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” 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.