The son of a German pastor, Reinhard Bonnke himself became a pastor in his home country for seven years before sensing a call of God to begin a mission work in southern Africa. Starting with a tent seating 800 people, his crusades attracted such crowds that he eventually commissioned construction of the world’s largest mobile structure — a tent that could seat 34,000 people. Today, however, most of his crusades take place in giant stadiums across Africa, where they draw hundreds of thousands across the continent. A Pentecostal preacher who sees healing miracles as a critical element of his African crusades, he nevertheless believes that preaching is the key God uses to draw people to salvation. Preaching editor Michael Duduit recently visited with Bonnke.
Preaching: You have become known for the evangelistic crusades that you lead around the world, particularly in Africa. Is there is still a place in the 21st century for evangelistic preaching?
Bonnke: Oh yes! God’s Word is still calling for them and the scripture says that God has sent the gifts of the Spirit for ministry and the Evangelist remains a part of it no matter what or how things are changing in the culture. I actually believe with all of my heart that the ministry of Evangelism, of the Evangelist, is the most important of all because he is out to rescue the perishing and to save the drowning. This is the heart of God. Salvation cost him everything — His only begotten Son.
When God created the world, He didn’t sweat — not one drop of perspiration. But God was sweating blood at the cross. That’s what it cost Him to save us. That’s not a small thing. So proclaiming the cross is not a side thought, an afterthought. It’s not on the back burner; it must be the front burner. It stems from the greatest word that Jesus preached from the Cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not for what they do.”All these things stir my heart, and when I see how souls are coming to the arms of Jesus by the hundreds of thousands in my own crusades, I’m awed. And I know that there’s great joy in Heaven.
Preaching: Has your evangelistic preaching changed over the years? With the variety of cultures and settings to which you go and preach, do you find that you have had to adapt you approach to evangelistic preaching in any way?
Bonnke: To be honest, the Gospel I preach in Africa is the same Gospel I preach in America. I cannot use the same illustrations, maybe, because people may not understand things. But the message is absolutely the same. And I find I get the same kind of response from the people because we are all sons and daughters of God. I’m not coming with a different Gospel but to different people. It’s the same message: Christ crucified, risen from the dead; we must repent and believe. Sin and salvation to face, turning from doubt and darkness to light, from the power of sin to the power of God — it is the same message and it has the same glorious effect.
Preaching: Tell me about your process of preparing an evangelistic sermon.
Bonnke: Well, I don’t deliver sermons. I deliver people. I’m an evangelist. I preach the ABC’s of the gospel. I often say: I preach the ABC’s, my colleagues preach the XYZ’s, so between us we preach the whole alphabet!
I go into the jungle often. I go to remote areas where nobody else is going. They keep telling me, “You’re the first Evangelist who has come into this area.” With or without that, I have to repeat the ABC’s of the Gospel. I preach salvation always, so I am a repeat preacher. Like teachers at school, getting a new class and explaining the ABC’s, that’s where I get it from. I’m a repeat preacher.
A pastor cannot preach like that. He’s got the same congregation, and he comes with different subjects every Sunday — something else. I keep repeating the message of the Cross and Salvation again, and again, and again.
Over the years, I’ve seen the response some of my messages bring and I repeat those messages that bring the greatest and the best response because I want to see people in Heaven. These people are being taken into the local churches and there they are being nourished in the Word of God but I am the ABC guy. I am the evangelist and I stick with that.
Now I am not always satisfied by just preaching the ABC’s, and preaching the ABC’s does not mean that I don’t know the XYZ’s. I do. I very well do. That’s why I’m writing books. My first book was published in 1989. There are now 180 million copies of my books in about 100 languages spread across the globe and I feel that’s my place where I can really communicate what else is in my heart.
Preaching: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of preaching evangelistically?
Bonnke: He is the spark. He is the spark. The Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus. That’s what I feel. I very much rely on the Holy Spirit because it’s the electric charge, really.
When I pick up the phone and I want to speak with someone in San Francisco, I’m not shouting loud into the phone, hoping he can hear me in San Francisco. It’s an electric charge. It’s a background to it. I can whisper and he will hear it. Shouting won’t help it. This is what I feel at my meetings, although I love shouting all the same! It’s the spark nature. It’s my character. You know, when I’m excited people will know that I am excited!
