It is becoming increasingly common to hear Christian leaders say something like this: ‘the problem in modern missions is that the church is sending missionaries to all the wrong places.’ Contrary to impressions I may have given with my previous posts, I do not think that. The hang-up in the Great Commission is not primarily a ‘where’ problem. Here’s why…

I wouldn’t have believed how many missionaries are in China. It still blows my mind. Of course, they’re not all of the same stripe, of the same game-plan, or of the same ability. But they’re here. Even in the kind of second-tier city that we live in, there are hundreds of individuals living here ‘on a mission.’ And yet, there are remarkably few ripples. You’d think with this many missionary-types, the city would be under a constant Gospel bombardment. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case.

Now, I’ve only been a missionary here. But I would be willing to stake some cash that many of the red areas on maps of the ‘unreached’ would not be very different. I know that there’s pockets of truly unengaged people out there. But I’m talking about places like Western China, where the unreached minority peoples live. Many organizations in China are now concentrating the bulk of their manpower on the West. But very little is happening.

I know that I personally have a tendency to portray the real need in missions as a lack of laborers. Seems biblical, too. Didn’t Jesus call upon his people to pray for laborers to enter into the harvest? But that’s the problem. The obvious implication of Jesus’ words is that ‘laborer’ = ‘harvester.’ What if the ‘laborers’ aren’t harvesting?  And that’s a fairly accurate, albeit brutal, description of modern missions. Unprecedented workforce, impressively low impact. We’ve got laborers. But we need to pray for harvesters.

Go ahead – insist that we’re sending missionaries to the wrong places. Go ahead – reroute all the resources that you can to ‘unreached’ places. Go ahead – pack up the entire missionary force of some ‘reached’ area and Fed-Ex it to the reddest place on your map. And what will happen? Probably not much. You’ll turn the Middle East into Western China. More bodies, marginal impact. The red area might fade to magenta. As a veteran missionary put it, what we need in missions is not more ‘warm bodies.’ Something needs to change besides geography.

I obviously don’t mean there are no effective missionaries in the world! But I do mean that our averages are not good (not unusual that some of the best players play for the worst teams). And therefore, until we start producing laborers instead of ‘warm bodies,’ WHO questions need to be a higher priority than WHERE questions. Nor am I implying that the caliber of a missionary is measured by things out of his control, i.e. people’s response to the Gospel. But that certainly doesn’t lead to the conclusion that there should be NO expectations of foreign missionaries whatsoever!

Who’s to judge what’s effective and what’s not? Not me, and probably not you. But all of us make these decisions as supporters, as trainers, and as senders. The fact that it’s hard to tell who the right person is for the job should not lead us to shrug our shoulders and just send anyone. It should lead us to 1) prayerfully develop a plan for what kind of missionaries we send and 2) have a way to correct the situation when we inevitably make some mistakes. So here’s a couple possible WHO questions for missions-focused believers to consider:

CHURCHES: if someone in your church wanted to be a missionary, do you know the next few steps to get them to field-readiness? Often these hapless volunteers are left to find their own way – or even worse, immediately sent with much fanfare to the mission field – they will become the next generation of ineffective laborers. Do you have any particular questions to help determine if a candidate for missionary support is the right person for the job?

MISSIONARIES: do you have people that will help you honestly analyze your impact in a place? Of course, we are not responsible for people’s response to the Gospel. But we are responsible for the decisions we make subsequent to their rejection. Do you have overseers in your life that are brutally loving enough to tell you when you’re wasting your time?

ORGANIZATIONS: do you have any goals bigger than ‘protect the organization’? If you can’t name a couple things that would be worth getting every person you have in China kicked out, you’re probably not going to be very effective. Do you have a plan for your people to make a real, lasting impact? Do you have a plan to continually increase the effectiveness of your people on the field? Do you have ways to tell people on your team that they are ‘zero-impact’ men, and then ways to help them grow, and then ways to fire them if they’re not interested in doing so?

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2 Comments on “WHO > WHERE”

  1. Johab Silva January 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Definitely a great post! Praise the Lord for that. I woke up this morning thinking about this website. I have a called from God to China a this week God had strongly touched me about it. I’ve been pray the whole week for that. Also I worked as a full time missionary for YWAM Brazil and Argentina for 2 years, plus other missions like Open Doors, and The Gideons International. I would love to know a little bit more about a region in China I’ve been praying about and researching. I don’t know if you’ve been there, but, would be interesting to know. You can email me back at johabone@gmail.com. This is a project I just started 2 week ago. It will be easy to keep in touch with people sendmetothenations.blogspot.com. Thanks again to be courageous. I know that it came from God. Many blessings

    Johab Silva

  2. Max January 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Very good post. It prompted me to think of being a “harvester” as well as sending them forth!

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