Is a missions focus on ‘all the nations’ sacrificing discipleship?

By September 19, 2019

International (MNN) — Last week, The Gospel Coalition published an article titled ‘The 3 Words That Changed Missions Strategy—and Why We Might Be Wrong.’ The three words are ‘panta ta ethne’ which translated mean ‘all the nations.’ This phrase was used by Jesus when He gave the Great Commission.

Many of today’s missions organizations understand ‘all the nations’ to mean ethnolinguistic people groups. In light of this, several consortiums like Finishing The Task and the Alliance for the Unreached are working with ministries to reach every unique people group in the world with the Gospel and fulfill the Great Commission.

However, one of The Gospel Coalition article’s claims is that missions today are focused on getting the Gospel to all the nations at the expense of making disciples.

But is that an accurate representation? We reached out to Greg Kelley at World Mission, a member of Alliance for the Unreached, to get his take.

Disciples or Converts?

Kelley says, “The reference to finishing the task and this notion that there’s just kind of an effort to make converts and not make disciples I think is somewhat of an erroneous assumption…. My observation of that movement has always been a great commitment to the long haul. We know that if we’re going to go into a place that has never heard the Gospel for the first time and we’re going to make disciples, that’s going to require longevity.

“I don’t know of any legitimate mission organizations that are in the business of just making converts or having people ‘raise their hand if you want to know Jesus.’ There’s a seriousness about this idea of making disciples.”

Also, focusing on discipleship at the expense of reaching those yet unreached is just as dangerous.

(Photo courtesy of World Mission)

“You can always make the case that ‘well, this person needs to be discipled more.’ And I guess I would be the first to raise my hand that I do too!” Kelley says.

“But the issue is, if we just throw the anchor down and continue perpetually to pour 100 percent of our resources into these places for the sake of ‘well, they’re not disciples yet,’ then the guys who have never heard the Gospel for the first time will never ever get reached.”

Countries or People Groups?

Furthermore, the focus on getting the Gospel to specific people groups as opposed to countries is an important missional distinction.

While there are 195 countries, there are approximately 17,000 people groups spread throughout the world today.

(Photo courtesy of World Mission)

Kenya, for example, is the most evangelical country in the world and could be considered largely reached with the Gospel.

However, Kelley says, “The fourth-largest ‘nation’ inside of Kenya is the Somali with about 3 million [people], and they’re 0.1 percent [Christian]. That’s why it’s important to look at missions from a standpoint of nations versus countries so that we can get the prioritization right and then allocate our resources accordingly.”

World Mission’s Role

World Mission strives to reach the unreached by distributing their audio Bibles called Treasures. This work is paramount to making sure everyone has a chance to know Jesus.

“We recognize that more than half of people are oral learners, so they need to learn in a non-literate way. That’s why we use our solar-powered audio Bible called the Treasure. We’ll actually record an audio in existing translation and begin to distribute it.”

Kelley says, “These oral learners will gather around one Treasure in groups of 10 to even 20 people and listen… two and three hours every single day just absorbing the Word of God with the intent… of making disciples that then will multiply themselves and ultimately be planting churches.”

A Sense of Urgency

The Great Commission truly carries a sense of urgency. Every day, nearly 65,000 people die and enter eternity without ever knowing the Truth of Jesus.

(Photo courtesy of World Mission)

“That’s not acceptable,” Kelley says. “And for everybody listening today, that’s on our watch. We are stewards of the Great Commission right now.

“So that means we need to uproot some of our resources that are currently going into primarily Christian locations and reallocate them to places that have never heard. At the end of the day, I think the heart of Jesus is to reach all peoples on the earth.”

Finishing the task may seem like a large undertaking, and it is. But there are so many ways believers around the world can get involved — and should.

First, pray for ministries to have the resources and open doors they need to get the Gospel to those who haven’t heard it. Ask God to open the hearts of unreached people so they can find new life in Him.

Pray also for disciple-making movements to grow the Church in God’s Truth.

You can also give and even find ways to go take the name of Jesus to those who need Him! If you would like to come alongside World Mission’s ministry, click here.

Reaching all the nations and making disciples are ultimately not ideals at war with one another, but joined hand-in-hand to the glory of the Father.

“We need to assess who hasn’t heard and who has heard and then go accordingly,” says Kelley. “But we also need to be committed, regardless of where we are, to the long-haul [mission] of making disciples of Jesus.”




Header photo courtesy of Ben White on Unsplash.

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