This is an article from the March-April 2020 issue: Movements: God’s Way of Reaching Entire Peoples

Rapid Mobilization: How the West Was Won

Rapid Mobilization: How the West Was Won

Editor’s Note: On page 15 of this issue we highlight the power of the Methodist Movement in Britain. That nation was transformed by John Wesley and the Methodists as people became members of mandatory small group “class meetings.” They came to know Christ, learned to read by studying the Scriptures and singing hymns, confessed their sins one to another and became frugal, hard working and sober. Through obedience to the Word, they became circuit riders and non-professional pastors to spread the gospel even further. They employed many of the characteristics of the Church Planting Movement methodology of our day to very remarkable effect. The following story tells of the similar impact the Methodist movement had in the United States as the country moved westward. Like the movement in Britain, the movement in the U.S. also began to decline when “class meetings” were no longer required and the Methodists began to require seminary education instead of allowing pastors to rise up from the class meetings. See the sidebar on page 17 for more on this.

When the 26 year-old Methodist pioneer, Francis Asbury, arrived in the American colonies in 1771, he believed he was called to fulfill a great destiny. He was right—although that destiny was far greater than he ever imagined. In 1771 there were only 300 American Methodists, led by four ministers. By the time of Asbury’s death in 1816, Methodism had 2,000 ministers and over 200,000 members in a well-coordinated movement. By 1830 official membership was almost half a million, and the number of actual attenders was six million. Most of these people had no previous church connection before they became Methodists.

Asbury, like his mentor John Wesley, modeled the commitment required to achieve such success. Throughout his ministry Asbury delivered more than 16,000 sermons. He traveled nearly 300,000 miles on horseback. He remained unmarried so that he could devote himself fully to his mission. He was often ill    and had no permanent home. He was paid the salary of an ordinary traveling preacher and was still traveling when he died at 70 years of age.

Asbury’s leadership and example inspired an army of circuit riders, many of whom followed his example and remained unmarried. There were no formal vows, but in the early days of the movement the majority of the riders lived by the three rules of the monastic orders: poverty, chastity and obedience. Methodism was a kind of Protestant missionary order under one leader, adapted to reaching isolated communities in harsh conditions across an entire nation.

Jacob Young, a typical circuit rider, was 26 years old in 1802 when he took up the challenge of pioneering a Methodist circuit along the Green River in Kentucky. Young developed his own strategy to evangelize the region. He would travel five miles, find a settlement and look for a family who would let him preach in their log cabin to interested friends and neighbors. Sometimes he found groups already gathered, waiting for a preacher to arrive; in one location he discovered a society run by an illiterate African American slave with impressive preaching and leadership skills. Young established class meetings wherever he went to be run by local leaders in his absence.

Circuit riders like Jacob Young began with limited formal education, but they followed the example of Wesley and Asbury and used their time on horseback for study. They spoke the simple language of the frontier.

They faced ridicule and even violence, with courage and endurance. Above all else they sought conversions. Within a year of his call, Young had gathered 301 new members; for his efforts he received just $30—a cost of ten cents per new member.

In 1776 only 17 percent of the American population was affiliated with any church. By 1850 that number had doubled to 34 percent. Most of the growth was as a result of the gains by the Methodists and Baptists on the frontier. Francis Asbury could never have reached a nation as vast as the United States, no matter how many miles he rode and no matter how many sermons he preached, without rapidly mobilizing young circuit riders like Jacob Young.

The Protestant mainline denominations (Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Congregationalists) failed dismally to keep pace with these Baptist and Methodist upstarts. Having succumbed to a more settled version of the faith and having lost the zeal for evangelism, the message of the mainline denominations became too vague and too accommodating to have an impact.

The clergy of the mainline churches were well educated and refined, drawn from the social elites. At least 95 percent of Congregational, Episcopalian and Presbyterian ministers were college graduates, compared to only 10 percent of the Baptists. As a combined group the mainline denominations had trained 6,000 ministers before the first Methodist minister graduated from a seminary.

Higher education lifted the mainline clergy above the social status of their congregations and turned them into religious professionals. Secularized theological education and social background influenced both the content of their message and how it was delivered.

The clergy preferred to educate their hearers rather than convert them. The clergy’s carefully drafted scholarly sermons did little to stir hearts; they were out of touch with the common people. There also weren’t enough of them; it was not possible to mobilize enough well-educated, well-paid clergy to respond to the challenge of the rapidly expanding frontier. If expansion had been left to the older denominations, American Christianity may have ended up today looking more like the church of Europe—theologically refined, but declining.

So the mainline clergy watched from the safety of the larger towns and cities along the Atlantic seaboard while the Baptists and Methodists moved west. On the frontier it was hard to tell Methodist and Baptist preachers apart. They were ordinary folk with limited education. They spoke the language of the people and preached from the heart about the need for salvation from sin. As they preached, the power of God was not only spoken about, it was experienced. Methodist pioneer Peter Cartwright recalled that, “while I was preaching, the power of God fell on the assembly and there was an awful shaking among the dry bones. Several fell on the floor and cried for mercy.”

The Baptists and the Methodists developed strategies that made it easy for gifted and committed laypeople to take up leadership and go where the people and the opportunities were. Deployment was rapid because very little upfront investment of resources and education was required. Methodist preachers, many of whom were teenagers, were trained on the job as “apprentices” by more experienced workers. They were expected to be continually studying as they traveled. They practiced lifelong learning and graduated the day they died.

The Methodists were centrally governed, whereas the Baptists believed in local autonomy. But in actuality, both movements planted self-governing congregations. The Methodist circuit riders did not have the time to settle down in one place and take control. Their role was to pioneer new works and mobilize local workers to continue the ministry in depth. These self-governing congregations were well suited to rapid multiplication in the frontier culture.

Methodism gave unprecedented freedom to both women and African Americans to engage in ministry. Methodist preachers called the converted to join a growing movement and offered them the opportunity to make a significant contribution—as class leaders, lay preachers or even circuit riders. Some women served as preachers, and many more served as class leaders, unofficial counselors to the circuit riders, network builders and financial patrons.

Large numbers of African American Methodist preachers emerged following the Revolutionary War. Some were well-known public figures. Harry Hosier, probably born a slave, traveled with Asbury and other Methodist leaders and preached to large crowds, both white and black. Methodists and Baptists, unlike the established churches, preached in a way uneducated slaves could understand and affirmed the place of spiritual experiences and emotion. African American preachers played a significant role in shaping the Methodist movement.

The Baptists and Methodists flourished because they mobilized common people to preach the gospel and plant churches wherever there was a need. The Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists languished because they were controlled by well-paid clergy who were recruited from the social and financial elite. Early growth was dramatic for the Methodists—from 2.5 percent of the church-going population in 1776 to 34 percent in 1850, with 4,000 itinerant preachers, almost 8,000 local preachers and over one million members. This made them by far the largest religious body in the nation. There was only one national institution that was more extensive: the U.S. government. This achievement would have been impossible without the mobilization of ordinary people—white and black, young and old, men and women—and the removal of artificial barriers to their engagement in significant leadership such as class leaders, local workers and itinerant preachers. Unfortunately, the Methodist rise was short-lived. Whereas before 1840 the Methodists had virtually no college educated clergy among their circuit riders and local preachers, their amateur clergy was gradually replaced by seminary educated professionals who claimed the authority of the church hierarchy over their congregations. Their relative slump began at the same time; by the end of the 19th century the Baptists had overtaken them in numbers.


This is an article from the November-December 2016 issue: 40 Years of the USCWM/Frontier Ventures and the Unreached Peoples Movement

Vision for a Refugee Kingdom Movement

Vision for a Refugee Kingdom Movement

God is moving in unprecedented ways in our generation in the Muslim world. Too often Western believers are filled with fear at the pictures of refugees crossing the borders of Western nations. Such a view fails to look at this migration from an eternal perspective.

The current migrations are consistent with the ways God has moved throughout history to bring people groups to the knowledge of Christ.

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-27, ESV, emphasis added)

God has consistently changed the allotted periods and boundaries to bring people to know Him. We should praise the God of heaven in giving a myriad of Muslim people groups open hearts and greater access to the gospel, while at the same time weeping with them at the suffering they endure.

God’s heart is for a kingdom movement to flow through hundreds of refugee locations and then back into the home countries from which they have been thrust—some places difficult or impossible for missionaries to access.

Thousands of evangelists have descended upon Europe the last two years to purposefully bring the gospel to refugees resulting in many salvations. In the excitement of good evangelism, however, what emerges as the dust settles will determine if this becomes a lasting kingdom movement. God’s desire is for disciples and churches, not simply decisions, to multiply throughout the refugee populations, to the surrounding majority populations (e.g. Germans and Greeks) and back into home countries. Will we settle for good evangelism or press into enduring Church-Planting Movements (CPMs)? The latter is God’s heart.

A Case Study

My interactions with the refugee outreach have been to promote the latter (CPM) rather than the former (abundant evangelism). In one country, the Great Commission partners are doing an amazing job of reaching out to refugees with the gospel. They have hosted hundreds of short-term volunteers and the gospel has been shared thousands of times. They have been so busy hosting each team to do evangelism efforts that they have had little time to catalyze the next stages of a CPM—on-going discipleship training, church formation and leadership development. Their effectiveness in doing a good thing (evangelism) threatens the needed shift into the next stage (making disciples who can make disciples, resulting in multiplying churches.)

For three days we worked together on how to translate evangelistic fruit into a kingdom movement. Two weeks later, one Muslim-background believer immediately baptized 18 people and formed two groups into churches. He is making the shift to give enough time to the new disciples, churches and leaders.

What changed in him and others was a sense of the larger vision of what God is doing. Refugee believers have been particularly envisioned by the Joseph account (Gen. 37-50) and find almost exact parallels between Joseph’s journey and theirs. These new disciples stand on the edge of the refugee outreach becoming a Joseph movement.

The Joseph Movement

We may fail to recognize how much of the Genesis account the Joseph narrative takes up. Genesis is painted as follows in broad strokes:

Creation             2 chapters

Fall/Cain 2 chapters

Genealogies         4 chapters

Noah                 4 chapters

Abraham            12 chapters

Isaac                  2 chapters

Jacob                 9-10 chapters

Joseph                14 chapters

In sheer proportion the Joseph story occupies the largest amount of text—14 out of 50 chapters. We rightly accord huge emphasis to the critical stories of Creation/Fall, Noah and Abraham (the father of all who live by faith). But how often do we contemplate the message of the Joseph movement?

Refugee believers are drawn to Joseph because his story gives meaning to their story. It helps to explain what God is doing according to Acts 17:26-27.

The Joseph Movement Parallels

Joseph appears as a prophet in the Quran; Muslims are familiar with his name. But as Muslim-background believers learn the true story from the Old Testament, they find a number of parallels with their situation:

The salvation of many: The theme verse of the Joseph account is Genesis 50:20:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen. 50:20, ESV, emphasis added)

From the comforts of Western Christianity, we quote “what was meant for evil, God meant for good.” But can we quote the verse’s purpose statement? The operative word is “to”. God has a purpose in turning evil to good—to save many people. In Western Christianity, we fear the invasion of our way of life in the refugee situation. Refugee believers see the overarching vision—God’s purpose is to save multitudes of people for eternity. The grand purpose of God is sovereignly moving people groups to bring His kingdom fully to them. God is answering the Lord’s prayer we pray regularly.

Embracing the uncontrollables: Joseph chose to embrace the goodness of God despite having no control over his situation and being moved against his will. Rather than bemoan his situation, Joseph embraced the uncontrollable as signs of God’s goodness and sovereign orchestration. Refugee believers are learning to celebrate the uncontrollables as God’s sovereign goodness to bring about the salvation of many.

Suffering: The uncontrollables included intense suffering for Joseph, even being blamed for things he didn’t do. Often refugees are lumped into the same category as terrorists. Often they are mistreated simply because they belong to a disdained group. Refugee believers see in Joseph an example about how to bear up under suffering and mistreatment in the midst of knowing God has a grander plan.

Dreams: The Joseph story is filled with dreams about God’s purposes. God gave Joseph the discernment to believe and interpret these dreams. When God moves in unprecedented ways, He often initiates them through dreams (even in the New Testament). Within the Muslim world, God is appearing to and speaking to people in dreams and visions. Refugee believers recognize that God is speaking clearly, tearing down defences and giving vision for the future to them.

Salvation of a new land:  Joseph was adopted into a new land (Egypt) and eventually became a source of blessing for that land in the midst of famine. He was the source of salvation to the majority population though he came from a despised minority—Hebrews (Gen. 43:32). In the hard soil of European evangelism, God is going to use Muslim-background believers to bring salvation to Christian-background lost people (Germans, Italians, etc). Refugee believers are learning that this is part of their calling.

The salvation of the old land: The purpose of the Joseph story, however, was the salvation of the old land/people. Joseph was not preserved alone by God but seventy others from the old land were saved that they might become a people of God. A vision is growing among refugee believers that God wants to both 1) save many refugees along the refugee road and 2) bring this movement back to the home countries. We must help believers in the diaspora to become movements that bring salvation to home countries from which they emerged.

Seasons of darkness: Doubtless at times Joseph felt forgotten by God, his family and friends. Yet in the darkness he did not despair but continued to trust God. The situation had to get very dark before it got better. Refugee believers take encouragement from Joseph’s faith while in dark places. They know that in time God will bring about His purposes.

A new hope: The Joseph story is one in which a new hope emerges, one Joseph could never have imagined despite the foreshadowing of his initial dreams in Genesis 37. From the darkness, a much greater purpose came to light. How shocked Joseph must have been years later when his brothers showed up to buy grain. In that moment, the greater purpose became clear:

5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:5-8, ESV, emphasis added)

Three times Joseph stated: “It was God who sent me here!” The purpose became clear—a new hope emerging from darkness. For the refugee evangelism efforts to become a kingdom movement, refugee leaders must embrace this new hope—they have been sent ahead by God for the salvation of many. If we fail to call them to a bigger vision or if we shrink back from calling them to suffer for a greater purpose, then we will likely reap a few hundred or thousand new disciples but lose a potential movement to rock the Islamic world.

Don’t compromise: During the dark times and light times, Joseph refused to compromise. As Potiphar’s steward, he refused to sin with Potiphar’s wife. As a prisoner in darkness, he refused to use underhanded ways to escape prison. As the second-in-command of Egypt, he refused to abuse the rank and privilege accorded him. Refugee believers identify with the need to remain true to God’s Word no matter their circumstances—to refuse to compromise or use underhanded ways to better their situation or seek retribution.

Expect helpers along the way: Joseph’s destiny was ultimately in God’s hands, but in the earthly realm was in the hands of others. He trusted God to guide the hands and hearts of the rulers toward God’s ultimate purposes. Along the way, God provided helpers in this journey—Judah to sell Joseph rather than let him be killed, Potiphar purchasing Joseph, the keeper of the prison giving Joseph privileges, the cupbearer bringing Joseph to Pharaoh, Pharaoh raising Joseph to his right hand. Refugee believers have to trust that God will provide advocates along the way to move them toward the destiny God has created for them.

Create relational networks along the way: The challenge of the refugee road becoming a movement is that relational networks change from week to week. Families are torn apart and new living situations present themselves each week or month. Joseph was torn from his family and moved from place to place. Rather than see only his blood family as his relational network, Joseph created new relational networks along the way—Potiphar’s household, the prisoner network and eventually the palace network of Egypt. Refugee leaders with a vision for a movement realize they must help new believers create and embrace new relational networks face-to-face, by phone, and online. As they embrace these new networks and disciple each other in these various forms, the movement is growing and finding stability. 

God’s favor will be upon you: God’s hand of favor was continually upon Joseph. The seed of saving his family planted in the dreams of Genesis 37 was watered all along the way. God’s promise was one of favor and purpose he could hold onto in dark times. Refugee believers frequently ask: “Why did God save me first rather than my brother or my cousin (or someone else)?” They find a growing sense that God’s favor is upon them to be the channel of salvation and this favor fills their hearts with gratitude.

God’s school of suffering: Years ago a greatly persecuted Chinese underground leader shared with me: “Prison is God’s seminary for me. It is when He lets me stop long enough to study my Bible more deeply, write and hear His voice more clearly.” God’s school of suffering. Suffering was Joseph’s seminary. It was the crucible of shaping Joseph into the man who could be the channel of salvation. The Joseph of Genesis 37 was not ready for the throne of Egypt; the Joseph of Genesis 40 was. Refugee believers must embrace periods of suffering as God’s seminary to prepare them for the greater works Jesus promised (John 14:12).

The Joseph Movement: A Vision

The story of Joseph is one of uncanny precedent that refugee believers can learn from. It is a biblical case study for a movement that can be repeated again today. The key will be refugee believers taking on the identity and vision of a true Joseph movement. Such a vision will be as costly to them as it was to Joseph. But if believers can identify this moment as a Joseph opportunity, then it may well become multiple kingdom movements intertwining their fingers both in the diaspora and back home in the sending countries. Will Muslim background believers take on this identity? Will they embrace the cost that comes with the promise?

And for Christian leaders around the world working with these precious brothers and sisters, will we embrace the same vision and communicate it with faith to them? Will we communicate it to our own churches? Will we reinterpret the unfolding events to demonstrate God’s amazing purposes?

If we do, then we are casting a vision of what is on our Father’s Heart.

And, in case you wondered how to cast vision in general, this article has been an example—bringing an encouraging and inspiring word to growing disciples based on Father’s heart.

This is an article from the May-June 2016 issue: Getting to No Place Left

Our Role in Hastening “No Place Left”

Excerpted from Hastening

Our Role in Hastening “No Place Left”

Used by permission of 2414 Ventures.

A few years ago Mission Frontiers featured David Platt’s Radical, a strategic book for mobilizing the church. We are delighted now to feature Steve Smith’s thriller “No Place Left” saga, designed to carry the Church further in the same direction. This excerpt is from Hastening (Book One).

“Congratulations, my imperturbable accomplice,” John said. “We made the Washington Post.”

Christopher sighed as he scanned the headline: L.A. Pastor Speeds Up the Return of Jesus. “Really, bro, you shouldn’t pay attention to these things.”

“They’re saying we think we can dictate when Jesus returns. They’re saying we’re taking Matthew 24:14 and 2 Peter 3:12 too far, as if the moment the last unreached people group is reached, Jesus has to return,” John said.

Christopher studied his longtime friend. “There’s more to it, though, isn’t there, bro?”

“Well,” John admitted, “I’ve had similar questions, lingering questions. We’re gaining a lot of momentum, so I haven’t wanted to rock the boat—especially since I often appear critical.”

“I’m not! I support you and this mission unreservedly! But, Christopher, what if they’re right? Are we trying to dictate when Jesus will return? How can we actually hasten Jesus’ return? This is the question that plagues me. Isn’t God sovereign? Hasn’t He set the date for Jesus’ return? How can we speed up the coming of that day?”

“Bro, I wish you had said something sooner,” Christopher commented. “Actually, I wish that I had said something. We’re getting a lot of kickback on this, so I’ve been studying it more deeply—making sure we’re not off base. And here’s the thing. Of course God is sovereign. And at the same time, we play a role in bringing about His sovereign plans. Think about it this way. Remember when you came to faith?”

“I was quite the rabid dog, wasn’t I?” John said, smiling. “Couldn’t shut up about my new life.”

“Well, not exactly. You were also really, really nervous about talking to your dad about it, remember?”

“Well, who wouldn’t be?” John said. “He was a Rhodes scholar. Tenured faculty. Twice the intellectual—and cynic—I am. And always finding fault with born-again Christians.”

Christopher nodded. “You kept praying, ‘Lord, send someone to witness to my dad, someone with the intellectual faculties to back him into a corner.’ Remember?”

John winced. “Yes, until that fateful day when I realized my dad was my responsibility. It was up to me to share the gospel with him.”

Christopher leaned back in his chair. “Now, think about it, bro. How long did you wait to open your mouth? Six months?”

“Yeah, but I finally got convicted to do something about it. Otherwise I probably would have waited six years, or perhaps even sixteen.”

John paused. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was buying that plane ticket to Boston. But you know, after we had spent a little time together and I shared my story, he just melted. I was speechless.”

“Bro, the testimony of your changed life and your love for him was more powerful than any apologetics someone else might have debated with him,” Christopher said, smiling.

“I—I guess so. I’m still amazed my dad’s a Jesus-follower. The cynic now an evangelist!”

Christopher leaned forward. “Now think about this, bro. You were the instrument God used to lead your dad to faith. You wanted to wait years and very well might have if God hadn’t convicted you to speed up the process.

“You and I know the date of your dad’s salvation was set in heaven before the earth was formed. But, in a way, you hastened that day by buying that plane ticket and witnessing to your dad. Perhaps if you had waited six years, he would have believed later, but you didn’t wait. You hastened the day, though from heaven’s viewpoint that had been God’s plan all along. Your motivation fit within God’s plans.”

“God destined my father’s day of salvation, but I became His instrument,” John repeated to himself. “From my vantage point, I speeded up that day by acting in faith sooner rather than later. Someone was going to win him. Why not me, and why not then? How was I to know it wasn’t to be his day of salvation?”

“It was the same when Church in the City sent our first short-term team to China,” Christopher said. “Remember the medical clinics we did in the villages? There were people there who might not have heard the gospel for many more years if we had not come. God knew when He created them when they would believe, but from our perspective, we hastened the day of their salvation.

“Look, bro. Fatalism drove those who opposed William Carey. They told him, ‘Sit down, young man. … When God pleases to convert the heathen, He’ll do it without your help or ours.’”

John chuckled. “Uh, yeah, I could have been one of them.”

Christopher continued, “All I know is that someday God will raise up a generation with the motivation, the wherewithal, and the perseverance to finish the task—the last generation. From earth’s vantage point—whether or not we become that generation—we are hastening that day by focusing on finishing the task. From God’s vantage point, He has chosen someone to finish the task and appointed the times and seasons of their final work. If we are the ones He has chosen, we’re not speeding God up; God is speeding us up to usher in the day He prepared long ago.

“Bro, we’re on solid biblical ground. Solid not just according to me but also respected theologians. Listen to Marvin Vincent’s hundred-year-old comments on 2 Peter 3:12.”

Christopher picked up an ancient tome, gently leafed to the appropriate page, and read:

I am inclined to adopt, with Alford, Huther, Salmond, and Trench, the transitive meaning, hastening on; i.e., “causing the day of the Lord to come more quickly by helping to fulfil those conditions without which it cannot come; that day being no day inexorably fixed, but one the arrival of which it is free to the church to hasten on by faith and by prayer.”

John contemplated these words.

“Will Jesus come back the moment the last UPG is reached?” Christopher asked. He glanced once more at the headline as he grabbed the paper again. “I don’t know. I just know that this is the mission He left us with, and that He said we would finish before His return. I want to finish the task He has given us.

He tossed it back down again and said, “He’s not waiting for permission from us to come back. Rather He is patiently waiting for us to do what He commanded, and He’ll come back when the time is right. …

“There will be a last generation. Why not us? Carey suggested his generation speed up the Great Commission by going. I ask why we can’t hasten finishing this task. By God’s grace I will lay down my life to see it completed. Perhaps God’s plan all along has been to raise up this generation as His vehicle for finishing the task before He sends Jesus on the day appointed from the foundation of this world.”

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Toward a Biblical Missiology of Mobilization

Toward a Biblical Missiology of Mobilization
What is God doing in mission  mobilization  around  the world? I believe the global Church is on the cusp of an explosion of focused mission mobilization across denominations, organizations and individual local ministries. More mobilization-focused ministries, courses, tools and trainings  have  sprung  up globally in the last decade than ever before in history.1 We  are  in a changing world—where a globalized Church is positioned as never before to reach a globalized world through globalized mission mobilization.
The in-depth study of mission mobilization has generally been a neglected subject in missiology. In fact, informal searches turn up next to no literature on a theology or missiology of mobilization. This is primarily because we tend to define mission mobilization in a limited, individualistic manner rather than a holistic, corporate way intended through Scripture. Thus, it is vital to clarify a biblical missiology of mobilization. Much work has been done in the name of mobilization while often failing to adequately root that work in an overarching, big picture missiological viewpoint, informing the global Church of her mobilization responsibility beyond recruiting.

Mobilization’s Western Roots

Because much of global mission and mission mobilization efforts have historically derived from Western cultures, the individual recruitment emphasis has become normalized. Western cultures generally see the world through individualistic lenses while non-western, majority world cultures see the world through a communal, group-centered lens.2 Thus, a biblical missiology of mobilization informs local ministries as a whole, not merely recruiting a few individuals as message bearers3 (alternative term for missionary). We tend to overlook the theological truth that every believer is meant to engage, in some function, in Jesus’ Great Commission—whether they ever leave their hometown or not.

