This fall, the Desiring God national conference will call on the church to “Finish the Mission: For the Joy of All Peoples” by bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the unreached and unengaged. Plenary speakers for the event—September 23 to 25 at the Minneapolis Convention Center—include Louie Giglio, David Platt, Michael Ramsden, Michael Oh, and Ed Stetzer. If you register on or before Sunday, July 31, you’ll pay $145 per person, a savings of $40 from the full registration price.
Previewing this important event, John Piper and I corresponded about the progress and problems of an ever-changing global church. Jesus Christ’s commitment to build his church gives us utmost confidence that he will finish the mission. Yet he grants us the privilege of carrying out this high calling to introduce him to all people for their eternal joy.
What’s the most encouraging development you see today as Christians trust God to “finish the mission”?
Today, and every day, the most encouraging development is the never-ending endurance of God’s sovereign will and promise: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). The mission will be finished. We should be encouraged no matter what is happening in the world. God is always doing 10,000 things we can’t see.
But if we look to the world through the lens of the word, even there the evidences of God’s faithfulness to finish the mission are many. The Global Network of Missionary Structures reports that “there are over 4,000 known evangelical mission agencies sending out 250,000 missionaries from over 200 countries. This is up from 1,800 known mission agencies and 70,000 missionaries in 1980.”
In many places the fruit of this growth is remarkable. Just to give a few examples, the GNMS points out:
- The last 40 years have seen more Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus come to know Christ than in all previous centuries combined.
- In Cambodia the church exploded from just a handful of believers 20 years ago to more than 400,000 today.
- In Mongolia, the church grew from a few isolated believers, to more than 50,000 in 200 established fellowships in the same period.
- The Koreans alone, who are becoming increasingly frontier mission focused, have a plan to send out 100,000 missionaries in the next 20 years. The Philippine church and the Chinese church both have similar goals.
The ongoing strategic efforts of mission agencies and churches is another hope-filled sign. According to the GNMS:
The Finishing the Task network, which was launched in the year 2003, is focusing on those unreached groups over 100,000 in population which are unengaged. At the time the network was launched, there were 639 groups in this category. By the year 2010, all but 95 had been engaged. The network is now expanding its efforts to those unengaged peoples which are 50,000 in population or greater.
The sharing of information today via the internet means that no one has to work in the dark about what is happening. Strategies of closure (finishing the mission) are increasingly feasible. But in the end the sovereignty of God and the power of the gospel of Jesus, not the feasibility of our human plans, is the rock of hope and encouragement.
With the growth of the church in the Majority World, what’s the most strategic way Western churches can serve these spiritual brothers and sisters?
The Christian church is undergoing dramatic demographic shifts that will increasingly marginalize people who are not eager to be a part of something more diverse and less white.
Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, has clarified this development perhaps more than anyone else. The new terminology that has been introduced into our vocabulary is the term Global South, a reference to the astonishing growth of the Christian church in Africa, Latin America, and Asia while the formerly dominant centers of Christian influence in Europe are weakening. For example:
- At the beginning of the 20th century, Europeans dominated the world church, with approximately 70.6 percent of the world’s Christian population. By the end of the 20th century, the European percentage of world Christianity had shrunk to 28 percent of the total; Latin America and Africa combined provided 43 percent of the world’s Christians.
- In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians representing about 10 percent of the population; by 2000, this figure had grown to 360 million, representing about half the population. Quantitatively, this may well be the largest shift in religious affiliation that had ever occurred, anywhere.
Since we are talking about finishing the mission, I would tweak the question: Not: How can we serve the exploding church of the Global South? But: How can we be faithful, fruitful partners in serving the global mission of Jesus to proclaim the gospel of salvation to all the unreached peoples of the world?
Among the many answers to that question would be:
- wake up to the existence of the global church;
- don’t think that sending them money to do the mission can replace God’s call on Western Christians to go;
- don’t assume we can do the mission better or alone, and don’t assume they can either;
- listen to each other for the distinctive strengths each brings;
- be informed of the work of others among any group or area you feel called to go;
- pray for biblically faithful fruitfulness of all missions;
- be humble and ready to be last—who will one day be first.
In your extensive global travels to speak in venues such as Lausanne last year, what most concerns you about the global church’s commitment to finishing the mission?
My travels are not very extensive, and so my answers always bear some measure of parochialism. The main concerns I feel are:
- that many younger churches (both globally and in America) feel so focused on their local challenges that global, cross-cultural outreach to unreached peoples (missions) seems impossible;
- that churches and missions sometimes stray from the purity of the gospel and thus undermine the very aim of the mission: biblically faithful, Christ-exalting, multiplying churches;
- that worldliness choke the Word and the passion for missions;
- that the belief in eternal suffering for those without Christ will be lost, and with it zeal to reach them;
- and that the name of Christ will continue to be unknown and unhallowed for decades to come.
May the Lord of the harvest be manifestly jealous for his name today, and merciful toward the perishing, and may he send millions of workers into field, which is the world.
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