The Purpose of This Blog

In response to the challenge by the Southern Baptist Convention that churches take on the task to share the gospel with unengaged unreached people groups, the missions team of Harmony Pittsburg Baptist Association felt the need for a way to focus prayer on the task. This blog is intended to facilitate prayer for those contemplating their role in fulfilling the Great Commission. This on-line prayer guide may prove useful to those exploring a call to missions involvement as well as to those who have sensed a call to pray for those who will go to the front lines.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A False Dichotomy

To insist that churches and believers must focus their missions efforts on unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs) is not to suggest that other efforts are wrong or unimportant.  All efforts to make disciples of those without Christ have merit.  We just have to be careful not to neglect those who have the least access to the gospel.  We must not allow good things to so occupy us that we fail to do the thing that Jesus most clearly commissioned us to do.

It is comparable to Jesus' teaching on tithing.  When He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their rigorous approach to tithing while neglecting the more important heart attitudes, He said, "These ought ye to have done and not leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23).  In other words, it's not a question of one or the other; do both.  What they did was not wrong; it was what they had failed to do that brought His condemnation.

Preachers often contrast one activity with another in order to emphasize their point.  I have a book in which a prominent evangelist seems to say that soul-winning is more important than discipleship.  What he really means is that there are some faulty approaches to disciple-making that focus on those who are already saved and omit presenting the gospel to those who are lost.  True discipleship begins with the first witnessing relationship.  He would be the first to agree that those who are won to Christ must be discipled.  He would also agree that discipleship  must include evangelism.  After all, one cannot be a disciple unless he makes disciples.  We should not separate things God has put together.

The examples of false dichotomies make for an extensive list:  social ministry versus evangelism; local evangelism versus global missions; mass evangelism versus personal evangelism; church planting versus soul-winning; praying versus doing; and so on.  I am sure that you readers can add your own examples to this beginning of a list.  However, in almost every case, it is not a question of either/or but of both/and.

In missions, we should not have to stop current efforts in order to focus on UUPGs.  A church should not cut back its support of established missions through prayer and giving in order to take mission trips.  Appointing career missionaries should not be curtailed in favor of extensive use of volunteers.  We don't have to quit working alongside incarnational missionaries in order to embrace unengaged unreached people groups on our own.  We need to do all of these things.

It is true that the good can become the enemy of the best.  When good things crowd out the best thing, adjustments must be made.  But where possible, it is preferable to give the best its proper emphasis without diminishing our support for and commitment to the good.

Let's pray today for wisdom as to how to do the highest that ought to be done without leaving the other undone.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Point of Practicality

Making it our aim to plant healthy reproducing churches in unengaged unreached people groups is the only way to assure the completion of the Great Commission.  Any other aim will always come up short of full completion.

In one way this fact is obviously true because the mandate is to save some from every people group, not just to save as many as possible (see the post "A Matter of Obedience").  Preaching to the Southern Baptist Convention, David Platt illustrated this point by asking the audience to imagine a company of rescue teams sent out to help victims of several towns hit by tornadoes.  When the whole company reaches the first town, they find more devastation and victims than they could ever help.  He asked, would it make sense for the company to send teams on to other towns, knowing that doing so might mean that some victims at the present location would not be reached in time?  He pointed out that getting to other towns would require travel time, time that could have been used in rescuing people.  He added that some of the other towns were even known to resist help from others even to the point of attacking and killing outsiders.  So would it be logical for the company to send teams to those other towns instead of focusing on the first one?  His answer was NO, unless the commander had ordered them to save some from all the towns, not just save as many people as possible.  That is precisely what our Commander has ordered us to do.

Think of a large farm with various fields, some with grains, some with berries, and some with trees bearing different fruits and nuts.  In a particular year, the harvest is so plentiful that the workers cannot get the whole of any one field harvested.  So the owner sends the laborers into the various fields to get as many from each field as possible because he wants at least some of each variety.  Such a situation is comparable to what the Lord has ordered us to do.  (Of course, another solution is more laborers--the subject of a different post.)

There is another point to make.  Practically, we don't know for sure that sending workers to UUPGs will lessen the number saved.  One of those groups might turn out to be particularly responsive.  One of those groups might prove to be the key to reaching many other groups.  We can't know for sure how the Lord of the harvest has planned it all out, so it is best if we do it His way, not the way that seems best to us.

Another comparison for our task would be to the taking of a long, multiple-choice test (one like students take for getting into a university or graduate school).  A strategy recommended for the best results is to avoid taking too much time with any one question.  It is better to go completely through the test answering the questions that one knows the answer to and then go back to the ones that require figuring out.  In that way, the student answers as many questions as possible with the added bonus that sometimes the answer to a later question might help answer an earlier one.

Unless we get the gospel to all the people groups as the Lord has commanded us, we will not know how He has provided for things to work out.  There may be another Billy Graham or Hudson Taylor in that next people group to be reached.  The way to reach the most people is to do what He has commanded--make disciples of all nations, i.e., people groups.

Let's continue to pray for all those who are embracing unengaged unreached people groups.  Let's pray that many more will join them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Issue of Strategy

The previous two posts have presented two reasons for stressing the need to "embrace" unengaged unreached people groups even though there are many other lost people who could be evangelized.  First, I urged us to consider that although other peoples may be just as lost as those in UUPGs, those groups at least had some access to the gospel and had someone already working to get the gospel to them.  Second, I reminded us that the Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all people groups not to make all people disciples.  There will always be more lost people that we could evangelize, but someone has to stay focused on those peoples who have not yet heard.

