“Frontier Missions” vs. International “Domestic Missions”
Helping young churches has become a major concern of many missionary socie¬ties. Indeed for some missionary societies helping young denominations in Asia, Africa or Latin America has become the sole purpose of mission. This course of action is defended on the grounds that a church or denomination made up of citizens of that country is much better able to evangelize its unreached peoples than the most able missionaries from some other land.
The fatal flaw in that argument is that the citizens of most lands are divided, often quite sharply, into classes, segments, ethnic units, and tribes of castes.
As long as the contemporary delusion persists that the best missionary work today is helping young denominations, so long will these unreached peoples of earth remain unevangelized.
Ralph Winter, facing this major stop page in world evangelization, has recently projected a new terminology. This, he thinks, will help direct missionary effort past the ethnically encircled young churches to the multitudinous unreached peoples. I agree with Dr. Winter. General acceptance of this terminology would help everyone see the task clearly. It would send missionaries to where effective harvesting and seed sowing was going on.
Winter says, "Let's stop speaking of home and foreign missions. Let us begin speaking of domestic and frontier missions. Domestic missions are those carried on in segments of society (peoples or classes) in which an ongoing young church (denomination) has been established. Frontier missions are those carried on in segments of society in which there is no self supporting, ongoing church." Let me give a couple of examples of each.
In Kenya, the Kamba tribe has become substantially Christian. Any missionary from any country sent to work with the Karnba church with the purpose of helping it grow more biblical, more devout, more effectively engaged in winning to Christ the remaining non Christian Kambas would be engaged in domestic mission. In Kenya the Turkanas and Maasai are as yet 95 percent non-Christian. Only a few individual Turkanas or Maasai have become Christian, mostly in denominations whose members are substantially Kikuyus, Kamhas, Luos or other tribesmen. In the Turkana and Maasai tribes there is no ongoing self supporting church. Missionaries (whether other Kenyans, Japanese,European, Kamba, Australian or Hotentot) sent to the Turkana or Maasai would be engaged in frontier mission.
In Canada and the United States the distinction between domestic and frontiermissions is not quite so clear cut, but it is there nevertheless. For example, among the 25 million Hispanics, enormous numbers are to all intents and purposes unchurched. While their names may be on some church roll somewhere, they almost never go, give, worship, or become committed followers of Jesus Christ. Missionaries who work to bring such Hispanics into existing Anglo congregations are engaged in domestic missions. Missionaries who work to multiply committed practicing Christians in Hispanic congregations, supported by Hispanics, led by Hispanic deacons, elders, and pastors, and vigorously working to multiply sound congregations among Hispanics, are engaged in frontier missions. In Hong Kong the Chinese congregations of almost all denominations are made up largely of educated men and women who have been through mission (church) day schools. The factory population is largely unevangelized. Few congregations exist which are solidly factory worker in membership, leadership and ethos. In Hong Kong, therefore, American missionaries, teaching in seminaries where leaders of the existing Chinese congregations are trained or in any other work with the existing Chinese congregations, are engaged in domestic mission. Their chief evangelistic thrust will be among the educated sections of the Hong Kong population. Whatever evangelistic work the existing congregations do outside their own membership will likely be done among their own kind of people, not among factory laborers. So missionaries working with existing congregations and denominations will probably spend most of their time strengthening the existing Christian community or evangelizing those sections of the non Christian community which are of a similar educational and economic scale. They will be domestic missionaries. Even if they have left their homes in far off Norway to work all their lives in Hong Kong, they are still engaged in domestic mission. They are not discipling the more than a million factory workers and multiplying congregations among them. Were they to do so, however, they would then be engaged in frontier mission.
Winter estimates that by domestic missions 5,450 people groups will be reached; i.e., existing congregations and denominations among these ethne will be enlarged and strengthened. By frontier missions, however, 16,750 people groups (segments of society, castes, tribes, classes) will be evangelized. In some of these the task for some years is likely to be seed sowing. In many, however, the fields are white and on going self supporting congregations and denominations can be established.
Global church growth proposes that all missionary societies at once identify what their missionaries are now doing. How many are engaged in domestic missions and how many in frontier missions? As they do this, let the missionary societies keep thinking how they can increase the amount of frontier missions which God wants them to do. Let them then take steps to obey God. Many missionary societies will find that nine tenths of their missionary force is engaged in domestic missions.
Global church growth points out that a certain percent of missionary effort ought to be engaged in domestic missions. We believe that under many circumstances, such is God's will. However, in view of the tremendous numbers of unreached peoples (segments of society, tribes, castes, clans), we doubt if any missionary society is justified in spending 90 percent of its missionary force in domestic missions. When mission executives find that they are spending 90 percent (or 70 percent or even 40 percent) of their missionaries and money in domestic missions, what should they do?
Global church growth suggests three definite actions. First, let them explore the vast numbers of genuinely usreached peoples not now being effectively evangelized by any Christian effort and shift part of theirforce to them. DAWN, the discipling of a whole nation, demands this shift of resources. The ripest populations in the world are often those yet undiscipled pockets of population.
Second, let them stimulate the young church they have founded in Zakasia to do much more purposive frontier missions. For example, the huge Baptist church of Zaire might be stimulated to send Zairean missionaries to French speaking Ivory Coast there to engage in frontier missions, out beyond the already established small denominations there. Let the Baptists in Britain and America say to their Baptist friends in Zaire, "We will add three dollars to every dollar you raise, if it is spent faithfully in frontier mission in Ivory Coast. The missionary force you send there will be directed for ten years by us. Then if you wish to take it over you may. We shall give not only money but a couple of missionary families to work with the 20 or more missionary families you send." Global church growth believes that the Asian, African and Latin American churches have plenty of devout Christians. They could readily be stimulated to significant amounts of frontier missions. Third, let each missionary society work out for itself what proportion of its resources it will devote to seed sowing frontier missions, and to harvesting frontier missions. The nature of the field will, of course, influence greatly what proportions are deemed God's will. If the million member Baptist church of Northeast India were assisted and encouraged to mount significant frontier missions in Andhra State, let us say, among the receptive middle castes there, we believe that 200 missionary families would soon be at work in that ripe and receptive field.
Imagine, on the other hand, English Anglican societies sending frontier missionaries to Afghanistan after Russiawithdraws and a free government is installed. The nation would be more open to free world missionaries than it has ever been before, and Anglicans would be wise to assume that most of their efforts would be devoted to seed sowing frontier mission. They should not, however, fail prey to the idea, always advanced by Satan and his hosts, that seed sowing has no further end than seed sowing. No, those who sow seed always ought to look forward to the time when, by God's grace, the seed will sprout and ripen. Then seed sowers must seize sickle and reap.
We hope the missionary minded in churches all around the world, for whom GLOBAL CHURCH GROWTH is published, will begin using the terms domestic and frontier missions as a means to recovering the determination to press on to every last unreached people, every last ethnos in the world.
The gospel, the Bible tells us in Romans 16:25, 26, was revealed by command of the eternal God to bring panta ta ethne to faith and obedience. We think that the use of these terms will help Christians to recover a true understanding of God's intent in revealing the Good News and to align their wills with His.