I wrote this over 6 months ago and never posted it. Not sure why. I have a lot of drafts that I never post. But I was encouraged today by something I read by John Piper. It fired me up, and sent me back to this entry. So, here it is. Thanks Piper!
I don't currently attend a local sunday gathering. But I love listening to good bible teaching. Oftentimes, I listen to sermons while I exercise, or as I am working in my office. I probably listen to 3 per week.
The messages always have common elements. They are based on scripture, logically structured, and well-prepared. They usually use relevant examples and almost always use humor to connect with listeners. I listen to sermons by people who I am pretty certain genuinely love Jesus.
There's another commonality though that I can't help but notice. With the exception of 2 pastors i listen to (for this very reason), rarely do any of the messages mention or imply international missions in any way. Maybe 1 out of 8 mention something about missions - and even then, its not exactly an imploration.
Before you think I'm being sensitive just because "missions is my thing", I beg you to think again. This has nothing to do with me. It's not personal. Just hear me out - because I don't think it's me who is ultimately saddened by the lack of focus on missions within the christian church.
The final instructions of the resurrected Jesus were simple, and have come to be known at The Great Commission: Take everything I've taught you and GO make disciples in all the nations of the world. (Matthew 28:19-20, my paraphrase)
This was Jesus' final request before he left and returned to the Father. But consider the weight of the moment...
Jesus had spent 3 years living with the disciples, teaching them daily. They watched him heal the sick, the blind, and the crippled - even raise people from the dead. Then they witnessed his torturous murder on the cross, and saw him take his last breath. After 3 days in hiding... scared to death... doors locked... the resurrected Jesus walked into the room they were hiding in and said "peace be with you."
After 40 more days together - preaching, healing, and having been witnessed by thousands - it was time for Jesus to say his final goodbye. All of it... from His miraculous birth to His miraculous rise from death, had come down to this. Do you think the disciples were on the edge of their seat?
Take everything I've taught you and GO make disciples in all the nations of the world.
He left his followers with the power of the Holy Spirit, and charged them to cover the earth with the good news.
Presumably, all christians accept the fact that the Great Commission applies to all of us. None of us are exempt from the responsibility of reaching the world for Christ. In christian circles, it is often said that the Great Commission can be fulfilled through the combined efforts of "goers" and "senders." That is, we are called to do one or the other. If all christians are to participate in the command to reach the nations, we must be either a goer or a sender.
In theory, the calling for some to do the "sending" while others do the "going", is quite accurate. As a missionary worker myself, I thank God for my team of senders who fund our mission.
But on a broader scale, it seems the idea of "goers and senders" has simply become a good way to justify the fact that almost no one is going.
In Luke 9 and 10, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples, then 72 more, into villages to share the gospel - so that people will believe and be saved. He told them "the harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few."
It was true then, and it still rings true today.
An American perspective
The population of the United States is 319,000,000. Supposedly, 75% of americans say they are christians, which means there are 239,250,000 christians living in the USA.
If we accept that the Great Commission can be fulfilled by a combination of goers and senders:
- What ratio do you think would be appropriate?
- How many senders per goer?
- What strategy would help accomplish that goal most effectively?
Out of the 239,250,000 christians in the US, there are currently 127,000 american missionaries "sent out" into the world to tell the nations about Jesus.
That means the american church is responding to the clear instructions of Jesus with a game plan of 239,123,000 "senders" getting behind 127,000 "goers". Or put more alarmingly, 99.95% senders, and 0.05% goers.
That's what we, as american christians, will answer to when our Savior asks how we responded to his final command. "We sent 0.05% of us out to tell the nations."
A global perspective
There are about 7.3 billion people on the planet.
Over 5 billion of which are NOT christians.
In total, from all countries, there are 400,000 christian missionaries serving in the world.
So, sticking with the concept of using goers and senders to strategically accomplishing the Great Commission: of the 2 billion christians in the world, 1,999,600,000 of them are supposedly senders.
But there's an even sadder twist to this story. The overwhelming majority (more than 4.5 billion) of the non-christians in the world live inside the 10/40 window... where only 8% of the worlds missionaries are currently working.
That's right. Around 8% of the already embarrassingly low number of "goers" - are working to reach 4,500,000,000 lost people - the majority of the world's unreached.
Getting back to the American church
I live and work in Guatemala. But I am an American. I love America and I love the American people. That's why my heart hurts deeply for the condition of her church.
To the vast majority of churches in American neighborhoods, the Great Commission of Jesus is clearly an afterthought, if not an absolute non-thought. That may sound harsh, but the data is undeniable. The overwhelming majority of money, time, and focus of the average American church goes toward everything other than the lost nations.
Take this study from the Evangelical Christian Credit Union (various studies from other organizations show similar results). The study breaks down the average American church's budget:
82% goes to salaries, facilities, and administration
12% goes to its own programs
4% is designated as "other" (2% of which is tagged "cash reserves")
2% goes to international missions
The numbers speak loudly - and they are shameful. If where we put our money reflects where our heart is (and it always seems to), the American church puts a 2% value on the final instructions left by Jesus. A 2% value on reaching the nations for Christ.
Right up there with rainy-day cash.
Paul said (in 1 Cor 15) that if we are wrong about Christ, we should be most pitied. Think about that. He had given up everything for the advancement of the gospel. He gave up comfort, career, status, safety, security, and any sniff of a routine that brings contentment. He called for all christians to live in such a way that would justify the claim: "if we're wrong about this, we should be most pitied, because we're giving up everything for it!"
Would anyone examining your life call it pitiful, because of all you've given up?
Quite to the contrary, many christians are far more interested in a nice seat, quality worship music, good youth programs, a fun community, a dynamic pastor, funny and relevant sermons, and a cool ambiance - than we are the 5 billion lost souls around the world. As we put the Great Commission on the back-burner, our self-absorbed bubbles reek of comfort, financial security, career ambitions, entertainment, fun, and recreational hobbies.
There is no greater matter of urgency. This can't be put off until tomorrow, next week, next year, or when the kids are out of the house. This is wartime! People are dying. Hell is welcoming souls.
John Piper wrote in his book "Don't Waste Your Life":
“I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth "home." Before you know it, I am calling luxuries "needs" and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don't think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.”
If you are a christian, this is wartime. It is time to enlist. It's time to make war! Maybe you say your salvation is secure, but what about your neighbor? What about the 5 billion who desperately need Jesus? We must be willing to give up our own life in order that they know Him.
This is a cause that requires extreme, irrational, unreasonable, and unthinkable action. The kind of radical faith we see in scripture, and have read about over the centuries. And it requires an all out rejection of the comfortable, safe, mismanaged and incorrectly prioritized, consumerist version of christianity that is luring millions to lukewarmness.
It requires taking up our own crosses, as Jesus said, and following Him.
And following his charge to all the nations.
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Acts 1:8
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Matthew 28:19-20
The world is desperate for more goers. Is anyone out there willing to risk it all and go?