The Revolutionary Implications of the Unreached Peoples Concept
The "39 Articles" of People Group Thinking
A quiet revolution in missiological thinking and strategizing has been taking place for fifty years. It began with the seminal work of Townsend and McGavran in the 30s. It germinated in the early days of the Fuller School of World Missions and in the minds of scattered thinking missionaries worldwide. It budded at the Lausanne Congress in 1974 to the edification of 4,000 there. It is now flowering in many articles, books, and exciting research projects.
The vision of reaching out to the unreached peoples began with the Great Commission. Thoughtful giants like Xavier, Carey, Taylor and others gave birth to great missions and movements in later centuries.
These idealogical visions, cross-pollinated by growingly intensive research, has produced a new conceptualization of the missionary mandate, task, and strategies. Men like Ralph Winter, Donald McGavran, Patrick Johnstone, David Barrett, Arthur Glasser, David Hesselgrave, Harvey Conn, Don Richardson, Ed Dayton, David Bryant et al. have been contributing to a creative body of mission literature.
"Unreached people thinking" integrates the elements of Scripture and strategy into a new and exciting missiological approach. It is capturing the imagination of a new generation of volunteers with a hopefully realistic vision of completing world evangelization in the foreseeable future.
This is an initial attempt to pull together some of the elements in this integrating missiological approach.
Fundamental Elements in People ,Group Thinking
In giving these principles of the so-called "people group thinking" which characterize the "Third Era Missions," I don't presume that they are all new insights, strategies, or ideas. Some are old principles successfully used by some, but unknown or ignored by others; others are revised and updated by new insights and gratifyingly successful experiences; others are important because they have moved into a priority position as indicated by experience.
But "people group thinking" does not, generally speaking, pretend to be a new set of basic missiological principles, but a fresh, powerful, effective prioritizing of Biblical and strategic ideas.
Scholars in our generation have brought a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of The Bible and the world. This kind of initiative allows undreamed, widespread research by anthropologists and sociologists to be harmonized with a new perspective on crisp, brief, biblical statements.
Most important of all have been the innumerable stories of God at work in the world and in His creation, which have thrown a spotlight of experience on principles, strategies, and tactics that have been overlooked or neglected. It is out of this background that I present only a partial list of first biblical. and then strategic elements in people group thinking. Wagner says that people group thinking is powerful because it illuminates how we can better see people in their need and give sharper focus to planning actions which can answer the question, "How shall they hear?"
Karl Marx said, "Understanding the problem is half of the solution." So, people group research in both the world and Scripture has clarified our understanding of the problem with corresponding great insights as to how to attack them.
Biblical Elements in People Group Thinking
People group thinking:
- Recognizes that the evangelistic mandate began with God's call to Abraham to bless and to mediate that "blessing" to the peoples of the world through a recovered relationship with the one true God, the word "blessing" implying inheritance, sonship, (Genesis 12:3; 15:5; 18:2,4,5,6,7; 21:15-18).
Believes that the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is the comprehensive evangelistic mandate to the Church as restated in the New Testament. This commission/mandate centers on these factors:
a) The "nations" (ethne) are the thousands of cultural "people groups," both the ethno linguistic and sociological units of mankind.
b) That a "Church (disciples) in every people" is the goal of this commission and to that end the gospel must be preached, converts trained in obedience, and baptized into the fellowship of local churches (This is sometimes called The 3-P Evangelism.)
c) Every Christian is mandated hereby to be involved in this particular kind of world evangelization, which is perhaps considered the best definition of "mission."
d) The primary task of the Church is world evangelization-- completing the Great Commission.
- Clarifies Jesus' final command in Acts 1:8 as meaning that the process of world evangelization is to be both simultaneous and Progressive: in one's own people group, in near neighbor groups, and to the "people groups at the end of the earth" until Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom.
- Believes that world evangelization is a primary eschatological concern; and that the preaching "of the gospel of the Kingdom" to all peoples in the inhabited world (oikumeme) is the last teleological sign before Christ's second advent. It is also a great motivation to obedience and zeal in world evangelization (Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:6-8) .
- Holds that the mission of the Church is primarily evangelism, but it also includes social responsibility--obedience to both the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) which both prepares and follows up the evangelistic mandate (Luke 4:18-21). -
- Expects by faith that God will bring a great worldwide harvest of many coming to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 9:37-38; Matt 13:24-36; John 4:35, etc.). Therefore it calIs Christians to realistic optimism and faith in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and the activity of the Holy Spirit in world evangelization.
- Emphasizes the privilege of every world culture/people group to be a unique member in Christ's body, the Universal Church, each contributing its own glory, honor, and purity to the glory of God and His Kingdom (Rev. 21:25-27; 5:9; 14:6).
- Urges that the spiritual gifts of every believer are to be cultivated, dedicated, and used to build up the Church and evangelize the world (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:10-13).