Reading the Bible Through A Mobilization Lens

It is possible to read the whole Bible from the viewpoint of the global mission of God, as Christopher J. H. Wright reveals.4 God’s global mission, realized through the delegated mission of His people, binds the Bible together from beginning to end. By rooting ourselves and local ministries in the purposes revealed in God’s word, we recognize the singular truth, suggested by David Bosch, that global mission is not merely an activity of the global Church, but an attribute of God Himself.5  God is a missionary God, Jesus is a missionary Messiah and the Spirit is a missionary Spirit. Therefore, mission mobilization starts with God Himself, who is on global mission, aligning His corporate body with the priority purpose on His heart. This is why mission mobilization matters. We do not mobilize the Church to merely good works, but to come into alignment with the heartbeat of God, where He is taking history in the culmination of His redemptive purpose (Genesis 12:3; Matthew 24:14; Revelation 7:9).
The nature of God is to consistently invite every believer and local ministry into agreement with His will—living for Jesus’ glory on earth. The late Dean Gilliland, professor of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary cites, “Global mission can be said to be founded on the self-revelation of God.”6  There is no God besides Him. He alone is Father, Creator of all things and for whom we live (1 Cor. 8:5-6). If there is one God, then He is God of all peoples. He desires every believer to recognize the universal nature of the gospel, not merely individualizing it for themselves, as is so common in the global Church. God’s redemptive purpose throughout history at its core could be considered a mission mobilization effort among His people.
Jesus’ calling of the twelve disciples can be seen as foundational mobilization. He trained them over a three-year process to lead the Church forward in the Great Commission upon Jesus’ ascension. Jesus was training the apostolic leaders who would “turn the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) His earthly ministry was primarily focused on teaching the gospel of the kingdom, paving the way for His followers to take His multi-dimensional message to all the ethnic peoples. This is a core principle of mobilization. Greg Parsons relates, “Jesus didn’t focus on planting churches, on evangelism, or theological training. Rather, His ministry concentrated more on the big picture than anyone.”7  The global Church is called to emulate Jesus in this way.
Paul also had the primary calling of a mission mobilizer, possessing the conviction that God was the God of all peoples, laying on the Church the inescapable obligation to mission.8 Paul adamantly stated, “God through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…God was in the world reconciling the world to Himself…so we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us…” (2 Cor. 5:18-20). For Paul, God took the initiative to redeem humanity, causing those reconciled to in turn become His message bearers of grace.9 Paul was mobilizing the churches with the vision of God’s glory among all nations.
All Paul did was focused on planting communities of believers who would multiply themselves outward in concentric circles. His apostolic teaching had mission mobilization at its core. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of where the kingdom was already known, looking to the “unreached” of his day (2 Cor. 10:16). His followers and churches did so as well (Acts 19:10). Paul revealed the nature of the Church with multiplying and reproducing as its core identity, not something peripheral (Romans 1:5). Mission mobilization, then, includes calling the global Church to the totality of all God meant for local ministries. This requires a clear biblical view of the essence, nature, purpose and identity of the global Church as being God’s missionary community.

The Birth of the Church at Pentecost

Acts 2 is the root of the great tree of the Church that has sprung up in every nation over the last 20 centuries. The global Church was birthed through the coming of the Holy Spirit as a completely new, unique entity. A simple interpretation of the Spirit’s filling is for the purpose of revealing God. Wherever a believer goes, whatever they do, the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit’s filling is enabling us to reveal and manifest God to others. Using this simple definition, we conclude the primary reason for the Holy Spirit’s coming is empowering a corporate people who reveal God to the world.
The global Church, God’s ‘missionary,’ Spirit-filled people, exists to reveal God to all the ethnic peoples of the world, bringing glory to Jesus as He draws millions to Himself. It is the purpose that God has put within us. This spiritual expansion principle is in our DNA, the natural outworking of a healthy organism. To be a stagnant local ministry is an oxymoron, counter to divine and natural order. Local ministries becoming ablaze with mission vision, mobilizing and equipping their own through the implementation of mobilization principles within, culminating in influencing unreached people groups are God’s primary strategies in mission. Every local ministry, no matter its size, possesses a responsibility before God in the Great Commission.

Defining Mission Mobilization

In recent decades, “mission mobilization” has become synonymous with individualized missionary recruiting, a far cry from the big-picture viewpoint of Scripture. Because we believe the Lord is inspiring a surge in biblically rooted mission mobilization across His global Church, it is vital to pursue shared understanding of what we mean by these words.
Let’s consider a few definitions as building blocks toward a comprehensive whole. Fred Markert, YWAM Strategic Frontiers leader, says, “Mobilization is the process of envisioning and educating God’s people about His strategic plans for the world. And it is the means of keeping them involved and moving forward until they find their specific place and role in world evangelization.”10 Larry Reesor adds to this mobilization outlook by asserting, “Mobilization is teaching believers in a local church to understand God’s global plan, motivating them to a loving response to God’s Word, and providing opportunities for them to use their gifts, abilities and resources individually and corporately to accomplish His global plan.”11 In addition, Steve Shadrach helps draw attention to what he calls the “unsent” suggesting, “The ‘unsent’ are the hundreds of millions of Bible-believing Jesus followers around the world who have little or no mission vision.”12
Building on these helpful definitions, while rooting ourselves in a biblical viewpoint of the Church’s purpose, we can thus define mission mobilization from a global perspective in two separate ways - from a macro, body of Christ-wide perspective, as well as from a micro, individual local ministry level.
At a macro level, mission mobilization is the strategic process through which the global body of Christ is empowered by the Spirit of God to emphasize the message, vision and strategies of the Great Commission within local ministries in every nation, activating every member in their assigned roles, toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. 
At a micro level, mission mobilization is the strategic process of an individual community of believers moving along the journey of being educated, inspired and activated in the Great Commission, every disciple engaged and fulfilling their assigned roles in the Great Commission.

The Laborers Are in the Harvest

A favorite verse among mission mobilizers is Matthew 9:37-38, “Then He said to His disciples, “the harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Who are these laborers? Where do they come from? Over the last 50 years, there has been an unprecedented move of the Holy Spirit globally, thrusting millions of people into the kingdom of God. According to Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, a majority of these are in non-western, majority-world countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America.13 So much so that Johnson affirms, “Christians can be found today in every nation of the world.”14
A friend once told me, “the laborers are already in the harvest.” What he meant was these significant “harvests” (coming to Christ within currently unreached peoples and nations) in time, produce the kingdom laborers who themselves become “scattered,” crossing cultural barriers, among the remaining unreached peoples within their own countries (near culture) and beyond (distant culture). The vast majority of newly scattered message bearer teams are part of previous “harvests” bringing them into the kingdom. This process relies on effective mission mobilization implemented within the local ministries planted through the present “harvests” across the nations coming to Jesus.
Mission mobilization, then, is meant to directly empower local indigenous ministries in every nation, full of these harvested laborers. This massive harvest force, from all nations, is made ready to be “thrust out” primarily among near culture peoples sharing language, traditions and customs, yet being from a different tribe or ethnic group, directly around them. They are mostly lay leaders and lay people—regular disciples growing in experiential knowledge of God, empowered and anointed by the Spirit, acting as conduits among every unreached community. 

The Natural Response— Three Levels of Scattering

Renowned mission practitioner and author, Roland Allen, suggested God has put within every believer a natural instinct to communicate and influence others with the gospel of the kingdom using their own initiative.15 This isn’t forced upon them or even something that necessarily needs to be encouraged. It is innate to a follower of Jesus because the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within that person. Effective mission mobilization is dependent upon helping believers embrace this natural inclination, not squelching or resisting it. This inner drive is powerful, even moving the people of God to risk their lives to impart life-giving faith to others. The hope of the gospel and the experience of its power within a believer cannot be held in for long without grieving the Holy Spirit. So, what happens when a local ministry (no matter how big or small), made up of such believers, acts on this inner impulse and is mobilized into action as a community? They are scattered out as laborers (Matthew 9:37).
“Scattering” has multiple layers.16 It is safe to say that biblically speaking every disciple in a local ministry is meant to “scatter” in one way or another. This can be understood as Level One Scattering. This predominantly means within the natural environments near the local ministry that God has put them in - their workplace, neighborhood, school, relatives and more.
Level Two Scattering is when a team of believers (lay leaders and lay people) from a local ministry, previously faithful to Level One Scattering, respond to the Spirit leading them to a near culture unreached people within a 50-200 mile or so vicinity of the existing local ministry. In order to raise our vision, I suggest a goal of at least 15% of members of every local ministry being scattered in this near culture way.
Level Three Scattering takes us into the more traditional approach of mission sending and is when a team of believers (lay leaders and lay people) from the local ministry embraces God’s leading to a distant culture unreached people. These may be within the same geopolitical nation; in a neighboring country; or even further away, crossing continents. If around 15% of church members have been called to Level Two Scattering, it is consistent to suggest 5% of members from a sending local ministry are called to Level Three Scattering.

The Common Unnatural Response

Contrary to the above, what is common today is for believers to remain to themselves, hidden in their cluster of Christians, taking the position that the Church is to be isolated from society at large. Believers in Indonesia, for example, may rarely interact with their Muslim neighbors, coworkers or peers in the university. This is largely due to the societal divide among Christians and Muslims and the fear sown related to the other which has been enforced over generations. This could be repeated over and over among minority Christian communities and yet is never the intent of Scripture. God wants to be right in the midst of society, relating with the broken, the worldly, the religious, revealing Himself through wholehearted disciples.
Seeing mission mobilization in this missiological light requires taking off some blinders. Although it can seem a bit far-fetched and unrealistic, it is because the global Church has tended to minimize the biblical emphasis of the Great Commission, overlooking our core identity. The global Church’s view of mission has generally been lowered from the New Testament’s. Thus, it is necessary to regain a high view of God’s plan of redemption history, calling others to it and sparking the contagious fires of mission mobilization in our spheres of influence.
*Author’s Note—This article has been adapted from the author’s new book being released in March 2022 called Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity. The book seeks to lay foundations of a biblical missiology of mobilization while providing a practical framework to mobilize and equip the global Church in mobilization. The publisher, IGNITE Media, has given permission for portions of the book used in this article.  "For more information about Ryan's new book Rethinking Global Mobilization, please visit" 
  1. 1 Some of these include Let’s Mobilize His Church (Latin America), Mission Campaign Network (Kenya), Global Mobilization Network (International), Center for Missionary Mobilization and Retention (USA), Global Cast Resources (International) and many more. While many more have been around longer then a decade and continue to gain clarity and focus in mobilization. Some of these include Center for Mission Mobilization, Simply Mobilizing, Perspectives, GMMI and more. In addition, almost all of the major global mission networks like the Lausanne Committee, COMIBAM, MANI, WEA Mission Commission and more now have mobilization tracks and departments which they did not have before.

  2. 2 Sherwood Lingenfelter, Ministering Cross-Culturally, Grand Rapids, MI:
    Baker Book House, 1986, p. 19

  3. 3 Ryan Shaw, Spiritual Equipping For Mission: Thriving As God’s Message
    Bearers, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014, p. 18-19

  4. 4 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology
    of the Church’s Mission, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, p. 38

  5. 5 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991,

  6. 6 Dean Gilliland, Pauline Theology and Mission Practice, (Eugene, OR:
    Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998), p. 50.

  7. 7 Greg Parsons, “Why Stay Here? Mobilizing the Home Front,”
    Mission Frontiers, January–February (1995),

  8. 8 Ibid, p. 51

  9. 9 Ibid, p. 56

  10. 10 Article in Mission Frontiers Magazine (January-February 2000) titled “A
    Fresh Perspective On Mobilizing the Church.” http://www.missionfrontiers
    . org/issue/article/a-freshperspective-on-mobilizing-the-church.

  11. 11 Steve Shadrach article in EMQ, Volume 54, Issue 3, “Mobilization:
    The Fourth (and Final?) Era of the Modern Mission Movement.”

  12. 12 Article in International Bulletin of Missionary Research titled
    “Status of Global Christianity 2015”

  13. 13 Todd Johnson and Sandra Lee, Article in Perspectives Reader Fourth
    Edition titled “From Western Christendom to Global Christianity”, p. 387

  14. 14 Shaw, R. Daniel. 1990. “Culture and Evangelism: A Model for
    Missiological Strategy.” Missiology 18:291-304.

  15. 15 Allen, Spontaneous Expansion, p. 9

  16. 16 Ralph Winter, in his breakthrough presentation at Lausanne 1974, labeled
    three types of evangelism to three different groups – E-1 is evangelism from
    one person of the same culture to another; E-2 evangelism is from one
    culture to a near culture to their own; E-3 evangelism goes from one culture
    to a distant culture. These three levels of scattering are based on this E-Scale.
    Perspectives Reader, Ralph Winter, William Carey Library, p. 347-360

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Toward the Edges

Toward the Edges
The theme of this edition of Mission Frontiers is a topic dear to my heart. It is at the very heart of our purpose here at Frontier Ventures, and it is dear to the heart of Jesus: “The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy.”
I want to begin with a special mention. I am grateful for Len Bartlotti's clear discussion related to Rethinking People Groups. I have  known  Len for a long time. He has been on the ground among the unreached, and on the ground here in Pasadena. He knows whereof he speaks.
I will talk first about the three hearts: mine, ours, and Jesus’. Then I will talk about the two halves of this edition’s theme: people groups and strategy.


Three Hearts

Since 1980, I have in various ways been personally  learning  about   people   groups and about strategies. I am still involved with movements at a ground level among unreached peoples, and among peoples now on their way to being “reached,” thanks be to God.
Susan and I have our own sweat equity in the whole effort, you might say. Therefore, this topic is dear to my heart.
It is dear because for us we know and love real people, so we don’t approach this as an abstract about “peoples.”
But this is more than personal. This is close to the heart of Frontier Ventures, right at the heart of who we are, why we began, why we still exist, and why we are moving forward into the future.
For more than 40 years, raising awareness about unreached peoples has been at the center of who we are. The vocabulary we use has shifted, certainly, from hidden peoples to unreached peoples to frontier peoples. But inside of all that is the same concern, to join in God’s invitation as God fulfills the abiding purpose of blessing all the families of the earth.
Which brings me to the heart of Jesus.
While my readers will certainly be familiar with Jesus’ heart for nations as expressed in say, Matthew 28 and the command to disciple all nations, I want to dig further back in Jesus’ words for a moment.
Just today I was re-reading Luke 4. After Jesus speaks of fulfilling Isaiah 61 when He is in the synagogue, there is an initial surge of enthusiasm, as all the people present express their joy at those words.
They were, as the context shows us, joyful because they thought this was for them, and apparently, only for them.
So Jesus continues. He does not say “thank you.” Instead, He draws out other portions of the Old Testament. He could have selected many, many passages. The two He selects tell us a lot about His heart.
First, He refers to a widow. A woman. A non-Jewish woman.
Then He refers to a man, a leper, a non-Jewish man. Two unclean people. Non-Jewish.
From the mass of Old Testament texts, He could have selected He picks these two at the launch of His work. This shows us His heart for the nations, and thus for the least reached.

People Groups and Strategy

What is there to rethink? We have lists of people groups, don’t we? And every edition of Mission Frontiers records progress on movements among the unreached, right? Doesn’t this suggest we know who the unreached are, and we know what to do to reach them?
Yes, and no to both questions! First: people groups.
In an age of globalization and migration, and in an era in which we continue to discover the nuances and complexity of how people, how peoples, see themselves, we are realizing that the more we learn, the less we know about people groups!
That does not mean that Joshua Project, for example, is wrong, or that the lists of unreached peoples there need to be reworked. But it does mean that as any pioneer cross-cultural team gets engaged and begins to love and learn about and with the people with whom God has put them into relationship, they will begin to see things that no list can show.
How does this peoples’ language, religion, culture, location and current history shape how they see themselves? And how does that need to shape how we work among them, or to use another term, how does that affect strategy?
There is much to say about strategy and strategies. I am grateful for everything we are  learning  today, from the fruitfulness of many workers and organizations and about things that are working among the least reached. Discipleship, church- planting, cultural sensitivity, orality, new insights into Scripture translation and much more.
However, in an age of globalization and migration, and in an era in which we continue to discover   the nuances and complexity of how people, how peoples, see themselves, we are realizing that the more we learn, the less we know, not only about people groups, but about the strategies for reaching those where we are yet to see movements emerge!
There is a lot to learn about why this or that strategy works in this or that people group, but seemingly not  in  another.  Is  it  the  people?  The  team?  The strategy itself?

Back to the Heart

This brings me back to why this is all at the heart of who we are and why we exist. From our beginnings, there has been a focus in Frontier Ventures on not only unreached peoples, but on understanding and seeing the barriers, the reasons why some are reached, and others not, why in some cases an approach bears fruit, and elsewhere it does not.
I pray and trust that in some small way, this edition of MF will help to stimulate new questions, and ultimately fresh answers, so that least reached peoples may experience more and more of the fullness of life in Christ!

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Mission Possible Book Review

Mission Possible Book Review

Sinclair, Daniel. 2021 Mission: Possible— Defining and Empowering Your Ministry Among the Unreached. MOF Publishing.

If you’ve never had a coach work with you in your church-planting ministry, this book would  work  toward solving that problem. In the sequel to his well-received Vision of the Possible: Pioneer Church Planting in Teams, Daniel Sinclair digs deeper into the subject of sharing the good news in some of the most difficult places with Mission: Possible—Defining and Empowering Your Ministry Among the Unreached. This easy to read yet full-bodied text is a mix of both theory and practice, highlighting foundational understandings from Scripture of authority people carry in church- planting along with extremely practical guidance on best practices in church-planting ministry.

To validate the book, it is important to begin with the author’s credentials—Sinclair is well-qualified to write on this subject. He and his family have spent decades overseas in parts of the world where  the  unreached live. His ministry has involved not only participating in church-planting in these locations, but also supervising scores of teams all over the Muslim world. His methods are tried, and not simply written from an armchair. When it comes to biblical study, I know personally that Sinclair prioritizes at least one hour of personal biblical study every single week of the year, creating a strong biblical foundation for the ministry in which he participates. He devours Scripture.

The book itself begins with a scriptural background to the concept of apostleship. Sinclair sincerely believes that specific individuals are called to ministry. However, he does not make hard and fast pronouncements about who those people might be, recognizing that you can sometimes get it wrong when trying to identify who exactly apostles are today. Yet it is clear for him that God has given ministry gifts to people for the purposes of evangelizing and planting churches in places where the gospel has not yet rooted. Sinclair intersperses his biblical basis for ministry with anecdotal illustrations  of those living out these principles, demonstrating the work in action. This is where Sinclair’s concentrated value lies, as, for years he has observed, interacted and supervised literally hundreds of individuals putting these principles into practice.

Sinclair goes on from his scriptural basis on apostleship with a brief argument for the value in “counting” in one’s ministry, followed by a specific thorny issue in ministry with Muslims—baptism. But the real meat of Sinclair’s work follows in his weightier fourth and fifth chapters. He spends considerable time presenting the concepts of Disciple Making Movements (DMM). In recent years, much methodology of ministry among Muslims has focused on movements. Sinclair clearly lays out what these principles are and what they mean practically for day- to-day ministry. To make sure readers are not ashamed of their ignorance of the basics of these concepts, he has entitled the chapter “DMM for Dummies.” He goes so far as to describe what a series of discovery Bible studies might look like in real life. As is clear, Sinclair wants his ideas to be practical and applicable to those involved in ministry to the unreached.

His final chapter might come as a surprise to many,    but I believe that Sinclair has concluded that many practitioners get bogged down in ministry for lack of organization and scheduling. He spends considerable time outlining the practicalities of creating a personal schedule, one that is  reasonable  considering  all  of  the demands that an expatriate individual might face when trying to juggle too many  commitments.  His  eye is clearly on the goal of sharing the gospel, and Sinclair wants his disciples not to lose the forest for the trees. Living the overseas life of ministry is filled with demands, especially for those who are goal oriented. Sinclair wants to help these individuals live out their calling without burning out, by making tough decisions about how to spend their time. His chapter gives very practical advice, even giving sample drafts of schedules of individuals wrestling with these issues.

There are several positive reasons to recommend Sinclair’s book—the use of clear language, compelling arguments, practical examples, supporting resources, respect for local cultures and a strong desire to get local believers involved in finding the best way forward for the gospel in their culture. Note, however, that Sinclair’s methodology will likely appeal to a particular type of movement-minded, church-planting individual: one whose personality tends toward analytical and systems thinking. It may be a challenging read for others, whose spiritual giftings focus on compassion combined with developing deep personal relationships. Those who live a more cerebral, task-oriented and scheduled lifestyle will appreciate Sinclair’s wisdom. Yet everyone involved in ministry among the unreached will likely find value in his ideas. He has also priced his work to be accessible to anyone. You’d pay more for one hour of coaching than purchasing his book, which has a wealth of experience and observation behind it. If you are involved in ministry among the unreached, Sinclair’s reflections are well worth your investment of time and money.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

It is Said That the Only Constant in Life is Change

It is Said That the Only Constant in Life is Change
Things are changing all around us every day with increasing speed. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. But in all cases, we are forced to adapt to the new realities that change brings. Some people adapt easily to change, and others do not. For 45 years now, Frontier Ventures has proclaimed the biblical mandate to reach all peoples with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but the realities on the mission field are changing. That is what this issue is all about. How does the promise of God to Abraham in Gen.12:3 to bless all the families of the earth through him match up with the tectonic shifts now taking place in the world today? Is that promise still valid in a rapidly changing world? Many of the forces impacting us today such as technology, globalization, migration, urbanization and  rapid  communication and travel are also impacting the unreached peoples, reshaping their relationships, communities and self-identity. The impact of these changes in terms of mission strategy is like sticking the peoples of the world, their cultures, languages and traditions in a blender and then trying to figure out where to start in reaching them. It is a significant challenge for the Church going forward, but a few simple principles can help us make sense of it all.

Change is Nothing New

The fact is, ever since the promise came to Abraham to bless all peoples, the tribes, clans, families, peoples and nations of the earth have experienced continual change. The problem in our day is that the rate of change is growing exponentially, making it difficult to cope with a rapidly changing people  group picture. Tracking these changes becomes a real data challenge for ministries like Joshua Project.

You Just Have to Be There

As good as Joshua Project is, and they are very good indeed at what they do, there is no way to perfectly understand the massive changes  happening  on  the ground within thousands of peoples without intensive study of the situation on site in each people by capable workers. The wonderful data that Joshua Project provides is a great place to start for any workers seeking to reach a particular people. But once onsite, the mission workers learn what is really going on and develop the creative strategies required for the situation. And that info needs to get back to Joshua Project more consistently so others can learn from the information gathered onsite.
The concept of people groups says that the gospel will spread naturally from person to person within a people group until it meets barriers of understanding and acceptance. Ralph Winter often said that you won’t know how many Church Planting Movements are required until you get to the mission field and figure out where the boundaries of each people group are. When you run up against those boundaries you need a new effort to get the gospel into a new people group. With the global forces now impacting each unreached people in a  myriad of ways, being onsite is even more necessary to understand where the barriers to understanding and acceptance are.

Let the People Be Your Guide

When you get to an unreached people your first step is to figure out what is going on. Initially, the intricacies of the various relationships will be a mystery, but finding the Persons of Peace will be the key to understanding and reaching any people group. If you work through a Person of  Peace, they will be your  guide  to  trusted  relationships in starting Discovery Groups. Yes, regardless of the complexities on the field the Disciple Making Movement approach is key to understanding and working with complex relational networks. As Discovery Groups are formed, you can train people to reach out to their own networks of relationships and the gospel will spread naturally along the lines of friends, family, clans, tribes, etc. Our job is to lead people to Jesus and equip them to reach their own. They can do a far better job of it than we can and they already know the complexities of their community relationships. When the gospel stops spreading, that is your clue that you have reached a boundary of a people and a new work is needed in a different people. The application of DMM principles will help us navigate the changing world of tribes, tongues, peoples and nations.

A New Address for Frontier Ventures

Please note on the contents page and back cover that the address for Frontier Ventures has changed. The old address of 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena CA 91104, will no longer be the headquarters for Frontier Ventures. This is a major change for us after 45 years. See the masthead at the bottom of the contents page for the latest contact information for address changes, new subscriptions etc.

