It was the “Introduction to Mission” module at a local Bible College, and I was lecturing there for the first time. A bit out of my depth, in a room full of people who had far more experience of mission than I did, I sometimes (rightly or wrongly) resorted to my favourite topics, tangents or strong points, to fall back on familiar territory.
Nearing the end of day 2, I went off briefly on one of those excursions into a short bit about “Unreached People Groups” as I’ve written about here before. As I turned back round to the class, I noticed a blank face or two and a voice spoke up:
“But where is that in the Bible, Sir?”
And it was at this point, I admitted that indeed the exact definition and outworkings of Unreached People Groups, as defined by the Joshua Project, International Mission Board (of the Southern Baptists) or other major organisations, are not in the Bible. That’s why this was only a passing mention in a far fuller Biblical course. Something I hold lightly to, though perhaps for the number of times I mention it, you wouldn’t think so!
Yes, we’d seen aplenty that God’s heart was for all nations, right from Genesis onwards. Even as we read prophecies about the coming of the Lord Jesus, around Christmas, many of them have this “all nations” scope.
“His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth”Micah 5:4
(speaking of what the eternal God would do, being born in “little” Bethlehem)
“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people – a light for revelation to the Gentiles…”Luke 2:30-32
(Simeon realises the significance of this birth is far more than just for his own people)
And we could go on…(instead, why not get your hands on Chris Wright’s “Mission and the People of God” or Chester’s “Mission Matters”?)
But despite these constant mentions of the nations or all peoples, it still doesn’t help us define what that looks like. And that’s where this article on The Gospel Coalition (and this one too) strikes back at current tendencies in missiology.
And what the authors mention is certainly true. Three things struck me from 10 years taking trips to more unreached, unengaged parts of the world:
- The “Unengaged” world (as defined here) has comparatively few resources (it used to be around 1% of all evangelical mission giving), and few seem to care enough to shape their church mission policies and individual lives, to sacrificially prioritise these peoples. There are great needs that brought about the wave of thinking about “unreached people groups”, that still exist. Let’s not shy away from this area, thinking it is the “sexy” topic of the time.
- We cannot zap Jesus back by completing the great commission, as soon as the last tribe hears the last word of our good news presentation in their language. Mission is about far more than gospel presentations, Discipleship (Seeker) Bible Studies or responses. The great commission speaks of teaching people to obey all that Christ has commanded, and the New Testament develops the idea of God’s people – now, the Church.
- If we do not take a stronger emphasis on what the Bible emphasizes in discipleship (that discipleship is messy and growing Godly character is never quick), in local church (that a meeting of 3 people looking at the scriptures is not necessarily a church), in evangelism (that pragmatics of hunting “people of peace” and other such strategies cannot define us), then we will not have healthy churches that will survive long-term. We may have exciting stories of dozens of “church” plants. But we may simply be inoculating the culture against Christianity (by making them think they’re Christian), rather than seeing genuine conversion.
So let’s not take our foot off the gas/pedal. There are great needs. But may we steep ourselves first and foremost in the scriptures, to know what to grasp as first importance, and what human principles may be useful but not essential. May we tie our seminaries to our mission-fields and see that it is Godly, equipped people we are sending to plant sustainable, indigenous churches.