What would it sound like to receive an invitation from the most important person alive, to join him in the most important venture on the planet?
Perhaps he would reference what he’s done in the past, and how it connects with this initiative — that he “became a servant” in the incarnation, not only “to show God’s truthfulness” and “confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,” but also “that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8–9).
Maybe he would outline the mission and pledge its fulfillment: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Likely such a personage would make unblushing promises of reward, despite the drawbacks: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28–30).
He may even be so bold as to say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34–35). The venture would be so significant (and no doubt, the attendant cost is so great) that it might sound off-putting at first — until the pledge sinks in, and you realize how “inescapably hedonistic” such an offer is.
Given his inherited resources and his own acquired power, he may let you know that finishing the task is not just likely, but absolutely certain. “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
And if the invitation were authentic, he may even divulge the extent of his authority, under which the endeavor will operate (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”), give specific instructions for the mission (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”), and promise not just his oversight and support, but his own presence and intimate involvement (“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” [Matthew 28:18–20]).
One Commission, Two Callings
The reality, of course, is that you are invited — in all the above terms and many more biblical overtures bursting with missionary vision.
You are invited to be involved in the world’s greatest initiative, to participate in the planet’s biggest project, and to engage in history’s most exciting enterprise. Already the decisive act has been accomplished when the Son of God himself gave his own life on a hill outside Jerusalem to secure the salvation of his people from all the peoples, and rose again victorious over sin, death, and hell. Now he leads the mission from the control room of the universe, at his Father’s right hand, and by his Spirit, through his own people, he is extending his offer of life to every tribe, tongue, and nation.
This summons to wear the jersey and come onto the field with the globe’s greatest team is singular and plural. Our star has only one team. All who answer his call wear the same blood-red, and don his unmistakable logo. But you may say he calls us to various positions on two distinct sides of the ball.
Some he has sent to make disciples among peoples already “reached” in societies where churches already exist and pathways to his message are accessible. “Reached” doesn’t mean everyone believes, or even that many believe. And it doesn’t mean that the work isn’t important, even essential, to his Commission. But it is fundamentally distinct from the calling he gives to others: to make disciples among the “unreached.”
There is a fundamental difference: some of us complete the Commission among “reached peoples,” and some of us do so among the “unreached,” or even “unengaged.”
Pursue All the Peoples
People groups are communities or societies of persons and families with a shared language and common ethnic identity. An unreached people, as mission strategists commonly use the term, is a group with no indigenous Christian community, or Christians so few in number (and without adequate resources) that they are unlikely to ably plant the gospel and the church among their people. Meanwhile, an unengaged people is one in which no known church-planting effort is currently active.
Missions, then, is a term for preserving a category for the church’s evangelistic efforts to reach the unreached and engage the unengaged. Taking the gospel across the street and to one’s own friends and family and coworkers and associates is vital. This is the work of local mission, which we often call evangelism — or if that word carries too much baggage, call it living and speaking on mission among reached peoples.
“You are invited to be involved in the world’s greatest initiative.”
But among the two callings of the Great Commission — one to disciple the reached and one the unreached — just about all the inertia in our lives and churches and communities is toward the first calling, not the second. We have no present concern in the church that too many Christians will up and move to unreached. The reached are relatively well engaged, even as great needs persist among the reached, but the unreached are in even more dire straits. Missions is a term for noting that difference and preserving the church’s category for planting the gospel among peoples not yet reached.
Call to the Millennials
The origin of this book was in the inaugural Cross student missions conference in Louisville, Kentucky, December 27–30, 2013. The conference was a fresh effort to call college students from among the emerging Millennial generation (born 1980–2000) to the gospel frontiers for, perhaps, the last great push in the completion of the Commission.
It may sound daunting to learn that 6,500–7,000 of the world’s people groups are unreached (and more than 40 percent of those are presently unengaged), but it’s also deeply encouraging to put these figures into context, and see that “the momentum of closure is accelerating" (Piper, Desiring God, 232). As missiologist Patrick Johnstone wrote more than a decade ago, “Although many people are still unreached, the number is only a fraction of that of 100 years ago. The goal is attainable in our generation — if we mobilize in prayer and effort and work together to disciple the remaining least reached peoples" (Johnstone, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think [Christian Focus Publishing, 1998], 105).
Cross is one such effort to mobilize prayer and partner together in summoning a new generation not just to live on mission among our native reached peoples, and be engaged “senders,” but also to be sent to the unreached and unengaged, and take up the “going” that the Commission requires. Cross aims to fly the flag for the frontier and wave the banner for missions and the irreplaceable, and beautiful, work of crossing cultures and learning languages to plant the gospel among those who otherwise have no access.
