Christmas Gift to Our Missionaries

I have five theses this morning that I can fit into these next 35 minutes, I think, concerning the pursuit of Pauline missionaries. I’ll explain before I’m done what I mean by Pauline missionaries. The first three of these theses are familiar theological foundations at Bethlehem, so I will go quickly through them. The last couple are very practical, and we’ll dwell on those more specifically and longer.

1. God’s Glory Will Cover the Earth

The first thesis is that the purpose of God to fill the earth with his glory will be accomplished. That’s as certain as is the life of God. God will die before that fails to be accomplished. I learned that from Numbers 14:21–23, which says:

But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness…shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers.

He takes two oaths: “As I live” — as if to say, “I’ll die before this happens” — and, “As the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” He means for these people not to enter the land, and he swears they won’t enter. He takes his oath on two grounds: His life, and his purpose to fill the earth with his glory. That’s important to see. It will be accomplished.

What does it mean, however, to fill the earth with his glory? It means three things. First, it means that one day the earth will only be peopled by people who know his glory. Habakkuk 2:14 says:

For the earth will be filled
   with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea.

But it’s not just knowledge; that’s not enough for God’s plan to be fulfilled. There must also be worshipers filling the world. Psalm 22:27 says:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
   and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.

So one day the earth will not only be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, but also the worship of the glory of the Lord. But that’s not enough either to explain what he means. It has to be a certain kind of worship — namely, white-hot worship. Revelation 3:16 says:

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

The people who are not spewed out of his mouth are the people that will inhabit the earth in the age to come, and therefore it’s only going to be people who are hot for God. That’s why at Bethlehem, we do our best to rehearse for that day. We intend to be intense, and if you don’t want to be intense, take off, because you don’t want to be in the kingdom. There will only be people in the kingdom who are white-hot for God. If you intend to be lukewarm, forget it, you’re out already. We want to be hot for God. People ask, “Why is it so intense at Bethlehem?” It’s because of this verse. This is a scary verse, isn’t it? It’s an awful thing to be spit out of Jesus’s mouth. Therefore, God’s purpose to fill the earth with his glory is his purpose to fill the earth with people who know and worship his glory with white-hot intensity, and this will be accomplished. All that you know. We talk about that a lot.

2. Blessed to Be a Blessing

You know this as well — God blesses his people that they might be a blessing to all the nations. The only reason anybody in this room is alive, has health, has a roof over their head, has faith in their heart, has intelligence in their brain, and has affections in their emotion, is to share it, and thus multiply the worship that God gets. Genesis 12:1–3 says:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

It’s the same thing in Psalm 67:1, which says:

May God be gracious to us and bless us
   and make his face to shine upon us …

That’s all so self-centered, right? Wrong. Psalm 67:2 continues:

…that your way may be known on earth,
   your saving power among all nations.

We ought to pray, “Bless me for one reason — to multiply the worship that we feel towards you.”

3. A Multitude of Peoples

Through his people, God intends to gather a worshiping multitude from all the peoples of the earth. Now, the word to underline in this thesis is peoples, because what I want to do is just share with you what most of you already know, and what I took 35 years to learn, namely that in the Great Commission, when it says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), it does not mean political nations like we know them today — the 220 or so political states that exist in the world today. That wasn’t in Jesus’s mind, and there are some reasons we know it wasn’t. For example, if we go back to that text in Genesis 12:3 it says, “By you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

And if you take that Hebrew word — mišpāhāh (families) — and just open your concordance, you find it in Genesis 10:5, Genesis 10:18, Genesis 10:20, Genesis 10:31, and Genesis 10:32 in the lists of the tribes and families and nations. And then if you come to the end of the Bible and you read Revelation 7:9, it says:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands …

And you immediately realize that the purpose of God to expand his kingdom through the earth is not completed when a foothold for the gospel has been obtained in every political nation. It’s not over yet, because you see these words — nation, tribes, peoples, tongues — and nobody quite knows what those are, exactly. Nobody can give a rigid definition that separates a tongue from a people from a tribe from a nation.

