McGavran stirred the mission world by shifting the question from “How does an individual become Christian?” to “How does a people become Christian?” McGavran devoted much of his life to this latter question, publishing in 1954 his landmark book, Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions. In the mid-1960s, McGavran founded the “School of World Mission” at Fuller Theological Seminary. Over the next decade, with Ralph Winter and others, McGavran supervised 1,000 experienced field missionaries in studying how peoples are discipled—in the Bible, history, and these missionaries’ fields.
Movements: Learning to Cross the “Bridges of God”
In this issue of Mission Frontiers, we take a close look at the compelling problems with evangelizing and extracting people from their culture. This issue addresses how progress can be seen through the careful fostering of indigenous movements that grow and spread within the culture itself.
This Month's Articles
This is a serious problem! All over the world Christian workers are employing mission methods that hinder the development of movements to Christ. Worse yet, these well-meaning, hard-working, self-sacrificing servants of God may be doing more harm than good. They may be creating a backlash to the gospel that is making the unreached peoples so much harder to reach. This is not just a Western or American missionary problem. This is a global church problem.
By 1975 Donald McGavran and Ralph Winter had guided 1,000 experienced missionaries in studying—globally, and in their own fields: “How are peoples reached?” Answer: indigenous movements. However, few outside their direct influence saw either: the biblical model and mandate for indigenous movements, or the historic significance of indigenous movements. Yet McGavran, Winter and their colleagues concluded: We cannot say we have evangelized a person until that person can join an indigenous movement in their own society.
In 1981 I was a student at the School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary. At the same time I was working with the incipient Perspectives movement, volunteering my time at the US Center for World Mission (now Frontier Ventures). I kept a light class schedule that year because I had been tasked with organizing and editing the first Perspectives Reader and Study Guide. I was delighted to discover that three times a week, students could sign up to meet with Donald McGavran in his office while he ate his lunch. He was always punctual, allowing exactly 30 minutes. I did this often, usually coming prepared with questions, trying to get him talking about how churches could emerge for the first time amidst peoples that we could consider churchless.
“Church planting is easy!” we thought. Within a few months of landing in a North African city, we already had a group of men and women meeting in our home. Joining that fellowship were some Muslim-background believers who had previously come to faith in the Lord through the testimony of others.
Tags: church planting
When we look at mission fields, we quickly recognize both cultural and worldview barriers that stand between the gospel and the lost. What we often do not recognize, however, is that the same is true in the Global North. Cultural mindsets, values hostile to the Kingdom, alternative worldviews, stereotypes, misunderstandings, bad experiences with churches or individual Christians, and a host of other issues create barriers to disciple making that leave both churches and believers unfruitful in engaging their neighbors with the gospel.
Jesus said, ‘Go into all the world’ (Mk. 16:15) but that task remains undone for over 1,300 people groups who have never in the history of Christianity had any form of gospel witness. They are referred to as Unengaged Unreached People Groups (UUPGs). Unreached People Groups (UPGs) are those peoples who have no indigenous movement to Christ that is able to reach their own people. Unengaged Unreached People Groups are those who not only have no Christ Followers, but they are often the ones that no one is looking for.
Tags: unreached people group
Before I moved to a Muslim-majority country (over two decades ago), I was on pastoral staff at a church in rural upstate New York. I knew a few families who did what they called “house church.” These families had attended our church for a while, then left. They had also left most or all of the other gospel-preaching churches within about a 30 minute drive. No existing church was doctrinally correct enough or Spirit-filled enough or something enough for their taste. So they worshiped by themselves at home and called it house church.
Glimpsing cows through a fog on an unfamiliar road, one might wonder: “Just how many more cows are there?” In the mid-1970s, many were stirred to pray for and go to unreached people groups (UPGs) and the 10/40 Window. Despite isolated glimpses of Acts-like movements, not much progress was visible. About 7,000 UPGs remain unreached.
It was February of 2004. I was walking on my favorite hiking trail in the Land Between The Lakes area of Western Kentucky, and I was having an intense time of prayer. I had been in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years and I was going through a season of discouragement. Although that is certainly not uncommon for pastors, I was at a point where I was ready to question my paradigms for ministry. The local church was not growing as I hoped, and although we were one of the larger churches in our region, I was unsatisfied. In fact, I felt that I was at a crisis point. Something in my life and ministry had to change. As I took my prayer walk that afternoon, I released my own dreams and visions for MY church, and told the Lord that I was ready to simply seek HIS Kingdom.
Imagine if every Jesus-follower was equipped by the church to live out Micah 6:8 on a micro-level: if all followers of Jesus were enabled to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God in their own communities and networks of relationships—in their own towns, cities, and villages—according to their abilities.
As I write this article, I find myself in a medical battle for my very life and the outcome is uncertain. This has given me many hours to pause for reflection. As I’ve pondered how I’ve spent my life, and called others to spend their lives, I’ve found deep satisfaction with the path that Father has drawn me on from a very young age—a desire to live completely for His glory. In pursuing the glory of God with zealous fervor, it is easy to become disillusioned, burned out or defeated.
We at Frontier Ventures, together with William Carey International University, are moving forward with continued passion and vision for the Unreached. We are pursuing a future of increased focus and collaboration around the kind of complex problems in mission that got us started 40 years ago. How do we continue turning the church’s attention to the pressing needs and pioneering contexts of the “least of these?” How do we address barriers to the gospel that are bigger than any one organization, campus or even the western mission movement?
In light of the ministry update Fran Patt gave in this issue of MF, I wanted to offer some historical context as to how our collaboration at Frontier Ventures has changed over the years since the early days of our ministry to help explain the rationale behind pursuing a potential sale. Having been on staff with Frontier Ventures since 1982—then called the U.S. Center for World Mission, I’ve had the privilege of seeing much of this firsthand.