8. Sincerity, self-support, and sowing the seed
ebook: Pasta, pizza, and Pinocchio: Questions and answers about the Church of the
Nazarene in Italy (part 9)
Missions in Italy
In this ebook, Pasta, pizza and Pinocchio,
Howard Culbertson answers questions he has been asked about missionary work in Italy.
Originally published for the Nazarene Missions International mission book series by what is now
called The Foundry, this book carried ISBN number 0-8341-0612-4. Some material
has been updated for this ebook edition.
- Do you believe Catholics who are really sincere will be lost?
- Sincerity in religion is never enough . . . not for
Roman Catholics or Nazarenes or Baptists or whatever label might be on the door of the building
where they worship. Sincerity is not an adequate test of a man's uprightness before God. The
apostle Paul does talk about every man having God's law
written on his heart. A person's response to that God-written law rather than just an attitude of
sincerity about whatever a person believes, will undoubtedly be part of the criterion used in
divine judgment. Both God's Word and the record of history tell the stories of countless people
who have been sincere and who have also been wrong, very wrong.
- Do most of your converts come from the young age brackets?
- Not particularly. The conversions come pretty evenly
from all ages and from both sexes. In the Italian Catholic churches religious observances,
churchgoing and other sacred habits are cose femminile,
women's things. Religious fervor in a Roman Catholic male is regarded as soft-headedness. But
that's not true in evangelical circles. The man will often be converted first.
- What about older people? Isn't it almost impossible to lead them to the Lord?
- No. It is not at all uncommon for older Italians to find
the Lord. They have searched all their life and found only tradition and cold dogmas. They can
really be hungry for the truth.
- What percentage of the converts remain Christian?
- A good percentage. Conversion is usually preceded by
a long process of seed-sowing and the conversion is a thought-through thing for them. Once they
have made that commitment, then, it usually sticks.
- Do our churches in Italy have Wednesday night prayer meetings? Do they have three
services a week like we do?
- The service schedule varies from church to church.
Both the times and days of services are different for each congregation. Some groups or
preaching points may have only one meeting a week. Others will have three services but they
may be Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, and Thursday evening. One church has a 5:30 a.m.
prayer meeting every morning. The Florence church had a Wednesday evening service that began
at 9 p.m.
Every day of the week there is a service in at least one of the
Nazarene churches in Italy.
- What other churches are working in Italy?
- Other active denominations include Southern Baptist,
Conservative Baptist, Plymouth Brethren, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, Salvation Army,
the Apostolic Church, Seventh-Day Adventist, and the Waldensian. Back to the Bible Broadcast has a rather large
missionary staff. Several independent mission organizations are active, most of them working
with the Plymouth Brethren churches.
- Do you ever work with these other missionaries?
- We do have an annual English-speaking workers'
meeting for exchange of ideas and information and for fellowship. In addition, there are other
nationwide conferences occasionally for those involved in specialized ministries like literature,
broadcasting, audiovisual production, etc. We normally have at least one Nazarene representative
at all of these meetings.
- How many evangelicals are there in Italy?
- About 200,000, half of which belong to Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of
Interestingly, Italy has long been considered a "tough" mission field.
But Italy has less than one foreign missionary per 1,000 Protestant church members, while Japan,
for instance, has one foreign missionary for every 200 Protestants.
Results may come slowly. However, part of the reason could be that it just hasn't had enough
expatriate missionary attention focused on it.
- At what stage is the Italian district in its development?
- We are a "National-Mission District." That means we
now have achieved some degree of self-government with an Italian as district superintendent.
The next stage is to become a "Mission District." To take that step, the district must, among other
things, be providing at least half its own financial support. A few years ago the Mission Council
and the District Advisory Board led by then-missionary Roy Fuller set a goal of reaching the 50
percent self-supporting level. Pray that God will guide us in reaching that level.
- When the Italians get converted, do they support the church?
- Yes, especially if they can sense a special need.
Alfredo Del Rosso, in a 1955 letter to General Superintendent Benner, wrote: "The Italians
are like anyone else -- when they have got the spiritual blessing, they are glad to give the
On the other hand, the concept of consistent, conscientious
Christian stewardship, including tithing, is unknown to most Italians. Their giving experience in
the past has been based on one-time emotional appeals, on offering boxes, on paying for masses,
funerals, weddings, and candles.
But in his own family life, the Italian does value economic
security much more than economic adventure. Hopefully, this cherishing of solid financial
stability can be harnessed for the church.
- Do we have any self-supporting churches in Italy?
- No, not yet. Some of them are making good progress
toward that goal. Our giving district-wide has grown tremendously since the first district
assembly under missionary superintendent Paul Wire. During one 15-year period, the Italian
district increased its total giving by an average of 20 percent each year.
- Has anybody else in Italy made progress toward self-support?
- The Seventh-Day Adventists place a heavy emphasis on tithing, so they are close to total
self-support. The Apostolic Church is now close to its goal of self-support as are the
Assemblies of God. Others, however, are making less progress toward this goal. We're probably
kind of in the middle of the pack as far as self-support is concerned.
