An Overview of the Unfinished Task
At the second millennial turn, while no one can know the precise conclusion of history we are now certain that we are within range of finishing the task, with more momentum than ever before. "For the first time in history it is possible to see the end of the tunnel, when there will be a church movement within the language and social structure of every people group on earth, powerful face to face evangelism taking over within all peoples." Biblical faith is growing among more people in more places than ever before. In the last thirty years dedicated believers grew from 5% to over 11% of the world population. The gospel is being preached all over the world as Jesus said would happen. From all over the world evangelists and missionaries are going forth to be a part of it.
However, an overview of the unfinished task the unfinished task depends highly on how you define the unfinished task. The testimony of history reveals that there is a cause-effect relationship between the advance of the Christian movement and the perspective of the unfinished task. This calls for a fresh biblical overview of the unfinished task prior to consideration of a strategic overview and way forward to fulfill the unfinished task. My challenge to you is to come forth with a vision goal and a strategy that will fulfill the unfinished task in our generation.
I. A Historical and Theological Overview of the Unfinished Task
Historically, various emphases have sought to dominate an understanding of the "unfinished task." The rapid expansion of the church since the time of the early apostles and via the Celtic, Coptic and Church of the East's (Nestorian) efforts, had largely ceased by the end of the first millennium. In the 18th century, out of the seedbed of the renewal movements of Puritanism, Pietism and Moravianism a fresh sense of the unfinished task was re-birthed. It resulted in new mission to neglected elements in their own society and to others further away and the launch of the modern era of missions.
The dawning of the 19th century brought an explosion of mission agencies committed to glorify God through evangelism and social work following the lead of William Carey. Then, in the second half of the 19th century faith missions, as a movement, began with Hudson Taylor, gaining great momentum and peaked in the 1890s. Evangelism as "seed-sowing" became the dominant note and expanded rapidly around the world. Later, under the extensive ministry of John R. Mott and the student Volunteer Movement, in the last decade of the 19th century and the first of the 20th century, "world evangelization in this generation " became central. This rose to a peak in the great Edinburgh Conference of 1910.
In fulfilling the unfinished task, especially notable in the last third of the 19th century, it has not always been easy to delineate clearly between gospel proclamation on the one hand, and the transplanting of Western culture and institutionalism on the other hand. Western culture was equated with Christian culture. On the other hand, neither has missions always been able to see clearly the uniqueness of the gospel as the complete and final revelation of God, distinct from the ethnic religions. This fog has resulted in compromise and syncretism.
Much of the drive and optimism of the fifty years leading up to World War I died with the total breakdown of hope in the Western World as a result of the war shattering the illusion that Western culture was Christian. The ensuing emphasis on the social gospel and theological liberalism focused more on social transformation than evangelism as the unfinished task. A new surge in seeking to complete the unfinished task took place after the Second World War II, with 150 mission agencies formed in just five years, mainly to service existing missions through radio, publications, Bible translation, and air travel.
In the last quarter century two philosophies have competed for supremacy. On the one hand, there has been the "salvation today" philosophy that emphasizes social reform and liberation by transforming social structures. It is the business of God's people to cooperate with God in working out His salvation for man in "liberating" him. On the other hand is the "church growth" theory, with an emphasis on "people movements" and a theology of "reaping." It is a "harvest" missiology with emphasis on high-potential as well as unreached peoples and areas.
In the most recent decade, the unfinished task has been described by many as a church planting movement among every people, and the gospel made accessible to every person by the end of the year 2000, with a focus on the 10/40 Window and the unreached peoples and places of the world. Concerns have been expressed that our zeal to go wider has not been matched by a commitment to go deeper.
History has kept the boat called "the unfinished task" rocking from side to side and from stem to stern. Theologically, it has not fared much better. It has not often sailed in smooth waters. The assignment has been beclouded by theological vagueness. For example, at times universalism has replaced Gospel proclamation with "presence" and dialogue has removed gospel confrontation.
Which way must we go? What is our unfinished task assignment into the 21st century?
