What is the Remaining Mission Task?

What is the remaining mission task? Rebecca Lewis, daughter of Ralph Winter, released an amazing video that describes the remaining mission task in just six minutes. Click here to see this amazing video.
One of my team mates worked for nearly a year to compile the data supporting the graphs in this video. An article in the International Journal of Foreign Mission, “Clarifying the Remaining Task,” explains the new pie chart in detail and provides all the data. Click here to read the IJFM article.
Lewis’ statement, “Out of 30 missionaries sent, roughly ONE goes to the unreached and frontier people groups,” challenges us to consider our deployment of mission workers and to pray fervently that “the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into His harvest field” (Luke 10:2).

How is God at Work in the World Today?

How is God at work in the world today? This is a question that several of us on the Global Research Team of One Challenge are working together to answer.  During the first quarter of 2016 we will gather information about what the 40 plus teams in the OC Global Alliance accomplished in 2015.  In addition to determining what they accomplished, we also want to discover how God is at work in and through these ministries. Indeed this is a more difficult task that requires divine insight.  This has motivated me to “search the scriptures” to discover how God was at work in the New Testament, presupposing that he continues to work in the same ways today.

A few months ago I started a series about how God is at work in the world today which is very much related. (These are the previous blog posts: On The Study of God’s Great Works Discerning How God is at Work God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry.)

I began with the thesis that scripture provide us with a useful framework to discern how God is at work in the world today.  I will mention, by way of review, two key ideas already developed previously, namely that God is at work in conversions and growing churches, and develop two additional points.

Conversions. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” What a good reminder that every person who comes to faith in Christ did so because God’s work!  So when we number those who were saved through the ministries of OCGA workers in 2015, we have in mind that God too was at work.

Churches. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” When we see the Church growing, either in number or fruitfulness or geographical extension, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.  So we will tally the new churches that OCGA workers helped start in 2015.

This installment will develop two additional areas: God sends workers and open doors for ministry.

Workers Sent. Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2 NIV).  Here we find two complementary truths: first, it is God’s business to send out workers; on the other hand, we see that is our responsibility to pray.

A case study of how the Lord of the Harvest sends out workers is found in Acts 13 at the beginning of the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Saul (aka Paul).

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 NIV)

Here we observe that the leaders of the church at Antioch were praying; they were doing their part according to Luke 10:2. We also see two ways that God the Holy Spirit was a work. First the Holy Spirit “said” or spoke to the praying leaders at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for mission work.  Second the text says that the Holy Spirit “sent” Paul and Barnabas on their way. We might say that the “sending” of Barnabas and Saul was more accurately “redirecting” since both were leaders ministering outside of their homelands; God had other fields for them to open.

Thus, if this case study contains universally applicable principles, when workers are mobilized and sent into the harvest, this is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

Over the last five years within the OC Global Alliance we’ve been amazed to see God answer this prayer by raising up new workers from outside of the United States. Those countries that have received workers are now sending mission workers, and these now make up the majority of OCGA workers around the world. This trend within the OC Global Alliance is also manifesting itself on a worldwide scale. This is an exciting way that God is at work sending workers into his harvest field in our time!

Opportunities for ministry. Six passages in the New Testament indicate that God opens doors for effective ministry; two passages point out that God does so in response to prayer.

Let’s start by examining the two passages that highlight the importance of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

In Colossians 4:2,3 (NIV) Paul writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Both passages speak to our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry, and just like the previous section, workers sent, we find complementary truths: God opens doors for ministry – that is his business; it is our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry.

The next four passages highlight the fact that God opened a door for ministry.  The first passage comes at the conclusion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26,27  NIV

Paul and Barnabas perceived that God had been at work opening doors during their first missionary journey to the Gentiles.

The next passage comes in the context of Paul’s third missionary journey where he writes the Corinthian church about his ministry at Ephesus. “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor. 16:8,9).

Luke provides an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-20. The entire passage merits a close reading for it gives us further insight into how God was at work there. Here are several highlights.  “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), and “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:20).  Luke also points out that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11).

Following his ministry in Ephesus, Paul moved on to Troas and perceived God at work opening a door for ministry there. Again writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me” (2 Cor. 2:12).