Support the Work of Mission Frontiers

As is the case with most publications, Mission Frontiers cannot cover its costs from subscriptions alone. We need additional funds from those who believe in this ministry and are willing to sacrifice to help us move forward in casting vision for Kingdom Movements in all peoples. Like most of the people who work for Frontier Ventures, my salary is supplied by the donations of churches and friends who believe in what I am doing. And also like many staff members at Frontier Ventures, there are many months when not enough comes in to fully cov- er our allotted salary. To donate to my ministry with MF go to and click on the Donate button. Put MA 323 in the dialog box. If you would like to help MF cover its general expenses and expand its influence, go to the same web address, given above, click on the Donate button and put MA 030 in the dialog box. We greatly appreciate whatever you can do to help Mission Frontiers and Frontier Ventures continue its work to see Kingdom Movements emerge in all peoples.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

People Groups and the Bible

People Groups and the Bible

Sometimes we hear that people groups are a recent invention of social science. In the following article I answer this critique by showing that in fact, people groups are as old as Scripture itself.

Human Grouping in the Old Testament

The Old Testament portrays the people of the world with a diversity of terms that describe very large human groupings to relatively small sub-groups or segments of them. The largest human grouping would be humankind without distinction, as in Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man (םָדָא, adam) in Our image”1 and 6:5, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man (adam) was great on the earth.” In these cases, adam refers to “humankind, mankind, a class of being created by God without regard to sex, with a focus as a class of creature, distinct from animals, plants, or even spiritual beings.”2  Another example is in Genesis 11:1, “Now the whole earth (ץֶרֶא, eretz) used the same language and the same words.” This is an anthropomorphic use of eretz to refer to all humankind.

The next layer of human grouping found in the OT is the idea of nations or peoples. It is well known that יֹוּג (goy) and םַע (am) are the most common words for nations/peoples. In one dictionary they are defined similarly as “a people group sharing. a common ancestry and/or sociopolitical identity” with an addendum for am, “also used for groups of people smaller than a nation, such as the inhabitants of a city.” Note the phrase “people group” in the very definition and the variety of group size the word am covers. Goy indicates “a common sociopolitical identity that can be defined by ancestry, language, land, and government… as Israel’s national identity becomes more clear  in the OT the majority of the occurrences use some form of the plural to refer to the surrounding non-Israelite nations.”3 Thus goy can be applied to human groupings defined by a diversity of affinities/ boundaries (ancestry, language, land, government) and became synonymous with non-Israelite Gentiles. In the Septuagint, goy is usually translated as ἔθνος (ethnos), while am is generally used to denote God’s people Israel and is usually translated as λαός (laos).4

The fact that language was a major defining element of nations and peoples can be seen in Daniel. Seven times reference is made to “peoples (am), nations (הָּמֻא ummah) and men of every language (ןָּׁשִל lishan)” (3:4, 7, 29, 4:1, 5:19, 6:25, 7:14). It would seem fair, in a very general sense, to equate the modern term “ethnolinguistic” to this level of grouping, especially since the OT is full of specific examples of such, both small (Kenites, Kenizzites, Jebusites, etc. of Gen. 15:19-21) and large (Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians—Israel’s major enemies).

A third and smaller layer of human groupings can yet be found. In Genesis 12:3 we read, “And in you all the families (הָחָּפְׁשִמ mishpachah) of the earth will be blessed.” Although mishpachah has a wide range of meanings (people, kingdom, tribe, clan, family, group, genus, kind)5, the overwhelming majority of its occurrences in the OT are translated as “clans” (NIV, 253 of 296 occurrences) or “families” (NASB95, 289 of 303 occurrences).6 The word refers to “a family group larger than an individual household but smaller than an entire tribe.”7 Another example of such grouping is found in the account of Achan in Joshua 7:14-18, where God first chooses the tribes (טֶבֵׁש shebet), then the families (mishpachah), then the households (תיִַּב bayit), and finally Achan himself. The people of Israel in the Bible are thus presented in segmented groupings and the references to such (tribes, families, households) in the OT are numerous. A good example of these distinctions is found in the phrase “families (mishpachah) of the nations (goy)” in Psalm 22:27 and “families (mishpachah) of the peoples (am)” in Psalm 96:7.8 As early as Genesis 10:5, 20 and 31, the descendants of Noah’s sons are each described in terms of families (mishpachah), languages (lishan), lands (eretz) and nations (goy). In this case there is a mixture of terms representing smaller (mishpachah) and larger (lishan, eretz, goy) groups.9

Human Grouping in the New Testament

The NT contains a similar diversity of words to describe humanity. The top layer once again consists of humanity as a whole, such as John 1:26, ““Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (κόσμος kosmos)!”10 Also Luke 2:1, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth (οἰκουμένη oikoumene).” In both cases, the “world/ earth” is a reference to all the people in the world.

The next layer of human grouping can be seen in the use of ethnos, nation or people, which is the NT equivalent of goy. Importantly, “in the majority of NT occurrences . . . it appears in the plural and takes on a more technical sense that is usually translated ‘Gentile,’11 contrasting non-Jews with Jews.”12 These first two layers of human grouping can be seen in Matthew 24:14, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world (oikoumene) as a testimony to all the nations (ethnos), and then the end will come.” Another word of note is laos, in significant ways the NT equivalent of am. While the singular form normally refers to the Jewish people it is often used for non-Jews in the plural, as is the case in Rev. 5:9, 7:9, 11:9, 13:7 and 14:6, all of which refer, in differing order, to nations (ethnos), tribes (φυλή phyle), peoples (laos) and tongues/languages (γλῶσσα glossa).13 These phrases are used to describe the entire breadth of humanity in all its forms and varieties. The word phyle is used whenever the   NT   speaks   of    the    tribes    of    Israel.   In Revelation it takes on an eschatological sense and “means generally people (as an ethnic collective).”14 As for glossa, in addition to its basic meaning for the tongue, “it could denote a particular language (Acts 2:4) and could thus be used as a distinguishing mark of a people group (Rev 7:9).”15

The tribe, clan/families, household segments in the OT are not as clearly defined in the NT, not because they ceased to exist but because they simply were not as prominent in a nation subjugated under Roman rule. The tribe, clan or extended family was usually designated by πατριά (patria), as in Luke 2:4, “Joseph also went up from Galilee … because he was of the house and family (patria) of David.” Similarly, συγγενής (syngenes) is used to describe the idea of extended family relatives, “And behold, even your relative (syngenes) Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age” (Lk. 1:36). But the main social unit in the NT is the οἶκος (oikos), the house or household, an equivalent to the OT bayiṯ. In Acts 16:31, the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (oikos).” In Mark 6:4, these segments are put together, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives (syngenes) and in his own household (oikos).”

This table  (Table 1—not exhaustive) summarizes this overview of how human groups are described in the biblical record.

Biblical writers understood 1) the basic unity of all humankind, 2) human difference based on various and diverse affinities/boundaries that created separate nations/peoples (horizontal segmentation), and 3) segmentation within each nation/people based on kinship/lineage (vertical segmentation).  I believe the overview of Scripture above shows that people groups are an ancient phenomenon and were not introduced by people group proponents in the twentieth century.17 People are always seen as members of such a variety of groups that many terms are needed to fully explain the sub-sets and segments. The Bible highlights this “groupness” in its universal treatment of humanity. Biblical authors understood these human groupings in all their variety and complexity; a mosaic of nations/peoples, languages, tribes, clans and households. 

  1. 1 All verses of Scripture in NASB 1995 version.

  2. 2 JA Swanson (1997a) 132 I. םָדָא (ʾā·ḏām). A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Hebrew (Old Testament). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

  3. 3 M Minard (2014) Gentiles. The Lexham Theological Wordbook Mangum D, Brown DR, Klippenstein R, et al. (eds). Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press.

  4. 4 I note here other less common words used for non-Israelites, those outside the covenant YHWH made with Israel: יִרְכָנ (nokri) foreignness, רָז (zar) someone strange or foreign, לֵרָע (arel) uncircumcised, and רֵּג (ger) and בָׁשֹוּת (tosab) sojourner or alien (Minard, 2014).

  5. JA Swanson (1997b) 5476 הָחָּפְׁשִמ (miš·pā·ḥā(h)). A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Hebrew (Old Testament). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

  6. 6 Logos Bible Software 8.15 (n.d.) Bible Word Study: mishpachah. See especially the census of Israel in Numbers 26 (ex. v.7) and tribal land allotments in Joshua 13 (ex. v.15) and 15.

  7. 7 T Blair (2014) Family. The Lexham Theological Wordbook Mangum D, Brown DR, Klippenstein R, et al. (eds). Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press.

  8. 8 Psalm 96 possesses three levels of description for human groupings in the first seven verses: all the earth (eretz), nations (goy) and peoples (am), and families (mishpachah).

  9. 9 M Minard (2014) Gentiles.

  10. Also Rom 5:12–13; 1 Cor 1:27–28; 2 Cor 5:19.

  11. 11 Similar to the OT (see footnote 2), the  NT  employs  other less common words to describe the Gentile world: ἔθνικός (ethnikos) a pagan or heathen person; ἀκροβυστία (akrobystia) the uncircumcised; Ἓλλην (Hellen) of Greek descent or a non-Jew living in Graeco-Roman culture; σέβομαι (sebomai) devout non-Jew or God-fearer; προσήλυτος (proselytos) a proselyte or convert to Judaism; ξένος (xenos) a foreigner (Minard, 2014).

  12. 12 M Minard (2014) Gentiles.

  13. 13 Revelation is significantly dependent on Daniel, thus this grouping of words parallels that in Daniel referenced earlier.

  14. 14 H Paulsen (1990) φυλή, ῆς, ἡ phylē tribe, nation, people. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament Balz H and Schneider G (eds). Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

  15. 15 J Lookadoo (2014) Body. The Lexham Theological Wordbook Mangum D, Brown DR, Klippenstein R, et al. (eds). Bellingham, WA.: Lexham Press.

  16. 16 T Blair (2014) Family.

  17. 17 S Hawthorne (2020) A Biblical Understanding of People Groups. Evangelical Missions Quarterly 56(4).

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Unreached of the Day January-February 2022 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Unreached of the Day January-February 2022 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Use of Outside Funding In Multiplying Disciples and Churches

Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (48 months)

I was leading a meeting of about 30 local national church leaders from various different ethnic groups. I asked everyone, “What’s the biggest struggle you're facing?” One leader from the Hmong tribe stood up and said their biggest problem was that salaries had been cut and the ministry of the church was suffering. He explained that the national denomination office had been sending a salary subsidy each month (received from foreign donor sources) for the leaders of his local church.
“Thank you, teacher,” I replied. “Allow me to ask a few questions, to understand how the local church ministry is suffering. I know in your tribe you train up Theological Education by Extension (TEE) small group leaders each year. When the subsidies were coming, how many TEE small group leaders did you train up each year?”
He said, “Two or three new leaders each year.”
I continued, “In the year since the subsidy was  cut, how many TEE small group leaders have you trained.”
“We have trained two or three leaders.”
“Let me see if I understand correctly. You have trained the same number of leaders, with or without subsidy.”
“Yes,” he agreed.
My second question, “In the typical week when subsidies were given, how much was the weekly church offering?”
He answered an amount. Then I asked, “Since the subsidy was cut, what has been the typical weekly offering?” He said the offering had more than doubled!
“How can that be?” I asked.
He replied, “It’s very obvious why: because everyone realized that this church depended on the local members to make it work.” They showed their ownership of the church by giving.
“Teacher, please indulge me with one final question. How many people did you baptize each year while receiving the subsidies?”
He answered, “Typically one new baptism a year.”
“How many baptisms a year, since you cut the subsidy?” He explained that there were about 10 people baptized during that year. “Oh that’s wonderful! What accounts for this significant increase?”
“Oh,  that is very easy to explain. Before, when  we received the salary, the central denomination specified which villages we were to do outreach and then only in our local area. When the salaries weren’t being given, we could go wherever the Spirit of God led us. We could go visit our relatives and friend connections in other districts and they were much more open to us and the message of Christ.”
“So let me re-cap to see if I understand correctly. Since the salary was cut, you have been able to train the same number of small group leaders each year, double the offerings in your church and you are 10 times more effective in evangelism. Can you explain to me how the ministry of the church has suffered by not receiving salaries?”
This spontaneous interaction illustrates some ways the use of outside funding can undermine kingdom growth and hinder true generational disciple- making and church multiplication. Though it embarrassed the leader involved, it profoundly impacted many of those present.
Outside funding of local church leaders to carry out the normal operations of a local church undermined the connection between the local members and their local leadership. Outside funding reduced local giving as people did not see the need to give when easier-found money could be had.1  Local ownership of the church’s ministry life was reduced by the presence of outside donors. Not mentioned in that meeting was the additional fact that the pastoral support came with conditions and expectations on the denomination and the local church.
I have observed these and other negative dynamics caused by outside salaries at the local church level in dozens of churches around that country. No one pretends money has no role in ministry and the launching of many churches. However, the source of money and the way money is used will have a profound impact on what happens. Introducing outside funding to local churches for those churches to carry out their basic functions as a church will nearly always undermine movement.
Other movement catalysts around the world have reached similar conclusions, concerning some good ways and some bad ways to use outside money in catalyzing movements. David Hunt, based on his research and close connection to movements in Africa, points out that outside funding can easily introduce foreignness into a ministry. That, in turn, can undermine a movement and local ownership.
If the church receives support, either in the form of support for the local church planter   or pastor, … then the model of church carries  a foreign element. Foreign funding of church buildings has meant the community received something they could not produce all by themselves. For the church to replicate this in the next community, it must wait for additional support from outside.2
A second example comes from Wayne Allen’s doctoral research on the impact of subsidizing national church workers in Indonesia. He concluded that “the growth of the national church plateaued or halted when the mission  began  to  subsidize the national church workers.”3 This presents a  sober warning to all who are serious about the multiplication of churches.

Some uses of outside funds nearly always undermine the potential for a movement. These should be avoided:

  1. Salaries or salary subsidies for pastors or church leaders so they can carry out the basic functions of a local church (Acts 2:36-42). Such basic functions include but are not limited to evangelism, discipleship and regular worship services.
  2. Funding local church buildings, including constructing extensions to the homes of house church leaders to increase the meeting room size.
  3. Renting facilities for local churches to meet.
  4.  Sending church leaders for multiple years of residential Bible school or seminary in another region or another country. Most of those who do this have been trained out of their usefulness in the village pioneer work where they came from, and a large number never return to their unreached area to pioneer new works, but rather seek out paid church staff positions, for which their seminary training prepared them.
  5.  Activities which a local church has already funded themselves, but a donor wants to see done more quickly or more widely. We have found it much healthier to allow ministries to grow at a rate that local leaders can handle. Funding done to accelerate activities has resulted in short-term gains, but unfortunately, this establishes a pattern of thinking that things can only happen when an outside donor is driving things along.
  6.  These five funding activities have at times given a short-term boost, but in every case we know of, set down unreproducible patterns, undermined local churches’ ownership and responsibility, and created unsustainable patterns in the multiplication of disciples and churches. Put another way, the DNA of these funding efforts runs counter to real multiplication of disciples and churches.


Some uses of outside funds have consistently helped movements start or expand.

Based  on  interviews  with  movement  leaders and personal experience, here are some uses of outside funding that have proven to help catalyze movements:
1. Training  in the core paradigms and practices  of disciple and church multiplication. When funding multiplication training, always require a local contribution. For example, a local host church could provide housing and food, and participants could contribute food or funds. Movement leaders should be trained locally and on the job. Short term extension learning, which keeps movement practitioners in their context and actively engaged in ministry, has also proven helpful.
2. Travel money and some incidentals to  help area or regional community of practice groups meet on a regular basis for training input, problem solving and encouragement. The cross pollination at these sharpening times has consistently been a boost to seeing movements launch and expand.
3. Low-cost equipment such as small speakers used with SD cards, audio oral Bibles, and printed Scripture or Scripture portions.
4. Simple reproducible entry strategies to establish relationships in unreached areas or communities where there is no prior connection. Movements expand primarily along relational lines but will also need to discover access entry strategies into areas where there is no prior relationship. Connecting with communities in pioneer settings in order to share the gospel may require some funding. Care is needed not to create expensive or complex entry approaches which cannot be reproduced by others. Reproducible entry strategies are those that average local believers and simple churches can copy and utilize in many locations.
5. Disaster relief funds for specified activities and for a limited period of time. After a disaster such as famine, tsunami, earthquake, war, or epidemic, many needs and opportunities arise that can become very fruitful for finding Persons of Peace and establishing new groups and simple churches. Many movements report that the heroic efforts of their members, which were funded largely from local funds and  some outside funding, during the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to greater fruitfulness than in previous years.
6. Pioneer settings may present a need to place workers to catalyze movement. One fruitful approach has been one-time funding to send mature movement leaders and  their  families to establish business start-ups. These not only support the family but have generated profits to help establish other similar pioneer start-ups.
7. Projects that support catalyzing movement, but clearly lie beyond the skill level and/or finances of a local simple church or church network. Some examples would be Bible translation, producing media such as the Jesus film, or creating online media for  movements.  Effort  is  still  needed to foster initiative and ownership by any local churches that will benefit from such a project.
8. Financial subsidy and travel money for proven church multipliers, multiplication trainers and regional catalysts. These three roles are described in the “five levels of leadership” often seen in catalyzing movements. See Steve Addison4 and Nathan Shank’s5 writings which have developed these concepts. We have found outside funding helpful at these three levels. However, introducing funding for local people to do evangelism and gather a church in their local area (seed sowers and church-planters) has consistently been detrimental, as this article’s opening story illustrates.
9. From lessons learned in Bangladesh, Richard Reach6 shares that it is essential to establish a local committee for financial accountability when outside foreign funding is used. The outside liaison or donor needs to develop and maintain close personal relationships with those receiving funds, and to insist on accountability. Accountability needs to be adapted to the local cultural context rather than just exporting  strict Western standards of finance, lest the relationships involved derail.
Movements thrive when local disciples, by the power of the Holy Spirit, spontaneously take the gospel to family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. In order for the kingdom to expand through spontaneous initiative, an outside catalyst needs to allow space for local insiders to pursue God’s mission. Spontaneous multiplication of disciples happens best through the abilities and financial resources of the local church and believers. For that reason, we need to seriously avoid uses of outside funding which undermine potential for a movement, and limit funding to uses which have shown potential to help a movement start or expand.

For further reading:

Corbett, Steve, and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012.
Reach, Richard. Movements that Move: Seven Root Principles Driving Movements. St Charles, IL: Church Smart Resources, 2016.
Lupton, Robert D. Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, And How to Reverse It. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2012.
Saint, Steve. The Great Omission: Fulfilling Christ’s Commission Completely. Edmonds, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2001. See chapter 7: “Money Matters More than You Know.”
Schwartz, Glenn. When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement. Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2007.
  1. Stout, Ken (2008). MA Thesis: Fostering Sustainability & Minimizing Dependency in Mission Finances. 1-2.

  2. 2 Hunt, David F. (2009). Doctoral dissertation: A Revolution in Church Multiplication in East Africa: Transformational Leaders Develop a Self-Sustainable Model of Rapid Church Multiplication. 114

  3. 3 Allen, Wayne. “When the Mission Pays the Pastor.” Mission Frontiers, January-February1999.

  4. 4 Addison, Steve. Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies Disciples and Churches. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2015

  5. 5 Shank, Nathan. “5 Levels of Movement Leadership” Mission Frontiers, March-April 2016. 25-27

  6. 6 Personal interview, January 2016

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Can You Make Disciples Without Accountability?

Can You Make Disciples Without Accountability?
""My job is to honestly preach the Word, not to hold people accountable," said the slightly defensive Christian leader to my friend. It is a common perception among us pastors. A hands-off approach lets us off the hook. We say things like; "I will do my part, God will do His." Or "Everyone has free will. Our job is to give them the gospel (information), they choose what they want to do with it."

There is truth to these statements. Where we go wrong is when we label the above as discipleship. Is the idea of “live and let live,” a biblical approach to discipleship? Is a “you do you” worldview taking precedence over living and ministering like Jesus?

It’s not easy to hold people accountable for obeying Jesus’ words. Rather than hearing, knowing, and being able to say the right Christian things, God calls us to be doers of His Word (James 1:22).

I sometimes struggle to be accountable, even to myself. I set goals that are quickly thrown out. New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by the second or third week of January. If we can’t hold ourselves accountable, how can we hold others accountable for obedience? There are no easy, pat answers.

Friendly Accountability

I choose to use the term “friendly accountability.” Our efforts to call to obedience must not be heavy- handed. Disciple-making should be friendly and based on relationships of love and safety. This friendly accountability, however, is critical to seeing a movement grow deep and fast. It is biblical. It was how Jesus made disciples. Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Engaging Crowds vs. Making Disciples

When Jesus taught the crowds He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Our Lord didn’t preach many sermons. When He did, it was up to those who heard Him to decide if they wanted to put those things into practice. The same was true when He told short stories or parables. People chose to follow and learn more…or not.

When engaging a crowd, it's’ tough to provide accountability. If you are preaching to 3,000 it is humanly impossible to know how they are applying your messages. This has never been more true. Many Christians are listening and learning through podcasts, online services or sitting in a large auditorium listening to a professional preacher. This is becoming not only Western but a global trend. We need to be careful not to mistake what is happening in those contexts for discipleship.

Teaching and preaching are not the same as disciple- making. They can be a part of the big picture of a person’s spiritual growth, no doubt. They do not replace the vital task of making disciples. Without disciple- making, we cannot fulfill the Great Commission. And without accountability, disciples will not be made. Disciple-making requires deep, close-up relationships of trust, vulnerability, and safety.

Where Did Jesus Invest Most of His Time?

Pastoral ministry today focuses on preparing a weekly 30-40 minute highly professional, polished speech. If you get that right, you’ll draw crowds. Oh, and don’t forget: you also need to know how to manage social media, create a platform and hire a top-notch worship leader who can pull together a quality band. As lead pastor you manage all of this, much like the CEO of a company does.

This is not necessarily the way we aspire to do ministry. At times it feels as if we have little or no choice. If we don’t do this, how will we fill the pews and get people to pay their tithes and offerings? It seems to be what people want and expect. Is there a different way?
Even as we supposedly pursue Disciple Making Movements, these pressures and mindsets easily slip in. We must look to Jesus and how He worked. Where did He invest time? Was it in running programs, managing staff, creating His persona and platform, and fine-tuning the delivery of His speeches?

Jesus invested the majority of His time in two things: interacting with lost people and training His disciples. I wonder why we don't follow His example.

Train Them To Do What You

The topic of this article is friendly accountability in disciple-making, so we won’t look too much more here at how Jesus interacted with the lost. Suffice it to say that He did. He spent much time with them. Most of His miracles, parables and ministry were focused on reaching lost people. He went out among them, walked with them, visited them in homes, met them in the marketplace and called them to follow Him.

After they started following Him, what did He do? He trained them to do what He did. Jesus invested in deep relationships, long conversations, and  took His disciples with Him to watch, learn and participate in what He was doing.

How often do we bring someone along with us? Because much of our “ministry” is writing emails, creating sermons and doing administration, it’s not that easy to “bring someone along.” If we want to make disciples, we need to change what we put our focus on. We must find ways to develop and mentor, to let others watch, then assist us. Then we can send them to go and do on their own, reporting back.

Model For Training Disciple-Makers

In Luke chapters 9 and 10, Jesus sent out the disciples to the surrounding villages. They were to go ahead of Him to prepare the way. They were to look for Persons of Peace and to heal the sick and cast out demons. Afterward, they were to return to Him and give a report. In doing this, Jesus provided a model for us of how to train disciple-makers.

Jesus first showed them how to do these things. The twelve followed Him, watching Him heal the sick and cast out demons. They saw Him minister peace and hope to those He met.

The time came when they needed to stop watching and start doing it themselves. Jesus then sent them out.

At what point do we send people out? Let it be sooner, rather than later. We wait far too long to invite people to go and do. If obedience-based disciple-making is our practice, it involves much sending. We train a little and send a lot.

Disciple-Making Approaches Multiply Trainees

After the disciples returned and reported back, they were sent out again  in  greater  numbers.  One would assume that some of those who went  in Luke 10 (the 72) had come to follow Christ as a result of what had happened in Luke 9. Take note. The multiplication of committed disciples is taking place, not only of crowds.

Jesus calls them to deny themselves (Luke 9:23-26 and 57-62) to a higher level of accountability to proclaim the kingdom to others.

Five Problems With Our Current Discipleship Model

1. We are afraid to call people to become disciples.

Jesus wasn’t. He boldly confronted the casual follower who proclaimed allegiance. “I will follow you wherever you go,” they said. Jesus answered by making clear the cost involved in becoming His disciple.

Our Lord didn’t try to make it easy. He wanted potential disciples to count  the  cost.  Our  focus so often is on church attendance. It is the metric used to measure success. When we use that as our standard, what people do with what they hear is not our concern. This must change. Jesus’ kingdom is not made up of church adherents or Instagram followers. It is built on committed disciples of Christ who walk in obedience to His commands and are consistently growing in their allegiance to Him.

