In an age of technology and internet there are still billions who have never even heard the gospel. When the Bible uses the word “nations” it does not mean geopolitically bordered entities. It is describing people groups gathered under the commonality of culture and language. We call these groups of people who have not heard “unreached people groups” where less than 2% are identified as followers of Jesus. These are people with no access to the gospel. They are born, live their entire lives, and die, having never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. As an example, there’s an area in India where the mortality rate is some 5,000 people per day. They are 0.01% evangelical, which means 4,950 people each day in this area alone are plunging into an eternal hell while I sit here with my casual association with Jesus and play the game of checking off my religious boxes.
Or recently, I learned of an area in Nepal where a follower of Christ was on mission. While hiking down a trail, he came to a sacred river where the dead are placed on pyres, lit ablaze, and sent down river in order to find safe passage to reincarnation. In those moments of watching the bodies burned, his heart was broken with the realization that even as their physical bodies burned as he watched them pass by, so too were their souls burning for all eternity because no one ever told them there was a park to avoid it. We wait for the second coming of Christ while they have not even heard of the first. Followers of Christ, we cannot be satisfied with this status quo any more.
There are approximately 6,500 people groups in the world who are unreached. Of those 6,500, some 3,500 have no one actively working among them. We call those “unengaged.” A majority of them live in what is known as the 10-40 window, an area on the globe from latitudes 10 to 40 where more than 3 billion people live. I want to share with you some stats, but in doing so, want to make clear that I am not diminishing the importance of local ministry efforts. The importance of reaching our neighbors is just as high, but today I want to show you the disparity and the gap of advancing the kingdom into unreached areas.
5% of the world’s population lives in North America yet more than 90% of Christian ministry efforts are carried out here and 95% of all giving goes here. For every $100 given, 5 cents is for church planting efforts among the unreached. We spend nearly $10,000 per convert in the American church versus 10 cents in developing countries. We have some 300,000 seminary trained pastors whereas there is maybe one pastor per 50 congregations. Millions upon millions are spent in buildings, and programs, and elaborate concert-style conferences, while brothers and sisters risk death just for owning a Bible.
The question I ask myself is: “How can I sit here in my comfort and complacency, consume the parts of the gospel that benefit me, and complain when I don’t have them anymore? Yet people around the world risk their lives just for the chance to get together as a secret house church.” I cannot tolerate this for my life any longer. It breaks my heart.
But there is hope because the Church is waking up to fulfill our mandate. Evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing religious movement in the world, growing at a rate of 7.5%. More people have come to know Jesus in the past 100 years than the previous 1900. At the same time, more people have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than ever before. Think there is not a high cost to this command?
Church, I believe with all my heart that we can see the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation, if we long for and love the Lord’s return more than our own lives. There are some 50,000 Southern Baptist churches alone, to speak nothing of all the other denominations who are also evangelical. That means if just 12% of this one denomination would say yes to God with a blank check and go to an unreached people, we would complete our mandate in this lifetime. Just 12%.
Our responsibility as the Church is to multiply disciples. As individuals, we reproduce disciples of Jesus, and as a church, we reproduce self-sustaining churches. And I believe that we are poised to be this missional force; the foundation is already in place in our life groups, if we’re willing to balance our purposes, radically change our lives in obedience to Christ’s command, forsake our comforts, and be courageous for this gospel without having all the answers. God will reward our faith, which is the joy of being a part of spreading God’s glory.
Surely, we do not want to miss being a part of this. The thing is, we don’t have to pray for and wonder what God’s will is. We know His will. We need to pray for how we align our lives to His will. We don’t have to hang ourselves up on all the supposed signs of the end of the age. We’ve been in the end of the age since Christ ascended to heaven, and it is on us to see to His return! If we long for Christ’s return, this is our driving purpose.
“…this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” -Matthew 24:14
“God has not saved us to sideline us for his global purpose,” Dr. David Platt, President of the International Mission Board said. We need to see every day life as a part of God’s global purpose. To surrender daily to however he wants to use us in that purpose. Some it will be right where you are; some periodic going; some to take their work here and use it over there. But to do this we cannot be mired in ineffectiveness with our toying with sin and temptation, nor live in complacency and consumerism in our religion. We will consider the costs to ourselves and our families and move where the Spirit of God is working. What does this look like? The Bible gives us three choices. Let’s talk about those.
