FOCUS AND BALANCE IN MISSIONS TODAY.
“Missionary Strategy: Learning from St. Paul”.
Dr. Michael Pocock. D. Miss.
Professor and Chairman
World Missions and Intercultural Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary
Does the focus of missionary efforts exclusively on unreached people groups only? Dr. Pocok, Dallas Theological Seminary Professor and Chairman of the World Missions and Intercultural Studies, discusses this topic. If Apostle Paul is a paradigm of good missionary strategy, as we know, we also need to understand his approach was well balanced in his outreach.
As far as sports is concerned, anyone will tell you that you have to focus on making an impact. It may be a challenge to keep focused after several rounds of a golf tournament, but those who do are the ones who win. It is exciting to see young gymnasts perform flawlessly in international competitions. Most of us realize that a life of singular focus lies behind this kind of success. We admire what young athletes accomplish but ask if the cost in terms of a balanced life was not too high.
The values of sports are frequently transferred to other enterprises. “The British Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Every English schoolboy used to be taught that truism. The Apostle Paul made occasional use of sports analogies, telling Timothy (II Tim.2:5) that no competitor wins unless he plays by the rules.
Applying sports values to an enterprise like world evangelism is useful, but as we focus to make an impact, we may be in danger of getting off balance and forgetting crucial aspects of the task God has called us to do.
There are about 1,075 Million international students in the United States at this time. They constitute a significant evangelistic opportunity. Believers and churches should certainly focus on them, but should they be adopted as the only priority targets of missions today? Christian nationals in developing countries are committed people, deeply concerned about reaching their countries for Christ. Should we, as some have suggested, stop sending expatriate missionaries who have to learn another language and culture, and whose cost is astronomical, when ten or twenty national workers would gladly minister to their people for a fraction of the cost? (1)
As in sports, so in missions communication, a narrow focus will make a bigger impact. But is it fair to the mandate of God and the Christian public to claim that a single form of outreach or one particular missionary target is the only one that counts today?
In the 1950s, Donald MacGavran could clearly see that missions were becoming “all things” to mission boards and individual Christians around the world. He worried that we would never get the job of world evangelism completed if we did not get back to the “main thing.” This, to MacGavran was, “The establishment of churches in all the responsive peoples of the world.” ( 2 ) By focusing on this point for forty years, MacGavran succeeded to the extent that many evangelical mission agencies tuned their purpose statements to reflect McGavran’s concern. Even mainstream denominations and gatherings at the level of the World Council of Churches began to speak again of evangelism and church establishment as crucial components of Christian ministry after years of emphasizing a political agenda.
In 1974 at the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, MacGavran strongly argued his point, and to his contribution was added another by Ralph Winter. Mission agencies, Winter claimed, were so extensively involved in ministries to people groups where the church had already been established, that they were neglecting those among whom no culturally relevant, witnessing church of viable size had been established. (3 )
Although others were vitally concerned about the same issue, Winter came to be known as the “Father of the Unreached Peoples Movement”. In the ensuing years, Winter and others have crusaded to bring the focus of mission agencies around to “finishing the job” of world evangelization by focusing on the unreached, or frontier peoples of the world. Winter has never said that mission agencies should stop doing what presently engages them, only that they should renew their focus and mobilize new workers to reach the unreached.
Both MacGavran and Winters have been successful in their efforts to get mission agencies to focus on strategic priorities, nevertheless, there has sometimes been resistance. Where this has occurred it has usually been because agencies or individuals sensed that a biblical balance might be lost if what needed to be done to finish world evangelism was defined too sharply. Perhaps it would help to review the priorities and activities of the Apostle Paul who, in a sense, is the real father and co-captain with Christ of the “Unreached Peoples Movement.” Why? Because Paul was a man of both focus and balance in his missionary career.
Although Paul explains the priorities God impressed on him in a number of places in his Epistles, chapter fifteen of Romans is a good place to see that it is possible to achieve both focus and balance in missions today.
I believe there are four distinct categories of target groups in the Pauline strategy. These can be categorized as follows:
1. The Unreached.
2. The Newly Reached.
3. The Misled.
4. The Unfed.
In Romans 15:14-22 Paul explains that by the grace of God he was made a minister to the Gentiles. This commission was the basis of a lifetime ambition “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known,” (Verse 20) so that “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” Clearly, this became a commitment to what we call today “Unreached” or “Frontier” peoples. Paul’s life of ministry is a witness to this priority. With some longer ministries in Ephesus and Corinth, he constantly moved on to the cutting edges of outreach around the northern Mediterranean region.
