Overcoming the Distance


Mission is overcoming distance.

Sin separates people from God. This is a spiritual distance that leaves men, women, and children without hope. The Father overcame this distance by living among us and defeating sin through His life, death, and resurrection. God’s people join His mission in overcoming the spiritual distance by proclaiming the Good News for the nations.

Mission also faces the problem of physical distance. It requires overcoming the geographical barriers that separate God’s people from the rest of the world. How can they call upon Him if they haven’t heard? How will they hear unless someone proclaims? Who will proclaim unless they are sent? In order to make disciples, we must go. Sometimes this means getting on a plane, but opportunities to close the physical distance are all around us. We cannot join God’s mission and stay at home.

Which brings us to another distance that must be overcome: cultural. Oftentimes, “the nations” are right next door. Yet because of values, language, and worldview, we face difficulty in relating to people who are different. Cultural distance keeps “Unreached People Groups” being names on a list instead of being our friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Our obedience requires that we move beyond “us” and “them” and into discipling relationships.

In Jesus’ time, social distance was the difference between the “woman at the well” and a Samaritan. Today, it’s the difference between seeing people as “Illegals” and recognizing them as “Lost Treasure.” Social distance is crossed when God’s people deliberately move out of the comfort of homogeneity to live among those who do not share our privilege, advantage, means, or perspective.

Mission cannot be done remotely. There is much distance to be overcome. But as God’s sent-out-ones, we must cross spiritual, physical, cultural, and social barriers with the gospel. This is the mission of the church, and if you’re not involved, you’re not a true disciple of Jesus.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.


  1. Goodman,

    You have expressed many opinions in your various articles with which I disagree, which is fine. We are free to disagree on many things. However, you have gone too far with your last statement in this article. You are free to hold the opinion that we are sent-out-ones and that we must cross spiritual, physical, cultural, and social barriers with the gospel. What you are not free to do is require that everyone else adopt your opinion and damn those who don’t. Agreeing with your opinion is not a prerequisite for being a “true disciple of Jesus.” There are many true disciples of Jesus who will spend eternity with their Father in heaven and who disagree with your opinion on this matter. I implore you to recant your position that all are damned who are not involved with what you see as the mission of the church. KGBguy’s reference to mystics as “schizophrenic” is nothing compared to what you have done here. I would much prefer to be mentally ill and forgiven than have my sanity and remain under the wrath of God. Yet, you have said that I, and many other brothers and sisters, am under the wrath of God simply because I hold an opinion that diverges from yours on this matter. Recant.

  2. Jason,
    Of all of God’s people, who among us is not sent as part of God’s mission?

    Now, I have sought to reclaim a biblical definition of mission that is much broader than the typical and popular “evangelize people in a far-off place.” Mission is the ongoing work of making disciples by translating the unchanging, universal gospel of Jesus into dynamic, ungodly culture so that God might be glorified among all the peoples of the earth.

    Would you say that “go and make disciples” doesn’t apply to all of us in one way or another? Can you be a true disciple of Jesus and yet disobey His clear and direct commands?

    You’re right, though. My opinion on the matter is inconsequential. Jesus told us how to be His disciples: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8).

  3. “Of all of God’s people, who among us is not sent as part of God’s mission?”

    I have expressed my opinion on this matter numerous times throughout our discourse, but I will do so again since you seem to not have heard me. Missionaries are sent. Missionaries are a class of evangelist. Evangelists are elders who preach the gospel to non-believers. So, if you are not an elder who is an evangelist who preaches as a missionary, then you are not sent as part of God’s mission. This means that most of God’s people are not sent as part of God’s mission. This is my opinion. Why do you condemn me to hell for having this opinion?

    I would say that “go and make disciples” does not apply to all of us in one way or another. I have already made my position on this very clear. Those words were spoken to a specific group of people. Jesus never said those words to me or to anyone I know.

    Why do you try to trap me by asking a totally unrelated question about obeying Jesus’ clear and direct commands? True disciples are known by their obedience to God’s commands, but can a woman who does not submit to her husband be a true disciple? If she is not married, the command to submit to her husband does not apply to her. Therefore, she does not have to obey it. Stop building straw men, and start interacting with the things that I am actually saying.