But we don’t need that kind of a definition to know what he’s up to, do we? He means all the local cultural groups out there that are characterized by languages, which would be a clear one here from tongues. And so, there are 4,000 or 5,000 of those left to be reached. Then it speaks of tribes and families, which doesn’t mean Noel, me, Carston, Abraham, Benjamin, and Barnabas; it means clans, probably, in that culture of a fairly extended family of several hundred people or so. Any place in the world where there’s a cluster of people cut off from the gospel and having some kind of unifying factor, God means for that people to be reached, penetrated, and discipled. So this third point is that through his people, God intends to gather a worshiping multitude from all the peoples of the earth. That raises the question about how that’s going to happen.

4. Pauline Missionaries

God intends for Pauline missionaries to plant the church in all unreached peoples. So now I’m ready to define for you what I mean by Pauline missionaries, and I get it from this text. Those of you who were at Bethel on Thursday heard me preach on this text a week ago. This is Paul’s statement to the people in Rome about his missionary strategy:

…from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation…But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain … (Romans 15:19–24).

Now, what is a Pauline missionary? A Pauline missionary is a person who can make an extraordinarily brash statement about the world in which he has been serving for 20 years. I assume Paul was converted around 35 AD, give or take a year, and that he wrote this letter in 55 AD. Twenty years he had been ministering, and if we look at a map of the Mediterranean world, Paul was saying that from Jerusalem all the way around through Judea, Samaria, Syria, Cilicia, Asia, Macedonia, Achaia, to Illyricum, he was finished and had no place to work anymore.

Only Pauline missionaries can say that. Timothy can’t say that. So I’m going to distinguish Pauline missionaries and Timothy missionaries. My cry is for some Pauline missionaries, and the world is in desperate need of Pauline missionaries who look around and say, “I’m getting out of here. There’s too many Christians around here. I have no place to work in Minneapolis. There are 800 churches in Minneapolis and fewer than 800 missionaries to 1.9 billion unreached people.” Somebody in this church ought to say that tradition has to be continued in our day. And yet, we just have so many Timothy missionaries because it’s easier to be a Timothy missionary than to be a Pauline missionary, as important as they are.

So God intends for Pauline missionaries to plant the church in all unreached peoples, in order to continue this tradition — people who say with Paul, “I’m going to Spain. Nobody’s ever been to Spain with the gospel, so I’m going to go.” I just imagine him getting on boats. It says in 2 Corinthians 11:25 that he was shipwrecked three times, and that he spent a day and night in the water. You’ve got to take a lot of boat rides to get shipwrecked three times, so I assume he spent a lot of time traveling from coastal town to coastal town on boats.

What do you think he talked to the sailors about? The weather? You know what he said? He said to every ship captain, “Have you ever been to Spain?” Or, “How far west have you ever been? Tell me about it. Did you ever meet any Jews there? Is there a synagogue in a port city in Spain? How long does it take to get there? What’s the weather like? What would I have to take to get there?” That’s what he talked about on the boat. And he said, probably, “What’s behind Spain? If you go around Spain, where do you get to?” And they said, “Nobody knows.” They probably thought that was the end of the world. Some of you ought to be Pauline missionaries.

5. The Great Need

Now we get down to some specific numbers and challenges here. The need is staggering, but the task is possible with God. Do you know where that comes from? In Mark 10:25–27 he says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” and the disciples just kind of stagger back and say, “Well then who can enter?” And Jesus said “With man, it is impossible, but not with God.” The task of missions is impossible, but not with God.

So let me just give you these figures that I get from the book The Unfinished Task, edited by John Kyle, and published back in 1984. I get these figures from Ralph Winter in that book. For some of you this is old hat, and for some of you, you need to think real hard now for the next five minutes to try to get a handle on this new way of looking at the world. First of all, I have two headings here. There are about 7,000 reached peoples and about 17,000 unreached peoples. So in the world, there are about 24,000 peoples total. Now, Ralph Winter wrote an article last year in the International Journal for Frontier Missions in which he said, “I’m shifting from talking about 16,750 unreached peoples to 17,000 because I want these three zeros to shout loud and clear, ‘These are guesses.’”

