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 the 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 God.

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 material."

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 work.
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 planting attempts.

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, and 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 96.
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 dogs. That's where we'll be ... in those crowded parks!
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 ]

  Page:   ←Prev    |    Introduction  |    1. The Leaning Tower, the Lira, and  Women's Lib  |    2. Italian, Illegal Drugs, and Insulated  Buildings  |    3. Fiats, Florence, and&n b sp;Furloughs   |    4. The Military, Missionaries, and the  Mafia  |    5. Marco Polo and  Ronald  McDonald  |    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, a nd the Bible  College  |    10. Culture Shock and  Carpeting   |    11. A Word from My Heart   |    Next→ 

Books, broadcasting and the Bible college

Next chapterIs 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 ]
-- Howard Culbertson,

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