Yeah, But…

This is post #6 in a series on developing a new missiology.

Some of you, upon reading my last post, Callsourcing the Mission, might have disagreed with my proposal that we use a crowdsourced report of God’s calling, rather than people group taxonomies, as a foundation for our missiology. You may have seen some shortcomings of my theory, some holes in my logic. I’d like to address the concerns that I anticipate, and you’re welcome to post others in the comments section below.

“We can’t depend on God’s calling on people’s lives because they are lazy, disobedient, and stupid. They won’t hear do what God tells them to do, and they couldn’t possibly figure out how to do it correctly.”

This is the same argument that professionals have used for centuries to justify their attempts to control, coerce, and manipulate. Don’t get me wrong, people are lazy, disobedient, and stupid. But God continues to use us, His people, as the means to accomplish His purposes in the world. He gives us everything we need to accomplish what He’s told us to do. Can we mess it up? Yes, we often do. I believe that the church needs to be educated about and mobilized to missions. But I also believe that God “gets it right” through His people. He doesn’t speak only to the educated or the informed. If the church isn’t doing what you think they should be doing, there are really only two options: either they are being disobedient to God, or He is not calling them to do what you think He is.

“Before anyone hears the gospel twice, Unreached People Groups have the right to hear it once.”

At first, this perspective sounds like compassion. People deserve to hear about Jesus, right? If some people aren’t going to respond, shouldn’t we stop wasting our time (shake the dust off our feet and all that)? But who are we to assume that anyone has heard the gospel presented in a way that they can understand and respond to, unless we’ve spent the time to dwell among them and demonstrate the power of the message? Statistics show that Western Europeans who come to faith do so after hearing the gospel message seven different times. Leaving after we’re pretty sure they’ve heard it once is irresponsible.

Furthermore, does anyone have the “right” to hear the gospel? Of course this is the most important thing– more serious than any matter of life and death– but a “right?” Humanity does not deserve to be saved, not even to hear about the hope of salvation. When we prioritize one group over the other, we begin with our strategy rather than with God’s direction, which often runs contrary to human wisdom and logic.  Remember when Jesus told his disciples not to talk to anyone along the way as they headed out on mission? Remember when God pared down Gideon’s army to far too few to win the battle? Remember when Paul was prevented from going into several unreached regions and redirected by the Spirit to “reached” places?

“Resources are limited. A mission agency has to set some strategic parameters in order to be good stewards of what they’ve been given.”

So your organization wants to focus on unreached people groups in the 10/40 Window. Praise God for His direction. That calling to you may be God’s salvation for these peoples. But now you’ve got to raise the support and find the personnel to go live among them. How will you do it? Awareness? Guilt? What happens if God isn’t raising anyone up to go to the people to whom you’ve narrowed it down?

To the average person in the pew, a people group is a people group. Unless, of course, there is some connection. Maybe a group of them live in your housing addition. Maybe you work with some who immigrated here a generation ago. Let’s not forget that God is orchestrating His global activity. If we value effectiveness, engagement of people with whom we already have relationships should take precedence over cold-calling people we don’t know.

“So you’re okay with unreached peoples going to hell?”

No! This has to be the most frustrating argument against, well, anything. Would that salvation would come to all people! Yet missions strategy means making decisions about where to go and where to allocate resources. Sending missionaries to each and every people group is neither the most efficient nor the most expeditious way to “reached” all the “unreached.”

I am NOT saying that missions should focus on the harvest fields. I’m not saying that missions should focus on the unreached. I’m saying we should let God show us what to do by leading us step-by-step.

There is a difference between a direction and a destination. Typically, the church will hear clearly from God concerning a direction, and then assume the destination. “If God is calling some of us to UPGs, then He must want us to reach every last one of them so He can return.” Three steps ahead of God is never a safe place to be.

“If we leave people to do what they feel called to do, they will all end up in the easy places.”

