5% of the world’s population lives in North America and yet 91% of Christian workers minister to the North American people. For every $100 given in charitable contribution to Christian causes, 5 cents goes toward financing pioneer mission work among unreached people. This is an imbalance that can be tolerated no longer. When 70 million people are on the brink of starvation and half of the absolute poor do not live past age 5, something is wrong. The church is not reflecting Christ, which includes compassion. We’re called to light in the darkness, not light in the lightness!
How shall we respond? That the task is just too overwhelming for us to attempt? Here’s the truth: what seems impossible to man is exactly what God wants to do! And what God wants to do is have His glory spread throughout the whole world as the sea covers the earth (Habakkuk 2:14). Completing the task means victory; the enemy destroyed!
When we pray “Our father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re asking God to bring out completion of the task. It’s not about taking us away to the place where His kingdom and will are being done, but rather to make His kingdom and will be done here.
As we stop allowing the things of this world and the flesh to compete for our affection and delight ourselves in Him, the things that are big deals to us become smaller, and what is a big deal to Him becomes a big deal for us. He places the desires in His heart in our hearts. That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says ask anything and it will be given to you. That’s not about prosperity gospel. That’s about us asking for what God already wants to give us because we’ve asked of Him what is on His heart.
If we want the glory of God to spread across the earth like the sea, we’ve got to bring balance to our efforts. Oswald J Smith stated, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice when there are those who have yet to hear it once?” Here’s the deal: 90% of the current distribution of missionaries is targeted toward people who have already been reached. 73% of that is toward areas already considered Christian. To the five major non-Christian religions, 3.8% are toward unreached tribal areas, 0.6% to unreached Hindu, 0.6% to unreached non-religious, 3% to unreached Muslim, and 1.5% to unreached Buddhist.
But what are we talking about when we say “missionary” and “evangelism”. There’s different levels to this. At the level we’ll call E-0, there is absolutely no barrier to the gospel. This level of evangelism is targeted toward people who grew up in church and understand the message; they just need to commit. E-1 evangelism is aimed at people who are not in the church but live in the same culture as people who do. This level is most effective toward people like you. E-2 crosses a language or cultural barrier and requires someone to go to the people. E-3 is the hardest level, involving radically different language and culture and can often be met with hostile resistance. Not only is it the hardest but it is the most needed level of work. So let us separate the terms “missionary” and “evangelism” so that the former represent E-2 and E-3 work and the latter E-0 and E-1.
Church-planting is the key to finishing the task, and that’s only going to happen when we take the Great Commission seriously and actually go make disciples. The churches need to be viable, indigenous, and reproducible. That is our essential task. The strategy the missionary must employ is one of gradual shrinking. The authors of Perspectives propose a four stage process: 1) Pioneering, where we go to learn and bear the load of all the work to be done. 2) Parenting, where we begin to disciple and model roles within the church. 3) Partnership, where the missionary hands over roles and allows nationals to make decisions. 4) Participant, where the missionary only comes by invitation and allows the new church to begin the process themselves.
You know, it’s interesting that “believer” and “Christian” are only in the Bible a few times, but “follower” is there 269 times. We’ve reduced following Jesus to praying a prayer and declaring a person fit for heaven. We need to be less concerned with people making “decisions” for Christ and more for people becoming disciples of Christ. Praying a prayer is not in the Bible. Jesus told the people to be saved they had to follow Him. They had to be willing to forsake their jobs, families, and lives. But these days, we treat Jesus more like a janitor who comes in to clean things up for us rather than a king who is worthy of everything we have. James Hudson Taylor said, “The great commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed.”
If we want to be part of finishing the task, then we’ve got to develop strategies and devote our resources and lives to the places that have not heard it. While we anticipate the second coming of Christ, some people haven’t even heard of the first! Paul, in Romans 15:20-21, made his purpose clear; ours should be no different:
“…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”
The imbalance in our efforts must be dealt with. If we really study history, we will see the results of peoples and nations keeping the blessings they receive for themselves. What happened, you ask? Those nations had to lose their blessing in order for the remaining nations to receive it. Through us or in spite of us, God will continue to take the gospel to the nations. We are to be salt and light. These things are only effective when spread out, not contained within a small area. I like how John Zumwalt said it: “We’re not called to be the salt lick of the earth, but to be sprinkled and spread out.” God uses ordinary people who do not love their lives in the face of death. Are the peoples at the ends of the earth worth it to us?