Mission isn’t about the recipients, it’s about the Sender.
Missiologist David Bosch wrote that mission should be defined in terms of its nature rather than its addressees. It’s true that Jesus spent a lot more time talking about Himself and His relationship to the Father than He did about the specifics of the people He came to save. In His final instructions to His followers, Jesus doesn’t say, “People are dying and going to hell… therefore go…” He doesn’t even mention the need. Instead, He reminds us that He is boss, and He sends us. “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me… therefore go…” We go because He sends us.
Most of the time, missionaries get distracted by the tremendous and terrible need all around them. Overcome with compassion for lost and suffering humanity (which is obviously a good thing), they take their eyes off of the Sender (not a good thing at all). The problem with focusing on the need is that it’s overwhelming, everywhere, and ever-present.
Of course we need to know the people to whom we’re called. Demographics and sociological research are vital to knowing where people are, how they think, and how best to communicate the gospel into their cultures. But statistics are a terrible place to start our mission.
If you really want to know how your church or organization fits into God’s global mission, by all means, make a map. But before we worry about what people groups live where, let’s map those places to which God is calling His people. Let’s track what God is actually doing through His people rather than trying to project what we think He should or might do.
Picture it: a map of the world marked with all the places that churches feel led (or, in missions-speak “called” to) and maybe a key to what sorts of gifting and skill sets “the called” bring bring to the mission. The map could include churches, networks, and organizations who are organizational hubs for work among certain peoples and places. The resulting graphs would look more like epidemiology than demograhy or ethnography.
In this way, the efforts of churches may be directed at, say, Central and South America. But the churches planted there may send their people out to the Middle East and West Africa. Churches in Korea may be led to all of Asia, and press on to the Indian subcontinent, who then go to Central and Western Europe. The spread of the gospel is being catalyzed through revival, natural disasters, and social and political events.
In addition to mapping where people have obediently gone, we could gain further insight by noting where people have been called but not yet gone. That would be an ideal way for missions “mobilizers” to know where to put their efforts- toward equipping those people who have already heard from God to have the courage and competence they need to be obedient to what God has told them to do.
Mission is not about the great need in all the world. It’s really not even about the people for whom Christ died. It’s about the King and His mission to redeem people to Himself though the church who serves as a sign of the Kingdom. Mission is about the Sender.