Though the perspective has become commonly held in Western missions, God did not tell us to “Go and reach the unreached people groups.” If He had, it would make sense to consider it a “calling” on the whole church, and we really wouldn’t need a whole lot more in the way of guidance or direction from Him. But Jesus deliberately left the bit about Him being with us always in the Great Commission. He continues to call people to places that are not in the “10/40 Window.” Surely that would not be the case if He clearly wanted us to focus on that part of the world.

“People need to do research to see what unreached people groups are out there.”

Let’s not forget, the concept of the UPG is relatively new, and while we could reasonably read it into scripture, I don’t think we should assume that Jesus, Paul, Luke, or John saw the world and mission in this light.

That small people group in the highlands of China? The cannibals along the Amazon? Sure, they’re obscure, distant, and hard-to access for you. But to someone else, these are next-door neighbors. For more on this one, look for my next post, “A Global Wave.”

21 thoughts on “Yeah, But…

  1. Ernest, loving this series and the discussions in the comments. Have to agree with several points:

    “…they won’t hear do what God tells them to do” Had quite a few Christians use this line with us to justify why they think we went the wrong way going into missions work, and then where we went into missions work (Western Europe). In reality, we just didn’t fit their preconceived notions of how they think Christian life/ministry should be.

    “…be good stewards of what they’ve been given.” On paper, our ministry here is wildly expensive compared to living expenses in the 10/40 window. But are we only called to the most economical places? Is “the most bang for the buck” what determines who hears the Gospel and who does not?

    “…they will all end up in the easy places.” Since when do we start comparing fields amongst missionaries? Who has the master list of Difficult Mission Areas in descending order? Must all missionaries live in the very worst of conditions to qualify? Right now, I think the hardest place for me to live would be back in the States! :)
    –C. Holland

  2. Thank you for your continued posts. I have enjoyed the stimulation.

    I agree that the second statement “Before anyone hears . . .” is ridiculous. I also agree that most of the statements you proposed for others are largely out of line.

    I agree that people group definitions should not be too strongly relied upon, though they are helpful. The idea of division from the Gospel should be important for us though, for through His Gospel God is clearly seeking to restore to Himself all who are divided. However, I agree this is done at His leading.

    I do not say that people should be encouraged to go only to “UPGs” or even to prefer them when considering whether God is calling to a certain people. I do say that more people in my movement need a fuller picture of the state of the Gospel in the world (I can’t answer for any other movement or denomination). This would include those areas that are, as you say, “unreached again” as well as everyone else. I don’t believe that this would lead to a massive influx of missionaries into certain areas, though it would likely lead to more going. I do believe that God just isn’t calling any from here to go to certain people, at least yet, but that should not deter us from seeking to have a complete picture (which most in my movement do not have).

    Here is my primary problem. I believe it may be just a perceived issue with your approach, not really reflecting what you believe. My problem is this: it seems that you are saying that research cannot be used by God to lead people to certain fields or peoples, that it cannot be God using the UPGs advocates to lead to certain destinations. Could it not be that God has used these things to call thousands to certain peoples that have been classified as “UPGs”?

    If all you are saying is “UPG advocates should not use statistics and other resources to draw people AWAY FROM other fields” I fully agree. If you are saying that “UPG advocates should not use these things to show the real Gospel needs among these peoples, probably leading to more going TO them” then I fully disagree. If you are saying “UPG advocates should not preach that the possibility of heightened suffering probably has been, but shouldn’t be, a factor in whether or not someone accepts a call to a certain people” then I fully disagree. Your position has not been clear in these areas to me.

    Sorry again for such a long reply. Brevity is not a strength of mine. Neither is wit.

  3. Debtor Paul,
    Thank you so much for hanging in there with me through the series. I am very glad you have continued the discussion despite my sometimes offensive tone and lack of clarity. Your participation here has helped me think through these ideas and evaluate them (I hope) more fairly.