Feet Still Matter
But to the rising generation, “going” anywhere may seem as easy, in one sense, and as unimportant as ever. In an age of increasing globalization and rapid technological advance, in which we can virtually “go” anywhere and see anything with a smart phone, a fresh localism is on the rise, and for good reason. For most of us, at least in the United States, nationalism is too big, and too disparate, to capture us for what we’re missing in the Internet Age. Now we must seize upon that which is local to balance out the place-lessness we feel at work and in our social (media) lives.
But when it comes to missions and completing the Global Cause, feet are as important as they’ve ever been. Where you put your feet matters as much today as ever. With our flurry of innovations, it’s easy to suppose there must be all sorts of ways in which the labor of disciplemaking, that once demanded that we be onsite, now can be done remotely. No doubt, there are a host of gains and potential assets such an age brings to world evangelization and theological education. But the computer will never replace the missionary — because the Commission doesn’t call for mere exchange of information, but for good old-fashioned disciplemaking.
Discipling the nations requires more than dropping a translated tract or piping in a recording, or even a well-produced video. Disciplemaking requires more than a low-bandwidth, user-friendly website in multiple trade languages. Disciplemaking means getting your feet wet, and your whole body, in baptism, and teaching not just what Jesus commanded, but to observe all that he commanded (Matthew 28:19).
It means doing the long-term grunt work to entrust the gospel to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). It means older women training younger women holistically (Titus 2:3–5). It means being “among” the people we hope to reach with the gentleness of a nursing mother and the strength of an encouraging father (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11–12). It means an eagerness to share not only the gospel, but our own selves (1 Thessalonians 2:8), providing a life example to imitate (Philippians 3:17), and empowering the disciples to practice what they have learned and received and heard and seen in us (Philippians 4:9). Full-orbed disciplemaking cannot be accomplished remotely. It won’t happen over the Internet.
And so, still at the very heart of missions is where you put your feet. Sure, there is more involved in cross-cultural missions than mere geography, but there is always some geography. There is some shared footspace. There is no disciplemaking by proxy, no distance option for finishing the mission. There is language to learn and dialects to discern and customs with which to become acquainted. And while modern transportation, unprecedented migration, and increasing globalization may make geography less a barrier than ever before, that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a significant barrier, and that we downplay the importance of location to our own loss and the compromise of Commission.
Disciple is Jesus’ central command in Matthew 28:18–20, but going is inextricably linked to discipling in this context. Isaiah 52:7, quoted so memorably in Romans 10:15, is still as relevant as ever: “How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news!” Perhaps even more so when we’re faced with the location-minimizing temptations we are today. The feet of those who leave behind family and friends and familiarity to adapt to language and custom and place are still the most beautiful feet in the world — because they echo the journey of the nail-scarred feet that left behind heaven’s everything to come to us in our nothing.
We Are Turning to the Nations
There comes a moment in every movement of God when continuing to saturate one’s native people with the gospel is simply no longer enough. This is true of many in our day, who have enjoyed renewal in the fresh wave of gospel-centeredness and new depth in the soil of Reformed theology. But as the movement has grown and deepened and matured, we’ve increasingly felt the power of God’s words through Isaiah,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
It’s not enough just to make more young, restless Reformed types among our already reached people. It is “too light a thing,” as Isaiah would say, to see biblical substance and depth make a resurgence among conservative evangelicals. This vision of God is too big for a tribal deity. The God of the Scriptures is a God of the nations. The very message of such a big, gracious God is called into question if we are not soon turning to the nations.
More than one hundred years ago, in 1888, it was too small a thing for Robert Wilder and his companions at Princeton. God called them out from New England, and from the United States, to take the gospel to the unevangelized. The Student Volunteer Movement of which they became a part, sent out more than twenty thousand students in its short history.
Some eight decades before them, it was too light a thing for the renewal of the Second Great Awakening (roughly 1790–1840) to be contained among already reached peoples. In August 1806, Samuel Mills and fellow students of Williams College experienced the so-called “Haystack Meeting” that stirred them, and soon others, for missions, including Adoniram Judson (1788–1850), who left for Burma in early 1812.
Mills, in turn, had been inspired by William Carey (1761–1834), who is known as the father of modern missions and had felt the same restlessness and eventual call to turn to the unreached peoples beyond his homeland. For Carey it was too light a thing that God would only reach England. Now, said Carey in effect, we are turning to the nations.
But perhaps the most moving turn to the nations came in Acts 13. There Paul and his companions came to Antioch in Pisidia, and as was his practice, Paul began by evangelizing the “reached” people of the day, his fellow Jews in the synagogue. After his first message, they wanted to hear more — “the people begged that these things might be told them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). But the mood changed the next week when “the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44).