These are estimates — educated guesses. Nobody knows what a hidden people is anyway; that is, nobody knows how to draw a precise circle around it and say, “They’re inside, not outside.” There’s no nice, clear-cut, clean definition for an unreached people. You can give sort of general characteristics, but nobody knows. And then beside that, nobody knows quite how many there are. In India, for example, Ralph Winter estimates 3,000, but David Barrett says 26,000. So nobody knows quite how many peoples there are. The zeroes should signal for you that these are guesses. Now, don’t say all missiology is just a hocus pocus science because you really can’t do anything definite.

William Carey was a nascent missiologist, and you should read his tables of the world in An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. He didn’t know what he was talking about. He has numbers and populations and unreached groups, and he didn’t know anything. It was enough, though, to change the world. It was enough to change the world. All he needed was estimates to see that the need was enormous, so don’t be picky and say, “Oh, we don’t know exactly so we can’t do anything.” We know enough. There are 7,000 reached peoples and 17,000 unreached peoples.

Reaching the Uncreached

Now within these 7,000 reached peoples, there are 1.7 billion non-Christians, even though they’re reached. Get that. Reached means the church has been successfully planted. It is alive, and it is able to carry on the Timothy-type ministry of winning souls in its own culture. Among the 17,000 unreached peoples, there are 2.5 billion non-Christians. Among these 7,000 reached peoples, there are 245 million true Christians. And among the 17,000 unreached peoples, there are a million Christians, so don’t let that throw you either. Unreached doesn’t mean there is no sprinkling of Christians, it just means those Christians scattered through those 17,000 groups aren’t gathered together into viable, evangelizing churches that can do the work without cross-cultural help. So don’t let that look like a contradiction to you.

Then these next figures are simply arrived at by another sort of estimation. You can see what happens between those two numbers; it’s divided by a hundred. So if there are 245 million true Christians in the world and you divide that by 100 it gives you 2.45 million established congregations. That’s just an estimate, figuring that there are about a hundred people in each congregation on average around the world. Among the unreached there are none of those; that is, none of those viable ongoing self-sustaining evangelizing indigenous churches. Nevertheless, there are 73,000 Protestant missionaries serving in these 7,000 reached peoples. Ninety percent are Timothy-type missionaries. And there are 8,000 Protestant missionaries serving among these 17,000 unreached peoples. So 10 percent are Pauline missionaries.

Ralph Winter says, “What an imbalance.” It’s not that these people shouldn’t be there. It’s not that the Locklears should come home, especially after what Amy just said, but that we should not only think in terms of helping the Brazilian Church. I would hope, and I’m sure they would agree with this, that part of it our BGC strategy in Brazil should be to equip and mobilize that church to reach it’s hidden peoples in Brazil. They’re there in Sao Paulo, I’m sure. You don’t have to go to a hidden country to find hidden people. That’s number five. The need is staggering, and the task is possible.

A Testimony for All Nations

Now, how is it possible? What can we do? What is our part in completing the task of reaching 17,000 unreached people groups? Let me put in a parentheses here, I gave this talk to Dana Olson’s church in Trinity when he was ordained last June, and the title I gave to it was How My Mind Has Changed. I’ll explain to you why I titled it that at the beginning of this message. I grew up thinking only in terms of winning individuals when I thought of the Great Commission. Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:18–20), and I thought it was very frustrating. When you stop to think about it, as a college student, and you’re considering what you’re going to do with your life, you want to be a part of the Great Commission. But you just got so oppressed by the impossibility of it, and in fact, it will not happen if that’s the way you conceive of it.

If you conceive of the Great Commission as only being completed when all individuals are won to Christ, it’s hopeless, because the Bible holds out no such hope. Will he find faith on earth when he comes (Luke 18:8)? It says that the nations will mourn when he comes (Revelation 1:7). He will pour out fire and wrath upon the unbelievers when he comes (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10). We’re not going to win all the people to the Lord, so you can just sort of get oppressed that, if that’s what the Great Commission means, then we’re never going to finish the job.