    I love your question about research. Mostly, because though I have always thought myself an advocate for research, I’m not sure how to answer your question. Yes, I believe research is important. Knowing as much as we can about a people group before we engage in ministry among them is invaluable. I also believe that such research can be helpful in mobilizing people to missions. Imagine hearing about a people group that shared your interests or that needed exactly your set of skills! People need to know who’s out there. My preference is to motivate people by reminding them of their purpose and by reiterating the gospel imperative to go. I think that motivating people with the immense need is overwhelming, guilt-inducing, and tends to result in desperate attempts to “fix the problem.” It seems that this is what has got us to where we are today.

    I’m not in the least bit against ministry to “unreached people groups.” We just need a different foundation for our missiology; one that takes into account the culturally and socially dynamic world we live in and the actual work of God in His church and among the peoples of the world.

    Currently, the conversation goes like this:
    Motivated Believer: “I’m interested in missions. What do I do?”
    Missiologist: “Did you know that of the 55 least evangelized countries, 97% of their population lives within the 10/40 Window?”
    Motivated Believer: “Oh. Um, do any of them speak Spanish? I took that in High School.”
    Missiologist: “The Spanish World is reached. We need to press on to the frontiers.”

    This missiologist starts with his strategy. He begins with the need, and then tries to “educate” the interested believer into His strategy. But the guy could just have easily said, “I really want to go where people have never heard the gospel.” Or “I’m fond of Chinese food.” I advocate that starting here isn’t starting with the fallible individual, it’s starting with God’s “calling” on him.

    I want the conversation to go like this:
    Motivated Believer: “I’m interested in missions. What do I do?”
    Missiologist: “Well, what can you tell me about your gifts, experiences, skills, and connections to other people groups?”
    Motivated Believer: “I took Spanish in High School.”
    Missiologist: “That’s great. Maybe God had you take Spanish in order to prepare you for missions. Maybe He allowed our country to be so connected with Spanish speakers for a reason. Let’s explore this a bit more. What does your pastor have to say about your interest in missions?”

    This missiologist is puts the individual’s calling before his strategy. Do we need more American missionaries in the Spanish-speaking world? We do if God is calling people there. The difference is that we trust God a bit more in how He wants to go about doing what the Bible says He’s doing.

  4. Love the series! thanks :)

    “This missiologist is puts the individual’s calling before his strategy….The difference is that we trust God a bit more in how He wants to go about doing what the Bible says He’s doing.” — exactly right….Thx!

  5. Likewise, I appreciate the discussion and the opportunity to be sharpened along these lines.

    I agree that the second conversation is preferable. Please don’t doubt that I know the type of UPG approach you are combating. I agree that it needs to be combated. We haven’t felt this type of approach as much within my movement, so I haven’t been as personally touched by it. The dangers are obvious though.

    While you and I, I believe, would largely see eye to eye on most of these issues, we may view the issue of research knowledge differently. I don’t want to make your conversation illustration walk on all fours, but I did notice that a missiologist (missions researcher) was involved in both cases. We would both agree that a professional missiologist is not at all needed in such a conversation in order for God’s will to be discerned. However, I see increased technology and research knowledge as God-given for His Mission. Sure, we can (and do) mess up in the use of these resources, but, barring a Damascus Road-like experience, it seems that God often uses research (merely purposeful, more intense observation) to guide people to various fields. For example, the Motivated Believer considered the possibility of using his Spanish experience among Spanish-speaking immigrants in the US because someone had observed (and likely researched) their presence and unique need. That is all research does. God can and does do His calling without it, but He also often uses it. He gave us the modern capability to see a fuller picture. It gives indication as to where God is currently working, where He doesn’t have any preachers yet, and how we might fit in various missions contexts. It doesn’t tell us where we must go. The Spirit does that along with Biblical burdens and guidance.