See if you can put yourself in the setting as a Gentile. Jew and Gentile have gathered to hear this remarkable news brought to the Jewish people. These are “things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12), and the Gentiles stand with the angels, looking in from the outside. What an amazing thing God has done for the Jews.
When the Jewish leaders see the crowds Paul had attracted, “they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him” (Acts 13:45). To which Paul and Barnabas respond with this amazing statement — this turning to offer the grace of the gospel to “unclean” Gentiles. Imagine standing among your fellow Gentiles and hearing his extraordinary message of salvation, peering in from the outside on what God was offering the Jews, and then seeing Paul turn and extend this invitation to you.
Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly [to the Jewish leaders], saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46–48)
Behold, we are turning to the nations. It is too light a thing for God merely to raise up the tribes of Israel. It is too light a thing to produce a second Great Awakening at the beginning of the nineteenth century and bring renewal to America. And it is too light a thing to usher in a resurgence of big-God theology among Western evangelicals in the early twenty-first century. We are turning to the nations. The salvation of this global God must be offered to the ends of the earth.
And so comes the missions moment, that glorious pivot when we realize that the initial thrust of the movement has run its course, and it is time to truly go global with the grace we’ve received. When people take the Word of God seriously, there is revival among the reached and missions to the unreached. Send out the beautiful feet.
Be a World Christian
In the chapters that follow, you will be summoned, again and again, to consider the missionary call to the unreached and unengaged. We expect that many of you reading this book already embrace this call, or have begun to sense it. But what follows in these pages is not only for current and future missionaries, but for the whole church, because this Great Commission is a venture we share in together. Yes, there are two distinct callings, but there is one team, one Lord, one Great Commission. So we pray that God would use this book to solidify your current season in life, or to open new vistas on your next, and we invite you to “world Christianity” — which is really the only Christianity.
“There is no disciplemaking by proxy, no distance option for finishing the mission.”
For many, we hope that will mean embracing the beautiful calling to cross cultures to bring the gospel to a people group that otherwise has no access. For others, that will mean becoming or reinforcing what it means to be an engaged sender — one who not only sees his own life among his native people as sent for evangelism, but also is actively involved in the financial and prayer support of sending and sustaining missionaries to the unreached.
Becoming a world Christian means that, wherever you live, you “consider all other citizenship a secondary matter” (D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry [Baker, 2004], 117) and “reorder your life around God’s global cause" (Piper, Desiring God, 232–33). It means that even as you give yourself to making disciples on the tract of land to which you’ve been sent, you connect your efforts with the Global Cause, among peoples reached and unreached, and you pray and dream and give toward completing the task.
But becoming a world Christian not only leads to the resourcing and flourishing of ministries abroad; it also leads to vibrancy and fruit at home. “Becoming a world Christian cannot be an end in itself,” writes Don Carson. “The aim is not to become so international and culturally flexible that one does not fit in anywhere; the aim, rather, is to become so understanding and flexible that one can soon fit in and further the gospel anywhere" (Carson, Cross and Christian Ministry, 132).
Christ, Gospel, Peoples, Joy
In the chapters that follow, we will hear from a rich cross selection of Christian leaders and missionaries. There’s a Korean, a Canadian, a Zambian, some Americans, and one Malaysian-born Chinese Aussie. We have Baptists and Presbyterians, a pastor from Texas and one from Africa, and two authors of more than fifty books. There’s a CEO, a university chaplain, a world-class theologian, and a seminary chancellor. We have two international college ministry leaders, one former high school basketball coach, one former mining engineer, and a former Muslim. In addition to the United States, members from our team live in Japan, Zambia, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Let me warn you, and entice you, that this missions book has a lot to say about Jesus and his gospel. We do not assume the gospel and then invest our energies into statistical observations and brainstorming about strategies. We glory in the gospel, and believe that it will be men and women who glory daily in the gospel who will be most powerful in finishing the mission.
The chapters ahead will call you over and over to consider God’s call in the Global Cause and to cross the line. What is he doing in and through you in the moments invested in the truths rehearsed in these chapters? Is he steadying the work of your hands on the field? Summoning you to cross over into some new venture? Inspiring you to cross from local Christian to world Christian, to take up the flag in your church for the unreached? Daring you to dream big and cross the line into the next season of your life for engaging the unengaged with the gospel?
These contributors won’t let you go until you’ve considered your calling afresh and you’re ready to “go back to your life,” if you go back, with renewed vigor and purpose. Or until you’ve resolved to be caught up into crossing the street, or crossing a border, or crossing an ocean, or crossing a culture in the call of the Commission.
The invitation is for real. Jesus will build his church; the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18). The most important person alive has summoned you into the most important venture on the planet. Will you cross?
CROSS: Unrivaled Christ, Unstoppable Gospel, Unreached Peoples, Unending Joy is available free of charge at desiringGod.org.