Well, here’s how my mind has changed. That’s not what the Great Commission is, at least not the first half of it that must be completed before Jesus comes. When Jesus says, “This gospel must first be preached in all the world for a testimony to all the nations, then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14), that’s what’s going to happen. All the nations, all the people groups have to be evangelized, have to be reached with the gospel, and have a church planted there. It’s so hopeful and exciting to think about finishing it in our generation — before I die, finishing it.

Here’s how we do our part. Assuming an average congregational size of 100 worldwide, there are 150 congregations for every unreached people. If you take 2.45 million congregations and divide that by 17,000, you come up with 144.1, and we rounded it off to deal with round numbers. It comes out to about 150 congregations in the world for every hidden people. It’s a snap. Numerically, it’s a snap — spiritually is another question.

The BGC has about 140,000 members in the US. There are another 35,000 or so outside the US. Therefore, using the average world size of 100 people per congregation, we would have 1,400 congregations on average. We don’t, we have about 800 because our average is larger, but let’s keep it fair so that we bear our fair share of the load. But let’s say we’ve got 1,400 congregations. Now that means that the fair responsibility of the BGC, numerically, is to reach about 10 unreached peoples. That would be 1,400 congregations divided by 150 congregations for hidden people. That would be only 10 new peoples to enter in our generation for us to do our fair share.

Now, I qualify immediately because I don’t think that’s right. I said numerically that’s right, but materially and spiritually it’s not right, because we are a rich church in America, a very rich church, and many of these 2.45 million congregations are poor congregations who are not yet in a position to do the kind of missions that needs to be done. Therefore, we should take more than 10. But as soon as I said that last night, somebody, I don’t think he’s here, raised his hand and he said, “Be careful talking about the poor congregations not doing missions.” And then he reminded us what we’ve heard before, namely that there’s a prayer band in India comprised of about 80,000 Christians, and I think they have 80 missionaries or something, or maybe 800 — some spectacular number — and they’re broke, poor people. So I’ll go back and just retract that statement, maybe, and go back where I was at the beginning and say that the fair share is 10, but I think we should take more.

But here’s my point. In spite of the fact that these are all guesses and round numbers, do you see that it’s hopeful, that it’s not paralyzing? Seventeen-thousand is not a big number, speaking worldwide, with the number of Christians there are in the world if we just were burdened like we ought to be burdened. So what must we then do? We must pray concertedly for an awakening, and a frontier mentality and movement.

Pray, Study, Strive

I’m already looking forward to prayer week 1986. It’s always a great time at Bethlehem. It’s an exhausting time because we really pray, and many of us fast earnestly that our church would be awakened, that the conference would be awakened, and that the world church would be stirred. Look forward to that. Begin to pray every day for prayer week 1986. It will be the first full week in January. The theme is going to be Romans 10:1, which says:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

The first Sunday we’ll talk about “heart’s desire,” and the second Sunday we’ll talk about “prayer to God for them that they may be saved” in order to focus on God to burden our hearts, to desire like Paul desired, and to pray like Paul prayed that people might be saved. Pray concertedly for an awakening and a frontier mentality and movement.

Second, study and strive to become congregations — and here I’m thinking wider than our church — of world Christians. I don’t mean everybody in this room should be missionaries. I think it emasculates the word if you say we’re all missionaries. Baloney, we’re not all missionaries. If you start talking like that you’ll never believe in Pauline missionaries. A missionary is somebody who crosses a culture, gets outside the saturation of Christians, and is pressing out to the Spains of the world. But all of us should be world Christians whose lives are ordered around the priority of God’s purpose to be glorified by white-hot worshipers from all the peoples. Whatever your profession, however you make your money and work from eight to six each day, you still can be a world Christian with your mindset and your mentality structured around this purpose for being alive.

Study is the first word there, so let me hold up some books. I wish every family would buy this book and read it — From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. This is 90 little biographies, and it makes the best husband, wife, or family reading, if your kids are a little bit older than teeny. It is so good. It’s just so inspiring to read missionary biography, and this is such a grand collection. Buy this book, and then pray with your spouse and say, “Shouldn’t we be taking 15 minutes one night, or two nights, or three or four or five nights a week to read together and pray, just to see what God might do in our family?”