    So, the UPG movement that has increased because of God-given research resources has allowed that research to guide their theology and missiology too much. I agree, as I always have. But God has also used it to bring to light areas of the world where, it turns out, God wanted to move. Now with an even fuller picture, we can see Gospel divisions that fall outside of the neat box of UPGs. They are found everywhere. I do believe that there is a unique biblical burden we should have for those most divided from access to the Gospel. But I have never believed that God has already opened the doors to all of these peoples. We observe modern Gospel realities. We report to others of them. We pray. And we begin going when God calls. It could be that God’s push into many of those groups classified as unreached is actually yet to come, but we are yet their debtors.

  6. Debtor Paul,
    Well said. Excellent points.
    I guess I was using the title, “missiologist” in a more general way. As in the guy at the missions table trying to recruit more workers, the missionary who tried to engage believers back home in conversation about missions, or weirdos who blog about missions. Great point about the “professionals,” though.

  7. That’s not a missiologist. Those are mobilizers. Mobilizers tend to get very active and passionate about what they feel God has called them to do. I know, because I’m kind of half-a-mobilizer, half-a-missiologist.

    I just have a few comments:

    (1) we must depend on God’s calling on people, but part of discipleship is helping people to learn to discern that calling. We need as a church to get much better at helping people discern what their vision is. In this sense I really appreciate the massive work that the Jesuits do with an initiate BEFORE they ever become an initiate–and that is not a full-fledged member! I really think there is a role for the “spiritual director” type of person: someone who helps facilitate your growth without overriding your personal giftings, callings, etc. with their impressions. I call this the “God-loves-you-and-I-have-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life” mentality, and it must be resisted at all costs. The best place for REALLY helping a person grow to the point that they can discern their own calling is within the church. Agencies are passionate about the calling God has given them: churches tend to be passionate about their people.

    (2) No one has a right to hear the Gospel but every Christian has an obligation to share it. When we are sending 90% of our missionary force to the reached and only 1% to those with no access to the Gospel, I think we need to do a little work to see if perhaps there’s people who have a calling to the unreached who are not being supported or helped. If God wants us to go into all the world, surely he has called some folks to go there.

    (3) Agencies definitely must set strategic parameters for the calling God has given them. If God has called them to something, then he will provide the workers. If they can’t find workers they shouldn’t be using guilt. BUT just because it’s hard to find workers doesn’t mean God hasn’t called them to that particular area of the world. We shouldn’t deny an agency’s calling just because there’s no immediate workers or fruit. That argument is doubting the agency’s call just as much as you’re arguing against people doubting the individual missionary’s call. There are loads of agencies out there, one of them will support your calling. (There are 4,000+ mission entities at my last count. If anyone’s having trouble finding a good one, you can write me––and I’ll do what I can to help you. grin)

    (4) Just say no. And sigh. And move on.

    (5) My argument is that if we leave people to do what they are called to do, those who have a clear sense of their calling will end up where they are supposed to be, but those who do not have a clear sense of calling – possibly those with a calling to a hard place, but who get talked out of it by well-meaning friends & family who would prefer the individual to stay where it is safe (“we need you here more than those Afghanis need you. They don’t deserve the Gospel. They’ve rejected God. They hate Christians. God’s judging them. Besides we ought to get Christianity in order before going to the outside.”–I’ve heard those arguments, too!) – those folks will have their calling “snuffed out” by the cares of the world.

    (6) Jesus didn’t have countries in mind because countries as they exist today didn’t exist then. He talked about the ethne–tribes–and that’s most likely how they thought of them. The point however was very clear: that we need to go into all the world. UPGs are just a strategy to make certain that everyone can hear the Gospel in a language they understand.

  8. Justin,
    Actually, those who drive the missions conversation function as missiologists. Most missions education actually happens through mobilization. This is why mobilization strategies like the concept of the 10/40 Window have become popular missiology. For the most part, churches aren’t the ones who are doing the work of teaching people what missions is; Missions agencies are. Their communication strategies then become defining for the church’s understanding and approach to mission.