If we call people to be accountable, to actually “put into practice” what Jesus taught, some may leave. They might not like us or come to our church anymore. This is a risk we must be willing to take to obey Christ’s command to make disciples of all

2. The church-building-based model lends itself to walk-in, walk-out Christianity.

In pre-covid days, mega-churches provided the perfect place for a casual Christian to feel comfortable. You could go to church, park in the parking lot, slip in, sit in the back few rows of a darkened auditorium, slip out, and go for lunch. You barely needed to do more than greet the greeters at the door.

Post-covid (can we even say that yet?), it’s even worse. Online sermons suffice. You can even skip the worship if you want and go straight to the message (or vice-versa). I’m not accusing, just stating the facts about our current situation.

In our “new normal” where does  disciple-making happen? We walk in and do our weekly Christian duty,  and walk out emotionally stirred  or entertained, but with no accountability to apply what we have heard. Sadly, this model, so common in the West, has been exported across the globe. It is having devastating effects on discipleship. We must rethink our models if we want to see movements multiply. Resist the influence of the models around you and look to Christ’s example.

3. We don't make time to model ministry and train disciples.

Seminary and Bible college training has been focused on knowledge more than ministry skills— including disciple-making. If you know the right thing you will be able to do the right thing, we assume. It's not so. Again, this model of training ministers has influenced Christianity worldwide.

Jesus trained His disciples up close and personal. They walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, and joined Him in healing the sick, casting out demons and proclaiming God’s kingdom to the lost.

Christian clergy, myself at times included, are too busy with ministerial duties to train disciples this way. We settle for something less…the transfer of knowledge. How do we change?

Is there a young person you could invite to walk, talk, eat and do ministry by your side? A new believer you could show how to share their testimony with a person at the gas station? Then perhaps you could ask them to go share with the next person they meet while you watch, pray and encourage? Let’s get out of the classroom transfer of knowledge and train disciples to obey Christ.

Are there times when you would normally teach, that you could instead practice ministry skills with those you are training? Or perhaps open the door for others to teach part of the lesson/message rather than being the “sage on the stage” all the time?

Those who see Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) are those who learn to train, not only teach, their disciples.

4. The emphasis is not on the priesthood of all believers, nor our responsibility to train all to minister.

This cannot be overstated or too often repeated. We must train all to reach all. Every Jesus follower must grow in confidence and competence in disciple- making. Why? Because Jesus’ command is for all who follow His way. It's not only for us as ordained clergy.
We get stuck in an Old Testament pattern of operating. The clergy/laity divide is almost as strong today as the separation between  Levites and ordinary Jews was in the Old Testament. Jesus came to change that, to establish a New Covenant. Let’s embrace and operate  in  a  New Testament  understanding of the priesthood of all believers. That means we have a responsibility to pass on what we know to others, to develop and make room for the practice and exercise of their spiritual gifts.

In DMMs, every believer is given opportunity and responsibility. Because groups and churches meet in homes or shops these groups are small. Everyone gets a chance to talk, to pray, to interact with Scripture. They exercise their spiritual gifts and are constantly stretched to trust God to release those gifts to them.

5. Friendly accountability is essential, but how do we get there?

Turning the tide is difficult. Our Christian culture is strongly established. We have trained people to sit in pews, to be entertained rather than teaching them to obey. Because we don’t expect application from those we teach, we don't get it. Seriously, when you preach a sermon, what percentage do you expect to even remember it a week later? Let alone apply it and pass it on to others? It may be difficult, but we have to start somewhere. The ship has to turn.

Suggestions for Turning Our Discipleship Model Around

Following are a few ideas for how we could begin to turn what we have called discipleship into effective, multiplicative disciple-making.

A. Find two new believers or young people and commit to spending time with them regularly.

Look for ways to invite them into your life and home. Open doors for them to minister beside  you. Take them along when you visit a neighbor or relative’s house. Let them watch you start a spiritual conversation or initiate prayer for someone who is sick. Show them how to do the work of the ministry, rather than just teaching them more about it.

B. Teach, preach and train with accountability.

I am blessed to be from a wonderful church in Minnesota. Our pastor uses the phrase “Now what?” with each message. There is a built-in application. I love this! The only thing missing is the accountability loop.

The following week, before starting into a new topic, we’d see more obedience if we started by sharing with our neighbor what we did with last week’s “Now what?” Then, if only a handful had applied it, maybe the message should be repeated rather than going on with more head knowledge that hasn’t been put into practice. That would be discipleship, not just preaching.

C. Develop places for safety and experimentation in ministry.

Cultivate small group life and community in your church or DMM. Train group leaders to share their struggles in vulnerability and humility. Model this yourself. Find a way to make it safe to be authentic, while also upholding a culture of accountability to obedience.

In disciple-making groups, be they DBS or T4T style groups, everyone is heard and everyone learns together. These groups only work well if there is safety. Accountability to applying and sharing the story or passage must be there, but it has to feel safe to say, "I didn’t share with anyone this week.” This can be tricky.

One of the best ways to do this is to be accountable as the leader. When  you  fail, be honest about  it, and ask for prayer to go do better next week. Demonstrate that you are obeying, sharing, and being transformed by God’s Word. As you do this, others will follow. We started this article with the question. Can you make disciples without accountability? I hope you found an answer. Answers are not what we need, however. We need to go and do things differently.

What is one key thing you can do this week to increase the level of friendly accountability in the way you make disciples?

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Understanding Our Time

Understanding Our Time

As I noted in the last issue of MF, we are each a product of a mixture of influences. The answer to the age-old question “was it nurture or environment” is: yes – both. And lots of other things come to mind when we consider what environment means for us. In this issue, I’d like to apply the idea to how we strategize for mission.

When we, as believers, seek to reach others who don’t know Him yet, our underlying values come through strongly. They have impacted who we are, how we think and they feed our vision and strategy.

We are all exposed to leaders as models – good and bad. Some are held up in each culture as those who can be admired as good examples – though not perfect of course. People like Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple), or those of a previous generation like George Patton (WW2 General), or Lee Iacocca (CEO of Ford and later Chrysler) are just a few examples. These were no nonsense visionaries, strategists and/or managers who pushed hard through barriers of different kinds to accomplish their goals. Phrases like “Damn the torpedoes,” or “So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don’t sit there,” or “Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do.”

These kinds of leaders and the way they lead impact the cultures that lift them up as examples. So we should not be surprised that some in the western mission world cast vision like a western CEO. We are told that leaders must have a simple, clear, oft-repeated vision, not to mention a focused branding! When it gets down to a local or even national missions event, it can be expressed in phrases such as: “we can do this” … “get ‘er done” … “the task can be completed” … and there is truth in those ideas.

Almost 40 years ago, when I first joined the staff of the U.S. Center for World Mission (now Frontier Ventures), we began to shift how we talked about our vision. Before, we talked about a massive task, using an illustration of a huge iceberg – where the task was represented by the 2/3 of the ice that is under water – we can’t see it fully. In the 80s we popularized the phrase “Church for every people by the year 2,000.” While there is truth in the idea that we can’t see or understand the task clearly still, as we saw more of what God was doing around the world, we began to be more positive. There were books published such as On the Crest of the Wave or  Catch the Vision 2,000. Even as we reconsidered our approach in those early days, we did not know about the massive growth of the House Church movement in China, for example.

As we grow in our understanding of God, His Word and the work of the Spirit, we must:

  1. See our own blind spots.
  2. Reflect on how that impacts how we think, and act in relation to the world.

As I reflect, I realize there were events in my own nation which are not part of my “education.” Our treatment of the 1st Nation’s Peoples was a form of colonialism within our boarders. It was real right here, and, as with other aspects of our background, it has shaped our mentality. We are forced to consider how Jesus approached life, leadership and the powers of His day. He demonstrated love and humility, which flowed in and through His life as He served and appropriately challenged the systems of His day. I find it interesting, that it was the serious religious people for whom He reserved His greatest criticism.

But even if we approach people like Jesus, we must consider that those we are serving expect people from the West to be like everyone else in the West – whatever their stereotype is. Often, that includes a colonial past and a sense that while we are no longer trying to colonize the countries of world, we are still seen as those who come to bring a foreign religion. We know that biblical faith is not Western, but they may not.

As we strategize to reach least reached peoples, we must consider what the people sitting with us think. I’m glad to say that I see evidence of this in an increasing number of global workers today. We come with a mentality of coming alongside as witnesses of what has happened in our lives because of Jesus.

I hope we’ve learned lessons from the lessons we need to unlearn. 

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Lifting, Pushing, Squeezing and Blending The Dynamics of Ethnicity and Globalization

Lifting, Pushing, Squeezing and Blending The Dynamics of Ethnicity and Globalization

An emphasis on “people groups” has become a common way to map our mission to the world. It was not always so. When Donald McGavran emerged from caste-ridden India in the 1960s, evangelicals were confronted anew with the strategic role of social and cultural boundaries in world evangelization. The persistent individualism at the core of our Western gospel made many nervous at the idea that large, ethnically homogenous peoples could move so quickly and powerfully towards the gospel. The idea of group conversion remained suspect. Then, in 1974, when Ralph Winter used this controversial idea to map a new demography of “unreached” peoples, the idea of “people groups” began to find its place in mission vernacular.

But the concept of people groups has always met with “friendly fire” from missionaries and mission anthropologists who have served among these unreached peoples. Their profound critiques call us to reassess whether the social and cultural boundaries that define people groups will persist in today’s shrinking world. The recent publication of Paul Hiebert’s last two books provides one of the most comprehensive frameworks for this reassessment.1 His rich, eclectic and nuanced anthropology probes the way modern social processes impact the distinctive boundaries of peoples across the world. And “people group” thinking is maturing as it absorbs these modern trends.

This topic reminds me of a conversation I had on the edge of the Sahara Desert. I rode with the son of a 90-year-old camel driver who had led caravans 11 times across the Sahara to Timbouctou. This son was raised with the same set of skills, but he had learned English amidst the burgeoning tourist industry, and he had recently married a European tourist.  He was on his way to Europe, where she awaited. I happened to mention that I had made friends with some from his “Berougi” (people from the desert) years earlier when I worked in a city adjacent to his region. He immediately seemed uncomfortable and corrected my use of this ethnic term “Berougi.” His people were not just from the desert, but they were exclusively from a prestigious lineage in the desert. He and the “Berougi” were very reluctant to visit these cities where I had worked because of all the prejudice they had experienced there. Forced by the crisis of drought to leave their desert trade, it was easier for them (and for him) to access another part of the globe than to contend with a cultural firewall a few hundred miles away.

This young man represents the massive migrations and  dispersions  of  peoples  across  the  world.  In the “push and pull” of this young man’s story, I notice the interface of two social realities: ethnicity and globalization. The mixture of these two contested concepts is a new focus of many mission anthropologists, for together they seem to provide a new way to exegete the complex field of relations in and around people groups. Ethnicity refers to culture, a peoples’ corporate sense of tradition, of shared value, belief and habit. Globalization, on the other hand, addresses the context of global change, and one’s sense of place in  the  flow  of  it  all.  The convergence leads to the new “glocal” reality, and I could see it in this young camel driver’s story. He carried both an ethnic identity with his people and a new relational link to a globalized world.

Everybody’s trying to get their arms around this idea of globalization. Thomas Friedman calls it that “inexorable integration of markets, nation- states and technologies” that enables us “to reach around the world farther, faster, and cheaper than ever before.”2 It flattens our world. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek suggests it’s a “Post-American World,” where the processes historically identified with “the rise of the West” now include “the rise of the Rest.”3

The original Western carriers of education, media and technology have been decentralized into initiatives from other parts of the globe. Whatever the definition, globalization gives us a sense that modernity has shifted into overdrive.

So, do the ethnic boundaries of people groups persist, or does globalization rupture and flatten people groups into another social reality? I’d like to exegete four processes or effects of globalization on peoples of the world. They’re  tossed around  by social scientists, but we see them all the time. They can be highly theoretical, so let me begin with another snapshot.

I can recall my initial idea of the Muslim people group I entered years ago: tribal, noble, a corporate sense of destiny and a coherent sense of religious tradition. My mental map held for a few weeks before adjustments began. I was rummaging through the old marketplace one day  when I came across an ancient-looking gateway. Over the threshold it said, “Dior Shyukh” (the Houses of the Sheikhs). I discovered that 60 years earlier this had been the seat of government for the entire tribal confederation. Now it was run-down, forgotten and not even a tourist stop. My wife would tell me that all the women at the public bath knew where judgment was now handed down. They would gossip the latest intrigues from across that mountain town, and inevitably it all fastened on either the new courthouse or city hall. Modern institutions had grafted themselves onto  this “people group.” What initially seemed culturally solid, bounded and corporate was actually looser, fragmented and conflicted.


First, there is a hint here of what Anthony Giddens calls the “lifting out” of local relations.4 The global reach of modern systems is pervasive; these systems begin to subtly redirect the trust persons have traditionally placed in local face-to-face commitments. Making a call on a cell phone, getting water from the kitchen sink or going to the bank are all actions which imply a realignment of trust towards modern, global systems. Consequently, trust in traditional relations slowly surrenders its grip to faceless and anonymous global systems. One is gradually lifted out of what was once a more inclusive sense of people group.


Second, there’s the “push down” effect.5 Globalization doesn’t just pull you up and out, it presses down and creates new demand for ethnic autonomy. It makes the boundaries of people groups become more salient. This downward pressure has been a major catalyst in the astounding revival of local ethnic identities in recent decades (which really surprised mainline social science). When the lid comes off, as it did in Yugoslavia with the collapse of the Soviet Union, it exposes the reality of this “push down” effect. The nature of the ethnic explosion between Serbian, Croat and Bosnian Muslim is manifest in similar ways across a swath of nations in recent decades.
I could see this downward pressure in the Kurdish region I visited. Here’s an entire region of displaced Muslims who had to flee the genocidal onslaught of Saddam Hussein. A “no-fly zone” granted them security, and they had come out of the hills to reestablish their worlds. Amidst the displacement and fragmentations, there was a resurgence of ethnic identity. Boom-town cities were expanding, with new high-rise buildings everywhere. I noted that one tribal group of 20,000 had relocated and settled together in a suburban area, keeping intact their sense of tribal identity and traditional tribal leadership after 25 years of exile. Their ethnic autonomy isn’t melting down.


Third, globalization can “squeeze sideways.” Amidst the pressure of global systems, a single meaningful aspect of a peoples’ identity can move laterally and link itself with others who share the same aspect. Economists note this in new economic zones, but by far the most vital aspect of identity that squeezes sideways is religious. The religious core of ethnicity intensifies and moves sideways, galvanizing large religious association. We’ve seen how the recent radical “Islamic jihad” forges together Muslims from all over the globe. What fuels this? It could be that abstract and impersonal global systems fail to provide the psychological reward that comes with personal face-to-face ties. Religion becomes the means by which people “re-imbed” themselves in meaningful relations. We see the markers of this broad ethno-religious identity almost everywhere.
How else can one explain the teenage Muslim girl at our local high school whose head is fully covered, but who wears a halter-top and tight cut-off shorts and who hums to the cadence of a heavy metal Middle Eastern tune on her iPod?


All these effects contribute to a fourth, “blending” effect, what social scientists call “hybridity”, or “hybridities” since we see it in many forms and combinations.6  In mission circles this subject of hybridity began with the observation that large people movements for Christ happened in rural settings, not in urban settings. In the city the inclusive categories of family, clan, and tribe were more complicated as people joined, attended or aligned themselves with modern institutions and associations. The religion and culture of people groups is intersected by new educational and vocational affiliations. And it’s in the urban environment that people feel the hyper- effects of global “lifting out,” “pushing down” and “squeezing sideways.” Ethnicity doesn’t necessarily disappear, it just gets compartmentalized as people construct their identities.

So what are we to conclude? Do these effects add up to anything we can calculate or map out? I’m not the one to prognosticate, so I won’t. But on the field, I have found that understanding these processes and effects helps me to better understand the intentions and reactions of Muslim peoples among whom I’ve served. So allow me to venture just three modest observations.

First, I think we can expect that ethnicity will have a new intensity in light of globalization. It will hold, but among many peoples it will hold differently. Ethnicity will be held more deliberately, more defensively, even more defiantly. In the congestion and pressure of globalization, peoples will continue to construct their social boundaries, but  even  more so. The forces of globalization may continue to be successful in assimilating traditional worlds to modern life. But we should anticipate a kick- back effect, where people recreate a lost ethnicity in reaction to the psychological homelessness of modern life?

Second, I concur with Robert Priest that it’s not a time to relax our anthropological analyses. On the contrary, more sophisticated tools are needed to inform mission practice.7

Third, let’s remember that our motive for sifting and sorting mankind is to honor and obey the God who created every people, “who determined the times set for them, and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26,27).

  1. 1 Paul Hiebert, The Gospel in Human Contexts, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2009.

  2. 2 Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, N.Y., 2005.

  3. 3 Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World, W.W.Norton, N.Y., 2008.

  4. 4 Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity, Blackwell, U.K. 1990, p. 21.

  5. Anthony Giddens, Runaway World, Routledge, N.Y., 2009, p. 13.

  6. Ted C. Lewellen, The Anthropology of Globalization, Bergin & Garvey, 2002, p. 98.

  7. Brian Howell and Edwin Zehner, Power and Identity in the Global Church, William Carey Library, 2009, p.185.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Reimagining & Re-envisioning People Groups

Reimagining & Re-envisioning People Groups
In the sweeping narrative of Scripture, the focus of God’s self-disclosure is the peoples of the world. The biblical image of “the people of God” makes sense only against the background of a tempestuous mix of other “peoples,” from which God selects one “holy nation” (Israel)—“you above all peoples” (Deuteronomy 10:15).1  His ultimate purpose, however, is to dwell among a people from “all the families of the nations” (Psalm 22:27; 96:7; Revelation 7:9). “For once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” (1 Peter 2:10). From the standpoint of creation, redemption and eternity, a world full of “peoples” reflects God’s beauty, creativity, and love.

Rethinking people groups does not mean eliminating the concept but reimagining and re-envisioning it in light of twenty-first century realities. The essence of my discussion here is reflexive, consciously acknowledging our assumptions and preconceptions. It is also corrective, addressed not to critics but to those of us who embrace and advocate UPG missiology. In this article, I explore ways to reimagine people groups through an upgraded understanding  of  the  concept  itself  and  suggest steps to re-envision the UPG approach in order to maximize efforts to reach all peoples.2

Understanding “People Groups”

However, nuanced in the minds of mission scholars, popularly and in practice, “unreached people groups” are primarily “ethno-linguistic” in nature. Criteria related  to ethnicity and language dominate.3 This is reflected  in databases where a “people group” is defined as “an ethno-linguistic group with a common self-identity that is shared by the various members.”4

The shorthand definition has advantages. It is easily communicated and marketed. “Peoples” as “ethnic groups” can be named, profiled, objectified, enumerated, and portrayed in pictures, videos and media. Another advantage is the appearance  of  an  uncomplicated  “this equals that” correspondence with  Scripture:  every identifiable ethnic people and language today5 is represented in the eschatological multitude (Revelation 7:9; 5:9). This is highly motivational.

One obvious problem, recognized by Ralph Winter, is that from the beginning, the “people group” concept was intended to include “socio-peoples”—groups formed on the basis of other affinities like “shared interest, activity, or occupation.6 Can we really envision these “shared interest” groups in the heavenly throng? While this is evangelistically pragmatic, I suggest it is an interpretive leap, and thus an imaginative mandate.

While ethno-linguistic groups provide a helpful baseline, we need to look at the challenge of reimagining “ethnicity,” “ethnic groups” and “ethnic  identity”  in light of more recent thinking. Given the primary UPG orientation toward “ethno-linguistic,” that is the focus of this discussion.7 Historically within the social sciences, understandings of ethnicity can be summarized into three general categories: primordialist,instrumentalist and constructivist.


In this view, ethnicity is understood as having a real, tangible foundation, based either on kinship and sociobiological factors, or on shared cultural traits, practices, and history. We could say that, for the former, ethnicity is “in the heart” or “in the blood,” and for the second, ethnicity is “in the cultural stuff”—distinctive “traits” or “surface markers” of identity (language, dress, food, etc.). The “in the heart” or “in the blood” approach is commonly emic, i.e. how peoples see themselves. Ethnic groups are viewed as “quasi-kinship” or “extended kin” groups.8

Historically viewed as primordial and fixed, ethnic groups were objectified, documented, and categorized (e.g., “martial races”). Elements of their heritage and culture (including material culture) were institutionalized, sometimes immortalized, in books, journals, ethnographies, histories, memoirs, short stories, movies, and museums.9


Fredrik Barth’s seminal work Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (1969) marked a turning point and “shift from a static to interactional approaches to ethnicity.”10 Barth “abandons the notion that cultures are clearly bounded, separated and homogeneous units.”11 The focus is not on cultural traits, but on dynamic interactions, ways people embrace, constrain, act on and experience ethnicity, and “imagine the ethnic community.” Individuals choose and change their ethnic identity, particularly at the boundaries between groups.

In this view, ethnicity functions as a tool, an aspect of the way people organize themselves depending on social circumstances.12 Individuals and groups are actors, versus merely passive recipients of “culture” or heritage. They use cultural resources to pursue personal or communal advantage in particular settings and contexts. This focus reveals that “ethnic groups and their features are produced under particular interactional, historical, economic and political circumstances; they are highly situational, not primordial.”13


Barth’s work led to greater emphasis on the contextual and situational processes of ethnic identity. Ethnicity can be mobilized contextually and situationally, “in the contexts of different ‘levels’ and ‘contextual horizons.’ ”14 Identities are reconstituted, negotiated and contested in a dynamic process of self-other interaction.

Both the instrumentalist and constructivist approaches reflect a post-modern view of culture. Identities are socially constructed, not fixed but changeable (within certain constraints).15  Individuals maintain multiple identities and use ethnicity as a set of “diacritic” or “distinguishing markers” and tools for social engagement.

It is fairly obvious that Christian websites, mission agencies and literature tend to display an unquestioned reliance on the primordialist (“in the blood” and “in   the stuff ”) view of ethnicity, ethnic groups and identity. “People profiles” have become a kind of literary sub- genre!16   Unfortunately, among other problems this static approach too often rests on little or no contemporary ethnographic confirmation.

Mission thought leaders tried to account for complexity (e.g., sociopeoples, unimax, diaspora). But the above considerations are largely absent in the way the UPG movement today organizes data and conceives of peoples. By veiling reality, static categories fail to convey the dynamism and fluidity of UPGs. This sometimes leads to unrefined strategies, engagements  and  priorities.17 In an interconnected, urbanized, globalized, mobile and changing world, we need to re-envision our approach.

Re-envisioning Approaches

Brad Gill, President of the International Society for Frontier Missiology, notes the “new conditions  that  are pressing us to reimagine these frontiers.” Gill calls for a move beyond the “subtle ‘group think’” of our mission organizations, and the language and categories that may “unintentionally restrict our perception” and “blunt our imagination.”18

Toward that end, I suggest we need a new flexible, multi-level model of people groups that works for multiple contextual horizons. We need to reimagine our understandings of UPGs and re-envision strategies for reaching them. I propose four conceptual steps to help us develop a multi-level model and re-envisioned approach.

Triangular Field of Meaning

First, we need a reshaped model of people groups, one that enables us to understand them over a “triangular field of meaning” rather than a single lens.19 Based on our earlier discussion, we can think of ethno-linguistic people groups and identities from three intersecting perspectives, like three corners of a field. See Figure 11.1.

At one corner of the field, ethnicity is seen “in the heart” or “blood” and “in the traits” or “stuff ” of culture. Since, as Geertz reminds us, “cultures are systems of meaning,” we need to take these seriously. Communities find symbolic meaning in notions of\ heritage, land and extended kinship, and elements like language, religion, festivals, food,  dress,  and  music. At another corner, we see “in the head” and “in the relationship,” how individuals/groups use aspects of culture as tools for action, instruments to accomplish social ends. Knowing that ethnic identity is also variable “in the context”—constructed, negotiated, contested, self-assumed or ascribed by others—makes us alert to dynamics “in the situation.”

In order to have a clearer understanding of UPGs, and to devise more appropriate strategies, we must be able to move subtly and adeptly between these three viewpoints. They are not mutually exclusive. Note, too, that this apparent deconstruction does not eliminate “groupness,” but rather reconfigures it more dynamically. To be honest and accurate, ethnicity is also “in the observer’s head” (us): We are using “ethnicity” as an analytical tool to make sense of what we see.20 These etic understandings are appropriate if we are aware of potential biases.

