If we don’t stay on mission we will not get the task of the unreached done. But, we need revival, spiritual awakening, and embracing the Father’s vision for all peoples.
Over the last three decades, the number of North American missionaries serving overseas has decreased by 40,000 workers. The total number of missionaries from all nations has also sadly dropped from 440,000 to 415,000 cross-cultural workers. The need for laborers, however, has not diminished, but instead, it has increased! Yet the Church in America has pulled back. This is disturbing and tragic!
AN END TIMES PERSPECTIVE
Jesus’ disciples asked Him one time, “What will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3 ESV). Jesus gave them a number of different signs, conditions, and warnings. But one, in particular, stood out as the sign, “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14 ESV)
Jesus’ response regarding His coming was directly linked to accomplishing two significant things – bringing the Gospel to all places and all peoples.
A SPIRITUAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVE
The power and presence of the Holy Spirit are directly linked to being fully engaged in obeying His commands. The evidence of being a disciple of Jesus is obedience to Jesus. The birth of the church in the weeks following Jesus’ ascension was initiated by two major markers: 1) the Holy Spirit’s power; and 2) Being witnesses everywhere. The last words of Jesus before “a cloud took Him out of their sight” are found in Acts 1:8 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
This command for the early Church to be witnesses through the power of the Holy Spirit has not changed. The powerful presence of the Holy Spirit and being bold witnesses at home and around the world gave birth to the Church and are essential to her future vitality and health.
AN OBEDIENCE PERSPECTIVE
In 1972 the World council of Churches called for ‘moratorium on missions’ after years of what they perceived as overreaching colonization. While there certainly were valid concerns about the Church’s approach to missions, and corrections needed, the church also “grew increasingly timid about commending the faith to those of other faiths.” Many mainline denominations pulled back their missions work, especially evangelism and church planting, and increasingly focused on social programs without an emphasis on the gospel of the kingdom. Their decline accelerated with this decision.
Two years later, in 1974, the Lausanne Conference for World Evangelization was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. This was a conference of evangelical leaders, churches, and organizations that took a fresh look at the modern missions challenge. During this conference Dr. Ralph Winter introduced the concept of Unreached People Groups, thereby framing the Great Commission in terms of ethnic groups, rather than geo-political nations. This identification and definition brought a focus on reaching all nations/peoples. It caused a growth of missions among evangelical churches and mission organizations.
However, tragically, in the past 3 decades, much of the evangelical church in North America has pulled back from sending workers. No matter what reasons could be stated fundamentally, the implications are that the church in North America has shifted its responsibility for sending missionaries to the growing Church in the Global South and East. The growth of the majority world church is tremendous, but it does not relieve us of our responsibility to obey Jesus’ command to “go.” (Matt 28:18) We still have a role and a responsibility to be fully engaged. We must work alongside the global Church as partners and co-laborers in the Gospel.
To be ready and engaged with the Father’s agenda, to be spiritually renewed and vibrant, and to obey Jesus, all of must increase our efforts in strategic ways to make Him known “in all the world (geography) as a testimony to all nations (ethno-linguistic peoples).” (Matt 24:14) Obeying Jesus’ commands is fundamental to our spiritual future and health.
WHAT IS OUR ROLE IN MISSIONS?
There is a Biblical example beginning in Acts 4 that tracks the story of Barnabas and gives some valuable insights about our role today. Barnabas sold land and gave the money to meet the needs of the early church. He advocated for the young Saul (Paul) and brought him to the Apostles. Barnabas discipled the new believers in Antioch and then invited Saul of Tarsus (Paul) to join him. He took Saul on his first missionary journey – it started off as “Barnabas and Saul” and ended up as “Paul and Barnabas.” Barnabas was willing and ready to step out of the way to allow young and fresh leadership to emerge.
Barnabas was no slouch! He was considered an apostle and a capable teacher and leader. He never stopped fulfilling what God had given him to do. His model of servant leadership applies to 21st-century missions.
Barnabas was identified as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24) He was spiritually vibrant and healthy. And where he went, God worked as “a great many people were added to the Lord.”
WHERE GOD IS WORKING
The Holy Spirit works at the edges of the kingdom – at the front edge of spiritual advance. We the Church (no matter where in the world) must be active in personally proclaiming and demonstrating the Gospel of the Kingdom everywhere and among all peoples – in and beyond our own “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Here are some key ways we can serve and work together:
- Sending new generations of workers (American and all nationalities). Barnabas discipled new believers, advocated for Saul (who became the Apostle Paul), and then looked for new, young leaders in whom he could invest. We too can identify, advocate, develop and invite others to join with us. Barnabas said, “Come with me.” This is about seeing thousands of new North American and global workers being prepared and working together – building a global mission force.
- Vision and strategy to reach the hardest places and peoples. together with our brothers and sisters in the global church, we need to share in vision and in developing strategies for effectively engaging unreached peoples and places.
Significant advances in initial access to unreached peoples, in seeing first believers and new churches established, and then seeing these become multiplying movements of new believers and churches. It is not just about seeing a few people come to Christ, but working together to see millions of new churches established in our lifetime. Leaving our egos at the door and working together, we labor towards a common goal and God’s glory.
- Sharing competencies and skills learned from experience. Current day breakthroughs are occurring in many people groups. Leaders and workers from North America and the global church are sharing what they are learning and ways that God is moving powerfully. Lessons western mission workers have learned from successes and from mistakes, especially in working cross-culturally, if shared in humility, can be passed on. After 2-3 centuries of modern mission movements, the western missionaries continue to have the opportunity to share as they stay actively engaged and offer freely of themselves. We find great openness from national missionaries and leaders in the Church in the global south and east to learn from our mistakes and successes.
- Opening the door and facilitating access to strategic resources for maximum impact. We can help to give access to scriptures (written and audio), evangelism and discipleship materials, language acquisition tools, leadership development, church multiplication, and at times financial support.
The advances that are being made among unreached peoples require that we align our energies and resources for sustained and multiplied impact. This is one way in which we are all in!
To continually have a voice at the table with missionaries and national partners from many other nations, we must fully and increasingly engage unreached peoples. We must freely and strategically bring the experience and resources that God has entrusted to us. We must obey Jesus’ final commission until He says to us “Well done!”
This article is from the Fall 2018 Issue of coMission Magazine.