    As for doubting the agency’s call, yes, I suppose I do a good bit of that. I see a clear difference between the Church as we see it expressed locally and those parachurch organizations that seek to help it. I think most agencies come up with their strategies and then try to fill them with people. The Biblical pattern is the reverse- the Spirit directs or prevents the missionary, the church affirms and supports, and, well the parachurch doesn’t come up a whole lot.

    Yeah, I’ve heard some of the arguments you mention. I hope everyone recognizes that I haven’t used any of those in my argument against UPGs as the basis of our mission. I guess I have a stronger view of God’s direct involvement in the calling of individuals. Not everyone has a clear sense of exactly where they should serve, but the Holy Spirit is still in the “prevention” business (as with Paul).

    I don’t think Jesus was talking about countries, either. But neither do I think He shared Winter’s and McGavran’s definition of people groups. I’m certain He would have understood that social structures are both channels and obstacles for the gospel, and that He would have foreseen the demise of some people groups and the rise of emerging ones.

  9. RE: an agency… not sure I agree with you here. Paul’s missionary band was essentially his day’s version of a parachurch mission agency. He planted churches, but he was sent out by a church. So the apostolic missionary band, in my view, is quite Biblical. As for coming up with strategies and filling them with people, let’s remember that agencies are, in the end, just groups of people who share a common vision. God speaks to those people, giving them a vision, and that vision becomes the vision of the agency. For example, consider Carey, or Cameron Townsend. God gave them a vision and they sought out people who shared that vision–not unlike a pastor who has a vision for a church and recruits people to join it (on the congregational rather than parish model) or even Jesus who had a vision and THEN called the disciples. The Holy Spirit is indeed in the prevention business, but he is also in the prompting business (as he was with Peter and Philip, not to mention Paul with Macedonia). But sometimes we need a little shove (as Peter did with Cornelius). I don’t think recruiting people for a vision is bad. I think recruiting people for jobs can be.

  10. Justin,
    Great distinction between recruiting people for a vision vs. recruiting them with jobs. I like that.

    For the rest of your comment, now it just feels like you’re disagreeing with me just to disagree with me! You can call Paul and his traveling companions a
    “parachurch organization” if you want, but they were sent out by a church (and later churches). They actually went, and were accountable back to the church (Antioch) that sent time. Strategic decisions were between them and the Holy Spirit.

    The agencies I’m talking about are indeed made up of people, but they’re not going themselves. They tend to either put themselves in the place of the church (sending) or in the place of the missionary (without the accountability to a local church leadership). I’m not against agencies that facilitate and support local churches sending missionaries. We need their expertise, experience, and connections. I am against people who sit in offices dreaming up strategies and then trying to fill those strategies by recruiting people through guilt and promises. These are the sorts of folks who have defined missions for the last couple generations in the West, and I think it’s time to change that.

  11. “I am against people who sit in offices dreaming up strategies and then trying to fill those strategies by recruiting people through guilt and promises. These are the sorts of folks who have defined missions for the last couple generations in the West, and I think it’s time to change that.”

    Here, here. I agree. Definitely time for a change.

  12. Well, I’m not sure I know what agencies you’re talking about. I can sense from your comments that you have had some seriously bad experiences, and know people likewise who have, and I’m sorry for that. However, in my experience and contacts the largest and most mid-sized agencies – with the exception perhaps of Campus Crusade – are VERY field led and field driven. No arm-chair generalling by people at central headquarters – many of the largest agencies don’t even HAVE a central headquarters. And of course one of the largest agencies in the world, YWAM, doesn’t even receive contributions on behalf of individual missionaries – all YWAM workers have their donations receipted through a local church back home. I realize that you can’t really name names. But I guess we have two different experiences of mission agencies!