    My position is that the command to go and make disciples does not apply to everyone. Therefore, not everyone has to obey it. Therefore, a person can ignore that command and still be a true disciple. This is my opinion. The issue here, though, has to do with why you are condemning people who hold an opinion that differs from yours. To accuse me and many others of being false disciples is a very serious charge. I demand that you recant your accusation. You are free to hold your opinion, but you are not free to bind others to your opinion.


  4. Do I dare enter this conversation?

    Before reading the comments, I thought of one thing I wanted to say, in simple enthusiasm. Last night I sent (oo, that word “sent”) my first text message to Papua New Guinea. I’m trying to figure out the best way to communicate with a New Guinean Bible translator way out in the bush. I’m curious to see if he gets text messages. I really don’t know.

    All this to say, there are deep reasons we need to consider on our “sent-ness” and how that orients us in God’s world. And there are very practical things we have to try out… like sending text messages.

    I find the most fun in letting those naturally intersect…

  5. Johanna,

    I would love to interact with you here, but I once again have no idea what you are talking about. Is a “deep reason” something different than a normal reason? What does it mean to “consider on” something. In English, we don’t usually use a preposition after “consider.” So, I have no idea what you are trying to communicate.

    You find the most fun in lettering what naturally intersect?

  6. Jason,
    I am not “damning” anyone to hell. This language is exactly what I was referring to as “flopping”- using the most extreme language to cry “foul” and resorting to the dramatic to take elevate our differences to the highest level (“recant!”).

    Had you instead asked, “are you saying that those who aren’t on mission are going to hell?” I would have been able to respond with, “My use of the term ‘true Christians’ wasn’t in any way a reference to salvation. I was saying that those who think mission is optional are not being obedient. They may be saved, but they are missing that which Jesus said makes us truly disciples: fruitfulness.”

    I disagree with your understanding of mission. You say that missionaries are elders/evangelists. I say that all Christians are sent. Obviously, I feel pretty strongly about this. I’d love to discuss this point further, but I’d prefer we not take every argument to the extreme.

  7. You are the one who is flopping. Telling me that I need to ask different questions is not a defense of what you have said.

    You clearly stated, “But as God’s sent-out-ones, we must cross spiritual, physical, cultural, and social barriers with the gospel. This is the mission of the church, and if you’re not involved, you’re not a true disciple of Jesus.” A not-true disciple is a false disciple. Regardless of how you try to spin it, this is a salvation issue. One cannot be a false disciple and still be saved.

    If you intended to communicate something else, you should have communicated something else. Since you didn’t communicate something else, you should change your statement in the article so that it does communicate something else. Stop trying to skirt responsibility for what you have said. Accusing people of being false disciples is very serious, even if you don’t intend to accuse people of being false disciples. Like it or not, we are accountable for what we do, not what we intend to do.

    “I am sorry, officer. I intended to apply the break before I drove my car through Mr. Johnson’s living room. Please treat me based upon my intentions and not based upon what I have actually done.”

    We can all recognize this as absurd, but it is exactly what you are doing. Why do you refuse to take responsibility for your actions?

  8. Hi Jason,

    Earnest is the best one to reply to your questions. But I do agree I wasn’t very clear in the comment I made.

    I’ll give it one more shot:

    “Thanks Earnest, your post got me thinking. You said ‘missions cannot be done remotely,’ which I agree with. But because you’re a good writer, I believe you evoke multiple senses of the word ‘remote’. You know at one time I served alongside New Guinean Bible translators face-to-face. But now I am serving with them in a small way, even though there is a great physical distance between us. I am learning how we can still have conversations and learn from each other and generally help each other – in small but sometimes significant ways – be on mission. My most recent attempt was to text message the translator to set up a time for a phone call since our time zones are so different.”

  9. Johanna,

    That was infinitely more clear. Thanks for dumbing it down for me.

