WHERE: Some Clarifications

There is no surely no more accurate test of a writer’s ability than the way he is understood by his readers. So, yeah, I stink.

Anyway, my point is missed… The feedback I’ve gotten from the last couple posts is good, but those who are disagreeing with me are the ones I’m trying to agree with, and vice versa.

So let me summarize briefly what I do mean and don’t mean:

 1) I DO NOT mean that Christians should only go to areas of greatest need.

 2) I DO mean that missions endeavors should focus on areas of great need.

 3) I DO NOT mean that it is possible for an area to have no need of Gospel-proclaiming churches and believers.

 4) I DO mean that it is possible for an area to have no need of church-planting efforts.

Those are the bullet points. Below is some further commentary on these – feel free to ignore unless you’re still wanting clarification.

– When you say these things – about a place like Montana, instance, people think you mean no one should ever share the Gospel with people there! This, of course, is not my meaning. I think that in this age, believers will always be in the minority in any place, and thus there will always be a need to maintain a regular witness to the unregenerate majority.

– This means that TECHNICALLY, every place at every time is NEEDY. There are unbelievers everywhere. But as we are not responsible for the final response of unbelievers to the Gospel’s message, NEEDY of the Gospel does not necessarily mean NEEDY of another church. Different sizes of need, while alone insufficient to determine where we will invest our lives, do tell us a lot about what the plan to reach that area should look like. It tells us for instance, that the best plan to reach a place may not be to send a full-time church-planting missionary, but to cooperate with local churches to further the Gospel witness in an area.

– Any church ANYWHERE, whether in the States or in China, should begin to give and send for the advance of the Gospel as soon as possible. And all believers everywhere should continually wrestle with their own desire to meet needs all over the world – whether they’re in the Western U.S. or in India.

– The whole point of this series of posts was to say that there’s some places that are worth going that many people say are no longer worth going. I’m being read the opposite way now. This shows that people are afraid that unless you say, ‘go wherever God guides/leads/calls,’ there’s a slippery slope of defining ‘real’ missions in increasingly narrower ways. I understand these concerns: the ‘people-group’ theorizing that dominates modern missiology is an example of such redefinition. But I think there’s an in-between way, one that considers what kind of missions efforts it will take to reach different sizes of need.

– I made a couple big assumptions in the last post. Which I regret, trust me. I assumed that the person considering where to go as a missionary was a certain kind of lifeboat. I assumed that he was a well-trained, full-time church-planter. I (unworthily) work with a wonderful team of such men, and it’s easy for me to assume that I’m talking to them about our plans for our team’s future. But let me make it clear (and another post will clarify further): if you are not trained, and not interested in planting churches, I’m not really concerned about where you’re going. The only place I wish you’d go is Apprenticestan. As my co-laborer put it succinctly, again in lifeboat terms, ‘make sure you’re sending lifeboats, not just boats.’

– I also assumed the person in question had not heard the voice of God commanding them to go to a particular place. I have never heard such a voice, so I often forget to allow for that possibility. Obviously, God’s direct calling would trump any other considerations. So, if that is you, do everyone else a favor and don’t try to rationalize why God called you there. Just say, ‘God called me, that’s all I know.’ After all, what could Philip say about going to the wilderness where he met the eunuch? Do you think he pretended for a moment that it was as ‘needy’ as Samaria? And it was evidently fine that it was not.

– No one is a missionary to a country, nor is anyone a missionary to the ’10-40 window’ – everyone will end up in a city somewhere. And that’s really the level at which these considerations have to be made. I imagine there’s some cities in the ’10-40 window’ that have about as high a church to population ratio as anywhere else in the world. So, my question is, what are you going to be busy doing in this city you’re going to? The few places in the States without churches are so small, the Gospel could be shared with every household in a matter of weeks. If no one’s interested, what’s your next step? Lay siege?

– I’ll talk more about this in the next post, but it’s a little more than obvious that I am not the right person to be making these calls, right? But that doesn’t change the fact that you and I are both making these calls everyday! How? By deciding where we personally will go as missionaries. By advising others as to where we see a need for laborers. By choosing which missionaries our church supports. By making a strategy for how our organization allocates resources. I concur with others who have spoken: how you make these calls is none of my business. But how I make them is! And I make them everyday, just like you.

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5 Comments on “WHERE: Some Clarifications”

  1. Joseph December 21, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    I’m mostly in agreement with you, but how you place your emphasis concerns me. Goodness knows I have been frustrated to no end when a pastor/committee/congregation declines support because “we already have a missionary in China” (or even Asia!). I always want to reply, “Are one fifth your missionaries in China?…because that’s where 20% of the world lives!” I totally agree that need should play a greater role in missions decision making. I actually take the population of just our city and ask churches to imagine that our city were a country. It would be the 50th largest country in the world and one of the least reached.

    On the other hand, we 10-40 guys can overplay the need issue. To dredge up the inevitable lifeboat illustration, its not like we have forty lifeboats and only two ships to rescue. If every “sinking ship” were a city larger than a half million people, we’re still looking at more than a thousand targets (most of us grew up in cities that wouldn’t make the cut). It’s not hard to find a needy field more than worthy of effort–even in the States.

    Up to this point, we’re pretty much in agreement. Don’t know why it just took me two paragraphs to say it, but anyways my problem started with the distinction in your first post about who are the more “real” missionaries. In the second, you imply its those of us going to huge needs.