That leads us to a third reason for making the effort to reach UUPGs our highest priority.  Such a focus is the most strategic way to assure that as many as possible have the chance to hear the gospel and be saved.  Any other definition of missions' ultimate goal will lessen the likelihood that the lost will be found.

One of the ways that the concept of people groups has been explained is that a people group is the largest social unit through which the gospel will spread without encountering significant barriers.  Since the gospel spreads fastest within homogeneous units, establishing a witness within each unit is essential to seeing the greatest number of people saved in the shortest amount of time.  Cultural insiders face less resistance than cultural outsiders.  Establishing a group of multiplying disciples within every people group is the best way to see as many come to Christ as possible.

The sower scatters the seed.  He does not pour the seed into a limited area and wait for the developing plants to reproduce and cover the field.  He has an optimal plan for broadcasting the seed over the whole field so that the harvest will be as bountiful as possible within the growing season.

I once attended a church that served the Lord's Supper to more than 15,000 worshipers every weekend.  Each person took the juice representing the blood from a small plastic cup that was passed by ushers to congregants on trays.  I couldn't imagine how long it would take to fill that many cups one by one.  Then I discovered that they had a machine that filled an entire tray of cups at a time.  In a way, I am saying that the fastest way to fill the world with the gospel is to change our thinking from the goal of discipling every individual (fill each cup) to the goal of discipling each people group (fill each tray).

In His wisdom, the Lord instructed His followers to get the gospel to all nations, the socio-ethno-linguistic cultural units that make up the world.  Once each unit is "infected" with the Word, it will spread to each individual more quickly.  His strategy for saving as many individuals as possible is to plant indigenous churches within each people group of the world.  Let's make that our prayer today.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Matter of Obedience

Why must we give ourselves to missions?  Particularly, why must we focus on the unengaged unreached people groups of the world?

To believe in Jesus is to believe in missions.  Someone has said, "God had only one Son and He was a missionary."  (I believe I have seen the quote attributed to David Livingstone.  If I am wrong in the quotation or the attribution, please correct me in the comments.)  The idea is that Jesus was sent by the Father from heaven to earth to live among us and reveal His will by teaching His word and doing His work.  Since "sent" is the meaning of the Latin term from which we get our words "mission" and "missionary," Jesus is the original missionary.  His incarnation is the model for our ministry.  As He came to us, so we must go to others (John 20:21).  If missions does not matter much to us, then Jesus does not matter much to us.

But even in missions there is a work that is essential for obedience to the will of our Lord.  If we are not careful, we will miss the crux of what Jesus commanded us.  It is not a matter of how many souls can be saved out of different cultures; it is a matter of all peoples being represented around His throne at His coming (Revelation 7:9).  The Great Commission (as shown in some of my earliest posts) directs us to make disciples out of all the people groups of the world.  The focus is on people groups, not individuals.  Our task is not to save every person in the world, a goal that we know will not be achieved since only "a few" find the narrow road and enter by the small gate (Matthew 7:13-14).  Our task is to get the gospel to all the peoples (tribes, languages, ethnic groups) of the world.  This task is the one Jesus has assured us we can and will complete.

Getting the gospel to other people groups is why God allowed persecution to scatter the first disciples to Samaria and Antioch (Acts 8:4; 11:19-20).  Getting the gospel to other people groups is why the Holy Spirit sent Barnabas and Saul on the first mission trip (Acts 13:1-3).  Getting the gospel to other people groups is why Paul was compelled to preach the gospel where "Christ was not known" (Romans 15:20).  It was not just a matter of geography but more a matter of ethnology.  Years ago, the book Peace Child demonstrated how God has placed a gospel "key" in every culture, some practice or belief that provides an opening for understanding His salvation.  This provision is our clue to solving the mystery of His will.  He wants the gospel to penetrate all cultures, all people groups.

Yesterday, I mentioned that some have used the argument that no one should get to hear the gospel twice until all have heard it once.  Today, I ask you if it is right for a people group to receive a second missionary while there remains a group who has none.

Let's pray that we can see our task the way God sees it.  Let's pray that we will do our task as God wants it done.  Let's pray that we will have His heart for all peoples to hear about Jesus.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Question of Access

Why should getting the gospel to unengaged unreached people groups receive our greatest effort?  Why should the message of Embrace take priority over other appeals to reach the lost?  Why should we pass by thousands of souls ready to be harvested in order to plant the seed in a person of a different tribe?  Why focus on those hardest to reach when there are so many others to rescue?

After all, lost people are just as lost in Texas as they are in Tanzania.  Without the gospel, boys and girls face a frightening eternity no matter where they live or what people group they belong to.  The unbeliever across the street needs Jesus just as much as the man without the gospel on the other side of the world.  The souls of those in people groups who have received the gospel are just as precious as those in groups that have not.

It's a question of access to the gospel.  My neighbor in Texas is surrounded by churches, by Bibles and Christian literature, by preaching and teaching through radio, TV, and other media, and by co-workers, friends, and, in many cases, family members who are sharing or could share the gospel with him.  The case is similar for many people groups around the world who received gospel workers years ago.  They have established churches and ministries even though as much as 98% of their population may not have yet have been evangelized.  Even those people groups classified as "unreached" have someone working to get the gospel to them.  But the "unengaged" are without a witness.  They have little hope of hearing about Jesus unless someone steps up to the task.  Shouldn't they at least have a chance to hear the gospel?

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus said that the shepherd would leave 99 sheep in the fold to search for one that was lost.  One missionary spokesman used to say that no one should get to hear the gospel twice until everyone had heard it once.  After all, the only thing worse than being lost is being lost and having no one looking for you.