WHERE: Not Everywhere Is In ‘Huge’ Need

When I say, ‘we should send missionaries to all needy places,’ some people hear me saying, ‘we should send missionaries everywhere.’ Or in other words, the answer to the WHERE question is that all WHERE’s are equally needy, equally valid targets for missionary efforts. But I definitely have some doubts about that…

Montana was mentioned as an example of a place that might be ignored because of an apparent lack of need. But a quick internet search will provide you with the names of over a hundred Baptist churches (easiest to find; I don’t think they’re the only ones preaching the Gospel in Montana). That breaks down to around a church per 10,000 people. There are more Baptist churches in Montana than there are towns. Am I against anyone starting a church in Montana? Of course not. But do I think someone going there as a missionary is ignoring great harvests elsewhere? Oh yeah.

But I get why I was read like that. I didn’t say in my last post what I consider to be a HUGE amount of Great Commission work to do. So let me try to express myself better now.

Missions illustrations are always about lifeboats, so here goes… (this is a slight twist on the intro to John Piper’s chapter in ‘Let the Nations Be Glad’ about people groups). If you’ve got a couple lifeboats that both hold fifty people, and you’re called to two separate shipwrecks, one where 200 people are drowning, and another where there are ten people drowning, where are you going to send your lifeboats?

Now, if you’ve read Piper’s book, he sets up a similar scenario to illustrate that God’s ways are not our ways, and he may have strange, unfathomable reasons for wanting people from ‘both boats’. Strange that in this circumstance, the ‘we-need-missionaries-wherever-there’s-unbelievers’ view and the ‘we-need-missionaries-for-unreached-peoples’ view are likely to see it the same way: one boat should go each place!

But I think that most of us placed in a desperate position such as this would dispatch both boats to the wreck with 200 people. And we’d with sadness justify our decision the same way: if we sent a boat out to the second wreck, we’d be throwing away a chance to save forty lives.

Let’s take the illustration to another level of reality. Let’s say you get word that there’s already a lifeboat at BOTH locations! Doesn’t your decision become all the easier?

And that’s the difference to me between going to Montana and going to India (or to Eastern China or to Chile, for that matter). The difference between a huge amount of Great Commission work and a small amount. If the presence of churches and the scarcity of people don’t remove the need for missionaries, what on earth can? ‘Huge’ is about our capacity; it means ‘more than we can imagine accomplishing.’

Not huge: if the church to people ratio Montana enjoys were true of the city I’m in, there would be over 5,000 Baptist churches! (there might actually be ten, or 1 per 500,000 people) To give you an idea of our ‘lifeboat capacity’, we are challenging the churches we plant to give the Gospel to 10,000 homes a year. There’s not more than a couple of places in Montana that even have 10,000 homes.

Huge: many missions organizations are pulling their efforts away from parts of Central and South America. Many missionaries are getting the impression that it’s a waste to go there. But almost all of them will confess that there’s more to be done in most of the cities there than a missionary can hope to accomplish in his lifetime. Hundreds of churches need to be planted, millions still need to hear the Gospel. As long as you’re filling lifeboats, I’m for sending more. If one day you start rowing them back empty, I’m gonna think twice.

So, no, I don’t think all fields are equally needy of missionaries. You protest, ‘then why didn’t the Bible say anything about what to look for in a mission field?’ I would suggest that in the first century, any place with a lot of people qualified as needing a HUGE amount of work. Places like Montana just did not exist in Paul’s day. And in that sort of context, we find Paul making a priority of the major urban centers of his time.

So, yeah, call me old-fashioned, but I think the need for missionaries is related to the ratio of laborers to unbelievers in a place. I find it equally untenable that the need be related to the location of unbelievers OR to their ethnolinguistic grouping OR to their responsiveness to the Gospel. To my Montana co-laborers (whom I love and am thankful for): I suggest you work to demonstrate that the people of Montana are a unique unreached people group. Then you’ll suddenly get the flood of laborers you’re convinced you need!

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6 Comments on “WHERE: Not Everywhere Is In ‘Huge’ Need”

  1. Aaron Abreu December 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Are we saying that God does not call men to Montana?

    • Vengador December 17, 2011 at 8:34 am #

      I’m sure God is free to call people to go anywhere.
      And I think if you hear the voice of God telling you to go to Montana, you’d best go.

      But I do maintain that in order to go to Montana, you have to NOT go to places many times needier. Even if God calls you.

  2. Aaron Abreu December 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    God does call men to go to specific places and hinders men from going places. I certainly advocate Paul’s approach-he attempted to go to various places but God called him to go to Macedonia. It is in God’s sovereign design and purpose where He puts a man, no matter how much ‘needier’ a place may be.

    • Vengador December 17, 2011 at 6:43 pm #

      Absolutely, brother – I wouldn’t want to deny that possibility at all. Thanks for sticking around and adding your viewpoint.

  3. Joseph December 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    God’s call consists of giving people the desire and opportunity to serve in a particular place. God does build believers’ desires to serve by allowing them to recognize the need of a specific field. However, there are a number of other factors at work in people’s desire that are difficult to quantify (personality, culture, experiences, etc). Nobody chooses to go to any field simply based on demographics nor should they. The “need” of a field is only one of many ways God builds in his people the desire to serve.

    Too much emphasis on need can also obscure the opportunity element in God’s call. God hasn’t gifted everyone with the background, personality, and skills necessary to effectively minister in China–or Montana for that matter. For example, someone who just isn’t gifted with languages may not be able to learn Chinese and be used by God nearly as much as in China than in Montana. We can’t construct a system of higher and lesser callings. That would put us in a position to judge God and where He decides to call people.

    I realize what you’re trying to do, and I’ve seen a number of missions endeavors that make me want to say, “c’mon…really?” Churches and missions agencies do need to take into account the “neediness” of a field. However, there is no formula that can determine support. Believers simply need to trust God in giving them the desire and opportunity to accomplish the great commission–both in sending and going.

  4. Levi January 4, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi there, I definitely agree with this argument. I know I’m called to be a missionary but I still don’t feel called to go anywhere in particular. I’m coming up to my last years of high school now and looking to get involved in missions work. I was just curious if you have any pointers for me on where I could go to serve, classes I should take in my last year, or what college/ missions school to go to to prepare? Oh, I know a little Spanish but I’m not very good at learning languages… Thanks so much! 🙂

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