Dynamic Models

Second, we need more dynamic models of people group interaction and social bonding, especially in multi- ethnic, urban and diaspora contexts.

For example, a Kazakh in Turkey preserves Kazakh ethnicity, but  constructs a  Turkish  Kazakh identity. This allows him/her to negotiate more advantageous social connections and a sense of belonging.21 Migration also fosters a more fluid ethnic identity.

Minority Senegalese (e.g., Seereer) in Dakar adopt vernacular “urban Wolof” as the lingua franca. The process of “Wolofization” affects not only language, but also ethnicity. A new “Wolof” identity is constructed, especially among the second generation. As one Pulaar- speaking elementary school teacher reported, “At home I’m Haalpulaar, when I’m in Dakar, I’m Wolof,” This suggests “a new urban identity rather than a switch in ethnicity.” Depending on the context and interaction, residents may reject an ethno-linguistic identifier and simply say, as did one professor, “I’m from Dakar…that’s the new ethnicity now in Senegal, to be from Dakar.”22

A similar dynamic was observed in Afghanistan. “Kabuli” (people from the capital of Kabul) describes a Persianized urban identity that, while not negating ethnic heritage, influences social relationships and values. Kabulis (Pashtun and Tajik) mix freely and have been more receptive to the gospel than their rural cousins.23

Case studies from South Africa, the Netherlands, Mexico, Sweden, the United States, Brazil, Israel, Germany, and Singapore, demonstrate strategies that transnational newcomers and students use to negotiate identity. Some adapt with “situational ethnicity” (hiding or asserting traits situationally). Alternatively, others adopt (or accept an imposed) “hyphenated identity.”24

In each case, adaptive identities both reflect and affect an ethnic community’s interaction with other peoples and the larger society. This has important implications for evangelism and church planting. These dynamics influence a group’s sense of belonging, possibilities for bonding with existing fellowships, and/or the need for new movements or compound models of church.

To illustrate this, imagine from high school chemistry how an element like Oxygen can combine with other elements to form molecules (atoms held together by chemical bonds) See Figure 11.2. (The analogy isn’t perfect, but similarly, we need to envision people groups in a more “combinable” way. With whom, how, when, and in what contexts members of a community affirm “bonds,” develop or reject affinities—these are questions relevant to the disciple making and church planting process.

Like molecules, members of a people group bond with others in different ways, depending on the context.

Note that this dynamism assumes the importance of “place,” sensitivity to context, and the relational and situational character of ethnicity. In some contexts, communal structures are tight. In urban and diaspora settings, people often negotiate relational worlds with feelings of multiple belonging or “hybridity.”  Ethnic and faith identities persist, but may or may not be foregrounded.25

There are no perfect analogies, but for higher levels of data, we need to deploy new conceptual images and sensibilities. We need to discern peoples, places and populations where the gospel has yet to exert its catalytic  force. Pioneer workers must be keen observers and “barefoot ethnographers.” As urban missiologist Alan McMahan puts it, we need to be better “glue sniffers” to figure out the types and strengths of “glue” that hold people together in different networks and contexts.26

Multiple Tiers of Data

Third, re-envisioning people groups requires “ethnographic imagination”27 and multiple tiers of data. The shift from a reductionist, segmented model to one that is multi-perspectival, dynamic, and field based should include:

processes, social chemistry and facts on the ground;
• how commonality (faith, city, ethnic, nationality) is imagined or sought;
• how difference is encountered and dealt with;
• intercultural relationships, bridges and barriers between peoples;
diaspora and transnational connections;
• styles and modes of communication;
• lessons learned from historical efforts and previous approaches;
• current conditions, socio-political change and crises;
receptivity of sub-groups (e.g., youth, immigrants) and associations;
proximate cross-cultural witnesses;
incorporability into existing fellowships and churches;
• associational bridges (believers with organic, relational connections);
media and evangelistic resources;
• ongoing assessments and research;
discernment of what the Holy Spirit is doing.

Obviously, this data is not needed for mobilization. What we know now is sufficient for prayer and obedience!

Greater detail and refinement, what we might call “Second Tier” and “Third Tier” data, take us to a deeper level of understanding and empathy. This is useful for national research, on-site strategy, outreach and church planting. To gather, track, share, and evaluate field-generated knowledge will necessitate data-sharing platforms, secure communications, and greater collaboration in knowledge stewardship. This re-envisioning of information requires a broader range of inputs.28 For security and practical reasons, we cannot “patch” this Second- and Third-Tier information onto our current segmented databases.

This points to another glaring  gap:  By  and  large,  field workers feel divorced from the missiological conversation! Many  workers  complain  that  “nobody is listening” to them. If we are to move forward, it is essential for field workers to map the context. “Often field-based personnel are in the best position to assess whether a people group is adequately engaged, and their relative access to the Gospel…. These contextual ethnographic realities… provide important indicators for new initiatives.”29  Another way to address the disparity is through “Case Studies” that illuminate the complexities of pioneer church planting and provide “thick descriptions” of a people, event, or issue for analysis, training and application.30

A multi-tiered, multi-perspectival database must be functional and flexible; view people groups from multiple contextual horizons; promote communities of learning and practice across organizational lines; and contribute to sandals-on-the-ground fruitfulness. Field accessibility is critical.31

Re-envisioning the People of God

Finally, we need to re-envision the church as the “people of God,” with a shared consciousness that celebrates yet transcends every local identity. We might revitalize this image in relation to incorporability, multi-ethnicity, and church movements.

A Place to Belong

Christian faith is  “embodied”  in  churches.  This is the telos, the end and purpose, of frontier missions: viable, indigenous, growing church movements among all peoples.

The gospel cannot be said to be accessible if church is not accessible. The invitation to believe in Christ is an invitation to receive not only “forgiveness of sins,” but also “a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17–18). The church is a place for all peoples (Isaiah 56:6–8; Galatians 3:28;  Ephesians  2:13–16).  “A place to belong” is at the heart of the gospel!

Consequently, for mission purposes, the notion of “unreached peoples” is intrinsically linked to a concept Ralph Winter called “incorporability.”

Thus, for both spiritual and practical reasons, I would be much more pleased to talk about the presence of a church allowing people to be incorporated, or the absence of a  church  leaving  people unincorporable  instead of unreached. I feel it would be better to try to observe, not whether people are “saved” or not or somehow “reached” or not, but first whether an individual has been incorporated in a believing fellowship or not, and secondly, if a person is not incorporated, does he have the opportunity within his cultural tradition to be so incorporated.32

The “opportunity within his cultural tradition to be so incorporated” refers to the presence, or absence, of a truly viable, truly indigenous church. If people cannot be incorporated, if existing fellowships are not accessible—due to “barriers of understanding or acceptance”—to other peoples, then a new version of church is needed.

Ethnic Realities and Evangelistic Potential

We must re-envision “churches” in relation to the peoples around them. In his book Ethnic Realities and the Church: Lessons from India, Donald McGavran, father of the Church Growth Movement, categorized Indian churches there into nine “types.” He described them based on their “varying degrees of ethnicity” as well as their “evangelistic potential,33  their “different relationships to and degrees of acceptance by the ‘yet to believe.’ ”34

The dual concepts of “degrees of ethnicity” and “evangelistic potential” may be useful to re-envision churches in multiethnic and UPG-proximate settings. In Indonesia, an over 150,000-person multiethnic urban conglomerate with contemporary worship in the lingua franca Bahasa Indonesia, includes at least 3,000 Muslim background believers from a UPG!35 But to maximize the “evangelistic potential” of these migrant urbanites requires equipping some to reach out to their ethnic neighbors, and training others to reach back to their ethnic homeland to catalyze vernacular movements.

Church Growth Where There is No Church

We need to re-envision the connection between the frontier missions and the church growth. Amidst the global flow of goods, ideas, and people, mega-, multiethnic, and urban/ regional house church networks are thriving from Argentina and Chile, to Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, as well as the West. Despite common roots and exceptions, the two streams are largely disconnected professionally and missionally.36 Reestablishing synergy and sharing resources would advance an “all peoples” vision.

UPG enthusiasts need to deconstruct categories and recognize that church movements need not be monoethnic to engage and penetrate UPGs. Gospel freedom allows and celebrates, but does not demand, homogeneous ethnic churches. Some church movements involve ethnic blends, with homogeneity in evangelism, and heterogeneity in discipleship. Others facilitate homogeneity in smaller relational circles, and heterogeneity in larger ones. Homogeneity may suit first generation immigrants, but heterogeneity, the children of immigrants (e.g., pan-Asian and pan-Latino churches).

Other churches have an ethnically dominant group plus mixed cultural groups (e.g., Persian, Arab). Mobilizing urban conglomerate churches, house church networks, and proximate believers, and purposefully connecting diaspora disciple making with other frontier initiatives, would help revitalize movement toward UPGs.37


The concept of people groups takes us to the heart of the biblical narrative. The frontier mission movement must reimagine itself in light of global realities, the persistent needs of the unevangelized, and God’s desire for a people from all peoples. We need to upgrade our understandings, envision new dynamic models, and leverage the evangelistic potential of the global church to impact the remaining UPGs.

The frontier mission movement often draws its inspiration from the panorama of radiant worship in Revelation 5:9–10. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee outlines it, the “new song” acclaims the means of his redeeming act (“with your blood”), the effect of that sacrifice (“you purchased for God”), the breadth of redemption (“members of every tribe and language and people and nation”), its goal (“made…to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God…they will reign on the earth”), and God-centered, God-ordained climax,  “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”38 We are invited to respond both with wonder and adoration, and with faithful cruciform witness (Revelation 6:9–11; 19:10) to “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:2; 20:4) before all nations. 


[1] In the social, cultural and historical context of the Old Testament, each “nation” was distinguished by name, ethnicity, language, territory, kingship, history, and a religious system marked by lessor “gods” (idolatry) and depravity. See A. J. Köstenberger, “Nations,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T. D. Alexander and B. S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, electronic ed.), 676. For example, texts from Anatolia (Asia Minor) c. 1700-1200 BC point to a region inhabited by a number of distinct peoples, including the Hittites, Luwians, Palaians, Hurrians, and Hattians. In the Hittite Empire, from the 14th C BCE, “the ethnic and cultural pluralism still increased as the political expansionism added further foreign elements to ‘Hittite’ culture” (Manfred Hutter, “Religion in Hittite Anatolia: Some Comments on ‘Volkert Haas: Geschichte der Hethitischen Religion,’” Numen 44, no. 1 (Jan., 1997): 74–90. Each of these nations “had its own pantheon, and individual cult centres had their own names for deities.” (“Religions of the Hittites, Hattians, and Hurrians,”
[2] Portions of this article are based on my paper “Rethinking Ethnicity: Implications for the People Group Approach,” presented to the Rethinking People Groups Forum, Dallas, TX, September 11, 2019. I wish to express my appreciation to the participants for their helpful comments and feedback.
[3] The first lists were based in part on SIL’s Ethnologue, a catalog of the world’s languages.
[4] Cf. h.ttps:// also based on language and ethnicity, and the geographic distribution of such groups.
[5] The question of the historical genesis, assimilation and disappearance of other people groups is left unanswered.
[6] Ralph Winter tried but failed to prevent the reduction of “people groups” to ethnolinguistic criteria alone. Dave Datema, “Defining ‘Unreached’: A Short History,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 33, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 55. Discussions of UPGs usually include sociopeoples; due to considerations of space, I concentrate on the category of ethnicity. Winter and Koch see strategic value in working with sociopeoples “for preliminary evangelism” as an “intermediate bridge to long-range church planting goals… giving a focus for ministry among a specific sub-set of the larger society as a first step to full-blown church planting.” They consider ethnolinguistic groups primary because of their endurance as endogamous, multi-generational quasi-kinship groups. Ralph D. Winter and Bruce A. Koch, “Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge”, in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 4th Ed., eds. Ralph D. Winter & Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 535.
[7] For a helpful overview of the significant literature and issues, see Marcus Banks, Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions (London: Routledge, 1996); cf. Richard Jenkins, Rethinking Ethnicity: Arguments and Explorations (London: Sage Publications, 1997; 2nd edition 2008), “Identity” is one of the most widely researched subjects in every field of the social sciences. I use “identity” here as a social category (referring to a set of distinguishable persons), as well as a personal category (individual actors with self-consciousness). Cf. James D. Fearon, “What is Identity (As We Now Use the Word)?”, 1999,
. [8] “Ethnicity,” The assumption that one’s identity is “in the blood” is a driver behind commercials for Discovering they have DNA from multiple sites in Eastern Europe or Africa, a person says, “I was grateful. I just felt more connected to who I am.” The DNA approach actually reinforces the opposite: It’s not really “Who I am” even though one may “feel more connected.” Based on test results, individuals make conscious choices, creating a symbolic ethnic representation of their reconstructed identity using identity “markers” (dress, food, etc.).
[9] Anthropologists and some missiologists today acknowledge the power imbalances that shaped colonial anthropology, the colonialist paradigm of “tribe,” and missionary approaches. Power dynamics continue to influence ethnicities e.g., through the nation state (which “names” and objectifies constituent “minorities”), international bodies, and social institutions (e.g., schools, universities).
[10] Hans Vermeulen and Cora Govers, eds., “Introduction,” The Anthropology of Ethnicity: Beyond “Ethnic Groups and Boundaries” (Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1994), 2 (emph. added).
[11] Vermeulen and Govers, The Anthropology of Ethnicity, 5.
[12] Vermeulen and Cora Govers, The Anthropology of Ethnicity, 2 (emph. added), 1–9; cf. Richard E. Blanton’s discussion of Barth’s in-group and between-group “visual signaling,” i.e. ethnic-specific behaviors constitute “a system of signals” to establish a boundary difference between groups, and to confirm belonging and commitment to the value-orientations of the community, in “Theories of ethnicity and the dynamics of ethnic change in multiethnic societies,” PNAS 112, no. 30 (July 28, 2015): 9177. Cf. h.ttp://
[13] Vermeulen and Govers, The Anthropology of Ethnicity, 12, emph. added. See Ronald Cohen, “Ethnicity: Problem and Focus in Anthropology,” Annual Review of Anthropology 7 (October 1978): 379–403,
. [14] “Ethnicity,”
[15] Since ethnic identity involves ascription, what others acknowledge or recognize, constraints related to heritage and cultural “givens” may apply, e.g., a Punjabi is unlikely to be accepted as Afghan.
[16] Buttressed by stereotypic descriptions of shared “traits,” some attractive (e.g., “generous hospitality,” “colorful dress,” “love music and dance”), and others from the “dark side” (e.g., “fierce warriors”, deceit, blood feuds, seclusion of women), these caricatures are presumed to be relevant to mobilization, prayer and compassion. In one case, researchers cited Wikipedia as the major source of their information on a people group. A quick check revealed that over 90% of the Wikipedia citations were from newspapers and magazines. Other (readily available) scholarly sources (e.g., peer reviewed articles, books, ethnographies, dissertations and theses, etc.) were neglected.
[17] This is not to disparage well-intentioned efforts to describe UPGs that have fostered awareness and global prayer. Some have argued that, however inaccurate or static, “Something is better than nothing! We do not have to pray ‘with our understanding’ in order to be heard!” The problem is what happens next: bad information—inaccurate, insufficient, un- or misinformed, distorted, stereotypical or promotion-driven—can lead to mis-guided agency decisions, wasted efforts and funding, unwise field initiatives, and unintended consequences among the peoples we aspire to reach.
[18] Brad Gill, “Reimagining Frontier Mission,” IJFM 36, no. 3 (Fall 2019): 111–118; cf. “ISFM 2019 and the “Reimagining of Frontier Mission,” IJFM 36, no. 4 (Winter 2019): 161–2.
[19] This phrase is borrowed from M.A. Seifrid’s explanation of the Pauline phrase “In Christ” as moving within a “triangular field of meaning” between three ideas of locality, instrumentality and modality, in Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid and Gerald F. Hawthorne, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity Press, 1993, e-edition), loc. cit.
[20] Banks, Ethnicity, 185. We should also note here the gradual “in our head” shifts in nomenclature from “race” and “tribe” to “culture” and “ethnic group,” and (within missiology) “homogeneous unit” to “people group.”
[21] Kazakh ethnic identity is preserved through ethnic celebrations, meetings that maintain cultural practices, and speaking Kazakh at home, while constructing a new hybrid identity based on shared religion (Islam) and Turkic roots, and the adoption of new practices, preferences and self-identity. See e.g., Yeniceri, Aslihan, “Hybridization and Kazakh ethnic identity formation” (Graduate Theses and Dissertations, Iowa State University, 2015),
. [22] Fiona McLaughlin, “The Ascent of Wolof as an Urban Vernacular and National Lingua Franca in Senegal,” in eds. Cécile B. Vigouroux and Salikoko S. Mufwene, Globalization and Language Vitality: Perspectives from Africa (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008, e-book), 142–170,
. [23] Internally displaced people and returnees from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere and have swelled Kabul to over 5 million people; according to reports, ethnicity is a more salient identity among them, and the term Kabuli does not apply.
[24] Edmund T Hamann and William England, “Conclusion – Hyphenated Identities as a Challenge to Nation-State School Practice?” (Faculty Publications: Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, 109, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 2011), Note .the political and power dynamics when a “hyphenated identity” is ascribed by a government or school.
[25] “A person can simultaneously hold allegiances to a neighborhood, a city, a region, a country, or a continent, or be a transmigrant in a world city or, yet, a global nomad, an employee of a transnational corporation.” See Cf. J.enkins, who notes that globalization does not always dilute ethnic identification: local and ethnic identity “each may (re)assert itself either as a defensive reaction to, or a result of, the increasingly global context of social life” (Rethinking Ethnicity, 2nd ed.), 45. For the way pan-Islamist sentiments can “coexist” with local forms of Muslim identity, see Darryl Li, “Taking the Place of Martyrs: Afghans and Arabs Under the Banner of Islam,” Arab Studies Journal 20, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 12–39,
. [26] Rethinking People Groups Forum, Dallas, TX (September 13, 2019).
[27] I borrow this term from Paul Willis, The Ethnographic Imagination (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000).
[28] See Scribner, this issue. As Scribner admits, “Global people group lists, as currently conceived and structured, cannot support dynamic groupings.”
[29]  Leonard N. Bartlotti, “Refining Our Strategies for Engaging All Peoples,” IJFM 27, no. 3 (Fall 2010): 21–26,
. [30] Case studies are commonly used in the social sciences, and famously, by the Harvard Business School. They can can be explanatory, exploratory, descriptive, comparative, or instrumental. See e.g., Baxter, Pamela and Susan Jack, “Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for Novice Researchers,” The Qualitative Report 13, no. 4 (Dec 2008): 544–559, For a. simple introduction to the research concept of “thick description” (promoted by anthropologists Gilbert Ryle and Clifford Geertz) and helpful sources, see Chris Drew, “5 Key Principles of ‘Thick Description’ in Research” (2020),
. [31] After a few years on the field, many workers pursue an M.A. or Ph.D. While this contributes to new knowledge, unfortunately, the knowledge tends to be individualized, constrained within publishing channels, or siloed in academia or individual ministries. There appear to be few mechanism for translating insights into community learning and upgrading of field praxis.
[32] For insightful reflections on Winter’s notion of incorporability, see Brad Gill, “The Unfortunate Unmarketability of ‘Unincorporable,’” from which this quote is taken,
. [33] (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1979), 25, 64–65, emph. added,
. [34] Ibid., 2–3.
[35] I am indebted to Alan McMahan for this example. It should be noted that this urban conglomerate church did not intentionally evangelize along ethnic lines or leverage ethnicity.
[36] Note e.g., that the two representative professional networks (International Society for Frontier Missiology, and the Great Commission Research Network) have separate journals, conferences, and non-overlapping attendees and speakers, despite many shared concepts, principles and practices related to evangelistic growth, movements, accessibility, receptivity, diversity, innovative models, ethnicity and incorporating people into the church.
[37] See e.g., GlobalGates focused on UPGs in North America’s megacities “Advocacy Networks” focused around specific UPGs in Central Asia, West Africa and elsewhere, have also shown great promise in facilitating joint ventures in strategy, media, training, and recruiting, and placing workers in diaspora, transnational and homeland engagement points.
[38] G. D. Fee, Revelation: A New Covenant Commentary (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 88.

Used by permission from Missio Nexus, PO Box 398, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Email: [email protected]. Website:


This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

Making Data Count in Reaching the Unreached

Making Data Count in Reaching the Unreached

Gathering people group data is important, but how we use it is just as important. There is more than one way to use the data to help shape strategy or inspire mobilization.

Recently, I used a data technique to help a group make a specific decision. But when I showed it to my colleagues, they pointed out that it could be used more widely. So, I share it with you now as an example of what can be done with prayer, with Joshua Project data and with a bit of Excel skill.

We in the Global Data Initiative (GDI) are turning our attention toward Africa. We want to improve the quality of people group data and there are many reasons to focus on this area of the world. But of course, Africa, while not as big as the world, is still a vast continent with vast differences between countries. Where should we start? We went through a process of prayer and consideration, which included drawing a chart of African countries.

There are ways of presenting data to emphasize something that has already been decided, or to motivate people towards a goal that is not in dispute. Maps can be particularly useful in this role. But maps are not always so useful to help us make the decisions themselves. To help make decisions, I often use a “scatter chart” because you can express two different factors quite clearly in one view.  Which two factors you choose depends on your concerns.  

Jesus himself expresses two related concerns when asking us to pray for more workers. He says that the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few (Matt. 9:27 and Luke 10:2). He links these two different factors to the deployment of workers— asking the Lord of the  Harvest  to  “send”  them or “throw them out” into the harvest field. Both the harvest, and the workers can be understood  in different ways. For GDI purposes, I chose to take the harvest as being the population of people in Joshua Project’s “Scale 1” peoples—the least reached or “unreached.” For “workers” I chose to take the population of evangelical Christians. I added up all that data by country.


The way that the Joshua Project maintains their data makes it relatively easy to use it to support strategic decision making and I have made use of this before for several global networks1. Note that Joshua Project’s definition of evangelical Christians is people who believe in the authority of the Bible, the uniqueness of Jesus, the importance of personal conversion and the need to pass on our faith. Most of those are Protestants, Anglicans, Pentecostals  or belong to independent churches, and some are Orthodox or Catholic.

When Jesus says that the workers are few, I assume that He is meaning “few,  relative to the harvest.”  If we have 100 acres waiting to be harvested and 100 workers who could do the job, that is “fewer” workers in my book than if we have 10 workers ready to harvest one acre. So, on the vertical axis I charted evangelical Christians (the “workers” who could be “sent out”) relative to the harvest among the least reached in the country where they live.

Now we had a view of Africa as a whole, and we were able to see some big differences between the countries.

On the left of the chart are countries with a small population among unreached peoples. On the right of the chart are countries with a large population among the unreached.  The harvest, waiting out in the fields for workers, is more plentiful in countries on the right. And the difference is very large! Every vertical grid line on the chart indicates a difference of ten times. And you multiply as you go, so there is a thousand times larger harvest waiting to be reaped in the countries In the right-hand grid squares than in the left-hand squares. For example, among unreached peoples in Ethiopia there are a thousand times more people waiting for the gospel than among unreached peoples in Equatorial Guinea.

Now where are the workers the fewest? Countries at the top of the chart have a million times fewer workers available to reap their harvest than those in the bottom grid squares (relative to the harvest available).

This begins to tell us a number of things of strategic importance. The first thing to consider is simply the amazing diversity of the situation. It is likely to be very different trying to reach the unreached in Rwanda (bottom left), Mayotte (top left), Somalia (top right) and Nigeria (middle right). Our tactics may be similar. Surely the tactics of prayer, faith, self- sacrifice, love, learning new cultures and translating the Bible will all be involved. But our strategy may need to be very different. Who are we going to mobilize and motivate to reach the unreached in Mayotte? Should we mobilize the church in Rwanda to reach the unreached in their own country, or abroad? We will come back to that question in a moment. Before we do, let’s just note the significance of a particular line across the middle of the chart.

The line is labelled “1”, meaning that there is just one evangelical for every unreached person in that country. Above this line the countries have more people among the un- reached than evangelical Christians. Below, there are more evangelicals. That is an interesting milestone.

In fact, we could characterize the chart in three fuzzy horizontal bands: “More Reason to Come,” “More Reason to Stay” and “More Reason to Go.”


The core of the central band is probably formed by these ten countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone. Their ratio of workers to unreached is not far off the global average2. So, in terms of reaching the global unreached, there is not much to be gained by sending in lots of foreign workers to these countries, nor by asking them to send many abroad. The need and resource are well balanced. Of course, if one of these countries has a particularly vigorous church, let them develop international sending structures! If one of them has a church lacking vision or vigor, we may need to send people in. But in general, it is to countries below this band that we must look for international workers, and to countries above this line that we should expect to send them.