The Holy Spirit is also authenticating the message I preach. It’s a ministry of preaching, teaching, healing as Jesus did. If you read Matthew 4 — preaching, teaching, healing; preaching, teaching, healing. I feel I’m obliged to follow that example and the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers that.
Preaching: Tell me about your crusades — about where you go, and the kind of response that you see.
Bonnke: First of all, we work together with the widest spectrum of the Christian Church. Wherever we go, we break all records of church unity. I’m proud of that. Everywhere, churches support each other, when they can all agree on us because we are there to endure loss and every church can benefit, you see. So we draw all counselors from those churches, 50 t0 60 thousand per crusade. We had up to 200,000 counselors for one crusade. In that week, we had 3.4 million registrant decision cards for salvation.
A number of counselors can handle it very well. It’s not a mass production — it’s a one-on-one process. It all works very, very well, so the churches are involved, which is important. They bring the lost — the Muslims are attracted, other religions are attracted. I think what makes us such a draw to Muslins, for instance, are all the miracles they receive. Let a blind Muslin receive a healing miracle in one of my meetings and generally what happens is he goes home to his family to tell them what happened. The next day, the whole family comes to the crusade and they all receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and Confessor and as the Son of God. That might be where we start, maybe a hundred thousand, and then over the next few days the crowd grows to 500,000, to 800,000, a million, 1.2 million, 1.6 million. That’s what we have seen and soon the crusade begins to influence the whole region. The whole region. That is for the sinners, then in the mornings I have conferences for the church workers. This is how it works and the attendance is super. It’s marvelous!
We have had 42 million people complete a card that have come for salvation. These are decision cards to receive Jesus as their Savior. They are being followed up, and I hear of great, great results. Great, great church growth everywhere.
Preaching: I know you lead many crusades in Africa. Where else do you go?
Bonnke: Africa is my focus. I have lived many years in Africa. My children were born in Africa and Africa is my focus. About 20 years ago, the Lord spoke to me and said I should not neglect the rest of the world. And then, you know, my eyes opened and I went to Southeast Asia. I went to Indonesia, to Malaysia, the Philippines, India. I really struck India a lot. I’ll soon go back to India – there is a (spiritual) high tide there now.
I’ve seen it in West Africa. The last few years, I felt I could not leave there because this time of high tide is always a limited period, with a beginning and an end, and you cannot say “I’m going to come back next year” where the time is now. Next year may be too late. So I felt I had to hone in on West Africa with all of my mind and this is why. I try to respond with the tide, which we have seen the last five or six years, I believe it will be up, possibly for another five years. But my goal is that by the end of this decade, we will have won, by crusades alone, 100 million people.
Preaching: What would you say to pastors about evangelistic preaching?
Bonnke: I hope I’m not coming over critically, but there have been occasions when I was sitting in a church, and it was like when I sat in a flight simulator with a student pilot, with everything right. It’s all on the screen and he feels he’s 30,000 feet high in the air, yet he is really still on the floor. I think we need to get out of this idea. We need to hit the streets again — the highways and byways. We have go to find the Mary Magdalene’s, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. I wonder where He found her? Surely not at Church. We’ve go to go out — go, go, go out!
It struck me when I read Genesis 1, how the Holy Spirit was brooding over the chaos — in the strict darkness, brooding, hovering, hovering, brooding. Nothing happening. Absolutely nothing — until verse three. And then God said, “Let there be light.” Suddenly I saw something I never saw before. The Holy Spirit waited for the word. He couldn’t begin the miracle of creation without the spoken word. I think that connects with John chapter one. “In the beginning was the Word.” Genesis 1 and John 1 have close links, but John 1 takes it to a far deeper level.
Jesus said go and preach the Gospel. Holy Spirit is hovering over the nations and is waiting for somebody to come and preach the Gospel. And the moment of Gospel, when the Word of God is spoken, the Holy Spirit rises on the back of the Word and there is Salvation. There’s deliverance. There’s healing. There is freedom. There’s joy.
So we need to go and preach the ABC’s of the Gospel to those who don’t know it. The Holy Spirit is already waiting for us. Waiting for us to speak the Word. They are waiting for a preacher, for a witness, so that He can connect with that witness and the Gospel becomes an event. And when it becomes an event, it is news. Good news. That’s how I see it.