God’s Heart for the Unreached

In May of 2014, a friend an I took a trip to Alabama for a world missions conference put on by a well-known pastor and author. In years past, I and others in our church have spent weeks praying and fasting about the lukewarm missions climate in our fellowship, so the purpose of our journey was to glean wisdom on how to move forward. We longed to have direction for how to lead people away from a Christian spin on the American dream and a solely localized method of discipleship. In short, we desired to have our gaze lifted to see God’s heart for the nations.

The church which hosted the conference would be considered a mega-church by today’s standards, but the large buildings and incredible resources faded away when the love, humility and laser focus on Gospel proclamation to every people group was manifested. The encouraging thing about what God is doing in this place is that global missions is not assigned to a group of a few spiritually-mature individuals.

Of this church’s approximately 6,000 members, nearly every one of them is part of the global mission team. They may not all get on a plane and head to a faraway land, but they each have at least one role in the very Biblical mission vision of the fellowship. They have a function of giving, praying or going to take the Gospel to all nations.

While this fellowship would never have claimed to have arrived or have the market on world missions, they are serving all around the world among many unreached and un-engaged people groups. Some of the disciples they are making have even been martyred for Christ’s name, and everything they do as a church comes under the umbrella of making disciples of all nations for the glory of God.

I was one of 100 other pastors in attendance who had the Holy Spirit use the Scriptures to open my eyes toward a more robust understanding of the plan of God to be glorified among all people groups. The re-occurring thread throughout the Bible is that God would be glorified by sending His son to save sinners, and those sinners from every tribe, tongue, people group and nation would one day bow before His throne, worshipping with grateful hearts.

Sadly, up until this point the blessings we have received as the American church have stopped with us. These vast resources have been given to do the one thing Jesus told us to do before His ascension: “Go, make disciples of all nations. . .” Instead, we have taken the status of being the most evangelical, supremely wealthy people group who have ever walked the face of the earth and built up our own individual and ecclesiastical empires. While God can be praised at the significant spread of the Gospel during the last two millennia, there is still a sobering number of people who have never heard of salvation found in Jesus Christ.

 

 

Of the seven billion people in the world, there are approximately 11,000 people groups. A “people group”The-Task-Remaining-04-04-1024x1009 is the largest group by which the Gospel can spread without significant barriers to understanding. These people groups are ethno-linguistic groups with a shared identity based on language or ethnicity. Of the 11,000 groups, over 6,000 are considered “unreached people groups,” meaning there are less than two percent evangelical Christians accounted for. Of this number nearly 3,000 people groups are considered “unengaged unreached people groups,” which means that not only are they unreached but there is no
active church planting work among the people. Think of that: 208 million people who have no hope of ever hearing about Jesus! As followers of Jesus who are commissioned to make disciples of all nations, we cannot be okay with this!

 

The Apostle Paul tells us that God has a plan to reach these people groups: Christ sends followers. Followers preach. People hear. Hearers believe. Believers call. Those who call are saved! The breakdown in God’s plan is when the followers with a given task to preach fail to do the proclaiming.

Millions of people are in desperate need of the Gospel coming within earshot so that they might believe, enjoy the salvation found in Christ Jesus and escape the certain expectation of judgment for sin, yet they have no hope of ever hearing. Even more resounding is that these high numbers of people have been created to extol the name of their Creator and give Him glory that He is due, yet they sit in a rebellious state of idolatry, robbing God of His glory.

I am thrilled to say that it was also at this conference that God answered our heart’s cry to be used by Him. He has already begun to change the culture of our church towards missions through corporate prayer for the nations and through following prayer guides such as Operation World (operationworld.org), Open Doors USA (opendoorsusa.org), and Prayercast (prayercast.com). God has also opened up doors for our little fellowship to preach His name alongside a modern day “Paul” who is hazarding his life among the unreached Hindu and Buddhist people groups of the Himalayas in Nepal.

Jesus said that the Gospel would be preached in every nation and then the end would come. In the final book of the Bible we see a scene of the throne room of heaven where a group of people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation are singing a song of Christ’s wonderful redemption through His blood (Rev 5.9-14).

One day the Commission of Jesus will be fulfilled. While there is different opinion on what “nations” need to yet be reached, the late George Ladd wrote, “God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are, but I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore, the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. My responsibility is not to insist on defining the term; my responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”

Brothers and sisters, there is work to be done. May our primary task as followers of Jesus be making and mobilizing disciples who make disciples of all nations, tribes, tongues and people groups for the fame of our powerful, merciful and gracious God.

 

 

Small Town – Big Ministry

 

Not long ago, I was at a Calvary Chapel conference in Idaho where many of the attendees hailed from small towns. The guest speaker captured our attention when he said that he, too, was ministering in a small town and understood the challenges we faced. However, when he described his “small” town and began to express how difficult it was to limit your grocery shopping to a Walmart or hold your late-night meetings at an Applebee’s, the listeners began making eye contact with each other and soon a chuckle broke out in the room. The speaker knew something was up.

“What’s wrong? What did I say?” he asked. One pastor’s wife exclaimed, “We don’t have an Applebee’s!” “Or a Wal-Mart!” another shouted. Another from the audience asked the speaker,  “How big is your town?” “30, 000,” the speaker replied.