I have colored the dots by latitude. The northern third of countries are represented with an orange dot, the middle with blue and the southern by green. Notice that most of the northern countries are in the top of the chart, most of the blue in the center and most of the green near the bottom. This vindicates and supports the basic validity of a current prophetic message from the African Church to the African Church—“GO NORTH!”. There are some exceptions, most notably with Mayotte and the Comoros. But in general, in Africa, NORTH is where the harvest of the unreached lies.

I have referred to Jesus’ comment about the workers and the harvest. At a different time, Jesus said, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields because they are white for harvest” (John 4:35) and we might use information from this chart to help Christians in a particular country where to “lift up their eyes”. On this chart that means, wherever your nation is on this chart, you can “lift up your eyes” toward the top right. Those are the countries where the harvest is more plentiful and the workers are fewer than in yours.

My thinking is this. While the Holy Spirit may direct specific individuals “from anywhere to anywhere,” it doesn’t make sense for us to encourage large numbers of people to move at random around the world, even less to pray for that! Shouldn’t our prayer to the Lord of the Harvest be to throw out workers from countries where harvest in meager and the workers, many, into countries where the harvest is more plentiful and the workers are fewer? And shouldn’t our mobilization effort be in the same direction?

To return to the question at the beginning—if we want to encourage African countries about using data, and about their own research into their own unreached peoples—where should we start? We are still working on it, and a lot depends on personal relationships. Nevertheless, there IS an area of the chart that interests us most. We are looking for countries where there is a good harvest in the country and a good-sized church that can tackle the research, the data management and good reason to use that data to mobilize that church … to reach their own nationals. These are not countries where the workers are few, nor where they are very many, but somewhere in the middle!

Endnote: For simplicity this article uses a chart of the majority of countries in Africa. There are a few countries quite literally “off the chart”. We can “zoom out” to show one more country at the top and a few to the left of the chart. Western Sahara has 100 times fewer workers than Tunisia, although the harvest is smaller too. For this chart I have imagined that somewhere in each of the six countries on the extreme left there is at least one person from an Unreached People Group, although there are none in the Joshua Project data.

  1. This is one of the useful distinctives of Joshua Project data. For instance, they work hard to ensure that the data about each individual people group is consistent with overall country and global population numbers. This means that you can safely add up their numbers in many different  ways.  (Just  be aware that their data for South Asia has some slightly different characteristics, especially when it comes to recording evangelical numbers. Better to use “Christians” if you are including South Asia.) Some people are rightly concerned about the quality of data available to us. But for this sort of high-level, aggregated analysis, we don’t need great data precision. Even if the Joshua Project data on a particular country is wrong by a factor of two (e.g. instead of 1,000, it is 2,000 say, or 500) it would make little difference to its position on the chart. It would move less than one third of a grid square.

  2. I used data from Operation World 2010 for this. Page 3 gave me the total number of evangelicals and page 25 the total population of the unreached peoples. Dividing one by the other gives a rough factor of five. Five unreached to one evangelical. On our vertical scale that would be 0.2, just below the 0.1 line.

This is an article from the Jan-Feb 2022 issue: The Changing Shape of People Group Strategy

One Unreached People Group at a Time

One Unreached People Group at a Time
“Help our people group. Help them to be safe. And help them to know you.” This is a typical breakfast prayer for 8-year-old William. He listens to the Unreached of the Day podcast or learns about the people group on the mobile app. After leading his family in prayer for them, he taps the “I am Praying” button and announces the count of people who have declared that they, too, are praying.
William is joining tens of thousands who use Unreached of the Day to intercede for the most gospel deprived peoples of the world. Each day, one group is featured through e-mails, mobile apps, podcasts and web widgets. Downloadable PDFs are available for printing bulletin inserts, booklets and prayer cards. Want to know which groups we are praying for currently? The last few pages of this magazine are dedicated to the Unreached of the Day each issue. The team of writers who formerly made Global Prayer Digest happen each month now writes the text for Unreached of the Day.
Some intercessors are lifting up the day’s group in prayer using languages other than English. Unreached of the Day is available in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese. Volunteer translators in several teams are making the content available in their heart language.
The Unreached of the Day several year ago was the Dahalo, a small group near the coast of Kenya. The number of people praying that day actually exceeded the total Dahalo population! Less than a year later, a pastor from Nairobi was walking in Dahalo villages, sharing the Good News and seeing several come to faith in Christ. Months earlier, someone had shown him the Unreached of the Day app. He decided his church would be the answer to many prayers for the Dahalo. He traveled by plane, then by bus, then by boat and finally by motorcycle to encounter the group. At one point of the journey he had to dress as a policeman to avoid problems with a local extremist group. The effort was worth it. Today, the Dahalo have a body of believers and are reading Bibles in Swahili brought to them by the congregation in Nairobi.

One couple prints out the photos of the people groups each month to hang in their living room so they won’t forget to pray. A 15-year-old began using the app and her Christmas wish was that her parents would give a donation to help make it available for others. A believer from India and his American wife pray for the groups. Imagine their surprise one day when the featured group was the specific Brahmin community he is from! Several churches decorate a Christmas tree with people group “ornaments,” which they send home with members of the congregation. A church in Oregon highlights one group a month in their children’s ministry. A handout is sent home to more than 100 families so they can continue praying with the kids. A couple leaving to work among an Unreached People Group in China was excited to know that their group was featured for prayer. They were glad for the spiritual covering.

For William, tapping the button on the app was initially a fun exercise that rewarded him with a number count he had helped boost. Now he prays without needing that prompt. It has become an automatic part of his mealtime. If we get kids like William, as well as adults, in the habit of making prayer for the unreached a daily occurrence, we have cause to celebrate. What if a generation of kingdom kids grew up with the practice of thinking beyond themselves and their family? What if a family tradition became a powerful vision and determination to make a difference for peoples cut off from the gospel?

Are you ready to join William and this band of intercessors? Ready to blend your pleas for transformational change by the gospel where it hasn’t taken root yet? You can jump in right now by visiting or by downloading the app in the app stores. Simply search for “Joshua Project” or “unreached.”

What about diving in deeper? Here is a list of ways you can maximize your interaction with Unreached of the Day resources and get them into the hands of many more intercessors:

  1. Help us reach record counts. Knowing that others are standing with you is a great encouragement, so tap the button every time you pray.
  2. Tell your friends! Help others set up the app on their devices or sign up for the e-mails. And make sure you tell them to invite their friends.
  3. Do you teach Sunday school, lead a small group or preach in church? Spread the word of the resource among the family of God.
  4.  Add Unreached of the Day to your family prayer time. You can begin cultivating Christ’s love for the nations in young lives.
  5.  Promote the resources on social media. Share with your wider network of online friends.
  6.  Follow Joshua Project on social media. We're on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, we have a Facebook group where you can join in a conversation about the unreached.
  7. Volunteer as profile writer, editor or proofreader.
  8. Volunteer as a translator. Join an existing language team or assemble a translation team for a new language offering.
  9. Promote the use of Unreached of the Day. We especially need promotion of the translated resources.
  10.  Make suggestions. We can’t implement all the additions people have mentioned, but we have put several of them in place. Help us improve the presentation.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Thoughtlessness: Far More Dangerous Than We Realize

Thoughtlessness: Far More Dangerous Than We Realize
One of my friends calls them “pastorisms”: catchy statements that leave everyone saying, “Ooh, that’s profound.” Soon such pronouncements become memes that are widely shared and treated as self-evidently true.
I contend that fascination with clichés makes us thoughtless, and thoughtlessness is dangerous—as illustrated by a disturbing example from history.

A Thoughtless Monster

Adolf Eichmann was the architect of the Holocaust. His planning skills made easy work of transporting millions of people to concentration camps. After World War II, Eichmann fled to Argentina and remained in hiding for a decade and a half until he was discovered and brought to trial in Jerusalem.
The New Yorker sent political theorist Hannah Arendt to cover the proceedings. When she saw Eichmann in person, Arendt found herself eerily disturbed. Eichmann didn’t seem like a monster. He was, Arendt realized, “terrifyingly normal.”

Speaking in his own defense, Eichmann came across as a boring, trivial person who communicated in clichés and didn’t seem to have any thoughts of his own. For example, Eichmann described transporting Jews to the gas chambers as offering them “special treatment” that resulted in a “change of residence.”

Eichmann spouted clichés to the very end. At the gallows, he emphasized that he did not believe in life after death, but then announced, “After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men.” Not even
the reality of impending death could jolt Eichmann out of mindlessness.

As Arendt described it, Adolph Eichmann became one of history’s most evil men not because he was brilliant, but because he found himself incapable of thinking meaningfully about his wicked actions.

Thoughtlessness is dangerous. Evil wins when otherwise good people fail to think clearly enough to stand up for what is right. Since World War II, the world has wondered how a handful of evil Nazis and Communists could have slaughtered a hundred million people and held billions more in misery. Arendt’s explanation offered half a century ago is chillingly prophetic:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world themasses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.

To Arendt, everyday people don’t so much endorse evil as they allow themselves to be run over by it because of their own moral confusion.

Thoughtlessness in the Church

Christians are just as vulnerable to thoughtlessness as anyone else. As I wrote my book Unquestioned Answers, I realized that our core problem is not unanswered questions, but unquestioned answers—clichés we believe that keep our faith at a shallow level.

In other words, we use short-cuts so we don’t have to think deeply about our faith. Thoughtlessness is the enemy of the Church, the gospel and Christ.

The Bible calls us to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). This doesn’t mean we need to be brilliant to love Jesus. But it does call us to embrace four thoughtful disciplines:

Know Scripture.

To know truth and be thoughtful with truth, we must know our Bibles. This requires time and study. Don’t merely look for individual Bible verses that touch your heart. Become deeply familiar with the whole flow ofScripture and learn how to interpret it well.

Think about the connection between Scripture and culture.

Don’t think about the Bible as an Aesop’s Fables for Christians. Focus on how the Scripture reveals the very nature and character of God and orient yourself to see everything in today’s world from His perspective.

Don’t believe something just because it’s phrased in a witty or powerful way.

Stating something cleverly does not make it true. Don’t accept punchy slogans at face value. Ask, “How do we know that is really true?” Thinking deeply about truth helps us think more deeply about everything else.

Be people of curiosity as well as conviction.

Be willing to dialogue with people you disagree with. Instead of defaulting to clichés like, “Let’s agree to disagree” or “You have your truth and I have mine,” mull over what the other person is saying and be an advocate for truth and meaningful reflection.

Evil wins when our thinking is confused. Don’t settle for unquestioned answers. Dig for the truth about God, and as a result, about everything else.

  1. 1 For more about Arendt’s view of Eichmann and the trial, see her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Penguin, 1977).

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

The Five False Worldviews That Ensnare Your Church

The Five False Worldviews That Ensnare Your Church

In professional tennis matches, the ball moves so quickly that players have to swing at it before their conscious minds have time to process what’s happening. I asked a friend who played against many world champions how winning tennis players mastered this skill. He explained that through thousands of hours of practice they learn to recognize subtle signs given off by their opponents and then fine-tune their reflexes to respond.

The same is true in today’s battle of ideas. Culture rapidly fires fake worldviews at us that are contrary to God’s Word. If we don’t know how to recognize these worldviews or respond quickly enough, we risk being taken captive by
hollow and deceptive philosophies (Col. 2:8).

According to new research commissioned by Summit Ministries and conducted by the Barna Group, Christians today are losing this battle of ideas. But they don’t have to. Through a four-step process, we can alert believers to five fake worldviews that target them, and help themregain spiritual vitality.

How to Spot Bad Ideas Before They Catch Us Unaware

A worldview is our view of God, humanity and the world. A biblical worldview shows us what God is really like and where to turn for true answers to our big life questions. But fake worldviews trick us into looking for answers in all the wrong places. They’re everywhere—on television, in books and magazines, at the movies and in conversations with friends and family. We absorb them like we catch colds. We don’t even know we’re sick until it’s too late.

Through surveys done over the last 20 years, researchers at the Barna Group have studied the worldview of churchgoing Christians. They’ve discovered that fewer than one in five of them has a worldview based on the Bible.

At Summit, we wondered, “Where do Christians get their worldview, if not from the Bible?” Here are a few of the most common fake worldviews that creep into the minds of Christians today.

Five Fake Worldviews That Entice Christians

Fake worldviews ruin people’s lives, leading them to wrong values and harmful practices. In the research Summit commissioned with Barna, we asked questions about the influence of the five fake worldviews I wrote about in my Understanding the Times Worldview Library:

Secularism—the belief that the material world is all thereis, and that God is irrelevant to what is important

Marxism—the belief that the current system must be overthrown because it exploits the poor to benefit the rich

Postmodernism—the belief that we should be suspicious of anyone who claims to know the truth, because none of us have access to it

New Spirituality—the belief that reality is spiritual, not material, and that what you do in this life will come back to you, whether good or evil

Islam—the belief that humans are in rebellion against Allah and must be made to submit through the practices revealed to the Prophet Muhammad

At Summit, we picked these five worldviews because of their enduring influence and because they summarize the basic religious commitments of probably 95 percent of the population in the West.

We surveyed people from different Christian traditions and ethnicities who live in every region of America, in both rural and urban communities. Fake worldviews are influential everywhere. What lessons can we learn from this?

Two Lessons for the Future of the Church

Lesson One: Today’s Christians suffer from a “Multiple Worldview Disorder.” Just as some people have multiple personalities living inside their brains, believers tend to mix and match their ideas. Often they hold contradictory beliefs.

For example, one-fifth of church-going Christians said there is no one “true religion, that many religions can lead to eternal life.” Of those who strongly agreed with this statement, two-thirds also strongly agreed with the statement that “faith in Jesus is the only way to God.” Both ideas can’t be true. It’s a Multiple Worldview Disorder.

Lesson Two: Post-Christian America is a reality. Using age 45 as a dividing line, we found a stark difference in worldview between Millennials and Gen-Xers on the one hand, and Baby Boomers and Elders on the other. On some questions, younger Christians were up to eight times more likely to accept fake worldviews.

For years Christian thought-leaders have warned us that we’re on the brink of a post-Christian era. This study seems to show that we’re toppling over the edge right now.

How to Stop Unbiblical Ideas and Fake Worldviews

In my book The Secret Battle of Ideas about God, I show how to combat fake worldviews by thinking of them as viruses that trick us into living lives that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

The virus analogy helps because when faced with potentially catastrophic outbreaks, doctors have learned how to take four decisive steps to curb a virus’ growing impact. I call these steps the four I’s—Identify, Isolate,
Inform and Invest.

The four I’s work with idea viruses, too. We can teach believers how to:

  1. Identify bad ideas generated by fake worldviews
  2. Isolate the features of bad ideas that are most likely to take us captive
  3. Inform others of how to find love, healing, purpose, peace and hope through Jesus
  4. Invest in those who’ve been sickened by bad ideas so they can emerge stronger than ever

The goal of the Barna-Summit survey is not to condemn people or put them in boxes. Rather, it is to understand the patterns of the world so we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). We are all at risk, but we can know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

The Five Major False Worldviews by Jeff Myers

As we noted earlier, a worldview is “a pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world.” If you know a worldview’s assumptions, you can more accurately guess what its adherents believe and why.There may be hundreds of worldviews operating today.

Even some that are well-known, such as Judaism, have relatively few (around 13 million) followers worldwide. But many bizarre and even humorous worldviews have attracted followers. As the London Telegraph reported, 176,632 people in a 2012 national census of England and Wales considered their religious affiliation to be the “Jedi Knights.”1  Another 6,242 said they worshipped heavy metal music.2  Obviously we can’t cover every worldview that has attracted followers, so we’re going to look at the five major false worldviews that make up the vast majority of the world’s population outside the Christian realm and are evangelistic (inviting everyone else to join them).


Islam began September 24 in AD 622, when 70 muhajirun pledged loyalty to an Arabian trader from Mecca who had fled to Medina and began receiving special revelations from Allah. The trader’s name: Muhammad. His submission to God gave his religion its name; Islam means “submission.” Those who submit to Allah and hisprophet Muhammad are called Muslims. Islam is based on a creed prayed aloud five times a day: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.”

Muslims believe that their holy book, the Quran, is God’s full and final revelation. The Quran specifies five things a person must do to become a Muslim:

  1. repeat “Thereis no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”
  2. pray the salat (ritual prayer)3 five times a day
  3. fast during the month of Ramadan
  4. give one-fortieth of one’s income to the needy; and
  5. if able, make a pilgrimage to Mecca.According to Serge Trifkovic, “Islam is not a ‘mere’ religion; it is a complete way of life, an all-embracing social, political and legal system that breeds a worldview peculiar to itself."5  Islam has grown rapidly in the last few decades; 1.6 billion people in the world now claim to be adherents.



What we term New Spirituality is perhaps the most difficult worldview to precisely define. You don’t have to sign, recite or proclaim anything in particular to join, nor must you attend a church. While unofficial in its dogma, the New Age culture contains an extensive set of beliefs that, once understood, predict what people with those beliefs will value and how they will act.

New Spirituality is a free-flowing combination of Eastern religions, paganism, and pseudoscience that pops up in odd places. Some of the bestselling books of all time— by authors such as Deepak Chopra, Rhonda Byrne, Marilyn Ferguson, and Shakti Gawain—describe a world spiritual in nature but not governed by a personal, all-powerful God. Rather, the spirituality in the world is “consciousness,” an energy in which we all participate and can even learn to control. Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey has admitted to holding many of these beliefs. We will study New Spirituality not because it is deeply philosophical or consistent but because some of its associated beliefs—karma, Gaia, being “one” with the environment, reincarnation, meditation, holistic health and so forth—are a daily part of life for millions of Americans and have influenced such academic areas as psychology and medicine.


Secularism comes from the Latin word saecularis, roughly meaning “of men,” “of this world,” or “of this time.” Secularists believe humans are the center of reality. They disdain the influence of those who believe in ideas of gods, an afterlife, or anything beyond what we can sense. The primary identifying characteristic of Secularism is its nonbelief in other worldviews. Ironically, though, Secularists do generally have an agreed-upon set of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. So even though they view their beliefs as the opposite of religion, they are actually quite religious.

Interestingly, in the 20th century, several fairly well-known philosophers such as John Dewey and Julian Huxley, and later Paul Kurtz and Corliss Lamont, combined the term secular (“we are for the world”) and the term humanism
(“we are for humans”) and developed a philosophy of Secular Humanism. Their manifesto, published in 1933 and updated in 1973 and 2000, led thousands of likeminded individuals to form a club called the American Humanist ssociation (AHA), whose motto is “Good without a god.” With no apparent sense of irony, the AHA operates as a tax-exempt organization based on the IRS section 501(c)(3) religious nonprofit exemption. Though its founders have passed away, the AHA still recruits members. Their dues support a publishing company and a monthly publication.

Secularism is an umbrella term for a set of beliefs that the vast majority of academics today accept unquestioningly. We use the term Secularism as a prediction, not a label: if someone accepts a Secularist viewpoint on such disciplines as theology, philosophy and ethics, we can predict fairly accurately what they believe about biology, psychology and so forth.


Some religious worldviews develop over hundreds or thousands of years, but others are made up whole cloth in a very short period of time. Such is the case with Marxism and its offshoots Leninism, Maoism, Trotskyism, Fabian
socialism, and the various socialist organizations that operate in the United States and around the world. Marxism was invented by Karl Marx, a scholar determined to demonstrate that ownership of private property, the basis for capitalism, was the root of the world’s evils.

To Marx, history could be defined as a struggle between the haves (the owners) and the have-nots (the workers). If only the workers would rise up to overthrow the owners, they could form a workers’ paradise in which all wrongs are righted, all possessions are shared and all injustices are brought to an end. The utopian state at the end of this long and bloody struggle is called communism. People who strive to bring about this state are called communists, and their bible is The Communist Manifesto, Marx’s most famous and enduring work. Other such manifestos are still in print today, including the teachings of Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung and a book published by Harvard University Press called Empire.

Some say it’s pointless to include Marxism as a dominant worldview in this article, but we disagree. Despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which dominated what is now called Russia, around 20 percent of the world’s population still lives under the rule of communists. The largest communist country in the world today is China. In spite of its growing industry, China’s communist rulers are still very much in control. And when we also consider countries operating on the principles Marx taught but not using the label communist, we are talking about a majority of the world’s population living every day with the consequences of Marx’s philosophies. Despite its clearly atheistic philosophy, Marxism has also made many inroads into the church. Some evangelicals involved in the so-called Christian Left have embraced key tenets of Marxism.


People talk about postmodern art, postmodern architecture and even postmodern ways of doing church, and yet they don’t realize that Postmodernism is a wellthought- out and deep philosophical worldview. The father of Postmodernism, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, had many disciples including Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Martin Heidegger, Jean-François Lyotard and Richard Rorty. All are now dead, but their teachings strongly influence higher education to this day.

In short, we can say Postmodernism began as a reaction against modernism, the idea that science and human reason can solve humankind’s most pressing problems. While science can be used for great good, Postmodernists
understand it to be hopelessly corrupted by the quest for power. It was scientific “progress,” for example, that enabled the creation of weapons of mass destruction.

According to Postmodernists, the modern story of science and technology is one of many attempts to formulate what’s called a metanarrative, or grand story of reality that claims universally valid, “God’s-eye”- view, pristine knowledge of the world. Postmodernists say metanarratives become so compelling that people stop questioning them, and it’s precisely then that they become destructive and oppressive. Postmodernists are generally suspicious of all modern metanarratives because they are so often used as tools of oppression. Many Postmodernists engage in a process of examining exactly what causes people to fall under the spell of various metanarratives. This is called econstruction. The way deconstruction works on metanarratives is similar to someone revealing how a magic trick is done: in the revealing, people stop being deceived. Postmodernists believe “deconstructing” dominant metanarratives causes them to lose their stranglehold on people’s minds.

Postmodernists have been carried away by their own ideas, calling everything into question—even the idea that we can know reality itself!

So there you have it. Islam, New Spirituality, Secularism, Marxism, and Postmodernism. By understanding these five worldviews, we’ll see how people come to grips with the rules of the world and form patterns they hope will answer life’s ultimate questions.

  1. 1 Cited in Henry Taylor, “‘Jedi’ Religion Most Popular Alternative Faith,” Telegraph, December 11, 2012, religion/9737886/Jedi-religion-most-popular-alternative-faith.html.

  2. 2 Taylor, “Alternative Faith.”

  3. 3 The call to prayer, the shahada, is an integral part of the salat: “Allahu Akbar; Ashadu anna la ilaha illa Allah; Ashadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah; Haiya ‘ala al-salat; Haiya ‘ala al-falah; Al-salat khayrun min al-nawm; Allahu Akbar; La ilaha illa Allah.” The English translation is “God is most great; I bear witness there is no God but God; I bear witness Muhammad is the prophet of God; Come to prayer; Come to well-being; Prayer is better than sleep; God is most great; There is no God but God.” See more at “Salat: Muslim Prayer,”, November 10, 2015, accessed March 26, 2016,

  4. 4 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 368–69.

  5. 5 Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet (Boston: Regina Orthodox, 2002), 55.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for Mission

Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for Mission

David J. Bosch noted the “Christian mission—at least as it has traditionally been interpreted and performed—is under attack not only from without but also from within its own ranks.” The present “crisis” was just one of many throughout Church history that created a need for a new paradigm of mission.1 Three decades following the publication of Bosch’s magnum opus, evangelicals remain in a state of transition and confusion when it comes to the Church’s global task. A new paradigm has not fully arrived. Recent books reveal questions that remind us of the continuation of this liminal state. David Hesselgrave’s, Paradigms in Conflict: 15 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today, noted the existence o fcontemporary tensions.2  Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church addressed some of the significant questions asked at Cape Town 2010 affecting global practice.3  Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell’s The Changing Face of World Missions noted many contemporary issues global workers experience in their labors during this transition period.4 Paul Borthwick’s Western Christians in Global Mission attempted to answer the question about the role of the West in kingdom advancement.5  Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison’s brief but provocative work, When Everything is Missions, argued that much of what evangelicals are calling missions is not missions.6  Bosch’s crisis remains.

Apostolic Imagination: A Starting Point for Rethinking Contemporary Mission

What is a possible way to navigate this liminal state and position the Church for future evangelical mission? If missions is rooted in the apostolic nature and actions of God and His Church, then we must consider the apostolic mindset behind such actions. How does God view the world in light of His mission? What is His expectation for the Church before the Parousia? How might the firstcentury apostles have contextualized their efforts in the 21st century? The apostolic imagination is concerned with questions such as these and should serve as a guide to conceptualizing global disciple-making efforts.