- Believes in the continuing gift and primary role of the "apostle" (Greek "sent one") is the missionary gift to be exercised in cross-cultural evangelism and church-planting (I Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; Rom. 16:7, etc.).
- Recognizes that God may give some gifts of "miracles and healings" (I Cor. 12:28) to demonstrate the power of the gospel to redeem and transform lives; encourages all Christians to recognize the validity of these manifestations of God's power though they may not be given these gifts personally (I Cor. 12:27-31; 14:1 ff).
- Rejoices that in these latter days, God is creating a true, Biblical ecumenical movement worldwide with greatly renewed zeal and commitment to work together to complete the Great Commission (Eph. 4:1-13; Joel 1:28-32, quoted in Acts 2:17-21).
Strategic Elements and Values in People Group Thinking
People group thinking:
- Understands the world as composed of thousands of ethno- linguistic people groups and tens of thousands of sociological people groups, not of country or political unlts .
- Focuses on the priority of penetrating peoples, not just winning individuals.
- Emphasizes the importance of indigenous church principles (particularly self-propagation) to the end of completing total evangelization within a people group
- Has the goal of closure in every people group and ultimately the entire world and encourages us to see it is possible within a generation.
- Teaches that basic missionary task must continue to be pioneer church-planting evangelism.
- Emphasizes clearly that cross-cultural evangelism is the greatest need in world evangelism (seeking to rectify the imbalance of 90% of foreign missionaries presently working with the Churches already established).
- Has created widespread new understanding and interest and involvement in world evangelization, in established world churches.
- Stimulates intensive research in world evangelization as no other movement has in history.
- Analyzes the actual status of the world Christian movement and thus reveals the Great growth and also the critical areas of need.
- Enables agencies, churches and individuals to match their resources with a measurable UP evangelistic target.
- Recognizes that unreached "homogeneous units" are the primary targets of frontier evangelism.
- Awakens Christians and churches to the amazing progress of the gospel and the present unprecedented receptivity worldwide. For example, most American Christians are actually shocked to learn that in Taiwan between 1946 and 1947, the population of believers exploded from about 43,000 to 500,000 Christians!
- Creates awareness that technology, transportation, and man-power exists in the world church in this kairos to speed the task of completing the Great Commission in the foreseeable future.
- Has surfaced profitable insights on the structures of world mission, distinguishing between modalities (church-based organizations) and sodalities (independent agencies), etc., and has suggested these as usable strategies.
- Clarifies the places of need and usable strategies for church- planting, frontier evangelism
- Enables Christians and churches worldwide to understand the greatest remaining unreached peoples' needs and to enlist prayer and plans to reach them.
- Brings recognition and understanding of the powerful influences of culture, false religions, and other sociological factors as major barriers to effective evangelism.
- Brings valid insights from anthropology, sociology to bear on understanding God's mosaic of cultures and their differences v.a.v. effective evangelization.
- Breathes new life into missiological study.
- Gives birth to many new mission and evangelistic agencies and boards focused on heightened evangelism and frontier mission.
- Simplifies planning for completing the Great Commission by mission agencies and churches with its clarification of specific goals and possible strategies.
- Helps and encourages Two-Thirds World churches to understand the necessity of their sharing in the task of continuing world evangelization (E-l, E-2, E-3).
- Creates confidence and brotherhood among two-thirds-world churches through proper understanding of God's worldwide mosaic of cultures and their inter-relationships.
- Focuses primarily on receptive peoples while praying for resistant peoples. (see Rev. 4, "God opens doors...")
- Simplifies the task of identifying the best strategies to complete the Great Commission through unreached peoples research.
- Researches the need for strategizing for effective evangelization in new cultures.
- Endorses the homogeneous unit principle as the most effective means of deciding where to evangelize and plant a new church.
- Points up the need to discern God's specific evangelistic approach/tactic for each different people group.
- Emphasizes the need for strategic planning for evangelistic ministry.
- Produces motivating mottos to assist recruiting missionaries and enlisting churches--such as "A church for every people by 2000" and "The world by 2000," etc.
- Prays and works for people movements in evangelizing unreached groups.
- Seeks, believes, and prays for opportunities and growth in every people group, regardless of size or sociological composition.
- Seeks to spark the spontaneous expansion of the Church.
- Purposes to move rapidly through these stages of evangelism: Pioneer, Parent, Partner, and Participation.
- Rejoices that two-thirds world missions are rapidly becoming full partners in world evangelization and encourages development of their own strategies.
- Defines "completing the Great Commission" to mean "a church for every people!" and/or "the vindication of God's righteousness and love by clearly presenting the gospel to every creature."
- Holds that missionary activity should result in the planting and growth of a church.
- Insists that contextualizing the message and evangelistic strategy for every people group is imperative.
- Urges an incarnational approach to evangelism by cross-cultural missionaries: their willingness to divest themselves of preconceptions and cultural baggage and to identify humbly with the culture and lifestyle of the target people.
People group thinking makes a significant difference!