    I think its great that you are still able to help with the ministry in New Guinea even though you are not there. You must have invested a lot of your time and energy in order to be able to help with translation. I am glad you are able to continue to use your acquired skills in such an important way.

  10. Johanna,
    I’m glad you’ve been able to keep up with nationals via text message. This is a great example of overcoming distances (physical, cultural, etc.) in mission.

  11. Jason,
    I imagine that everyone you normally spend time with would define “not a true disciple” as questioning your salvation and condemning you to hell. As I wrote in my comment, that is not what I meant by that. The people I usually interact with about mission and theology would understand my use of “not a true disciple” to mean that I was questioning their obedience, not their salvation. I’m certainly responsible for what I write here, but I clearly failed to translate my meaning into language that you can understand.

    Again, I will refer you to John 15:8 “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” I believe that the “bearing of fruit” is obedience in God’s mission. Saying that you will not participate in God’s mission is the same as saying, I won’t bear fruit.” I understand that this is a strong statement. I get that you don’t share my high view of mission. That’s okay. I thought it made for an interesting conversation.

    You strike me as a black-and-white sort of fellow. From your perspective, words mean what you say they mean. I read in your writing a fairly aggressive tone. You use words like “accuse,” “damn,” “recant,” and “have a right to.” These aren’t words I use flippantly (I’m sure you don’t either) because in my circles, they tend to escalate a discussion into a debate and then into an argument. I’m not trying to tell you how to communicate. You’re free to use whatever words you’d like. My feelings are not hurt. I’m just making an observation. I appreciate the effort you put into trying to understand the conversation in our corner of the interwebs, but as you commented on your blog, it seems that we’re not speaking the same language.

    I know my past attempts to cite Spurgeon haven’t helped me communicate with you, but I’m again reminded of his famous quote: “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” This sentiment has had a profound influence on my philosophy, and I stand by it.

  12. Again, you skirt the issue. You keep giving me antidotal evidence in support of your position that everyone must be a missionary in some way, but that is not the issue. I understand your position, and you have the right to hold your position. The issue is that you are saying that anyone who isn’t a missionary in some way isn’t a true disciple of Jesus.

    What would you say to me if I said that anyone who hears God’s voice (either audibly or metaphorically) is not a true disciple of Jesus?

    I am not sure how a written post can have a tone, but I am using very clear and direct words. I do so because you have made a serious accusation, which deserves a serious response. I wish you would take it seriously.

  13. Jason,
    Yes, I did write that anyone who is not involved in God’s mission is not a true disciple. As I’ve written, by “not a true disciple,” I meant, “not fully obedient, not doing what God has left us on earth to do.” I did not mean “not saved” or “damned to hell.” Those were your words, and seem to be a dramatically extreme response to my post.

    I assumed that you did believe that anyone who “hears God’s voice” is not a true disciple of Jesus. Is this not the case?

    Either way, I would find it interesting, that someone would believe that. I would say to you, “that is interesting.” I may even say to you, “how do you reconcile your belief that anyone who “hears God’s voice” with certain passages of scripture, such as Acts 9, 13, and 17, or John 10:27?”

    Depending on your answer (and if your response was intriguing and kind), I may go on to ask you about your understanding of “calling” to ministry (“Is this not the same sort of secret mystical revelation’ you don’t believe in?” I might ask).

    You may not read tone into writing. I do. As someone who writes a lot, I’ve found that tone is communicated through the words we use, our use (or misuse) of illustrations, and even our sentence structure. “It’s not just what you say,” my mother often reminded me, “it’s how you say it.”

    I have indeed made a serious statement in this post. It wasn’t as serious as what you read it to be, but serious nonetheless. I stand by my assertion that anyone who thinks he can sit out God’s mission is less than a true disciple. I’ve written about this many times over the years. One particular post that comes to mind is: Real Christians Are Going Christians.

  14. Goodman,

    Your use of language baffles me. I cannot conceive of a way in which a not real Christian is still a Christian. I am sorry to hear that you choose to stand by your claim that a Christian who is not involved in what you define as “God’s mission” is not a real Christian.