II. A Biblical Overview of the Unfinished Task
The "Great Commission" is clearly stated in the four Gospels and in Acts 1:8. In somewhat different words, Acts 26:17-19 and Acts 14:21-23 outline for us the basics of fulfilling the unfinished task. In these passages we find the pattern and directives of our assignment. It consists in discipling the nations (Matt. 28:18-20); preaching the gospel to every person (Mark 16:15); preaching repentance and remission of sins in His name among all nations (Luke 24:47); being witnesses of Him to all the world (Acts 1:8). In John 20:21b-23 Jesus said: "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." We are to follow the example of Jesus. How did Jesus go? "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) Paul was commissioned by Jesus with these words: "I am sending you to them (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:17b-18). How the unfinished task is to be done is demonstrated by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14:21-23. "They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. 'We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,' they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust." Our interpretation of these imperatives, directives and Pauline pattern may differ in minor aspects and emphases. However, certain principles stand undisputed.
The unfinished task involves offering man forgiveness of sin and liberation from sin.
Seeking to fulfill the unfinished task involves going forth as an act of loving obedience, a "being sent" by the risen Lord. It demands complete submission to Jesus Christ, constant fellowship with Him, constant devotion to Him, and service to Him.
The unfinished task majors in effective communication of the good news of God and in baptizing, teaching, and discipling the believers with the primary emphasis on making disciples.
A primary mechanism in fulfilling the unfinished task is the conversion of households, called "ecclesias".
The unfinished task involves the conscious entry into the territory of Satan in order to liberate people from satanic power and tyranny. It aims at opening the eyes of the nations and turning them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.
The unfinished task can be done effectively only in "His name" and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
"The unfinished task" will continue until we have "preached the Gospel of the Kingdom in the whole world as a witness to all nations [people groups]" and there are true believers in Jesus Christ "from every nation, tribe, people and language..."(Matt. 24:14 and Rev. 7:9). This calls each new generation to a sense of urgency to "speed up the coming of that day" (2 Peter 3:12).
The unfinished task involves the evangelistic and social mandates of our Lord.
The essential unfinished task is to establish a healthy, reproducible, indigenous, church planting movement among every ethno-cultural and ethno-linguistic people (ethne) in every place.
The finished task can be summarized as Jesus Christ, incarnate in His Body, the Church, in very segment of humanity, showing forth His love, compassion, truth and power. The Body, being sensitive and insightful into the many social, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, economic distinctives and differences within the populace, would be continually permeating all elements of society both with the Word (light), but also with care, compassion and righteousness (salt).
III. A Strategic Overview of the Unfinished Task
A. The following ten elements are necessary for an effective strategy to fulfill the unfinished task remaining to us at the beginning of the 21st Century:
1. The establishing of a clearly defined goal that, if highly embraced by the Body of Christ, would propel us forward towards completion of the unfinished task.
The preparation of a realistic timetable to pursue achievement of the goal.
An information service and system that will enable both national and global servants of God to be "on the same page." The Harvest Information System (HIS) is developing into the backbone of just that kind of service and system.
The discovery and release of all possible resources linking to emerging opportunities, in an atmosphere of trust.
The mobilization of global intercessory fervent, focused prayer.
The designing of an appropriate training program of all mobilized personnel to assure the unity, effectiveness, and coordination of the work towards accomplishing the goal.
The adoption of the most effective methods in each contextual setting.
The recognition of an existing or establishment of a new motivational structure in keeping with the dynamic function of the Holy Spirit to carry through the program and consummate the goals.
The involvement of existing or establishment of new intentional, international, integrative functional and resource networks and task forces, plus field-specific and resource-specific partnerships.
The gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in all organizations and personnel involved and in all methods and means employed.
B. A Proposed Goal / Vision.
The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world by 2025 with the aim of establishing a congregation of believers in every class and kind of people, and within practical and relational reach of every person, that are permeating every segment of society with the love, truth and saving power of Jesus Christ.