My forthcoming book, Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for the Church’s Mission Today, addresses several areas of evangelical work that need examination and revision.7 Language, purpose, missionary identity and function, strategy, locations of operations, resources, sending structures, partnerships and the role of the West are some of the important issues addressed. In this article, I attempt to share some thoughts in view of an apostolic imagination.

Rethinking Language

Whenever the Church lacks robust exegetical support for her theology and terms, then extrabiblical nomenclature can result in concepts with a variety of meanings.8 The Church uses the modern language of mission, but is often inconsistent with her definitions. The breakdown in the language of mission has resulted in a breakdown in communication.

Prior to the 16th century, mission, from Latin, was a reference to the work of the Trinity.9 The language of mission and missions, applied to Christians, first finds itself in the 16th century with Ignatius of Loyola and the notion of the Jesuits being sent into the world, and eventually embraced elements of colonial and military conquests.10 However, the language of sending existed long before the Renaissance. The use of apostolos and pempo fills the New Testament to address matters related to God’s mission in the world. When terms are extrabiblical, it is difficult to assign an agreed upon meaning.11 The result is that the definitions for mission, missions and missionaries will not remain constant but change based on contemporary realities and readers’ perspectives. What was missions yesterday is not missions today, and may be radically different tomorrow.

Rethinking Purpose

Missions is about practicing medicine, digging wells, publishing literature, planting churches, putting a roof on a building, educating missionary children, advocating for social justice, and taking two-week summer trips. The Church engages in missions even when the gospel is never shared. Culturally preferred definitions have hijacked the biblical purpose behind global activity.

Apostolic purpose is now optional when it comes to the Great Commission. While apostolic purpose is rooted in the local church (Acts 13:1-3), it extends into a realm where the Church does not exist (Rom. 15:20). Missions is multifaceted, but apostolic purpose is singular. Throughout history, ministry rightly became multifaceted after churches were established. However, the Church repurposed her apostolic task as the language of mission segued into the language of established ministry and pastoral hegemony.

Rethinking Identity

Though it is popular to teach every Christian is a missionary, such causes confusion when one attempts to look for such servants in the Bible that correspond to desired contemporary expressions. I once read a social media post on a Sunday morning whereby the author told church members to look around their worship areas for people sitting alone. After finding such people, the followers were told to go meet those individuals because “we are all missionaries today!” Alan R. Johnson writes of the problematic nature of an identity crisis: “If there is indeed no difference between what I should be doing in my own local church in my own sociocultural setting and somewhere else, there is no compelling reason to cross geographic and cultural boundaries at all.”12

Rethinking Function

As theologians in the 20th century were forced to respond to the volume and success of the Church’s global activity, they turned toward the Scriptures with the modern language of mission in hand and argued that the missio Dei was much broader than the redemption of the elect.13 By implication, the Church’s missions needed to become more diverse and multifaceted. Traditional mission terminology was expanded to reflect the multiple actions of God throughout the Scriptures. While this development was beneficial to understanding missio Dei, it became problematic in that every missional function became equivalent. Apostolic priority was discarded. Now, the Church has created an equal opportunity world of global activity that did not exist in the first century (Acts 6:1-7).

Rethinking Strategy

Jesus made the promise that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Regardless, of one’s eschatology and definition of nations, the fact is the end has not arrived and much work remains. Strategic thinking is a matter of wise stewardship and the apostolic imagination. If research is correct, that approximately 7,000 people groups remain unreached including 3,200 unengaged unreached people groups, then the wise kingdom steward is to be strategic with all resources in view of this global crisis.14 There is no room to be haphazard with global actions.

Jesus preached to towns because people residing in those locations were in need of redemption (Luke 4:43). Paul’s ambition was “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20). Once a healthy
ecclesiastic foundation was established “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum” (Rom. 15:19), he desired to transition to Spain (Rom. 15:24) where unbelievers were found. The apostolic imagination is concerned with lostness and sanctification. It is concerned about the gospel speeding ahead and being honored (2 Thess. 3:1) and new churches receiving the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Rethinking Resources

At the turn of the century, David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson noted an abysmal 0.1% of all financial resources were directed toward disciple-making efforts in the most unevangelized countries.15 R. W. Lewis wrote for every 30 missionaries who go to the reached people groups of the world, approximately one missionary goes to the unreached16. According to her research, this means an estimated 95 percent of all missionaries are serving among active  Christians who are reaching out to nominal or near-culture unbelievers of their own people group.17 This allocation of resources is unacceptable. The present reality is far from the apostolic imagination that recognizes the urgency of leveraging resources to extend the gospel to all nations.

Rethinking North America

Churches and agencies view North America through pastoral lenses. This reality has resulted in many viewing he North American context as reached and not in need of apostolic labors. While some groups use the words “mission field” to rally Christians for locations in the United States and Canada, what is generally meant is additional established churches and pastors are needed, not apostolic teams sent to plant churches among unreached people groups.18 Though the greatest needs are outside of North America, the sending of apostolic teams, which presently is the exception, should become the expectation for church-planting on this continent.

Rethinking Partnerships

The matter of partnerships is both biblical and critical for global work (Phil. 1:5; Rom. 15:24). Kingdom citizens are being sent from Western and Majority World contexts to other Western and Majority World contexts. The apostolic imagination recognizes the need for kingdom collaboration and seeks to develop healthy partnerships.

The Western Church should not think that just because a dark history exists that he should simply pass the baton to Majority World churches and check out of Great Commission activity. The commands of Christ apply to His Church wherever she is found—regardless of her past! The Lord has provided a great deal of experience, resources, and wisdom to older churches that are to be humbly shared through relationships.

There is much the West can learn from Majority World churches. Strengthening such relationships offers great potential for taking the gospel farther and deeper into Majority World settings. In the West where many unreached peoples have migrated, as well as many Christians, opportunities abound for churches to collaborate, as equals, with brothers and sisters in apostolic labors for reaching the nations across the street.


The global work of the Church needs to be evaluated with an apostolic imagination. This process of rethinking is a matter of wise kingdom stewardship. Developing and applying an apostolic imagination will enable the Church to understand her present realities and make necessary adjustments. This conceptualization is not a novelty. The apostolic imagination is an ancient gift that remains to be opened in many evangelical circles. 

  1. 1 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 2, 4.

  2. 2 David J. Hesselgrave Paradigms in Conflict: 15 key Questions in Christian Missions Today, 2nd edition, Keith E. Eitel, ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2018). 

  3. 3 J. D. Payne, Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013). 

  4. 4 Michael Pocock, Gailyn Van Rheenen, and Douglas McConnell, The Changing Face of World Missions: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).

  5. 5 Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012). 

  6. 6 Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison, When Everything is Missions (n.p.: Bottomline Media, 2017).

  7. 7 Apostolic Imagination: Recovering a Biblical Vision for the Church’s Mission Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2022).

  8. 8 Michael W. Stroope, Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), xiii. 

  9. 9 Bosch, 1. 

  10. 10 André Seumois, Théologie Missionnaire: Délimitation de la Fonction Missionnaire de L’Eglise (Rome: Bureau de Presse O.M.I., 1973), 9. 

  11. 11 Even with biblical words, scholars frequently disagree over definitions.

  12. 12 Alan R. Johnson, Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013), 52.

  13. 13 For a survey of the theological developments between 1910 and 1952 see Wilhelm Andersen, Towards a Theology of Mission, International Missionary Council Research Pamphlet No. 2 (London: SCM Press, 1955). 

  14. 14; accessed November 20, 2019.

  15. 15 David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson,World Christian Trends AD 30-AD 2200: Interpreting the Annual ChristianMegacensus (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2001), 661. 1

  16. 6 R. W. Lewis, “Clarifying the Remaining Frontier Mission Task,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 35 #4 (October-December, 2018): 159. 

  17. 17 Ibid., 160.

  18. 18 At present, the U.S. and Canada are home to the third and sixth largest numbers of UPGs of all countries, respectively. See J. D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Unreached of the Day November-December 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Unreached of the Day November-December 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Launching Movements among Muslims: Case Studies of Best Practices—Antioch Family of Churches

24:14 Goal: Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (50 months)

Launching Movements among Muslims: Case Studies of Best Practices—Antioch Family of Churches

Edited from a presentation for Global Assembly of Pastors for Finishing the Task.

I’m the co-leader of the Antioch Family of Churches, a global alliance of indigenous Church Planting Movements. For the last 30 years, we have focused on building the leadership capacity of first-generation Christians who live in closed countries and helping them learn to multiply house churches. In this article I will focus on launching movements among Muslim peoples.

For the first 20 years of our work, many of our efforts were filled with missteps, mistakes and failures. However, it was through a personal crisis in my own life that we learned to make adjustments that would lead to breakthroughs. In 2004, I was helping underground house church leaders from Iran learn and understand 2 Timothy. After this training was completed, I was poisoned by an Al-Qaeda operative and nearly died. A lot of people were praying for me, and after two and a half months of doctors and hospital visits trying to determine what had happened, I was miraculously healed. I’m very grateful for that!

But the power of the story came later—years later, as a matter of fact. I was co-hosting a Church Planting Movement training for leaders from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and at the beginning of our time together we were introducing ourselves. I found out that one of our church-planters there was the man who had commissioned my poisoning!

At that moment I began to understand that multiplying movements requires much more than cross-cultural language and culture ability. The power of incarnation begins with learning about the soul of people, and in this case, developing a deep understanding of those who were radicalized for evil. The Lord put me on a journey to begin to understand the heart of what it would take to start movements among Muslims.

Today that same Antioch Family of Churches has 1,225 movement engagements in 748 languages in 157 countries. There are 2.3 million house churches with 42 million adults. What God has started, in and among us, began with our brokenness, our missteps and our misunderstandings. But after the Lord graciously allowed us to learn some powerful tools and effective principles, exponential breakthrough has taken place.
We focus on three priorities. The first one is rescuing people from slavery into sonship. That slavery may be human trafficking, but it’s always the slavery of sin. And it’s a life filled with discrimination, pain and heartache. But when these people enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, they become sons and daughters of the living God, and co-heirs. So our relationship, even with new believers, is not hierarchical. It’s like a family because we’re asking them to be baptized into Jesus, and then into the Church, and then into the world. We never ask anyone to join our culture before they find our Savior. We make sure they meet our Savior first. Then together we discover what church would look like in their own culture. So, the first priority is to rescue from slavery into sonship.

The second one is to empower people to bring others to Christ. You may have heard the term “seeking out a man of peace.” In our model, we seek out a man or woman of influence. We call it the Cornelius Model, from Acts 10. We ask the Lord to show us people who have incredible influence in their village or their community or their country. By bringing the gospel to them, they in turn have the ability to spread that good news to all the people in their social network. Then, just like the Apostle Paul asked Titus to establish elders in every church, we ask these Corneliuses to help raise up leaders and establish elders in every house church. Our ministry then, is from church to church: not organization to church, but a local church partnering with another indigenous house church to ask God what needs to be done and then work on it together.

Then comes our third priority, which is multiply. 2 Timothy 2:2 says that the things we have heard from reliable people, we are to pass on to those who can share it with others. It’s three-generation multiplication. We’ve found that if we focus on growing generations of leaders, we can multiply movements. Our leadership training is based on obedience, not knowledge. I’ll give you an  example. Several years ago, we opened up a new ministry in a major city, and we found someone interested in spiritual things. One of our workers began having a conversation with this person, and soon there were questions about Jesus. But before explaining the depth of the kingdom, we asked that person to go find five friends.

The goal was not to bring these five friends together into a house church meeting, but rather, have each one of them be mentored by this “Cornelius.” These five would begin immediately sharing with five of their friends, and those five friends would find five of their own friends. So from the very beginning, multiplication was embedded into the whole ministry.

With these three things—rescue, empower and multiply—we discovered that we can learn so much from people who are just coming to Christ. So instead of us teaching them with declarative statements, we begin by asking powerful questions. Here are the three questions that we ask. We ask, “Who is spiritually hungry? When are they spiritually seeking? And where are they spiritually attentive?” We try to find the cultural and spiritual rhythms of those to which we are ministering.

For instance, Easter weekend isn’t going to be a high holy day for a Muslim because they don’t know Jesus yet. We found, actually, that Ramadan is the most important calendar moment when we can share the good news with Muslims. Why? Because that’s the month when they’re seeking God. Granted, it’s not the same God. They’re not seeking after Jesus the Son of God; they’re just trying to find a way to earn enough credit that God might accept them. So instead of introducing them to our holidays first, we’ve decided to come alongside them, understand their spiritual rhythms, and pray for those who are spiritually hungry. We find where they’re hungry and what they’re attentive to. Then through spiritual conversations, we can find a Cornelius. We ask him to find his friends and the multiplication process begins.

We have equipped our leaders with a translation of Scriptures or key verses. We often provide them Wi-Fi boxes, so that with the push of a button they can spread the JESUS Film or portions of the New Testament, at least in trade languages. If the people group is unengaged, we provide our teams mobile backpacks, so that if they’re in villages they can show the JESUS Film to as many as 300 people. And we give them a lot of training in how to start spiritual conversations with people—so that people want to know the God who can rescue them, empower them and multiply their influence. They can meet God, Jesus, who can forgive them of their sins.

In the midst of all of this, we found that if we come together and pray, if we build teams to intercede, there’s tremendous opportunity in these moments. There’s one special day, toward the end of Ramadan (the 27th day), called the Night of Power. On that single night, many Muslims all over the world believe that their prayers carry a thousand times the weight of other days. And on that night, they ask God for a revelation of who he is. They ask God for forgiveness of their sins, and they ask for dreams and visions. So we send our people in to mingle with those seeking a God they don’t know, so we can share about the God that we do know.

On May 19th, 2020, more than one billion Muslims gathered together in homes to fast and pray. For the first time since 622AD, the mosques were closed because of the coronavirus. They prayed on this “Night of Power” for a special revelation from “Allah” and for forgiveness of their sins. At the same time, more than 38 million Jesus followers from 157 nations—all former Muslims—lifted their voices in prayer asking the one true and living God to reveal Himself through signs, wonders, dreams and visions to the Muslims around the world. They prayed that for the first time, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Muslims would understand the mercy, love and forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ. And on this “One Miracle Night” God heard those prayers.

When we agree together in prayer and go to the throne room of heaven, we ask Jesus to intercede on our behalf—so we’re going to have spiritual conversations at the right time in the right place. We can expect miraculous things to happen. This year, during the month of Ramadan, we sent teams from village to village, asking the Lord to give us open doors and open hearts. One team went to a country and visited a village where no one received them. No one showed hospitality; no one even opened their door.

By the end of the day, the team was very discouraged. They went outside the village and all sat under a tree and built a campfire so they would be warm for the night. They began to pray and ask the Lord what to do, asking for a way to have a breakthrough in this village. As the night went on they fell asleep. Soon they were awakened and one of the leaders saw a blazing fire coming their way. It turned out to be 274 people with fire torches in their hands, walking toward them. The team was initially filled with fear until one of them said, “Hey, we prayed that we’d have an opportunity to go to this village and share Jesus. Now the village is coming to us!”

Just before they met these people, one of the 274 men stepped forward and said, “We don’t know who you are, we don’t know where you’re from, and we didn’t open our homes to you when you were in our village today. But tonight, every single one of us has had the exact same dream. And in that dream an angel appeared to us and said, “These people who came to your village are the ones who have the truth. You should go and ask them, and follow what they say.”

That was the moment: spiritual conversations with the right people, at the right time, in the right place occurred. And before the night was over, 274 leaders of homes all made professions of faith and left their religion to walk in relationship with Jesus. That’s the power of prayer and having spiritual conversations in the right place.

I want to leave you with a story about launching movements among Muslim peoples. It comes not from the idea that the worker or the missionary is the one who’s supposed to do this. It’s about equipping and building a leader, a Cornelius, who will multiply the work. Several months ago, leaders came to me and said, “You know, we haven’t been able to reach certain villages and there’s no way to get to them using regular means. So we prayed, and we feel the Holy Spirit has asked us to set aside teams of people who will go across the desert and make sure that all of the unengaged people, all of those who are unreached and untouched, would hear the Good News.”

You and I have an opportunity to launch movements among Muslim peoples. It begins when we train local people who are living nearby and are near-culture. We find a Cornelius, we invest in that person, and he helps us understand how to mobilize his friends to tell their friends. It can be as far away as the deserts of the Middle East on camels. If we empower local churches to take on the responsibilities God has given them instead of us being at the front, we become the Barnabas who supports these apostles and people who are sending. I would say that our responsibility is to equip people with training and tools and to build trust. They appoint leaders and they send church-planters to multiply other people who will then share the Good News.

In summary, I think we can look at launching movements among Muslim peoples in this way. First, a book of Acts culture can produce a book of Acts breakthrough. Second, we launch movements among Muslim peoples by adjusting our conversations, so the conversations are spiritually led with the right people, at the right time, in the right place.

We ask people to be baptized into Jesus, then help them discover what their church looks like, rather than asking people to find their way in the culture of our church. We need to also ask God for a Cornelius, a man or a woman of influence, who will use their influence to multiply the kingdom among the relationships they already have. I want to encourage you as you consider launching movements among Muslim peoples, to look for tools, to find quality training and to build trust. Come together as one church, connecting with the nearby and near-culture church, so that together you can go to unengaged, unreached peoples,and see a Cornelius multiply the kingdom in partnership with you.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Pondering the Question

Pondering the Question
“Do you have a biblical worldview?” That is the question posed and discussed in this edition of Mission Frontiers. My purpose here is to reflect a bit about the question itself, and then to suggest its connection to the frontiers of mission.


I did some digging around and among the many definitions of worldview one might find I will use one I found on the website of Summit Ministries. I select that one because Summit’s mission is to help Christians shape their worldview. The site includes this definition, “According to Dr. Jeff Myers, a worldview is ‘a pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world.” So keeping that in mind, let me turn to the question this edition poses.

The Question

I appreciate a subtle point about how the question is framed. Notice the use of an indefinite article! The question is not “do you have the biblical world view,” but rather, “do you have a biblical worldview?” I imagine many of us would approach this topic with the assumption that there is a single “biblical worldview,” and if asked my opinion about that my response would have to be, “yes and no.”

No, not a single biblical worldview

The Bible was of course inspired and written and collected over many generations and God’s communication was always taking place within the frameworks of the contexts and cultural worldviews of the recipients. This means that in a very real sense, many worldviews could be assembled from the biblical sources.
One example: as the helpful definition from Summit points out, a worldview will include elements that help us make sense of God, and of God’s relationship to us (and vice versa). Christians have read the Bible for generations and come to differing conclusions on many topics, including something as potentially ground-shifting as the topic of God’s sovereignty and the extent of human free will.
That is a worldview issue, and the fact that Christians differ sincerely and deeply suggests that there may be differences of nuance and detail in the Scriptures themselves.

Yes, a single biblical worldview

When we ask if there is a single biblical world view, we are asking: is there a single, right way to see the world, and people, etc? And my reply is, yes. The single right worldview, or way of seeing the world is God’s worldview, or God’s way of seeing the world. God has given revelation about this. We have inspired Scripture, we have human beings made in the image of God, we have the “book” of nature and wisdom, and we ultimately have Jesus, the lens by which we see all the rest, including all of what is in the Bible, wisdom, nature, etc. You might say, we have the answer key.
So, there is a worldview, a right one: God’s. It is a worldview we seek to understand, find, embrace, and use to see everything else with. But it is God’s and all of our attempts to see it and embrace it are going to be in need of  constant adjustment because we will all read the Bible based on our lenses of time and place and culture. That includes the ways we will each apply the answer key, Jesus.

This is where the frontiers come in…

I am guessing that some will assume this is where I talk about how important it is for workers in the frontiers to have a biblical worldview so they can pass it along to others. True enough, but that will not be my point here—I want to flip the coin around.
I suggest, based on my own experience as a worker in the frontiers, that part of the process of adjusting my biblical worldview, making it more aligned to God’s, has been the way brothers and sisters in UPGs discover aspects of Jesus and the Scriptures that I would miss had I not been in relationship with these saints.
Thus, at the frontiers of mission, biblical worldviews will meet, be changed, and together be adjusted to something closer to God’s view of the world and how we all relate.
Do I have a biblical worldview? Yes. And God willing, tomorrow it will be closer to God’s!

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

What Shapes our Views

What Shapes our Views
As we seek to extend God’s fame among the nations, we must seriously consider (1) what has shaped us, (2) how that informs how we interpret the Scriptures and (3) how we share truth with others.
I was raised in a family defined as “traditional” in the sense that my mother and father were both in the home, along with two brothers and one sister. We all shaped each other. We grew up going to church—I don’t remember a time that I didn’t. That shaped my views of everything (almost). Growing up in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, there were many of my friends who almost never darkened the doors of a church, and probably thought I was strange.
When I was entering high school, my family switched to a new church that was just starting. It emphasized Bible teaching, fellowship and accountability. I was mentored and drawn into ministry—from service to discipling and teaching, learning, applying and, hopefully, growing more. I was also being increasingly drawn into full-time ministry. I began to consider seminary as a way to learn more about studying and understanding the Word in depth. For me, it led me on a path of continual learning.
I am sure I’m missing many things still. As I learn, I increasingly see how much there is to learn. More often now, I seek the Spirit to help me to see myself and the Word more clearly. And there are things to “unlearn!"
All that to say that when we come to the Bible, we have been (and are) influenced by many people—from family to friends to mentors as well as many experiences. Those who’ve experienced other languages and cultures have broader experiences.
Naturally, that worldview shapes our paradigm for how we understan d the Scriptures and what we expect and believe the Bible to teach. Much of the time, we on’t even think about either our worldview or the
paradigm with which we come to the Bible. Perhaps an illustration or two will help.
Ralph Winter used to teach how a central underlying theme of the Scriptures is that we are here to take God’s message to all peoples. He would say that missions was not based on the Bible, but that the missions was the basis of the Bible. He would illustrate how an average Western evangelical might come to the Bible like a refrigerator. When we read it, we are looking to be fed (a good thing) perhaps a snack. On Sunday, the pastor takes something from a different shelf of the fridge (Bible), a Sunday School teacher another, and so on.
That approach, if overstated, can keep us from seeing the whole story and purpose of the Bible. And, means we come with a self-centered perspective, always looking for something for us because we see the Bible as mainly meeting our needs. At other times, we come to the Bible as a sort of theological dictionary or a reference book of moral principles.1 It’s an answer book.
The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is full of all kinds of things and you can get moral direction from it. It is full of theology (a word which means the “study of God”). But it is not mainly a reference or answer book. When we come to it for our needs, we also tend to use it as a way to prove we are right and other views are wrong. We use it to confirm our bias. That can happen both inside and outside the Church (with people from other religious traditions).
Chris Tomlin’s popular song “Our God” has biblical truth in it: that there is none like Him … none is greater, stronger, higher than any other…. which is all true. But the danger is that as believers, we can sound like a child saying, “my daddy is bigger or stronger than your daddy.” Or my “religion” is better or right, and yours is all wrong.
Certainly God is supreme and powerful beyond our imaginations and there are passages in the Scripture that describe that. But notice that when God tells us clearly what He is like—what His name means—He doesn’t mention power or position. He does not need to do so. Instead, in Exodus 34:6-7 (the most quoted passage within the whole Bible) He uses words andphrases like:
“…merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love  and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (ESV)
And right after God proclaims His love and mercy and grace and forgiveness to an audience of one—Moses bows in worship!
As we worship Him let’s present ourselves as learners, seeking to spread the name of a loving and gracious God.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Reconstructing a “House of Knowledge”

Reconstructing a “House of Knowledge”
It was after midnight when she finally heard the gate open. Flora Mwikali dragged herself wearily from the comfort of her cot and started toward the light from the lounge. The matron, Mummy, was already there. Suddenly the guard called, “They are too afraid. You must come, Ma’am.” As Flora peered into the van, she could see the eyes of two children gleaming like small white crescents. The woman officer was trying to coax them, but they cringed and trembled, straining away. They were so small, Flora thought. Maybe age five or six? Or maybe they were just malnourished, like so many others before them. She already had welcomed over 60 such small faces as the two she could suddenly smell on the night breeze. She motioned for the guard to make his rounds. With no men looking at them, like wounded animals the children clambered down and into the lighted room.
“This one we found sleeping buried up to her neck in the roadside repair sand,” the officer summarized as she handed Flora the paperwork. “It kept her from being troubled all night. This other one in the market dustbin, eating garbage after everyone went home.” The girls looked down as Flora read the unfeeling report “…checked at the hospital.” The officer went on. “No infections, but they have been…damaged.” She shook her head sadly as she accepted the signed paper. After she was gone, Flora knelt down, examining their small faces, not letting herself pull away from their stench. “Do you want to tell about yourselves?” The girls remained silent. “Here you will be safe. You will have sisters to play with, and can go to school. Would you like that?” She thought she detected a slight nod, and they had stopped trembling and were listening now. “This is a towel. Mummy here will help you bathe. All the girls here at New Scent are clean. She will help you dress in new clothes of your very own. I will make you food and prepare your bed. Tomorrow you can rest for as long as you want. Then, other girls would like to meet you.”
She knew that they did not understand some of her words. Most girls had never touched a towel or had a bath in their short lives. As she watched them walk to the shower house with Mummy, she wondered again, why did they just keep coming? In Kenya, where nearly 80% claimed Christ, how could men violate childish bodies with impunity? Why were the girls then treated like the garbage they often hid in?
These girls would soon find new dignity in Christ. They would learn to pray with the others and experience God providing food (without exacting pain). Someone would deliver a sack of meal or a bag of rice to the gate. But like manna, there was rarely surplus. Flora thought of the last church elder to whom she had shared her difficulty feeding 60 children. “If you would just take in ordinary orphans, then our church could help,” he had said, “but these are 
so dirtified…” his lip curled with the word. His digust matched countless rejections over the seven years since God brought the first molested child to her doorstep.
“I have experienced equal measures of love and hate from Your people, Lord. What’s wrong?” Flora prayed as she heated the mush. “The leaders know Your Word. Why do they not love and value children you say are made in Your image?”
Experiences like Flora’s are not rare. Christian workers in every culture bruise themselves on implacable boulders hidden like deadly reefs in leaders’ worldviews. They wonder, why is the perspective of the Church and its leaders so contrary to a clear teaching of Scripture? Why isn’t the Scripture affecting these hidden stones?
The answer lies in assumptions founded in each individual’s “House of Knowledge,” a helpful visualization of the human mind and heart (which I am constantly renovating) to illustrate learning and teaching.