- Why don't you attempt to convert some of those rich Italians? They could help finance the
- Our strategy is to love and witness to and share with
whomever the Holy Spirit brings across our path. To go after
wealthy people only because we think we need their money would be a distortion of the Great Commission. In the end, it's the Lord who provides the
finances, anyway. If we get overly concerned about where it's going to come from, we're
probably trying to put our trust somewhere else other than in Him.
Trying to convert wealthy Italians hoping to gain access to pocketbooks doesn't seem to me a
biblical strategy of evangelism and church health.
- What are some of your present financial needs on the field?
- We are always in need of special funding for literature
projects, ministerial training programs. media outreach efforts. office equipment, and new church
We are running a full-orbed program of evangelism, discipleship, and social action, not only in
Italy, but all around
the world. It may be the Lord would lead you to sacrificially give to support some particular type
of ministry. If that would be so, the Church of the Nazarene can help you make certain your gifts
yield the most for the advancement of the Kingdom.
- Can too much money be poured into a field, stifling local initiative?
- "Too much" is never a problem. It's all in how the
available money is being used. Even a little money used in the wrong way could be stifling. On
the other hand, a lot of money used in the right way could stimulate local initiative. It just
depends on how and where the money is used. Nazarene missionary dollars do not go just to
provide "bread," that is, just for survival. Nazarene missionary strategy is to use missionary
dollars to build "bakeries" so that our Italian brethren can produce bread to feed others. Or, to use
another figure of speech: We are trying to help them build "tool shops."
- What is the greatest obstacle you face?
- It's probably one growing out of a Roman-Catholic-dominated culture. The Catholic church
is very much a clergy-centered (priest/nun) church with authority filtering down from the top.
When they are converted, the Italians have trouble getting rid of that cultural overhang. They
often do not understand, for instance, why they should be expected to do anything more than
come if there's a paid pastor. Both pastors and people tend to create "one-man shows" where the
pastor has to do everything. This, of course, tends to keep churches very, very small.
- Has all of the current interest in church growth affected the work in Italy?
- This kind of honest statistical evaluation and the
studying of growth potential from a sociological view is an area where we could do better and
learn more. I am aware of only one book written on Italian Protestantism from the church growth
perspective, and it hasn't been translated into Italian.
- How do Italians respond to the message of holiness?
- Pastor Del Rosso says it's exactly the kind of message
the Italian has longed for all of his or her life. All of the acts of penance, the saying of rosaries,
the candle lighting, the pilgrimages to shrines, have been an attempt to sense an inner cleanness.
A Bible-based message of heart purity is exactly what he's searching for.
Some of our pastors have discovered effective illustrations for the Wesleyan doctrine of heart
holiness in Italian legends and folklore.
- What happened to Del Rosso? I used to pray for him almost every day.
- At this writing he is still going strong at 89 years of
age, still preaching occasionally. His wife died over 10 years ago and he now lives near Florence
with a married daughter, Maria. Later note: Del Rosso did pass away at age
- What kind of evangelism programs do you have?
- The most visible effort to date is one we're launching right now: an evangelistic tent
ministry to be used in the spring, summer, and fall. Some of our churches have had weekend
evangelistic campaign services and tract distribution has also been widely used. Some calling
programs have been tried and occasionally a film will be used to attract unchurched people.
Perhaps one of the most consistently effective methods has been the informal "gossiping of the
gospel" done by the believers. This has worked especially well within family units.
- Where will you put your tent? The cities look pretty crowded to me.
- They are crowded, but that's a plus for a tent-style
campaign. Scattered through those cities are small parks. There, people go for a stroll with their
babies, talk to each other, let the children play, or walk their dog. That's where we'll be ... in those
- Will Catholic politicians give you trouble in getting permits for your tent?
- We don't think so. Other groups operating tent
evangelism do not seem to be experiencing real problems. With the Constitution guaranteeing
freedom of religion and speech, the law should be on our side.
- Do you have Vacation Bible Schools in Italy?
- Three of our churches -- Civitavecchia, Rome, and Moncalieri -- have operated summer
ministry programs for children similar to the VBS concept. A major hurdle for them is the
fact that materials are not available in Italian. Any local church wanting to conduct such a
program must start from scratch.
- Do you expect us to remain small in Italy?
- I don't think so. We have gone through some low
periods. Satan has hit us with some pretty hard blows and it has been difficult to
regain momentum. The shift to Italian leadership did not produce the growth spurt we
missionaries had hoped for. But now our Italian leaders and missionaries are
optimistic about the future.
On a few occasions, Italy has managed to outdo the U.S. church in average annual percentage
growth in membership. On the other hand, there have also been too many negative years.
. . . [ continue reading ]
1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and
Women's Lib |
2. Italian, Illegal Drugs, and Insulated
3. Fiats, Florence, and Furloughs
4. The Military, Missionaries, and the
5. Marco Polo and Ronald
6. The Cerratos, Alabaster Churches,
and Work Crews |
7. Communism, Catholicism, and the Charismatics
| 8. Sincerity, Self-support,
and Sowing the Seed |
9. Books, Broadcasting, and the Bible
10. Culture Shock and Carpeting
11. A Word from My Heart |
Books, broadcasting and the Bible college
-- Howard Culbertson,
|Is the Bible readily
available in Italy? . . . Aren't there Christian TV programs being beamed into Italy by satellite?. . .
Are our churches located in large cities? . . . [ more
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