First, we can be go. We go into our neighborhoods and workplaces, we go into our community, we go across the world. Local and global. The harvest is everywhere. We are trying to pull people in when we should be training up ourselves to go out! Our direction should be like that of Paul’s:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” – Romans 10:14-15a
“…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I built 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.'” – Romans 15:20-21
Whether daily lives, short-term or long-term missions, or lifetime overseas work, we all have the opportunity to go. If we’re going to take the gospel into the front lines, then we must be strong of faith and grounded in biblical truth. That’s the cool thing about how God rigged discipleship. We can’t make disciples unless we become disciples. Our own discipleship is a by-product of the purpose to make disciples. The spiritual battle for lives is unlike anything we experience here in America, where the worst ‘persecution’ we face is the risk of offending someone. Being on mission is a serious and solemn undertaking where the risks are real and the reward is eternal. For these efforts to be effective, they must be saturated in prayer and grounded in biblical obedience. We have to live out the gospel, yes, and we also must be ready to speak it with grace and truth.
Going doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a mud hut in Africa. Maybe God has not shaped you for overseas. Here’s the cool part. God brings the nations to us too. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of international students right here in Little Rock. While they are visiting, we have the tremendous opportunity to reach them for Christ. We have the opportunity to build a relationship with them and a bridge to proclaim Christ to them. And we have to be ready and understanding of the cultural differences that present challenges to speaking the truth to them.
We go motivated because we want our King to come back. We go not because we feel guilty after everything you’ve heard today; we go because we want God’s glory. We go yes, to help and serve where we can in areas of social justice, but even then, the primary responsibility is to go to share the gospel. Dr. Platt reminds us, “Jesus said when we go, they will hate us and they will kill us and we will be resisted by the powers of hell. But we go nonetheless.”
Second, we can send. There are people who cast a vision for the work that must be done and the joy of accepting God’s invitation to be a part of it. There are many organizations big and small, or simply churches themselves, that mobilize teams and aid in their support and safety. Senders support financially and prayerfully, and make it their ambition to further the work of others through creative means. Mission work must be saturated in prayer and fasting. Jesus illustrated this when he described the vast harvest with so few workers. Farmers don’t gather in the barn, they go out to the fields!
“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” -Matthew 9:37-38
We need to be careful of the “out of sight, out of mind” trap, and be praying for the unreached. At the very least, if we are not willing to pray for the Spirit’s movement among the unreached, the great commission will remain stagnate. A very useful tool is at unreachedoftheday.com. What could happen if we as individuals, classes, and life groups committed to praying for the unreached? Would we find that maybe we are the laborers we’ve been praying for? Start praying and see if God doesn’t open your heart to loving these people and desiring them to know Christ.
The third option is to disobey. When Christ calls us to His mission, we can respond in one of two ways. I can illustrate this with two biblical encounters with Jesus found in the book of Luke, the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus. When Jesus said “follow me” the rich man walked away sad because he couldn’t give up his “blessings”. When Zacchaeus received this invitation, he received Jesus joyfully and salvation came to his household.
One man checked off the religious boxes but walked away from Jesus because his heart was not really in it. One man was moved by the power of the gospel and gave what he had for the glory of God. One had a saving faith; one did not. It is the same choice before us today.
At the end of this life, I want to say that I laid it all out there for the sake of God’s name. I want the joy of being counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the gospel. The Bible is clear that our exposure to suffering will increase in proportion to our obedience! And that’s okay! What’s the worst that could happen? I get killed for my faith? Great! You know why that doesn’t matter? Because I’ve already died to Christ!
The aim is a Biblical one; that is to be a part of the assured victory in Revelation,
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” -Revelation 7:9-10
We can use trendy words like “radical” to describe how we should live, but really, all I’ve described today is just the normal Christian life as Jesus taught it to be. Unreached people must become totally intolerable to us. God’s aim is to see his glory proclaimed by all these people. This is the purpose for why Jesus died. “Global mission is not a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few people who feel called to it,” said Platt. “It’s why we are on the planet. It’s the purpose for which we have breath.”
Let us give of our time, our talents, our treasures, let us not love our lives more than the gospel but fix our eyes on heaven, let us hasten the return of Christ. Let’s give our lives—lose them if necessary—for the sake of the gospel, because that’s what it means to be a disciple. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say to God “I missed the point of why you put me here.” How do we know when we are done? I gave some stats, but personally, I don’t want to get caught up in definitions and numbers. I heard this quote by George Ladd during a class called Perspectives:
“God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are. But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned. Therefore the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms, our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”
Information for this post is attributed to these resources: radical.net, perspectives.org, desiringgod.org, and imb.org.