I’m taking a class this semester called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.” It’s an intriguing course about cross-cultural evangelism, or what has traditionally been called “missions.” There’s no way I can summarize the class in one post, so I will just give some quick thoughts I’ve learned and that I think are important for all followers of Jesus to understand.
You can find out more about the course here: http://www.perspectives.org
Missions is for Everyone
This is something I’ve been learning since coming to UT. Evangelism is not the realm of trained professionals. In each of the four Gospels and Acts, every single follower of Jesus Christ is called and COMMANDED to:
- “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:18-20)
- “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15-18)
- preach “repentance of sins” (Luke 24:46-49)
- be sent “as the Father has sent me” (John 20:21-23)
- “be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8)
I encourage you to read each of these passages. The context for all of them is among Jesus’ final teaching to His disciples between His Resurrection and His ascension to Heaven. During this time, He helped them understand more fully who He was “from the Scriptures” (what we now call the Old Testament).
Telling others His message of salvation was clearly Jesus’ top priority for His followers, and this “Great Commission” applies to all believers today just the same as it did in the 1st century.
Cultural, Not Geographical Distance
Of course, when Jesus sent out His followers to proclaim the Gospel, He had a very broad idea of exactly who that meant. In Acts 1:8, we usually apply Jesus’ sending the disciples in sequence to Jerusalem –> Judea and Samaria –> Ends of the Earth to be a geographic sending. Here’s the way I think a lot of us interpret it: “First, go share the Gospel with people around you in your home city/town, then go to other places in your region/state/country, then go to other places around the world.”
In fact, this isn’t what Jesus meant at all! He was talking about cultural barriers more than geographic ones. Jerusalem actually wasn’t the disciples home at all, most of them were from Galilee, another part of the country. However, the Jewish people in Jerusalem and Judea had the greatest cultural similarity to the disciples. Next, in a neighboring culture were the Samaritans, who had many similarities to Jewish culture but also some key differences. Finally, there was every other people group in the world, who were even further away culturally from the disciples.
Obviously, people and geography don’t always line up. You might go to a remote country and meet someone from the same or a similar cultural background as you, or you could go right next door and meet someone completely culturally different. Jesus commanded us to share His message with peoples of all cultures. At the same time, we must take cultural differences into account. See my article Become Like/Stay Like for more info on cross-cultural considerations.
For All Peoples
So, how is the Church doing in obeying Jesus’ command? He told us in Matthew 28:19 to “make disciples of all nations.” Well, according to Jason Mandryk, “For the first time in history, followers of Jesus dwell in every country on earth.” Is our job done?
The Greek word translated “nations” throughout the New Testament is the word ethne, which almost always refers to ethnic people groups, not the political entities that are members of the United Nations. From this point of view, there are not 200 nations but almost 10,000! Over 4,000 of these people groups (adding up to almost 3 billion individuals) can be considered “unreached.”
According to the Joshua Project, “An unreached or least-reached people is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.” This is much different from “unchurched” people, who already have access to a church expression within their culture but choose not to follow Jesus.
Basically, unreached people groups not only haven’t heard about Jesus or been given the chance to follow Him, but there is no one within their own culture who can even tell them about Jesus. Clearly our Great Commission is far from accomplished! Check out http://www.joshuaproject.net/ for more information on Unreached People Groups around the world. You can even sign up for a daily email that will help you pray for a different unreached people group every day.
What part is God calling you to play in reaching the unreached of the world?