catalyst: “Because we regularly tested our actual practice against scriptural methodology (examples and methods clearly seen or directly given by Christ or the Apostles), we felt confident that we were doing exactly what the Lord desired of us. This gave us boldness and confidence.” BEST PRACTICE 2: Expecting hostility as normal, and thus being emotionally ready to face it. BEST PRACTICE 3: Preparing for situations that will require boldness. Practical example from another catalyst: “Most of our workers were drilled on the 10 FAQs/difficulties of Muslim outreach. There were role playing exercises and testimonies from MBB evangelists. Our workers could enter into conversations about Christ more prepared than the Muslims to whom they were ministering. Once someone has shared their testimony 20 times, fear dissipates. Boldness takes over. We also meet weekly to process conversations that were happening. This creates an atmosphere of trying in faith.” BEST PRACTICE 4: Modeling boldness that inspires boldness in others.
Are you playing to win or not to lose?
Here is a powerful quote from Reggie McNeal who writes the following on boldness. McNeal contrasts the boldness of David (when facing Goliath) with the fear of Israel’s army: “Many spiritual leaders do not lead from courage. They lead from fear. Fear drives many ministries. Fear of being disliked, fear of losing income, fear of failure, fear of conflict – these and a hundred other fears form a giant that calls the leader out to a contest. Often the leader resembles the rest of the Israelite soldiers, who were held hostage by Goliath’s threats. Those who are fear dominated may even suit up for battle each day and visit the battlefield to skirmish. However, they are playing not to lose rather than playing to win.” (McNeal: A Work of Heart, p. 25)
We all must face the simple question: Do we suit up for battle and visit the battlefield to skirmish? In other words, do we tackle lots of things in ministry but evade the one battle that must be addressed boldly? Are we playing not to lose? Meaning, we play it safe, making sure we are causing no upset?
Or do we go onto the battlefield in order to fight? In order to fight the one battle that must be fought boldly? Do we play to win? Are we tackling whatever it takes to achieve breakthrough?
This mental image helps me frequently to embolden myself and tackle whatever needs to be tackled boldly.
Self-Coaching Questions to identify fear and release boldness
Where do you face fear in your ministry? Name one specific situation or issue.
Reflect on this particular situation or issue. To what extent are your actions (or inactions) dominated by fear? How bold are you in acting according to the motto: Attack Goliath boldly!
What would help you in this particular situation to overcome your fears and to develop more boldness and take the steps that must be taken?
Take those steps!
How you can cultivate boldness – a Growth Path
These are some practical steps you can take to develop your own faith. I have gleaned them from my own journey and from the journeys of many other catalysts I have surveyed on how they grew in boldness.
Praying for boldness
Being filled with the Holy Spirit
Walking in obedience to God’s will as He has revealed it to you
Proclaiming the truth of the Bible
Identifying fears and overcoming them
Identifying areas of “visits to the battlefield to skirmish” and evading the battle that must be fought
Practicing boldness in smaller challenges, thereby growing in boldness
Steve Addison interviewed me recently for his podcast. If you want to hear more about how my story unfolded and boldness contributed to a movement, you can find the podcast here.
Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides boldness in my new book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here!
What are YOUR thoughts? What is your experience with boldness? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!
McNeal, Reggie. 2000. A work of heart: Understanding how God shapes spiritual leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.