Why We Must Change How We Do Missions: the John 17 Model

As a relatively new Christian, I can remember my first mission trip to Pakistan in 1986. I was part of a team doing relief work with Afghan refugees in Peshawar, near the Afghan border. I will never forget going to the only English language bookstore, and asking for a New Testament. The bookstore clerk had never even heard of the Bible! At the same time there was a huge Pepsi sign, and everyone in Peshawar knew about Pepsi. I found it astounding that some 2000 years after Jesus Christ, with all the authority of heaven and earth, had told his Church what they were to accomplish, it had still failed to do so. With hundreds of millions of people and trillions of dollars in resources, how can it be that in many quarters the Church isn’t even making a serious effort to do what her Lord commanded?

Two millennia  after Jesus Christ commanded his followers to bring the gospel to all peoples, it is a scandal that some 2 billion still have not heard. Worse, there are a billion more unreached and unevangelized people today than there were a hundred years ago. The Church is losing ground rather than gaining it. Why? The Church has often conducted her mission the way America fought the Vietnam War rather than the way the Allies fought World War II. Sending a small force from a divided nation with little support all but guaranteed failure in Vietnam. But a united Allied force making a concerted all-out effort all but guaranteed victory over Hitler. The same principles apply in missions. Furthermore, when a divided Church proclaims the gospel of reconciliation, might it not undercut her credibility as much as a divorced couple holding out an offer of marriage counseling?

When we ask the question how should we carry out the Lord’s mission, we are asking a theological question, not merely a practical question.

When we ask the question how should we carry out the Lord’s mission, we are asking a theological question, not merely a practical question. The question is not what is the best idea we can come up with. The real question is what is the Lord’s vision for accomplishing his mission. He reveals his vision for accomplishing his mission in his farewell discourse recorded in John  chapters 14-17.

 

 

Some Objections and Answers

Objection: God is sovereign over his mission so it must be his will that the Church hasn’t brought the gospel to more of the unreached.

Answer: This is the same objection made against William Carey when he helped start the modern Protestant missions movement in the late 1700’s. “Young man, sit down. When God wants to convert the heathen he will do so without your help or mine” they told him. But that argument was fallacious then just as it is today. Had Carey listened to this argument, there would have been no modern Protestant missions movement as we know it, and countless millions more would have perished, never having heard of the only way of salvation. More to the point, God has explicitly purposed to bring the gospel to the lost through the work of the Church, as a “junior partner” of sorts. God has sovereignly delegated the task of making disciples of all nations to his Church. God’s sovereignty is never responsible for and never excuses sin, failure or disobedience.

Objection: I am a Protestant Christian and can’t in good conscience partner with the Catholic Church because it does not preach salvation by grace through faith.

Answer: This excuse might had some merit prior to 1999, when the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church issued the Joint Declaration on Justification. In this document, the Catholic Church has gone on record declaring in essence that Luther was right, we are saved by grace alone through through faith, and good works are the fruit of this work of grace:

Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works (Preamble, JDJ, 3:15)

The World Methodist Council and the World Communion of Reformed Churches also subsequently adopted the document. This means that for the first time in 500 years there is a basis for like-minded followers of Jesus to proclaim the gospel of grace together. In an age when a Pope joins the Moderator of the Church of Scotland in celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, might it not be time to stop fighting the battles of yesteryear and move forward in the purposes of God together?

why we need to change