    10-40 guys are prone to get target fixation. Like the WWII pilots that would accidentally run into buildings on strafing runs, we tend to become so focused on the needs of the many we can become heartless to the needs of the (relative) few. It’s easy to find yourself at a missions conference and have little interest in what God’s doing in other areas of the world.

    It should be enough that someone discern a credible need and have a desire to meet that need. It doesn’t have to be a “huge” need–just enough to keep them busy for at least few years (they can always move on to another need). Places with huge needs aren’t the only places needing “real” missions. I know you wouldn’t say it like that, but emphasize the “huge” needs too hard and that’s what people start hearing.

  2. Vengador December 22, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Thanks for your comment, as always. Honestly shows me that I’m still not communicating well – because I want to lay the emphasis where you are! These posts originally were supposed to be about maintaining the validity of going to places like Spanish-speaking South America – places that are getting a ‘reached’ reputation. I’m not technically in the 10-40 window, and I really hope that I’m not making it sound like that’s the club I’m in, because I’m really not. I think there’s thousands of good places to go.

    It’s my own fault, but this whole detour is a result of my first post being misunderstood. I maintain that just because I think there are more valid places to go to as a full-time church-planter than the people groups strategists allow, does not mean that I think all places are equally valid targets for such efforts. But judging from some of the response to the last couple posts, because people don’t like where some strategists draw the line (for example, the people groups, the 10-40 window), they overreact and say no lines should be drawn ever. And I can’t say that. Though I think far more places are in great need than either of the examples I listed!

    So you don’t think I’m a total nutcase, please remember how I defined ‘huge’ – I’m not talking about cities of millions of people alone. I just mean there’s a lot to be done – that this person isn’t going to run out of work – like you said, for at least a few years. Of course, they could move on Paul-style to other places. But we both know that most guys raising support to go to the ‘unreached U.S.’ have no intention of doing so. They have targeted a city of 5,000 with ‘no church’ and they are going to go there with a siege mentality. That’s a generalization, of course.

    Probably should have made this clear long ago, but if someone was going to a major city – yes, even Helena – I wouldn’t be so quick so discount the need for a church-planter there. Like I tried to clarify, in these discussions we’re generally talking about a certain kind of missionary. Someone that churches are going to support full-time, indefinitely to start churches. Do I question the logic of sending someone like that to a town of 5,000 – or a tribe of 5,000! – over sending someone to a city where the potential disciples will never run out? You better believe it. I agree there’s a need for effort everywhere, like you say – but I’m not so quick to say that the solution is for a guy to raise indefinite, full-time support and go rent a building there.

    I agree with your take on the lifeboat illustration in that all the WHERE decisions that a single missionary, pastor, church, or missions org. will make involve a very limited number of resources. But just because they have no control over the resources does not mean that they can’t consider how other people’s resources are being spent and use their own accordingly. What I’m especially talking about is the tendency of church-planters to say there’s no church in an area when they mean, ‘there’s no church like mine in this area.’ There may actually be a large expenditure of lifeboats in that place, but as my friend commented – ‘the lifeboats may not be the color we want them to be.’ I agree, it’s not hard to find places worthy of effort even in the States – but I do not generally find many guys going to those places. I made those assumptions about Montana, because there’s only one city in Montana of 100,000 people. And the guys I’ve met going out West are not going to places like Helena. But at the foundation, I agree with you: my point has never been that every organization should invest all their resources in the super-needy places – just places that are adequately needy to justify this amount of resources.

    Anyway, I hope I don’t sound like I’m not interested in what God is doing in other places. I love to see people going to cities all over the world, regardless of what country they happen to be in.

  3. Tyler December 26, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    Good stuff.

    It’s a wake up call for all of us. Some people just get a little grumpy when you get them up earlier than they want 🙂

    Praying for more qualified and trained laborers to head to these areas of the world.

  4. Matt A February 6, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    Not to beat a dead horse, but what should be done about that tribe of 5,000?
    Should we leave them alone, for the sake of planting another church in Almost-Reached-Landia?

    Please, don’t anybody take that as being offensive–we are brethren here. I am looking for guidance. Because I want to see someone care about the 5,000.

    • Vengador February 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

      First of all, I think we all agree that someone needs to go to that tribe of 5,000. The problem is, unless a missionary figures out how to split himself into two, he must choose a place to go. So… there will be one place he goes, and a hundred places he didn’t go. Of course, there are a lot of considerations that go into how to choose the place that you do go, but in the interest of reaching that tribe of 5,000, how about adding this criterion to our search for the ‘place to go’: which place will make me most able to reach the place I didn’t go? I personally think that line of thought will usually lead us to urban centers. You’re absolutely right in insisting that we never have the right to take our eyes off those 5,000, but surely not at the expense of 50,000 or at the expense of half a million.
      I am with you – I wouldn’t plant another church in Almost-Reached-Landia. But I would disagree with you as to what ‘Almost-Reached’ means. Because of the influence that we’ve received from the people groups strategists, we think of reached as ‘having an indigenous group of believers with the tools and the…etc.’ Whereas the Bible definition of reached would seem to be ‘everyone has had a chance to hear the Gospel.’ In that case, the borders of ‘Almost-Reached-Landia’ look a little different.
      Thanks for your input!

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