In 1910, roughly two-thirds of the Christian population of the world lived in Europe. According to a recent Pew Forum Study this has changed dramatically:
-about a quarter of the population of Christians (26%) now live in Europe
-24% live in sub-Sahara Africa
-37% live in the Americas
-13% or about one-eighth live in Asia and the Pacific.
These numbers are encouraging on many levels. However, the vast population of Asia and the fact that most of the population of the 10/40 window resides there screams of the unfinished task of taking the gospel to the nations.
These numbers also illustrate why this week I enjoyed a remarkable yet rare opportunity. I had the joy of speaking to about five thousand Korean young adults at their annual missions conference, an Urbana-type gathering in Rochester, New York. God has been particularly at work among Koreans over the past century, so challenging this group encouraged me greatly.
When you read the great commission passages in the Gospel records and Acts you see a straightforward, clear mission. Read them, or better, memorize them:
While each passage offers its own unique focus, what is clear in them all is this:
we have a mission to take the message to the whole world. If you stood before a group of believers and asked them to raise their hand if they were called by God to tell others about Christ, all having read these verses would raise their hand. But if you asked them whether they were called to take this message to the nations, you might get a different response.
I know. I have asked this many times. When I ask a group on a college campus, in a church service, or a youth meeting to raise their hand if they are called by God to reach the nations, most do not raise their hands. But the correct answer is that we are all called in some way to the nations. The verses above and the tenor of all Scripture make this more than clear.
We seem to think that the only people called to reach the nations are those who are going as international missionaries, appointed by a mission board, a church, or a ministry. But read these verses again. We are commissioned by God to:
-make disciples of all people’s ( literally “all ethnics”). Matthew
-preach the gospel to the whole world. Mark
-preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the nations. Luke
-go out even as the Son was sent forth from the Father. John
-give ourselves as witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Acts
In other words, the mission of God compels us to go to the nations. Yes, we can help do that by praying. Yes, we can help by giving. But we can also go, many of us. We can:
-help businessmen who love Jesus and travel abroad see themselves as missionaries and equip them in that role
-challenge young people to get out of the country before finishing high school
-give young adults a vision to spend some or all of their lives overseas
-challenge retired believers to take trips to the nations
-set aside a part of our time and resources to go ourselves
-seriously consider whether we should spend our lives elsewhere for the gospel
-ask ourselves what talent, gift, and/or passion has God given to us that we can use to reach the nations.
-and, we who live in the US can also “go” by reaching those who have come from all over the globe to us.
I read Radical Together by my friend David Platt, and the thing that hit me most was how many in his church committed 5% of their year, roughly a week, for specific missions focus. I prayerfully committed to spend 10% or the rest of my life going outside the US and doing what I am most passionate about: equipping leaders and reaching people through church planting. So in 2012 I will spend two weeks in Kiev teaching at a seminary and helping church plants. I will spend another teaching at the Canadian Baptist Seminary. That is my giftedness and my passion. I hope to do this until my last breath.
What is your plan to reach the nations? How are you using your influence to encourage others in this focus? Is your vision as big as the planet? I can tell you when I finished seminary I had a keen awareness of the need for a church to reach its community with the gospel. I also had a conviction about the nations which basically consisted of having some focus annually on missions abroad. But now I think our local church vision should be global from the start. We need a vision as big as the heart of God, and a desire to build the Kingdom more than our own little empires. Fortunately many pastors and leaders get that. I still run into the occasional believer who questions why we focus on the nations. But those are rare, and far more common are those who have a vision for the gospel like that in the Gospels.
As you reflect on the coming year, what can you do to reach the nations?