    Why would you assume that I “believe that anyone who ‘hears God’s voice’ is not a true disciple of Jesus”? Of course I don’t believe that. I never made any such statement. In the comment section of another article, you said, “I did not and would not presume to know anything about you.” Yet here, you admit to presuming to know what I believe. So, which is it? Do you presume to know things about me or not?

    I have not been offended yet, but your assumption that I would believe such an outrageous thing is getting close.

    Why would you want to ask me about my understanding of “calling” again? Did we not already have this discussion? Do you not read the answers that I provide to your questions, or have you simply forgotten most everything I have said over the last couple of weeks?

    I am starting to think that you are just toying with me and don’t actually have any interest in effective communication.

  15. Jason,
    You wrote, “What would you say to me if I said that anyone who hears God’s voice is not a true disciple.” The only things I know about you is what I can infer from our interaction. I thought that was you stating your belief. I assumed, based on our discussion thus far, that this was the case. Apparently, I have not learned anything about you through this discourse. I apologize for assuming, and I apologize for using that phrase in my previous comment.

    I wasn’t trying to rehash the pervious conversation, I was playing out how the conversation might have gone had you started it with “Anyone who hears God’s voice is not a true disciple.” That section of my comment was still in response to your question, “what would you say to me if I said…”

    You may be the most literal person I’ve ever interacted with. Maybe it’s the limitations of the blog and comments format. Maybe it’s my lack of skill. I am extremely interested in effective communication, but doing so with you in a way that satisfies you is proving to be more challenging than I expected.

  16. Jason, thanks for your kind comment. I did invest a lot of time. But most of all, I’m just wanting to be responsible for the relationships God gave me while I was in Papua New Guinea.

    When I returned to the States several years ago, I wasn’t sure how to maintain those relationships, and even if it was worth the effort. It turned out that my friends in New Guinea made a better effort to connect with me and my entire family. Not because they wanted anything other than our prayers and friendship. That humbled me. When my main friend and lead translator died last spring, I was even more humbled. He left behind letters that detailed how he and his family prayed for me and my entire family (which he referred to as a clan – a common way of speaking in his culture).

    After reading those letters one night last fall, I decided to ask my entire family (at least the ones who live nearby) if they would consider meeting at our house on a regular basis simply to worship together and pray for this man’s family he left behind and his people who would rise up and continue translating the Scriptures.

    In that case, I wouldn’t say I heard the voice of God. Yet I would say God “spoke” through this New Guinean translator, who was an obedient servant of his. His letters opened my understanding of how my family is supposed to obey God and join him on His mission. In this particular case, we had the opportunity to “answer” his letters and commit to praying for our friends and “family” in New Guinea. (And we have continued to meet to pray since.)

    Not sure that helps, as I struggle to use words with direct and clear meanings. I am really a poet at heart.

    In reference to an earlier comment, I would say I am in the minority meaning those who take very seriously what it means to “hear from God.” I apologize for my earlier comments that gave you the impression I am casual on the topic.

    That there is a lot at stake is true. God’s authority is at stake when we mention hearing Him.

    In the story I shared with you, I believe it honors him when His people commit to praying for one another and work together to understand what it is He’d have us do in the here and now.

    Anyway, I appreciate your kind words in reply.

  17. Oh dear, “God’s authority is at stake” is probably not what I meant. To be honest, Jason, I am wrestling with this stuff too.

    I’m reading a book called Spiritual Authority by Watchman Nee. The book is one of the toughest I’ve read. He shows throughout the Scriptures how God has the highest standards for anyone who is given authority to represent Him on earth. That many people have claimed to have his authority and to have “heard from God” is true – and has resulted in many grievous things.

    Anyway, what impresses me about this conversation, is a lot of it is about authority. There is so much confusion about authority – and I’ll admit I have some confusion, but I’m trying to work it out and the Scriptures are my primary source, for sure.

  18. Johanna,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoy hearing what you are thinking. You are right about this conversation having much to do with authority. I find having a well defined doctrine of authority to be beneficial.

  19. Goodman,

    In English, the use of “if” indicates that what follows is conditional or hypothetical. Did you not know this? I have to admit, I assumed that you did.

