Pastors using missions term incorrectly

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    I have heard more than one prominent and well intentioned Christian leader make the following statement: “The U.S. is the third largest mission field in the world.”  Is this an accurate statement?  My response is an emphatic, NO.


    The thing the prompts a statement like this is falsely equating the concepts of lost and unreached.  These terms are not synonyms.  Lost means that you don’t know Christ personally.  Unreached means that you have little or no access to the gospel.


    The U.S. is 28% evangelical Christian, meaning that 72% of the U.S. is lost – 229 million people.  It is accurate that U.S. contains the third largest number of lost people for a single country in the world.  But few of these people are unreached.  Most have heard the gospel multiple times and have chosen to reject it.  Just as Jesus said most would in Matthew 7:13-14.


    China is 10% evangelical Christian, meaning that 90% or 1.17 billion people are lost.  The largest number of lost people for a single country in the world.


    Missiologists divide the world into three groups.  World A is unreached (2% evangelical Christian or less).  World B is underreached (2-5% evangelical Christian).  World C is reached (5% evangelical Christian or more).


    Is the U.S. unreached?  NO.  Even cities that have a well deserved reputation for being resistant to Christianity and with an abundance of unchurched residents find themselves at 3 times the level of entry into World C.   Is China unreached?  NO.  For the same reason.


    Are there lots of lost people in these two countries?  YES.  Do they have access to the gospel?  Well, that is a more complex question.


    The question can’t be appropriately considered on a national level.  It must be considered at the level of what the Bible calls a “nation”.  Not one of the 238 countries recognized by the United Nations, rather the term would be better translated “people groups” (ethno-linguistic groups).  See Matthew’s version of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and Jesus’ prophetic statement about the timing of His return in Matthew 24:14.


    The U.S. has 94 people groups  according to Joshua Project that are classified as unreached.  Most of them are native American groups in Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico, or recent refugee pockets in major urban centers.


    92% of China’s population is a single people group, Han Chinese.  This people group is reached.  In fact, workers from the Han Chinese have now surpassed the U.S. as the largest missionary sending entity in the world.  But China also has 419 people groups among the 8% that are considered unreached according to Joshua Project.


    A second statement that I have heard from a number of prominent and well meaning Christian leaders:  “We are all missionaries.”  Is this an accurate statement.  Again my response is an emphatic, NO.


    The confusion is based on equating two words that are not synonyms – “evangelist” and “missionary”.  It is true that we are all commissioned to be evangelists.  Not all very good or conscientious ones, but we are all evangelists nonetheless.  We are all called to be on mission with God.  Although many neglect that calling.  But we are not all missionaries.


    A missionary is an evangelist with two caveats.  First, they are reaching out cross-culturally.  Reaching out to people that are different than they are – dealing with the challenge of barriers related to language and/or culture.  Not simply reaching out to folks very much like themselves.  Second, they are reaching out to folks with little or no access to the gospel (World A).  And in some cases, in specialized roles, to support the work of the national church among the underreached (World B).


    Two questions.  One, does the Church of Jesus Christ have a responsibility to evangelize every man, woman, and child in their people group?  My response, emphatically, YES.  Two, is there a special priority that the Scriptures assign to the Church of Jesus Christ to evangelize and plant churches among those with little or no access to the gospel (World A).  Again, an emphatic, YES.


    Sadly many of the churches that wholeheartedly affirm their response to the first question, lack that same enthusiasm in their response to the second question.  They place a far higher priority on providing individuals in their community with easy access to the gospel from multiple sources, with literally dozens of opportunities to hear and respond, while doing little or nothing to advance the gospel among the unreached.  This unequal response is the primary reason why we are still a good ways off from seeing the Great Commission completed globally.

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