C. A Detailed Description of the Proposed Goal or Vision
1. The whole world (The foremost, formidable frontiers of the new millennium)
Jesus said: "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!" (John 4:35). "The field is the world" (Mat. 13:38a). Jesus prioritized the spiritually lost. "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). Jesus reaffirmed the priority of the lost in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15. As we enter the 21st century, these population segments, which call for a priority focus, constitute foremost, formidable frontiers of the new millennium. They include the following "windows" into which we must look to discover the areas of greatest need:
a) The 10/40 Window continues to represent the primary geographic challenge entering the twenty-first century. By 2025 there will be over 8.3 billion people in our world. Over a billion will need cross-cultural witness to understand the gospel, most of who will live in the 10/40 Window. It is the geographical location in which the concentration of the main spiritual, ideological, social, urban, people group challenges are most prominent. There are an estimated 1.2 to 1.4 billion people who have never had the chance to hear the gospel and over 95% of these individuals reside in the Window area. It is where 85% of the world's poorest and most deprived live. It is the residence of over 95% of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in the world. Note that the large Islamic and Hindu content of the 10/40 Window may be "reached" for Christ in a very meaningful sense without becoming "Christian" in the cultural sense of the term as 32 million Hindu people per David Barrett's latest estimate.
b) The 4/14 Children's Window. Currently one third of the world is under 15 years of age. The developing world gets younger while the developed world gets older. A global youth culture is emerging. Since between 60 and 80 percent of people who make a decision for Christ, do so between the ages of 4 and 14, the 4/14 window, deserves more prominence in our global evangelism strategies. They are in an increasingly vulnerable position as in the following: a) Malnutrition: 35,000 children (under the age of 5) die every day as a result of malnutrition or starvation; b) Abortion: Every year 40,000,000 children lose their lives through abortion. This means that 29% of all children are never born; c) Sex-Exploitation, Rape and Abuse: There are at least 10,000,000 children currently suffering the oppression of forced prostitution.
c) The Urban World. The twenty-first century will be an urban world for the first time. Presently fifty percent urban, by the end of the twenty-first century, the world will be eighty percent urban. There will be a need for pioneer mission in the great cities of the world. The expanding slums and shantytowns in these cities has risen to one billion people, about forty percent of the populations of the cities of "the majority world" countries. Initiatives for penetrating the urban centers of the world with the living and wholistic Gospel are essential prerequisites for effecting lasting transformation of their complex mosaic of societies. Gaining an understanding of these metroplexes will require insightful research.
d) The least evangelized people groups, geographical areas and classes of society in each country by developing national initiatives. A national initiative is a bold undertaking by the national Church to respond to the Great Commission and the inherent mandate of our Lord Jesus Christ to "make disciples of all nations". It is a nationwide strategy and process designed to mobilize the Body of Christ in such a way that it is effectively functioning together as a body toward reaching a commonly-held goal that fulfills the biblical vision. The national initiative encourages, nurtures and facilitates cooperative relationships among existing and developing denominations, congregations, networks, structures, ministries, organizations and other entities. The desired result will be the transformation effected by the Holy Spirit of multiplied numbers of individuals and segments of society.
e) The larger unreached ethno-linguistic peoples with populations within a country of more than 10,000 individuals called Joshua Project 2000. There are still 249 of these larger groups which remain unclaimed, that is there are no agencies reportedly planning to send workers to them; 542 of them currently have no church planting team on-site; and 1,107 are without a congregation of at least 100 believers.
f) The unimax unreached peoples in which a unimax people refers to the maximum sized group sufficiently unified to be reached by a single indigenous church planting movement. Smaller unreached people groups are sometimes found within larger ethno-linguistic groups. These unimax groups are unified in that there are no significant barriers of either understanding or acceptance to stop the spread of the Gospel, such as caste, social, ethno-cultural or small geographically remote ethno-linguistic peoples.
g) The 40/70 European World calls for the re-evangelization of the Western European countries and new evangelization initiatives in Central and Eastern European countries, including Russia.
h) The 35/45 Turkic Window. Almost ninety percent of the world's more than 145 million Turkic speakers live along the Silk Road, between the 35th and 45th parallels. They have in common a homeland-the Silk Road; a heritage-the boiling cauldron of Central Asia and, the Turkic culture. This Window has become a gateway to the Muslim World and presents a wide-open door for effective work.