The final passage from Revelation gives us Jesus’ words.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7,8 NIV

This final passage emphasizes that Jesus opens doors for ministry. It is interesting that we started this section with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 and concluded with Jesus’ words in Revelation.

How does this apply?

First, we need to pray. Our brief survey noted that it is God’s business bring people to faith in Christ, build the church, send out workers and open doors for effective ministry; it is our responsibility to pray earnestly for workers and open doors for ministry.

Second, we need to keep our eyes open and ask, How is God at work? Previously we noted the need to count conversions and number the churches. These are the more obvious fruits or results of God’s work. This particular study leads us to look for and quantify other ways that God is at work, which precede conversions and churches (or results).  We also need to look at who God is raising up workers for the harvest.  We need to look to where God is sending these workers.  We also need to look at how God is opening doors for gospel ministry.

Here’s how we keep our eyes open to discern God-at-work within the OC Global Alliance.

  1. We track the number of people who come to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of our workers.
  2. We also track the number of new churches started.
  3. We track workers associated with the OC Global Alliance. As previously mentioned, in the last five years we’ve seen a large increase of non-American workers within the Alliance.
  4. We track the countries where out teams have ministry. In 2014 OC workers were active in 102 countries – the highest number of countries in the history of the organization! Many of these countries have amazing “God stories” of how God opened the door for ministry. We might call the “open country doors”.
  5. We also track how teams are responding to pressing needs. In 2015 we also saw how God open doors for several of our teams to assist victims of natural disasters or women with crisis pregnancies, the poor, prisoners, children, refugees, immigrants and those who are sick. We might call these “opportunities to minister to needy people doors.” As Titus 3:14 says, ”Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

So we look forward to collecting and telling each team’s “God stories” of how He has been at work in 2015.

I have not yet fully answered the question, “How is God at work in the world today?”  as I still have in mind several  points related to this theme that I hope to develop in the future.  Can you think of other ways God is at work in the world today? Feel free to share your insights as they may be helpful to others who are seeking to discern how God is at work in the world today.

Discerning Where God is at Work

How do we recognize where God is at work? This is a pertinent question for mission work. Henry Blackabee first turned me on to this line of inquiry in his book Experiencing God, when he identified the key to experiencing God as “Watch to see where God is working and join Him” (p. 15). Hey, I want to experience God. But how do I figure out where He is at work?  That seems easier said than done.

Earlier this year the mission organization I serve with, One Challenge International, adopted a new strategy statement that says, “We ask how God is at work, then assist the body of Christ to bring God’s transformation to lives, communities and nations.” This comes at our question from another angle and adds the “how” element to our question. So what guidelines might we use to recognize how and where God is at work?

I believe that Scripture provides with a framework that enables us to discern how and where God is at work. To start off, let’s look at Matthew 16:13-18 (NIV)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

In this passage, Jesus reveals two indicators of God’s work.

First, Jesus declares that God the Father reveals to people that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (see verse 17).  In the church where I grew up, this passage was often referred to as “Peter’s Great Confession,” and I was taught that confession leads to conversion or salvation (as per Romans 10:9-10 NASB: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”) Much later I observed that God the Father is directly involved in bring about people’s confession or conversion. You might guess that I did not grow up in a church in the Reformed tradition!

Other passages in the Gospels also reveal that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are involved in the conversion process.  For example Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:44 NIV).  Matthew and Luke record Jesus’ words where he claims “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”  (Matt. 11:27 and Luke 10:22, NIV translation).  In John 16:7-11 Jesus speaks about the convicting work of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  (NIV)

As we turn to the Book of Acts, we find that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active in conversion process. For example, Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The account of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, which Saul, aka Paul, retells in Acts 22 and 26, highlights Jesus’ direct involvement. Acts 10 highlights divine intervention in the conversion of Cornelius and his household, specifically an angel, visions and voices from the Lord and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Lydia’s conversion, mentioned in Acts 16:14, indicates “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (NIV). So we find continuity between what is promised in the Gospels and what happened in the history of the early Church as recorded in Acts. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all involved in the conversion process.

