Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

We love to focus our attention here on the podcast on international missions. I know this is a high priority for you, Pastor John, which is evidenced in where you speak and invest your life. Everyone here at Desiring God has high respect for frontier missionaries laboring in the remotest parts of the world. So, how do global missions and the local church work together? That’s the question today. “Hello, Pastor John. My name is Jack, a seventeen-year-old high school student in the U.S. with a passion for world missions. My question is this: Given the recent decrease in long-term career missionaries, and recent increases in church support for short-term missions, who should the local church be partnering with today to promote biblical missions? In other words, what do you think is the best blueprint for biblical world missions in a local church today?”

I really want to speak to this question because I think God is doing something very unusual in our day with respect to frontier missions. And by frontier missions, I mean missionary efforts that attempt to get to places in peoples or language groups that don’t have any ordinary access to the gospel and don’t have any Christian churches that could build up such a movement of gospel spreading. Everywhere they look — everywhere the people in those groups look — they see unbelievers like themselves. And most likely, they’ll be born, they’ll live, they’ll die without ever knowing a Christian or hearing what God has done in Jesus to save sinners from destruction.

“God is doing something very unusual in our day with respect to frontier missions.”

It seems to me that God is awakening his people today in a fresh way to this unfinished mission Jesus gave us. It seems to me that, alongside historic mission agencies that have been doing great work for a long time — decades — God is raising up new conferences, new mission organizations, new online ministries, churches with the kind of biblical theology and ecclesiology and cultural strategies that are freshly empowering for advancing Christ’s global mission at the present time.

When I say biblical theology, I have in mind Reformed theology that puts a high premium on the sovereign grace of God in saving sinners who would never turn from their traditional religion to Christ apart from God’s work of unconditional, omnipotent regeneration. They must be born again. It’s a sovereign act of God. God is gloriously sufficient in his grace to save the hardest of sinners in another religion.

And when I say ecclesiology, I mean putting a high premium on planting healthy biblical churches among peoples of the world that can carry on the mission for decades, if needed, before Christ comes.

Five Assumptions for Missions

I’m going to mention a few of these newer works that I alluded to because I think that that’s what Jack is asking for. Where should we look for partnerships? But first, let me name some assumptions that I have in seeking to answer the question about long-term career missionaries compared to short-term missionaries. Five assumptions.

First, all human beings, apart from the saving grace of God in Christ, are under the just wrath of God and are perishing and will spend eternity in hell if they are not reached with the saving message of the gospel. That’s assumption one. It’s a massive assumption that gets minimized in so many kinds of churches and theologies that don’t like to talk about that truth.

Second, there is no other way for people to be rescued from the wrath of God than by the provision that he himself has made in sending his Son to bear the punishment of sinners and absorb the wrath of God and cover the guilt of the lost and free us for forgiveness and justification by faith alone in Jesus. There’s no other way for people to be saved than Jesus.

Third, therefore, they must hear the good news, and we must take it to them so that they can hear. We have news. I love this word news. It’s not first an ideology. It’s news — spectacular, breathtaking, glorious news about what God has done in his Son Jesus Christ in history to rescue sinners from all the peoples of the world. The task of missions is to take this news to all the unreached of the world — all the unreached peoples and languages of the world — whatever the cost. That’s number three.

Fourth, it is essential to the missionary task that biblical, worshiping, obedient, soul-winning, healthy churches be planted so that the ongoing Christian life can be lived out over the decades the way it’s described in the New Testament. And so, the work of evangelizing the local people group can be carried on even when the missionaries are not there anymore. Churches, that’s number four.

Fifth, translating the Bible into indigenous languages is crucial. If such churches — the ones that I just described — are going to flourish spiritually in the long run, we all know how precious and utterly crucial it is for growing in Christ that we immerse ourselves day by day in the Bible. That’s why the Bible is needed in the people’s heart language, wherever the mission goes.

Our Primary Task

Now, so much more could be said besides those five assumptions. But because of those alone, I would say short-term missions has a secondary place of value in recruiting, motivating, and supporting what is primary. But what is primary — the primary effort of the local church, the primary investment of our resources for missions, the primary challenge of the pulpit, the primary strategy for finishing the mission of Jesus — is to raise up, send, support, nurture, and hold the rope for career missionaries.

If churches are to be planted and the Bible is to be translated and an ongoing movement of evangelism is to be sustained, short-term missionaries are probably not the main means by which that’s going to happen.

Four Commendable Partners

So, Jack asks, “Who should we be partnering with?” Now, you’ve already heard where I’m coming from theologically, so that governs what I’m going to suggest here. And please understand that there are dozens of movements and agencies and ministries that are faithful and that can help you and your church become a launching pad for the kind of missionaries I’m talking about. But I would mention, I think, four particular agencies or groups that you should pay attention to.

“The task of missions is to take this news to all the unreached of the world, whatever the cost.”

First, Reaching & Teaching International Ministries is a sending agency that shares these convictions.

Second, Radius International. It’s not a sending agency but a remarkable training organization preparing the kind of missionaries I’m talking about.

Third, Radical, the ministry of David Platt, which waves the banner for the unreached of the world, and teaches and inspires and trains for the sake of sustainable, radical commitment to planting the church globally.

Fourth, two conferences: The Missionary Conference this fall in Jacksonville, on October 16–18, 2024. And the CROSS Conference, a missionary conference for 18- to 25-year-olds in Louisville, on January 2–4, 2025. I’m going to be at both of those conferences. And I would love to see you, Jack, and lots of others of you who are listening at those conferences.

God is up to something amazing in our day. It’s thrilling to be a part of it.