2. The second aspect of the proposed goal is the whole Gospel, with all of its implications, social and supernatural.
a) An effective communication of the gospel through friendship evangelism, personal, media, mass, internet, the Jesus Film, satellite television, radio, audio recordings, literature distribution, Bible translation and distribution.
b) Community transformation, through commitment to a place and a people, persevering leadership, discerning the spiritual forces of the invisible world which directly influence the visible, everyday world and prevent men and women from hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, informed, unified fervent prayer, public positive display of God's people, repentance and ethnic reconciliation, serving the community and building healthy long-term relationships.
c) Citywide evangelism by prayer, share and caring for every neighbor in every neighborhood of every city by God's people. (The Lighthouse Movement)
d) The primacy of missiological concern for world evangelism must be recognized and focused in the total curriculum of ministry training. Formal, non-formal and relational approaches to learning are to be seen as complementary rather than competitive.
e) International development to break poverty and disease cycles.
f) Practicing supernaturalists who minister effectively in the power of the Holy Spirit, relying on prayer and complete trust in the Word of God.
3. The third aspect of the goal includes the whole church. The global Church today is a sleeping giant. Through its many national churches, it now has the manpower and the primary ministry resources needed to complete the unfinished task of world evangelization. But we do not yet see these forces fully deployed and active. Why not? Because the WHOLE Church, the BODY OF CHRIST, is not adequately mobilized! "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Mat 9:38). The whole church includes:
a) The majority world church of Africa, Asia and Latin America. The center of gravity for Christianity worldwide in terms of growth, energy, leadership and vision is shifting from the North and West to the South and East. Let us pray that God will release the Chinese Church into world mission this decade. 200,000 new workers could be released into world mission from China. Their "natural" place of mission would be the eastern part of the 10/40 Window-East and South East Asia, Indo China, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and along the Silk Road.
b) The many kinds of church including the cell church, house church, historic churches, Pentecostal churches, Charismatic churches, and Apostolic Reformation churches
c) The emerging church that envisions a proactive part for emerging leaders.
d) The lay church that calls for active involvement of women and lay men in taking initiative. Capital, management (skills), technology, prayer, and more. The strength of the church, Christ's bride, is in the gifts He has given His people. There are new resources wanting to be involved. Millions of skilled workers who have found career success but now desire to serve the Kingdom.
4. The fourth aspect of the goal is found in the adoption of a specific time frame "By 2025." Now the year 2025 has become for many a challenging milestone. For example, Wycliffe Bible Translators International and SIL have positioned Bible translation in the framework of the remaining missionary task as we enter a new century. Their goal is to translate the Scriptures into every language of the world by 2025. As the Word of God is an essential component for completing the unfinished task can we not join them and commit ourselves to evangelize the world during the first quarter century of this millennium? "There is nothing magical about the date, yet should we not do our best to reach this goal? Christ commands us to take the gospel to all people. The task is urgent. We are determined to obey Him with joy and hope." "Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." John 4:35
From these considerateness and others that arise, let us not be afraid to think and look "outside the box" tied to ingrained practice, as God reveals new insights, inspiration and ways to proceed for what He wants done!
After an extended conversation with a university professor who taught for many years in Saudi Arabia he expressed in an e-mail these observations and concerns as we approach a new century and millennium which I share with you for your consideration regarding our approach as God's people to the unfinished task.
We have learned a great deal about working together in the last decade.
There has been a significant advance in the Muslim world in the last ten years.
We are on a roll.
I am concerned the momentum will be dissipated beyond 2000.
You have a responsibility to sound a clear trumpet call from this platform of this strategy group at Amsterdam 2000 not only to the other participants of the congress but also to God's people worldwide to articulate clearly and to call for the completion of the unfinished task in this generation. Prayer: Oh God, grant us the mind of Christ as we seek to fulfill the unfinished task your way and in your time and to your glory! Amen.
Sources: David Barrett, John Bendor-Samuel, Patrick Johnstone, George Peters, John Stott, Bob Waymire, Ralph Winter, Manila Manifesto, AD2000 Handbook, Mission Frontiers June 2000 "State of the World" and others.