Making the Case: Three Points
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the example of Jesus in encouraging native (indigenous) missionaries to carry the message of the Gospel to their own communities. Here we examine three points that I believe make the case for the native approach to missions.
Point #1: God is unveiling a new way of looking at missions.
According to the late Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Missions, the history of modern missions may be divided into three eras, or seasons. First, missionaries from England and the U.S. established beachheads of outreach on the coastlands of the unreached continents. The second era saw these beachheads expand into the interior of countries such as China and Sudan. Missions was primarily defined in geographic terms during these first two eras.
However, after World War II, a third era emerged with a focus on people groups. Missiologists (missions specialists) began to define the task more in terms of reaching every people group on earth in obedience to both the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:18–20 and the promise of Jesus in Matthew 24:14. Christ’s command and promise both focus on reaching every nation with the Gospel. In the New Testament, the words “heathen,” “Gentile,” and “nation” are all translated from a single Greek root word, ethnos, from which we derive the English words “ethnic” and “ethnicity.” This new way of thinking about missions is actually a very old and biblical way of looking at the unfinished missions task.
To these three eras of missions history, we might add a fourth: the era of native missions. In this season God is using native missionaries more and more to reach the remaining unreached. They are a vital part of God’s means for the conversion of the nations. As our name conveys, Advancing Native Missions is committed to partnering with these faithful and effective men and women around the world.
To that end, I still would suggest that missions does not require a strategic “either/or” decision between indigenous or Western missionaries. Jesus, Himself is the greatest example of a biblical “both/and” approach to missions. As the divine Son of God who came down to earth from heaven, He is the ultimate foreign missionary. But Jesus is also the One who came to His own people. He was born of a young Jewish mother, grew up in Palestine, and was at first dismissed by Nathanael with the question, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). You can’t get much more local and indigenous than that!
Point #2: God is calling us to wise and productive investments.
Kingdom investments in native ministries have a very high return on investment (ROI). The deliverance, salvation, and call of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5 represent a seeming loss of $500,000 (the value of the drowned herd of pigs in today’s economy), but the return on that investment was the proclamation of the Gospel in ten Gentile cities that normally would have been closed to Jesus’ message. The people of those cities, especially the man’s family and friends, needed to hear the Gospel from someone like themselves, someone who spoke their language, someone they could culturally relate to, someone to whose testimony they would listen.
Just imagine if that $500,000 was invested today, how thousands of native missionaries could be released to plant churches among the world’s remaining 7,398 unreached people groups.
We see this kind of investment in the account of Gaius in John’s third letter. The apostle commends Gaius for his generous support of a team of itinerant teachers and evangelists:
Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. – 3 John 5–8 (ESV)
Point #3: God uses the outcasts and lowly to accomplish His purposes and confound the world.
Please notice that both the demon-possessed man and the woman at the well, discussed in Part 1, are at the lowest levels of their respective communities. Both are outcasts. Jesus not only compassionately engaged with these poor and rejected members of society, but He also called them into His service as native missionaries. Their testimonies clearly demonstrate God’s heart for the poor, the downtrodden, as well as the widows and the orphans of this world.
John Calvin wrote of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, “[T]here is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception … Since, therefore, [Christ] wishes the benefit of his death to be common to all, an insult is offered to him by those who, by their opinion, shut out any person from the hope of salvation.”
At ANM we believe all people everywhere should have access to the Gospel. But today more than three billion people around the world have still not heard the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. They don’t live near a church, there is no pastor in their community, and they may not even know a single Christian.
Since 1992 ANM has helped individual Christians and local churches find solutions to that problem by helping them get involved in native missions worldwide in ways that make sense for them. Because we believe there’s a place for everyone in God’s global mission, even if someone can’t travel to distant countries and remote tribes.
This is the second of a two-part series adapted from a message initially written to be delivered by ANM Co-Founder Bo Barredo. You can read Part 1 here.
Looking for specific ways to pray for missions this year? Download your free copy of “21 Ways to Advance God’s Kingdom Through Prayer.”
Header image: Stock photo.