  13. I will forever be grateful to our “missions” guy at our home church. We joined a group of people who were thinking and praying about going to Central Asia. Our church sends a lot of people there. We quickly saw it was not a good fit. As we talked with our missions guy about it, and how there was an opening in Spain that we were interested in, he was very encouraging by saying, “You know, if you are planning on only being overseas for 2-3 years, it doesn’t really make sense to go to a country whose language you can’t use when you are back in the states. And since you already know some Spanish, this seems like a good fit It will open a lot of doors for you when you come back.” (And you know what-it did.) That was one of the most freeing things for us. I know that might sound like he was only looking at practicalities, but this is a man that is great with strategy, because he works first with people and their giftings, rather than trying to jam them into a hole they don’t fit into. He says that “people shouldn’t just look at where the need is greatest, but where can I best contribute.”

    I’m still really enjoying this series and the dialogue that has started from it. Thanks!

  14. Confessions, thanks for sharing that – it’s an ideal case study for a mobilization method that I’ve been working on, and is really encouraging to me personally. I think the best method is to have a missions mentor in the individual church who helps missions-interested people learn to discern their calling and seek something that fits them appropriately, just like your missions guy did. That’s something that would be REALLY valuable.

  15. @Justin-you should check out our church then! :) Any of us thinking about overseas were all assigned a mentor and had a few events each year that helped us prepare and think through our giftings too. I can vouch for this being a super effective model for sending people.

  16. I’ve always been of the opinion that information and a broader understanding of the world wide pictures is a good thing for people who are interested in missions. How many of us took Spanish in high school? Most people did. Just because we took Spanish ten years ago does NOT mean God is calling us to a Spanish speaking place. If I had not had conversation #1 with a missiologist when I was 22, I would not be where I am today, five years on the field in a South Asian country. All I knew at that point was missions to Mexico and Honduras. Feeling called to missions, that is where my church would have directed me, because all we did was go and build churches there. Very short sighted, in my opinion now, living among hundreds of millions of lost people who have no access to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

  17. Meg,
    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your service in South Asia. You’re right, we should not all go to the Spanish-speaking world just because we took Spanish in High School. Neither should we all go to South Asia. Part of the problem of mobilizing people to mission is that they have no connection to the places we “want” them to go. I think that evaluating one’s experiences, skills, and interests is a great place to start exploring what God has made each of us to be and to do in the Kingdom.

    In the scriptures, God often does what might seem “short-sighted” to us. To Abraham: “Go to the place that I will show you.” To Gideon: “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there.” To Philip: “Go south to the desert road…” To Paul: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

    Finally, and I know you aren’t saying otherwise, but missiologists do not have any secret knowledge. Yes, we have the collective wisdom of our experience, but God is calling His people and they are responding. Please don’t be discouraged if He doesn’t lead them to do what you think they should be doing. Be encouraged that God is working among all the peoples of the earth, and that He uses His church as the means.

  18. I understand what you’re saying, Ernest. But I don’t think that explaining to people who are interested in missions the reality of the world and the disparity of workers in places like South Asia is anything akin to “guilting” them into coming. I also think that if people are truly called to reach the lost, they will be willing to step outside their comfort zone and things they are already able to do in order to see people reached with the Gospel. True, one doesn’t HAVE to go to Asia to do this, but many people certainly must. If people interested in missions (with no particular leaning or pull to a place or people already) are pointed to look at their giftings and abilities, rather than being challenge to learn a new skill for the sake of the Gospel, or figure out a way to get to a place where the Gospel hasn’t reach, it never will reach there.

    You’re right that missiologists don’t have any “secret” knowledge, but you can’t just discount that God can and does work through the knowledge and experience they have to get people where He wants them to be, to places they might never have considered otherwise. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times! Believe me, I had absolutely no “connection” as you say, to the people of South Asia before someone with one of those big agencies pointed us in this direction. I think it’s unfair for you to say that just because an agency has a heart to reach places where the Gospel hasn’t reached and they’re trying to cast that vision to others, that that is somehow separate from God’s heart, and it’s simply what man wants and what man has discerned to be best. It is both!

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