The statistics are staggering. Within my classes this summer, I have learned that 42% of the world is unreached, 1% of mission resources go to the unreached, and 99% of mission resources go to reached nations. Furthermore, according to more research done by the Joshua Project and related missiologists, there are approximately 900 churches for every one unreached people group, and 78,000 Evangelical Christians for every one unreached people group. There are plenty of resources to evangelize the unreached parts of the world, but the awareness among churches does not appear to be as plentiful. What do we do with this? Do we abandon everything and go to a dark corner of the world and become pioneer missionaries, knowing that whatever dangers may befall will not matter in comparison to the immense need out there?
But look around you. What about the homeless, the hungry, the abused, and the neglected on the streets of our own cities? What about the countless immigrants and refugees who desperately need help finding work and adjusting to Western culture and the English language? Why go so far when there’s so much need in your own backyard? How do we make the case for world mission? Should we prioritize that over the immediate need around us?
During my time here this summer, I have wrestled with these questions immensely, and I still am at this very moment as I write. Having grown up in a church and a home passionate about both world missions and serving our neighbors, I have equated the two. I see both as equally vital.
I will attempt to come to a conclusion to this question of making the case for world mission, but I confess that I write with uncertainty and am processing this all as I go.
I feel that the most appropriate place to begin is with the life of Jesus, who is our ultimate model and example. How did He do it? Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-Cultural Connections, takes a look at this. In speaking about the difference between task-oriented and relationship-oriented cultures, he writes:
Reading the four Gospel accounts, we see that the amount of time Jesus spent with people is quite impressive: with individuals, with his disciples, with the masses, in people’s homes, on the hillside, on the road, at the well and in the towns. Everywhere he went, he invested heavily in people’s lives. At times He needed to be alone. At other times He seemed preoccupied with the task…Jesus related to people and took time for that, yet He kept His task in focus.
Jesus was living out a perfect balance of both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Matthew 22:36-40 gives us the Great Commandment: “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 28:19-20 presents the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Everywhere Jesus went, He deeply invested in people’s lives while staying focused on the task given to Him by God. He was moving in a particular direction instructed by the Father, but remained fully present during each step. The same should ring true for us. Our identity lies in the relationship we have with Christ and we must live our lives in pursuit of completing the task given to us without ignoring those immediately around us, wherever we are in the journey of life. Our task is not our identity, but rather the evidence and proof of being a new creation in Christ.
This is not to make our lives about some climactic calling. People change constantly through new experiences and unexpected forks in the road. God has different tasks for different times to accomplish His greater purpose, which is to be glorified by people from all the nations. Jesus is incredibly passionate about world missions, for those are His last words to us during his time on earth. And yet the greatest commandment is to love Him, which is primarily shown by loving your neighbor.
So, I suppose, the questions still remains: how do we obey both commandments at the same time? Those convicting, eye-opening statistics remain.
I believe this is where the body of Christ comes in. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20 says, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” We all have different roles assigned to us that make our witness as believers effective. That is why we are one body, united in Christ, with many different parts. Some will be pioneer missionaries, and some will complete the general mission of the church in the backyard. Many of the most sincere, genuine Christians I know serve across the street and fund missionaries to do the work of pioneering.
To close, both commandments are crucial, and yes, I strongly believe that something must be done about this great imbalance of going to the unreached. The statistics should not be ignored. Perhaps God desires me to be a part of that. I do know yet, but I trust Him to reveal His will for me. The important thing is that we must be serving wherever we are. Are you not serving your neighbor also when you have entered a new culture to perform cross-cultural missions? Our neighbors are wherever we are, and we trust God to lead us not to some climactic final destination on earth, for this is not our home, but to give us the strength to press on with an open mind at each step in the journey. God is using His entire church to complete all the various elements of the greater task of Him being glorified, and I have no doubt that it will be done because it is the work of the Spirit, and not of man.