Last Thursday I wrote that if you’re called to Italy you should Go to Italy. This was largely in response to an article on Upstream Collective about the dangers of focusing only on the unreached, as well as a personal interaction at a Perspectives lesson.
I couldn’t think of anyone who would say we should go “only” to the unreached, so I asked Caleb Crider (also with Upstream as well as with IMB, a long-time Twitter friend whom I’ve genteelly sparred with over some issues from time to time) if he knew anyone where that was the case. He mentioned that several churches he worked with “sent only to the unreached.”
On Thursday in the comments I answered Tony Sheng, saying I thought it was a good idea for agencies to be specialists (e.g. going to unreached, going to Muslims, doing Bible translations, what-have-you), but churches to be more generalists (helping people discover callings and sending them through appropriate agency channels). So, what to make of this idea of a church only sending people to the unreached?
On the one hand, there is a huge imbalance in missionaries sent to the unreached. The comments on the Upstream Collective article notwithstanding, many, many agencies send workers to many places I would think of as reached. Greater Europe Mission is just such an example: I like what they do (in terms of disciple-making), and I promote their work on Twitter, but I consider Europe to be technically ‘reached.’ (I know there are those who disagree with me, of course.) ActBeyond generally doesn’t send workers there, so I mention GEM from time to time when the subject of Europe comes up. They aren’t the only ones, of course: YWAM, WEC, OM, Pioneers, NTM, SIM, Wycliffe, etc., are all in many places I’d consider largely reached (as are denominational boards like IMB, WorldVenture, DFM, etc).
So many churches send many people through traditional channels (denominational boards and parachurch agencies), and much of the work goes to largely evangelized (and often heavily Christianized) places. So on the one hand, having a few churches that send workers “only to the unreached” helps to tip the scales a bit in their favor.
On the other hand, I don’t know which churches we’re talking about. Based on the 80/20 rule I suspect 20% of the churches send 80% of the workers, and if many of these churches “only send to the unreached” it could be problematic. I suspect this is not the case, as there is no particular “surge” of workers into unreached areas that I’m aware of – and it would certainly show up if there were.
Still, on purely theoretical grounds, I really don’t like the idea of a church sending only to one spot. For one thing, what does that say to the people in the church who might feel a calling to some place else? It can make them feel like their call is somehow invalid and less-than.
Our own church has what I would call a “strong emphasis” on a program in Tanzania yet supports other things locally and abroad as well. I like that particular mix. The strong emphasis allows them to develop a specialization, but the “other things” allows them to acknowledge the callings of various people in the church.
The unreached are still underengaged, and I think we need to intentionally be challenging people to consider whether they are being called by God to do something about them. A calling to the unreached is difficult and we are tempted to shuck it off. I think the church needs to speak prophetically on behalf of those who have no voice at our tables.
That said, I think we also need to honor and help people whose callings may not be to the unreached. Obeying Christ wherever he commands us to go must trump everything else.
How is your church helping people to identify their callings? Why not share what you’re doing in the comments section below? Let’s spur one another on to good works!