    The only things that you can KNOW about me are the things that I have said about myself. You can’t KNOW anything by inferring something about me through our interaction. You can think things about me by inferring, but you can only KNOW what I tell you.

    Your apology is accepted.

    I do strive to be precise in my communication. I believe that a lack of precision in our language leads to confusion and misunderstanding. I want to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.

  20. Argh, it’s me again. I’m waiting for E Goodman to kick me off this blog forever. This topic is so very interesting to me – and helpful in light of the books I’m studying right now.


    Any translator could appreciate your desire for precision with words. E Goodman – being the earnest and good man that he is – is also striving for precision. Of course, there might be different understandings of how language works in the first place! Some think language can reach a certain degree of clarity about reality while others aren’t so sure. Still others revel in the mystery of language! Science has some interesting things to say about the matter too, as do philosophers, poets, theologians, etc.

    Since you seem to enjoy my tales of Papua New Guinea – here’s something interesting. Among my colleagues I’ve learned that where there are no Scriptures in the local language, and where there are few if any Christians, some people have dreams in which they are told to go and find a certain person (and that person then tells them the gospel) or go to a church they didn’t know about before. I’m sure there’s more to it. I’m just beginning to learn about these occurrences through colleagues who have been “on the ground.”

    I’m also learning that among this people group in Papua New Guinea, many have had dreams which led them to discover faith in Christ.

    I don’t know if this means anything to you or is helpful. I just find it fascinating.

    What’s even more confusing is in communicating with these friends in New Guinea, I had a dream about what to pray for, for my friend, the lead translator now. I told him the dream feeling like a total fool for believing it. Then, he had the biggest smile on his face (via Skype) and he replied, “The Lord told you! How did you know?!” The prayer had been answered about the time I prayed.

    These are mysterious workings, I agree. And if you pressed me, I would say I’m not entirely sure I heard from the Lord.

    Maybe if more people obeyed and shared the gospel, God could communicate through people directly and through His Word, translated in people’s own language, the one they understand best. That’s not my conclusion but the conclusion of one of my closest colleagues. Just sharing it as food for thought.

  21. Johanna,
    You’re always welcome here.
    It’s funny that we have such a difficult time trying to communicate, and we’re speaking the same language. Crossing language barriers is so complicated.
    Thanks for sharing from your experience.

  22. Johanna,

    Stories of dreams and visions are common place in the mission field, even in places where the Bible has been translated. I can’t deny the experience of other people, but I choose not to interpret Scripture through my experiences. Others, though, are free to trust in these mystical experiences if they want.

  23. Hm, well at least I understand better what you have observed from the mission field. Glad you caught that nuance – dreams and visions can happen where the Bible is translated and accessible. Notice in this case – the story I shared – no one was interpreting Scriptures, however. So the experience is not in contrast to your choice to not interpret Scripture through your experiences.

  24. Johanna,

    For me, that experience would be in contrast to Scripture. I believe Scripture teaches that all revelation and prophecy is complete and that, therefore, there are no such dreams and visions taking place today. If I were to have a revelatory or prophetic dream or vision, I would choose not to change my belief that these things don’t happen. In this instance, I choose to trust my interpretation of Scripture instead of my experience. However, I won’t hold anyone else to my interpretation of Scripture, nor do I expect anyone else to treat their experience the same way I treat my experience.

  25. Okay. Since you shared your position more clearly with me, may I share mine more directly?

    I believe the goal of the Scriptures is to know Christ. Christ is a person. He is free and not synonymous with the Scriptures. In other words, and here I get poetic, He is The Word, but not “the word.”

    One more “word,” if you will. If this conversation is about authority, as you agreed with me earlier, then this isn’t strictly a private matter. That is what I mean in my very first comment about the split between public and private. If a person claims to have a vision and claims to be a representative of Christ… that’s a big deal. Wouldn’t you agree? That’s what I meant by God holding his servants, especially those whom he’s given authority, to the very highest standards. It matters to God and it matters to his entire flock…and the nations.

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