Another book, which would be one of the most up-to-date surveys of what’s happening in missions, is On the Crest of the Wave by Peter Wagner. It’s so good and so simply written that you can hardly put it down. And then if you want to keep up on a regular basis Pulse Magazine speaks about what’s going on in the world, and it includes an all out effort made to reach 1 million in Manila. I was able to put our confernce efforts in this broader effort of Manila. World Christian Magazine is another one. This has spectacular photography. It’s of the quality of National Geographic. This magazine is great to get.

Then if you’re more serious, Evangelical Missions Quarterly comes every quarter, and the International Journal for Frontier Missions is also good. These are the four things that I sort of poke around in as they come. [The Unfisnished Task] is another book, which I already mentioned. We should develop a mission board strategy for new fields. I mean by that, that our board at Bethlehem and the BGC board should think toward new fields. There are couples sitting here now single people who, within the next five years, are dreaming serious dreams. Faith and David Jaeger will be home in October, and they’re going to be looking for a team to go to Guinea. Guinea has been closed for 20 years under a dictator and was opened last year. There’s only one mission there and at least nine clear, big tribes that are unreached. Faith and David are dreaming. Who’s going to go with them in 1987?

Recruit Missionaries

Recruit Pauline missionaries. We need a whole new mentality of how to get missionaries, I think, because we just sit around and wait for them to show up on our doorstep instead of going out to get them. There is a great essay by Elisabeth Elliot on the reflections on the death of five missionaries. You know who they were, Jim Elliot and his fellows. The essay says:

Ed McCully had become a very close friend of Jim’s at Wheaton, but Jim was endlessly needling him. He would say things like, “Well brother, how come you’re not going to the mission field?” And Ed would say, “Well, I don’t believe God’s calling me to the mission field. I’m going to be a politician.” In fact, he tells the story of how they used to drive down to Chicago. Ed McCully would be riding on the back of the convertible, and Jim Elliot would be sitting in the front, and when they stopped at a stop light, Ed McCully would jump out and run around and say, “Vote for Elliot, vote for Elliot,” and then jump back in the car. It’s just the kind of man he was.

After Ed graduated, he enrolled in law school and took a job as a night clerk in a hotel in order to spend some of his time studying. Jim visited him there and said, “Brother, why aren’t you spending half your time during these long night hours reading the Bible?” So Ed began to do that. In a sense, Jim Elliot called Ed McCully to be a missionary. Ed ended up in the jungle. Jim was hoping that Ed and he would be sent out together. The Lord sent people out two by two, so Jim had been praying for a long time for someone to go along with him. He was quite convinced that it was not to be a wife, not at least until he had spent some time in the jungle, so he prayed for a buddy. Then Ed disappointed him by getting married, so Jim prayed for another partner.

He knew a man in Seattle who had a master’s degree in literature from the University of Washington, and was headed for a teaching career. His name was Pete Fleming. Jim went to visit him and said, “How come you’re not going to the mission field?” Pete was called to missions, and died at Jim Elliot side.

That’s the way to get missionaries. Don’t just sit around and wait. Eyeball the people you know are gifted and say to them, “Why aren’t you going to be a missionary? Look at these statistics. How are you going to stay home?” We ought to recruit. Good night — IBM, Control Data, and all the big companies around here, what do they do? Do they sit and wait for college graduates to show up and apply? They go to all the universities and say, “Show us your best people.” Then they screen them, and then they get them.

Finally, restructure the funding procedure so that any missionary who is called, qualified, and can raise support, can go. That’s a big one. I think we need to do some big changes in the way the BGC supports missionaries, so that if there were 10 young people or couples in this congregation who said, “We’ll band together, form The Bethlehem Coalition, and reach all 10 of those without anybody else. We will raise our support. Will the BGC send us?” The BGC ought to say, “We sure will, if you’re qualified and called,” instead of saying, “Well, you’re not in the budget.” We’ve got to somehow open the budget so that people who are called and qualified can go. And that’s what Barberg’s proposal was all about last June at the conference. It was tabled to my dismay, but perhaps on that table it will be blessed of God and who knows, maybe those 10 unreached people will be reached.