Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. -Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20 NIV
Over the past four years I have been traveling around the world and the US with the mission organization I lead called ServeNow. It has been awesome, exhausting, inspiring and exasperating! I have learned much, my faith has been stretched, my patience tried, leadership enriched, and eyes opened even more to the vibrancy of faith around the world. I have been humbled by the sacrifice, service, passion, compassion and joy of fellow believers and co-labors in other nations and many generous people here at home.
But, I have it on my heart to share five insights I think the church in the US is in desperate need of being challenged by and encouraged with. I pray this article could be used for both those purposes.
- The world has changed dramatically in 100 years…even just the past 20. We need to change as well in our mindset and primary methods when it comes to missions.
In 1900 about 83% of Christians in the world lived in Europe/North America and only 17% lived in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But did you know, just 100 years later, those numbers are almost exactly reverse? 75% of Christians in the world now live in Africa, Asia and Latin America, while only 25% live in Europe and North America.
On the one hand this represents one of the most remarkable and exciting periods of the growth and expansion of Christianity around the world. On the other hand, the church in the US has not yet truly realized this shift (other than being depressed over the decline of Christianity in the West) and it’s implications when it comes to our perception of Christianity, approach to missions, and future of the church.
The world has changed. The church is growing and is incredibly vibrant in Asia, Africa and Latin America with historic growth also happening now in the Middle East. One of the lessons we need to learn is that we have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. We can be inspired, encouraged, challenged and revived through their example and witness.
In fact, I believe this is the key to renewal within the church in the US; a combination of vibrant Christian immigrants coming to the West (in our heated political rhetoric we don’t realize that roughly 2/3rds of refugees coming to the US are Christians (see here) and they have been bringing new life to the Church in Europe/US) as well as believers from the US going to other countries and seeing for themselves what God is doing and can do in our hearts, lives and churches again.
In regard to missions, we have truly entered a time where the Great Commission is being fulfilled by believers in all nations going to all nations, as a pastor friend of mine recently put it. Missionaries are not just sent from Europe/North America anymore; but from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In addition, while we think we are the “center” of the world/Christianity, North Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, while 75% of the world’s population lives in Asia and Africa combined! They are also closest to the majority of the most unreached people. Therefore, it makes most sense normally, for us to come alongside them so that they can reach out to the unreached sharing similar cultures, language, customs etc; and since they also possess the passion, vision and vibrancy to do so.
- 83% of Church-going Christians in the US have no real idea what the Great Commission is or means…let alone engaged in any real way. What in the world is being taught (or not taught) in our churches?
This is absolutely shocking to me. This was revealed in a study in 2018 put out by George Barna. He found that 51% surveyed had no idea what the Great Commission was at all. 7% said they may have heard of it and 25% said they had but couldn’t recall the meaning of it. This leads me to this question: what in the world is being taught…or not taught…in our churches if that many people don’t know and aren’t engaged in the Great Commission?
What else does the church exist for but to make disciples who make disciples? If our church programs/activities are not resulting in true disciples being made then we should shut down those programs and do what Jesus told us to do.
Additionally we have become too internally/domestic focused. ECFA recently came out with their 2018 giving report and while giving has been up 5.9%, giving to international missions has been down negatively that same amount. This means people are giving more domestically but not internationally.
But the bible, from the very beginning to the very end, is missional. Our God is a missionary God. He told Abraham that he would bless him to be a blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:3). David, in the Psalms makes clear in his prayers that his motivation in asking for God’s blessing was so God’s name and salvation would be known in all the world (Psalm 67:2). The angels who appeared to the shepherds said they had come with good news of great joy that will be for ALL people. (Luke 2:10). Jesus clearly stated to go into all the world to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) and his last words to his disciples before ascending to heaven was, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8).
Yes, start right where you are, but heaven forbid it stop there! This is not an either/or issue but a both/and. The Gospel is for our neighbor next door and neighbor across the world. The classic story of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) began with a man trying to justify himself with his limited and prejudiced definition of who his neighbor was. Jesus’ parable blasted his prejudice and made clear who our “neighbor” is: anybody, anywhere we come across in need; no matter how different from us culturally, religiously, politically, racially or anything else that could divide us.