I’ve digressed a bit, wanting to broaden our understanding of the divine work involved in conversion. So let’s turn to Matthew 16:18 where Jesus reveals a second indicator of God’s work.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Emphasis added)

Here, Jesus states that he will build his Church. Tom Julien, in his excellent book, Antioch Revisited, calls this passage Jesus’ “Great Prediction” (p. 91). I usually refer to this as Jesus’ Great Promise.  Either way, it describes Jesus’s ongoing work: He is building his Church.  Note that Jesus did not say, “Peter, you will build my church” or “my disciples will build the Church”. Jesus said He himself would build his Church. So practically speaking, when we see the Church growing, either in number or holiness or by geographical dispersion, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.

Conversions and Churches – Signs of God’s Work

We have made two discoveries from Matthew 16:13-18 that help us discern how and where God is at work. Conversions: when we see people confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, this is a sign that God is at work. Churches: new churches and healthy, growing congregations are signs that God is at work.

Since the early 1980s, I’ve tracked the numbers of baptisms and new church starts, first for a local church, later for a whole nation, and now for the mission agency I serve. I started to track these numbers because are the clearest measures for the growth and health of the Church. Much later I realized that these measures not only track the growth of the Church, but also point to God’s modern day work. Every conversion, every new church has divine fingerprints upon it.

So in order to “see” where and how God is at work today, there are two items to keep our eyes open for: conversions and new churches.  With that in mind, where do you see God at work today?

Granted other “unspiritual” factors can be involved in conversions or church growth, but that may be a topic for another day. But I do have in mind several other indicators that point to God’s modern day work. And if the Lord grants me opportunity, I intend to write about these in the future.

Ten Best Practices of Effective Missionary Churches

I just finished listening to an interview with pastor David Horner on the Missio Nexus network about his book “When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can Reach the World.”  Horner based this book on a statistical survey in which 100 Southern Baptist Churches participated.

What caught my attention were the ten best practices of effective mission churches which Horner described. These ten best practices are grouped under three categories:

  1. Catching the Vision (Practices 1-4)
  2. Thinking and Acting Strategically (Practices 5-8)
  3. Missions with Staying Power (Practices 9-10)

Here are the ten best practices:

  1. Make sure that someone in the congregation is in charge of providing leadership for missions, be it the pastor, missions committee or a missions pastor.
  2. Equip, Inform and Inspire with missions information. It is common for churches to have an annual or bi-annual missions conference.
  3. Make Missions visible from the pulpit – a big challenge for pastors.
  4. On the job training: Give a high priority of sending people on short term trips, praying that a tithe will become long term workers.
  5. Priority in establishing partnerships with indigenous leaders.
  6. Identify and assess candidates and match candidates with appropriate opportunities.
  7. Adopt a people group. Nothing focuses prayer and action like having a specific target!
  8. Have a way to plant churches where none exist. Don’t just sent people on short term trips. Have a strategy to actually establish disciple making churches where none exist.
  9. Have personal relationships with workers on the field. This will involve communication, prayer, visits and much, much more.
  10. Cultivate a generous giving community.

In my opinion, these seem like excellent “best practices”. Which are practiced by your church? What ideas do these ten best practices spark in your mind? Are there any best practices here that could be implemented in your context? What might be one or two action steps?

David Horner’s book, “When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can Reach the World,” can be purchased on Amazon.

Partnering in Research with the Mongolia Evangelical Alliance

MEA

In April 2013, I joined another One Challenge Missionary on a journey to Mongolia. We were invited by the Mongolian Evanghelical Alliance to lead a training event. A video about the partnership between the MEA and OC is now on One Challenges’ website. It is well worth watching.  

Last year, OC was approached by the Mongolian Evangelical Alliance to provide assistance in the area of research, which is foundational to the national church planting initiative the MEA is pursuing. Several OC missionaries traveled to Mongolia last fall to establish the partnership and set up the research project. On this trip, Eric Smith, an OC missionary with 23 years experience in the Philippines, and I went to train field researchers.

The church in Mongolia has seen spectacular growth in the last two decades. In 1990, when the country transitioned from Communism to a democratic form of government, it is reported that there were just four believers. The Census in 2010 recorded 40,000 Christians. Today there are about 600 churches, 300 in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar and 300 in the provinces. During the Communist years, Buddhism lost a great deal of its following as people embraced atheism. This seems to have created a spiritual vacuum that has resulted in great responsiveness since 1990. 

The partnership between OC and the MEA is a good example of how collaboration can accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission in the 21st century.