Even as Paul explains his concern to come to Rome, he emphasizes that his visit will be en route to Spain, an area and people where the Gospel had not been preached and the church as yet was established. (Romans 15:24) The question is, should Paul’s priority be ours today? He said it was his “ambition”, does that mean it was his personal concern, which may or may not be ours today?
Paul’s ambition was not simply a personal matter. When he explains the basis of his calling in Galatians 1:11-17, he indicates Christ showed him he would be an apostle to the Gentiles. Although Paul was not present when the Great Commission was given, he understood the essence of it. Christ wanted disciples made from among all nations. Paul knew that Christ’s concern was squared with the call of Abraham back in Genesis l2:1-3 where God had said, “all peoples will be blessed through you.” Paul knew that the blessing of God was intended not simply for Israel, nor even for all the nation/states as we understand them today, but for all families or clans of the earth. Paul’s personal call and ambition is part of a larger plan to which all believers belong. After all, Christ told his disciples that in making disciples of all nations, they should teach those new believers to “obey everything I have commanded you.” No doubt he intended them to include his last command in their teaching, making it a priority for every one of us.
In spite of the fact that everyone has an obligation to the unreached, Paul differentiated between his own life guidance and that of others. He recognized that Peter had a different calling. Both were apostles, but Peter’s objective was to be a ministry to Jews, (Gal.1:7-8). It is interesting to note that both Paul and Peter ministered outside their area of primary calling. Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius, a Roman gentile, and as we shall see, Paul ministered to Jews. Christ told Peter in unmistakable terms, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15,16,17) So, we see a pastoral mandate is also an apostolic mandate. This is why we must be careful not to imply that what God has impressed on our hearts is the exact representation of what every other believer must do.
NEWLY REACHED PEOPLE.
As Paul prepared to go to Spain, an unreached area and people, he plans to visit a newly reached people, the urban Roman church in Italy. He explains this carefully in Romans 15:22-29. Even though he is confident that these newly reached people are “full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (Rom.15:14), he plans not only to be helped by them in his mission to Spain but to “impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.”(Rom.1:11) He actually says he wants to preach the gospel to the Romans (Rom.1:15) implying that either within their local church or around them were those who had not actually believed. He hoped to assist these newly reached people in their evangelistic responsibilities.
It is hard to escape the fact that although Paul is constantly trying to reach the unreached, he invests serious efforts in building up the newly reached. Twelve of Paul’s epistles are addressed to newly reached peoples, (thirteen if he wrote Hebrews also) or to individual believers like Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. The strengthening of newly reached peoples, even assisting existing churches in other cultures to reach out around them, is a legitimate missionary task being performed by many missionaries today. It would be a shame if those of us who consider ourselves part of the Unreached Peoples Movement, were to imply that missionary deployment among newly reached peoples is a less than strategic involvement. Paul, the co-captain of the U.P.M. in its original form, ministered to churches that were established, but perhaps had not yet reached viable size for finishing the task around them. Paul visited and wrote these churches, but it may be added, does not appear to be a prisoner to them. Because he was a balanced and reasonable man, Paul did this necessary ministry, but today’s missionary working among such peoples should be leading them to consider their obedience to the Great Commission. Churches, where missionaries continue to labor, should never seek to limit the work of those missionaries to themselves alone, but hold them loosely, ready to release them for the sake of unreached peoples.
Another group that appears only slightly in Romans 15, is what I term “Misled People”. Paul asks the Roman believers to pray that he will be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea. (Rom.15:31) Who
are these? We may be tempted to conclude that they are non-Christian Roman authorities, but based on references to those who have given him the most difficulty throughout his ministry, we should probably conclude he is referring to unbelieving Jews. Of these people, Paul writes eloquently and passionately in Romans 9-11.
Paul said of the unbelieving Jews in Romans 9:2-3 “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Later he says, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Rom.10:1) Think for a moment about the situation of Israel and the fact that Paul, though concerned about unreached people, and an apostle to the Gentiles, continually sought out the Jewish people to minister to them. He had a personal heart concern that he could not and did not shake off. But what kind of people were the Jews of his day? They had as much of the Word of God as then existed in their own language and available in each synagogue. They had ministers or teachers and places to meet, but they had no spiritual reality, that is to say, life in Christ because they had been misled by their leadership.
Jewish people who have not accepted Christ as Messiah clearly exist to our own day, and if Paul were here he would have the same conviction he had in his own day. May God lead many of us to share that same concern. But let us not lose sight of the “missiological category” which the Jews constituted in New Testament days. They were “Misled People”. There were no large groups of nominal Christians in Paul’s day who had a Bible in their own language, ministers, and churches, but no spiritual reality, but there are plenty of them today. These are people who have been misled by their leadership, and as a result, fail to enjoy the salvation and liberty provided in Christ. Misled, and therefore unsaved peoples abound across Latin America, Europe, and even Africa and North America. Paul would have been deeply concerned about such people today, even though his main ambition was to reach the unreached.