The room roared in laugher! The speaker was surprised to find that his audience lived mostly in towns with four-digit populations and smaller. Applebee’s? Try Apple Peddler. Walmart? Think Stewart’s Marketeria. If you know what a marketeria is, then you can say you are from a small town. Of course, each person has their own perspective of small based upon the large with which they are familiar.

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Calvary Chapel of Crook County

I am now moving toward my sixth year as the lead pastor of Calvary Chapel of Crook County. That’s right, of Crook County – all of it. Most Calvary Chapels I know of claim a town as their focal point, but when you don’t have a lot to work with you’ve got to dream big and aim high. I’m not the founding pastor of this
church, so I didn’t come up with the name. However, if memory serves correctly the pioneer of this fellowship saw not only the town of Prineville, Oregon (population 9,200) as a harvest field for the Kingdom of God, but also the surrounding region of farmers, ranchers and hippies or rednecks who live off the grid (county population 20,978).

Unique Challenges

Serving a 250-member fellowship in the small community of Prineville comes with inherent challenges, especially since for much of my time here I’ve been the only paid staff member. Of necessity I wear many hats. As an elder I oversee the spiritual growth of the church, but I also perform every day, hands-on ministry, much like a deacon. In addition to studying the Word, preparing to preach, making disciples and spending time in prayer, I am regularly leading worship, updating the website, attending to maintenance needs of the building and doing some heavy lifting at moving parties for the folks trying to “get out of Dodge.” God has, however, raised up an incredible volunteer team of people who are actively using their gifts who help share the load as much as possible.

Unique Blessings

Prineville

Prineville, Or

A unique blessing of living in a small town is that everybody knows everybody and everybody calls you “friend,” not just on Facebook. Take a drive through town and you will see a dozen people you know going about their daily tasks. It really is a wonderful thing and contributes to a “life on life” method of discipleship, and helps to build close friendships and community. It’s also a challenge unique to small- town life. When somebody is disgruntled with you or the church, everybody is going to hear about it, and God gives you an awkward opportunity to love that person when you cross paths in town.

Small-town living also presents many opportunities to serve the community and to develop relationships outside the walls of the church. As I coached my son’s sports teams, the Lord has provided incredible avenues of friendship and ministry to the lost. Almost the whole town comes out to the sports events, and they get to witness the love you have for the kids and the parents.

My small town has invited me to write a newspaper article periodically for their faith page. Though I was reluctant to add another thing to my plate, it has turned out to be a fantastic way to share the love of Christ with the community and to inform them of major world events that are affecting the church. A surprising number of our citizens actually read it.

The secluded Pastor: Many pastors get so wrapped up in being a leader that they almost lose their humanity and their ability to relate to people. They believe that God has called them to lead – not be a friend – and as a result they can become reclusive, leading to feelings of loneliness. I understand where they are coming from.  I have a personality that absolutely loves making and fostering friendships, and must be intentional about never letting that blur the lines. God has called me to lead, and as a result, a few of these friendships have suffered. Afterward, though, I have determined to continue reaching out to the men and families in our church not only as a pastor, but as a friend and a brother.

Make disciples: Some of the closest relationships I have had in this church have come from intentional, consistent, discipleship groups. Ours are called “Core Groups” and meet regularly every week when we eat together, study, pray, spur each other on, and share our burdens and sins.

Raise up elders: When I first came to Prineville, I thought that the elders would be a group of inexperienced, uneducated men with a lack of motivation to serve. Not so! I was blown away by the men God had already appointed here for the task. With the resources we have for discipleship. These men have been equipped for the work of the ministry, and are faithful, available and teachable. They just need someone to encourage them toward the role of a shepherd.

Attend  meetings and conferences: I am a blessed to be a part of the yearly pastors’ conference in Boise and also participate in monthly meetings with other Calvary Chapel pastors in Central Oregon. These men are true friends who have been tremendously encouraging over the years. We have put on retreats together, shared each other’s pulpits and resources, and established and strengthened churches. I’ve also reached out beyond the Calvary family and have enjoyed rich times with other like-minded local and regional pastors at their conferences and gatherings.

The Fruitless Pastor:

Don’t let times of ministerial barrenness or doubt get you down. Remember, Elijah believed he was the last man standing, when behind the scenes God had prepared 700 faithful men. When Elijah slipped into the depths of despair and feelings of failure, God was compassionate but then told him to get up because there was work to do!

I can testify that God is in the business of using the puny and pitiful to accomplish powerful things for His purposes!  Being a small town does not mean that God has small ministry plans for you. We are currently in the process of seeing God work in an outstanding way concerning local discipleship and world missions among the unreached people of the Himalayas, but it hasn’t come without the consistent, heartfelt laboring of prayer. Press into dreaming the dreams of God for your community through regular times of corporate prayer and fasting, both individually and as a church. These times at our church have been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined!

Small town ministry brothers, if your desire is to be about the business of making disciples for His glory, a work is happeninyou need g, so don’t grow weary and don’t lose heart. A harvest is coming!