God’s love breaks all barriers and the Greatest Commandment is that we love God and love one another as we love ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). The day is fast approaching when around the throne will be people not just like us; but from every tribe, every tongue, every language worshiping Jesus (Revelation 7:9).
- For all our appearances of generosity, US Christians collectively are not generous. We need to become a generous people reflecting the character of our generous God.
Did you know Christians in the US gave more during the Great Depression (3.3% of income) than we do now percentage wise (2.5%)? If we tithed just a minimum of 10% (4X what is being given currently) we are talking about $165 BILLION dollars. Check out this article on what could be accomplished: What Would Happen if the Church Tithed?
What is also disturbing to me about this overall is that giving is at the very heart and core of God’s nature and character and the Gospel message itself. For God so loved the world…what did he do? He gave. And He didn’t hold back. He didn’t give the minimum out of obligation or less than his best. He gave his all, his only, his best, in a way that was most sacrificial out of the generosity, grace, love and passion of his heart. When we give, we demonstrate God’s heart. We give expression to his character. And it is clear throughout Scripture that we are to give, give generously, give cheerfully and give to those most in need (James 1:27).
I believe a big part of the issue is that we have a spending problem. We are often selfish, earthly minded, materialistic and unmoved with compassion for people in need and people who need to hear the Gospel. We have lost an eternal perspective and think only of this life. Our hearts are in the wrong place because we pour our resources into ourselves instead of others.
But Jesus said, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21). Your heart is where you invest your resources, talent and time. Where is your heart?
- The question our generation is asking is no longer “what is truth?” but “what is good?” We need to show God is good by doing good deeds and proclaiming the good news.
I believe this study was put out by Josh McDowell’s group that found those 21 and younger are not starting from the same place prior generations started from in what they are asking. While some may shake their heads over this, I believe it is a wonderful opportunity for the church.
The reason is because of what Jesus said, In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16). Good deeds done in Jesus’ name demonstrate that God is good. And this truth, that God is good, is so core and central to the Good News and God’s character.
I have seen the power of this over the past four years through ServeNow around the world. When we give blankets out to people for example in Asia, we hear statements such as, I experienced God’s love through this blanket you gave me. One girl at a summer camp in Ukraine shared the following, It was so good to be around Christians, I did not know that is so good! She came to Christ during the camp, is going to church and as a result her mom is now coming too!
The apostle Peter, in Acts 10:38, when he is describing the ministry of Jesus talks about how Jesus went around doing good. Jesus simply went around serving people in need, whatever those needs were. In this way, through his message and deeds, people came to see that God is good. It’s as simple as that and that is what this generation needs to see through our words and deeds, remembering that faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:14-16).
- We are guilty of biblical injustice when it comes to the Good News and God’s Word. We need to repent and come back to doing what Jesus has told us to do.
I just met with the leader of another mission organization called Global Disciples. Galen Burkholder talks about and writes about the fact that there are 2 billion unreached people in the world today who have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ. 42,000 people die everyday without hearing the Gospel even one time. If you were to line the caskets up they would stretch 6 miles. Every day. Additionally, 1 billion people lack access to any Scripture in any form.
It is an injustice that we have such access, resources and opportunity while other parts of the world do not; especially if we do nothing about this. Jesus was clear that those who have been given much will have much required of them and that our judgment will be more severe the more we had but squandered (see Luke 12:47-49 below). I just want to repeat here that if you are not doing anything to reach the unreached around the world you are part of the problem and guilty of injustice.
That may sound severe, but I think we need and can benefit from some “shock value” to shake us from our complacency and apathy. We are in need of repentance, humility and a return to God’s heart and passion for the world to know him and his salvation. I actually believe there is much to be hopeful about in the world, and even much hope for the church in the US/Europe. But let us live this short earthly life in light of eternity each day, making the most of every opportunity to do good and share God’s goodness, if we want to see renewal and revival here in the West.
The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. -Jesus, Luke 12:47-49