Spokespeople of the Unreached Peoples Movement should be careful as they direct the attention of Christians everywhere to the “10-40 Window” where the vast majority of the unreached live today. The window concept helps focus the area of greatest absolute need, but it has a tendency to deflect from an interest in Latin America, Europe, and Africa south of the Sahara. Misled peoples do have believers and churches among them, but it is very uneven. Guatemala may have up to 30% evangelicals, but Venezuela still has only 3%. Granted the population of both Guatemala and Venezuela is 98% nominal Christian, but this is of absolutely no reassurance when we consider that unless they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, their nominal status will not help them.
There are believers and evangelical churches throughout Europe but they constitute tiny minorities of half of 1% throughout southern Europe and only 7% in the strongest cases of the United Kingdom and Germany. The general picture in Europe is one of overwhelming secularity with alarming trends toward non-Christian spirituality exemplified in New Age and Neo-Pagan thinking. Misled peoples, in spite of the spiritual resources available to them, are lost, people. Churches of the same culture are concerned, but they need expatriate resources when faced with such overwhelming odds. Paul, the co-captain of the Unreached Peoples Movement, a man of focus and balance, would have been desperately concerned for misled peoples. We dare not lose sight of this group.
In spite of the excruciating needs among famine-lashed peoples of Africa and Asia, and the victims of awful ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, some evangelicals are still ambivalent about the extent to which relief or development projects are a part of missionary work. Though some have tried to portray evangelicals as unconcerned about these matters, the fact remains that evangelicals have been in the vanguard of famine relief, education, agriculture, and community development during the entire modern missionary movement. Robert Moffat was famous for his Gospel and Plough strategy in southern Africa in the last century. But some evangelicals began to see relief and social concern running hand in hand with liberal theology in the first half of this century. What would Paul have thought about this?
In Romans 15:25-33, Paul, the co-captain of the Unreached Peoples Movement, the minister to Newly Reached Peoples and Advocate for the Misled, makes an astounding announcment. He is putting both Spain and Rome on the back burner in order to take care of a relief project. He explains he will return to Jerusalem to take relief money gathered from Macedonian churches back to the believers in Palestine. This, apparently has been his project for quite some time. It is not a quirk. It is not a quick conscience salver. He and Barnabas first got involved as relief money couriers when the Spirit showed the Antiochan church that there would be a famine in Palestine (Acts 11:27-30) and decided to send help by Paul and his associate.
Interestingly, when Paul had to answer to the Jerusalem church for the doctrine he was teaching (Gal.2:1-10), the elders gave him full approval. They only had one thing they wanted him never to forget. What was it? The deity of Christ? Inerrancy? No. “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor.”(2:10) Was this a problem to the co-captain of the Un-
reached Peoples Movement? In no way. He replied that it was the very thing he was eager to do.
Concern for the poor, I have called them the Unfed is at the heart of the Gospel. There is no need for ambivalence on this point. It is not a liberal concern. It is not an obstruction to “finishing the task”. It is a way Christians should be. Paul, a man of focus and balance, did not consider it either a burden or an obstacle to reaching the unreached, but an integral part of his calling. As much a part of his own life commitment as it was to Jesus, or later to Zinzendorf, Wesley, Carey, Bob Pierce, or Viv Grigg.
The amazing thing about Paul is that he did not simply endorse these four priorities, he implemented them! One did not contradict the other. His ambition to reach the unreached was like a North Star, a magnetic north giving him the central organizing principle of his life. As he pursued his goal, he ministered to the Newly Reached, also to the Misled, and continues to the Unfed. Granted his aid was destined for believers but isn’t that the lesson many governments in our own age have learned? If you want relief assistance to get where it was intended to go, give it to the church!
Focus and Balance; may they characterize the strategizing and prioritizing of our missions programs and communication as they did the co-captain of the Unreached Peoples Movement… and his Captain, our Lord.
Michael Pocock, D.Miss.
Professor and Chairman
World Missions and Intercultural Studies
Dallas Theological Seminary
1. K.P. Yohannan, Why the World Waits: Exposing the Reality of Modern Missions, (Lake Mary, FLA.: Creation House, 1991.) pp.l54-l55.
2. Donald A. McGavran, “Today’s Task, Opportunity, and Imperative,” Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Rev.Ed. ed. by Ralph D.Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne,(Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1992). p.D-3.
3. Donald McGavran, “The Dimensions of World Evangelization,” and Ralph D. Winter, “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism,” in Let The Earth Hear His Voice, (Minneapolis: World Wide Pub.) pp.94-116 and pp.213-258 respectively.