What is the House of Knowledge?

In Proverbs 9:1, The writer describes Lady Wisdom building a house. In a similar way, each person builds an inner house of everything believed to be true. This House of Knowledge (HOK) is a helpful (but admittedly imperfect) way of picturing the structure of your mind, everything you believe, understand, or judge about everything you have encountered—your own “wisdom.” The blocks that make up your HOK are organized by topics of all sorts, from geography, the names and appearance of your family and friends, ways of appropriate behavior in your culture, to beliefs about yourself and your worth. They are not discrete, but clusters of information, with cross- referenced connections threaded to each other.The heart reigns at the center of the HOK. In biblical thought, the heart is not seen primarily as the location of emotions, as in Western thought. It is much more than that. The heart is the center of will, choice, personality, subconscious. It refers to who you are deep inside and regulates how you choose, respond, or initiate. Proverbs 4:23 says to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

How does the House of Knowledge Start? With Caregivers

A baby is born knowing nothing, right? No, at birth, the baby has already learned comfort, hunger, pain, fear and the sound of the family’s voices from inside the womb. These impressions are the first stones supporting his/ her tiny house of limited knowledge. But when the baby is jettisoned into the world at birth, it is like arriving on an alien planet. Life is going on, and she is urgently trying to make sense of this new world and how she fits into it. For this, the Lord has instilled in babies several essential skills and senses. She immediately goes to work recording impressions, and seeking to connect them with other impressions, then to extract meaning from the data. She notes who attends to her needs and what her caregiver’s reactions tell her about her own value. Within a few short weeks, social smiles bounce back and forth between the baby and the parents, or neglect produces insecurity. As the impressions grow, the house structure expands and the world comes into focus.
The parents aren’t the only ones giving the child input about the nature of life. Brothers and sisters, aunts and cousins and other caregivers are just a few of the people who give the baby data for the quest. Because we live in a world where sin, Satan and the world system are distorted and seeking to distort, some of the blocks the child builds into the house are also distorted. Sisters and brothers may say “I wish you’d never been born.” The child cannot reject these early impressions, any more than she can reject the name his parents call her. It is a one-way absorption. For many years of development, the foundation stones will embed so deeply under the soil of the maturing individual’s “house,” that they will rarely, if ever, be considered again. Language, culture, experimentation and impressions about her own body all form new blocks.

How does the House Grow? The Elevator, Greater Complexity, and Judgments

Each person’s House of Knowledge is a totally private place, humanly speaking. As a Christian discipler, you do not know what is really inside someone else’s house. It may even have been a long time since you explored the lower reaches of your own HOK. Your only access to your learner’s house is the “elevator shaft” that we can imagine extending from outside down through the core of the house. This elevator ferries information bundles down into the house. As data arrives, the mind instantly works to decode the new bundle, combing existing storerooms of blocks for something with similar features—somewhat like a domino player examines a new tile for a matching dot pattern. There are only a few seconds available for this process. If there is no match, the data disappears back up the shaft. For example, if I see a Japanese Kanji character, it takes only a split second for me to realize I do not know enough to decode it.
If new data finds some commonality with an existing block, the mind goes to work interpreting the new knowledge based on the previously stored data. If congruent, the new information attaches to the old. The upgraded block goes back into long-term memory, which grows that much bigger and more complex. So, the child’s blocks develop greater complexity. For instance, the “bird” block now includes species, “crow, sparrow, seagull” as well as bird noises, bird physiology and bird habits. This complexity gives that much more oppor- tunities to find matches whenever new information arrives in the elevator. Greater expertise in any topic and wider experience types means faster and easier absorption of new “bundles.”
Conversely, failures to learn rudimentary principles or make key observations cause new bundles to be misunderstood. Like the tongues-speakers Paul mentions in 1 Cor 14:11, if concepts arrive in unknown vocabulary, or are too advanced for the child’s current development, the new data is discarded as not only unintelligible, but are actually unable to be remembered any more than I can recall my unintelligible Kanji. Jesus actually describes a similar principle in Matt. 11:13 when speaking about the contrast between His disciples’ understanding and the confused crowds. “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.”
The school-age child experiences disciplined ways of expanding the HOK through listening, writing, reading, testing, rehearsing and creating. But mental paths to locate specific facts from textbooks, tests, and sermons, as well as memories about specific experiences, will weed over without rehearsal. But signposted judgments such as “good” or “keep out” on many subjects or events will remain to inform future bundles. Emotional experiences, especially with significant people exhibiting strong emotions (positive or negative) will inscribe the most deep, influential judgments. However, a traumatic event burns an access path so vividly that the event data itself cannot be forgotten (even though in PTSD or dissociative disorders, it may be sequestered). These signposts assign meaning to the data and will continue to exert influence throughout life.

Good Processes Can Produce Bad Results

A child comes equipped with a disposition to trust adults and older siblings. A child is not naturally skeptical, not good at discerning or rejecting input, as easily as they might spit out bitter food. Because God designed the parents to represent God to the child, the parents’ verdict about the child’s value and the way the world works is absorbed without question. But in a fallen world, this makes them vulnerable to deceit and lasting emotional damage. A baby can’t say “You should not treat me as worthless! I am God’s design and deeply loved!” If a mother says “Your brother is the smart one, you’re the cute and pretty one,” or father hisses, “Your birth brought bad luck,” these “facts” will be  deeply believed.
The compulsion to imitate, while being a key equipment for early learning, is another dangerous skill in a fallen world. It’s cute when a baby wears Daddy’s big shoes, but not cute when he imitates his curse words. Whenever a parent’s actions differ from his instructions, the child, in the long run, will typically imitate. “Do what I say, not what I do” is useless. This makes sense because humans were created as God’s image-bearers, designed to replicate His image to their children. Offspring become natural image-bearers of parents, both physically from genetics and caught from behavior. The problem of course, is that once again, children have only poor replicas of God to imitate! Yet Paul invited the infantile Corinthians to imitate him as He modeled Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 4:16). This exhortation should keep us as teachers and parents humbly walking in the fruit of the Spirit, so that God can image Christ through us. Then those we seek to disciple can safely imitate our walk.

The Right to Reign

Through the process of maturing, a child begins to exercise an ability God instilled in all humans—the right to reign (Gen. 1:26). This includes a right to reject as well as accept. The child might say “I don’t like red curry but I do like bananas.” The cluster about bananas gets signposted with others as “foods I like” and the curry information gets judged “foods I don’t like.” The child learns to exercise an ability to say “No!” as well as to comply, to complain as well as feel satisfied. Rather than accepting everything, the child learns to compare old and new information, remodeling or replacing deficient blocks. The heart instinctively knows it has this right. While this function can be just as flawed as the others in a fallen world, this ability to discern and choose is crucial to protecting the learner’s HOK from false and dangerous bundles.
One of my students, a pastor’s daughter, shared about an encounter in her church while she was still preschoolaged. As she blithely walked down a corridor, an elder suddenly blocked her way. “Why are you wearing black clothing?” he hissed. “Are you the devil’s child? God does not approve of your black dress!” Surprising for her age, Jennifer did not collapse in fear or tears. Instead, she squared her shoulders and responded indignantly, “No, I belong to Jesus. My God cares about what is in my heart, not what I am wearing!”
We can see from, not only her truthful words, but her ability to contradict a powerful adult at a young age, that her parents had laid a formidable block of biblical truth in her young heart that protected her from a deep wound (Ps. 57:4; Eph. 6:16). She was shaken by the encounter (and still remembers it vividly today, decades later) but she successfully jettisoned the lie arriving on her elevator and reigned over the attack. When a new bundle’s comparison to existing blocks produces not a “no match” (like my Kanji) but instead “understandable, but different conclusions,” this challenges the brain to work harder. In a young brain, the challenge of sorting out truth from error and chiseling new pieces and old until they fit into a congruent block is an exciting part of discovering the reign. An adolescent from a Christian home may therefore unpack a bundle from a secular worldview, compare it to his HOK blocks based on Scripture, and, instead of rejecting the new information, may swap it all out. Youth from unbelieving homes will hear the gospel and do the same. Both adolescents may horrify their parents who thought they had carefully built their child’s HOK.

The Adult Brain: Efficient and Automated

But that kind of wholesale swap is unlikely in later adulthood. Now the HOK is a mansion, a museum of vast experiences, information and approved wisdom. But the house that was once eagerly amassing, exploring and testing new information is now settled, even cemented. Values signposts, and the experiences which imprinted them, are now solidified. The mature learner’s approach to any new information arriving on the elevator has often turned from eagerness to complacency or negativity. The HOK considers itself basically finished. So, its new goal is to treasure and protect its hoard. New congruent information may be welcomed but the mind may not go to the trouble of storing it. When a new arriving bundle conflicts with existing blocks, instead of experiencing the thrill of adventure, the adult brain can experience anxiety, discomfort, even pain! The greater the uncertainty or disruption, the worse the discomfort. Being forced to wrestle between biblical truths and cultural understandings can cause a crisis not unlike an uncomfortable earthquake. How can I alter or discard this deep block, one which gives me my identity? What blocks are attached or supported by that cultural block? On the other hand, how can I reject this compelling Scripture bundle? An adult brain experiences this quaking as a threat. In fact, brain researchers found that any challenge to a held belief, even a political opinion, causes the same part of the brain to react as it does from physical threat. The brain wants to eliminate the conflict quickly. By adulthood it has several well-honed tools handy to defend the HOK. 

One toolset to eliminate threats includes biases, rules and principles. These guide decisions categorically without thinking deeply about relative merits. Children start creating these rules immediately. Researchers found babies prefer people who look similar and distrust those who look different. By the time we are adults, we easily make snap judgments (“don’t trust people who have beards”), anticipate outcomes (“if I fall, it will hurt”), and follow routines (“I always undress before bed”) without really evaluating relative merits.
These tools serve us well in many cases, but fail us in others. They can cause us to sin or act foolishly. “This messenger came from that group I don’t trust, so I won’t believe it.” We need to realize when we are operating using automated patterns and consider when it might be important. Biases also make us vulnerable to deceit. Research has shown, for instance, that when someone trusts us, we automatically reciprocate trust. We can be deceived by an unscrupulous scam artist who asks for our help. Similarly, once we decide to trust and respect someone, our positive bias causes us to stop evaluating their words and actions. This is how Barnabas followed Peter into hypocrisy in Gal. 2:13 before Paul startled them both into evaluating their response to the Judaizers.
A second toolset that adults use to avoid earthquakes is by avoiding detail. So, instead of paying close attention to a sermon, for instance, adults absorb only the gist of the message, or the entertaining illustration. They don’t even dig into their existing storerooms. They might say they “enjoyed the sermon,” nodding at the familiar, and perhaps tweaking a congruent block with an insignificant upgrade. But, when tested, they remember little of what the pastor actually taught from Scripture. In a few days, the “gist memory” has disappeared.
A third way adults deal with conflicting bundles is by placing new information in the attic. The attic of the HOK is high up, isolated from cultural values in the foundation. All Christian information can be conveniently delivered here, safe from cultural, family or business values that may conflict. New bundles here are interpreted and connected only to other attic blocks. This handy space allows one to simultaneously hold opposing blocks that cannot both be true. Because they are at opposite ends of the house, they do not provoke an earthquake.
For instance, a person might receive a sermon on the topic of the dignity of each person with a big smile and a hearty “Amen!” on Sunday. He knows John 3:16 by heart, and when pressed, he would declare that of course God loves little children. But if he has only loaded Scripture into his “attic,” down deep the cultural truth titled “your value proceeds from the honorableness of your family” reigns nopposed. Not every child has equal value. Certainly a child who has to bury herself each night, and unbury her dirty part in order to obtain food, can only bring shame to the church’s association with her. “If you touch filth, you become filthy” is what his grandfather said. Flora can be directed to save orphans, still redeemable, not permanently “dirtified” as these girls surely are.
The problem of sequestered worldviews is not limited to non-Western ones. In Western society today, objective commandments have been replaced with a higher dictum to “look within.” Follow your heart is the only source of truth. Despite the fact that Scripture insists that “The one who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26), or “The heart is deceitful above all things,” (Jer. 17:9), Western parents rarely even notice this mantra programmed like gospel into young brains from the mouths of every Disney hero and heroine, Olympic athlete, and pop song. Now when people hear preaching or reading that conflicts with their (fallen) heart-impression of rightness or wrongness, they jettison Scripture, not their own judgment.

So what does this mean for Christians involved in discipleship?

As those who believe that God’s Word holds the only antidote to a faulty HOK, how do we as Christian disciplers help people to make the deep changes and replacements needed? One impact of understanding the HOK function is that learning shifts from primarily a teacher giving information, to the HOK Homeowner doing something with bundles. The best data lectured or preached in the most compelling way will not alter anything alone. Onlya learner can do the hard interior HOK work. The teacher must ask the Holy Spirit how to create earthquakes, even when blocks are cemented in place.
The teacher’s study or information is therefore only a fraction of lesson preparation. One primary role of a teacher is to design for the learner a minimum of four steps:
  1. Identify pertinent existing blocks in their House of Knowledge (often through remembering a story).
  2.  Comprehend the new information correctly.
  3.  Evaluate, analyze, apply to something, judge, and/ or create using the new information. For instance, learners might contrast the data with common assumptions or other areas of Scripture; then apply to various situations; then create a new role play to illustrate the concept to others.
  4.  Make a choice. Identify the changes this new understanding will make when the learner returns to “normal life.”
While facilitated small groups typically accommodate these potentially earthquake-producing steps, one Indian pastor who attended a workshop reported he was using this four-step design during worship, bracketing his sermons with interactive challenges. He shared with delight that his congregation was learning, not just listening. He has decided to assign even more challenging learning tasks to the elders so that Scripture can change them deeply. I pray for this congregation to do more than just grow bigger.
This four-step teaching/learning process is not unique to me or to iTEE Global, but came originally from the life experience and teaching of Dr. Jane Vella, an adult educator working in Africa. In my own experience teaching cross-culturally as well as graduate studies in the field of adult education, I believe they best apply the House of Knowledge principles to actual lesson preparation. The four steps work equally well for learners who have high or low educational backgrounds and in all sorts of cultures. For our teacher training workshops, we use easily translatable labels as “Look Back”, “Look Here”, “Look Deeper”, and “Look Forward” and help disciplers learn to create learning tasks in each category.

Organizations mentioned:

New Scent Centre: or contact Flora Mwikali [email protected].
iTEE Global:

Further reading on learning principles/theories:

Cognitive Load
Zone of Proximal Development
Teaching Adults (Sometimes called Andragogy):
Vella, Jane. On Teaching and Learning: Putting the Principles and Practices of Dialogue Education into Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass 2008 (ISBN: 978- 0-7879-8699-5). (Vella biography at:

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine?

John Lennon’s song, Imagine, is one of the enduring classics from the 1970s. Lennon was a member of the Beatles and an avid political activist. Imagine is an anthem of secularism and remains extremely popular to this day. In fact, it practically sums up the secular worldview in three minutes.

Living for Today

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

According to Jacques Berlinerblau, professor and director of the program for Jewish civilization at Georgetown University, “The secularists are here-and-now people. They live for this world, not the next.”1 Secularism is all about this world. In fact, this world is all there is—no heaven, no hell. Lennon asks us to imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t have ideas like heaven and hell. According to Secularists, there would be a lot fewer wars and less hatred and if we all just lived for today, there could finally be peace.

While Christians disagree with this view, we can admit that some Christians have been “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” As Christians, we cannot deny the doctrines of heaven and hell, but we often get confused in how we think about those concepts.We imagine heaven as the final destination where we will escape from the evil world. But Genesis 1-2 tells us that God created a good world of order and beauty. He created humans to live in relationship with Him and set them about the task of bringing more of His goodness and beauty into the world. God’s world is not an evil place, it is a broken place that God is going to restore.

Revelation 21-22 is a vision of heaven and earth finally uniting. God isn’t going to discard the world; He’s going to redeem and remake it. Our final hope is not in the clouds, but here in God’s restored world, when heaven and earth are unified as the kingdom of God.

Living Life in Peace

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

Secularism ultimately envisions a kind of utopia where humans, working together without the interference of God or religion, can create a world of peace and harmony. Lennon’s vision sounds wonderful, but it is a denial of the sin nature in human beings. Since the fall in Genesis 3, all people have inherited a sin nature (Rom. 5:12), which means that left to our own devices we will look to our own interests.

According to Francis Schaeffer, when Adam and Eve sinned, four separations occurred. Man was separated from God, from himself, from his neighbor, and from creation.3 The Bible and the history of the world affirm that we cannot repair these rifts on our own. The doctrine of sin isn’t just about humans being imperfect beings who make mistakes; rather, it is about rebels going against their Creator, incapable of doing what is good on their own.

Part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to initiate the kingdom of God, bringing peace and healing those separations caused by the fall. Though the kingdom of God will not be fully initiated until Christ returns, we can anticipate His arrival by working through the power of the Holy Spirit as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) to a lost and dying world.

Sharing All the World

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

For Lennon and secularists, utopia will be people doing what feels good in a world with no religious rules or regulations, everyone living in peace and sharing everything. And we will get there only when we shed religion, personal possessions and outdated morality. If we are going to get to utopia, we all have to do it together. According to secularist Sam Harris, part of the problem with religion is that religious people identify “with a subset of humanity rather than with humanityas a whole.”4

In reality however, Lennon, Harris, and other secularists have identified themselves with their own subset. Secularism is as much a religion as Christianity is. But Christianity (contra Harris and Lennon) is for the world. The heaven we imagine (and the one that Scripture speaks of ) will be one in which God’s kingdom is finally established and all the world is living together in harmony under His just rule. However, we won’t get there on our own merits. To be part of that kingdom we must be reconciled to God through His son, Jesus. When that relationship is restored, we are loosed upon the world to anticipate God’s kingdom by bringing His justice and peace into our homes, communities, and indeed, the whole world.

  1. 1 Jacques Berlinerblau, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious reedom (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2012), 180 as quoted in Jeff Myers and David Noebel, Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews, 5th ed.
    (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries,
    2015), 77.

  2. Since Lennon’s song is about a utopian vision, which is a kind of heaven, we will focus only on our ideas about heaven in this article. For an interesting discussion of Hell, see Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and Jeff

    Myer’s Understanding the Faith.

  3. 3 Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time (1972) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer A Christian Worldview: Volume 2 - A Christian View of the Bible as Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 69-70.

  4. 4 secular-philosophies/why-religionmust-end-interview-with-samharris.aspx.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

God’s Mission Is a Battle for Hearts and Minds

God’s Mission Is a Battle for Hearts and Minds

They are all around us, as pervasive as the air we breathe. They bombard us relentlessly day and night from every direction seeking to take us captive. The unaware are helpless to avoid their grasp. They are the lies, evil philosophies and poisonous worldviews that seek to tear our hearts and minds away from the God who loves us and sent His Son to die for us. These lies of Satan seek to corrupt a true and biblical understanding of God and how we are to relate to Him.

As seen in the article by Jeff Myers starting on page 19, these false worldviews have invaded our churches and corrupted the hearts and minds of millions of supposedly faithful followers of Jesus. The statistics on page 20 paint a bleak and grim picture of compromise and apostacy. Another survey by George Barna completed several years ago, which I have often quoted, discovered that only 19% of self-proclaimed born-again believers in Jesus actually held to very basic sound doctrine such as the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. That means that 81% do not hold to the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith. It is no wonder we are having so much trouble making progress in reaching the unreached peoples. We haven’t even reached the people in our churches yet. And what happens if we send these people out as mission workers to make disciples? Horrors! We are not talking about trying to attain some perfect goal of 100% adherence to sound doctrine, as we will always have some wayward souls in the Church. But better than 50% is not too much to ask.

The mission of God is a battle for the hearts and minds of billions of people, both inside and outside the Church. All truth is God’s truth and we must conform our beliefs, values and thinking to His truth. How we think about God and ourselves affects everything else in the world since our thinking affects our actions. The battles we face in the physical world such as poverty, disease, war, human trafficking, and on and on, are at their roots a battle for the mind. This is why God calls us to renew our minds and take every thought captive to Christ. Bad thinking leads to bad outcomes both personally and globally. All the crises we face in the world are, in reality, a spiritual/ worldview crisis. Thus, our job as Jesus followers is to identify the unbiblical beliefs, lies and false worldviews in our own lives and the lives of others and to confront them with the truth of God’s word. To say the least, this is a monumental task. On just a personal level, it is a life-long journey to identify the lies we have believed and to replace these lies with the truth of God’s Word.

In order to confront and defeat the lies and false worldviews in ourselves and others, we must understand: 1. How our worldview developed, 2. What are the major worldviews vying for our allegiance, and, 3. How do we go about replacing the lies of the false worldviews with God’s truth through effective discipleship? Unless we understand how to disciple people toward lasting biblical change in their lives, then we are in grave danger of

simply plastering Christian knowledge on top of a false worldview that is largely unchanged. The effects of this can be disastrous. We can see this in many parts of the world where large majorities of people claim to be Christians but their behavior does not reflect a truly transformed life. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 is but one example of a largely “Christian” country not reflecting Christ-like character.

Reconstructing a “House of Knowledge”

The wonderful article by Debbie Wood starting on page 8, gets to the heart of this problem. Based on the latest brain science, she describes how our worldview develops and how our “House of Knowledge” gets built, block by block. Unfortunately, many of these blocks that make up our worldview are faulty and based on lies. So, as we come to Christ, each of us must do the hard work of renovating our House of Knowledge to replace those

faulty blocks with blocks of truth. Situations like the Rwandan genocide take place when the faulty blocks are not replaced and the truth of the gospel is just stored in the attic and ignored. This article gets to the heart of how we change our worldview and disciple others so they are equipped to change their worldview as well.

The implications of this article are massive for the ministry of the Church. The foundational fact of human nature is that truth cannot just be heard as in a sermon. It must be wrestled with and internalized in order to make any difference. Passive listening is not enough. Whenever truth encounters deeply embedded lies in our minds, it creates a type of cognitive dissonance that can produce real physical distress. As the Church, we must provide educational opportunities in small discipleship groups that encourage this “wrestling match” to take place on a regular basis. We all have a bunch of embedded lies that need to be ripped out and replaced with God’s truth.
Simply sitting in church and listening to a sermon once a week will not suffice. We are up against a culture with a high-powered media blasting lies at us like a machine gun, 24/7. A once-a-week sermon with passive listeners cannot compete with this. The Church has to adapt or we will get more of the compromise and apostasy that we see in the Church today.

All of this limits what we can do in reaching the unreached peoples. How can we effectively mobilize the Church to action on behalf of the unreached peoples if 81% of the people in the Church do not even believe the foundational truths of the Bible? A radical change in the way we do church is required if the mission of the Church is to survive the onslaught of false worldviews from the surrounding culture.

Disciple Making Movements Are the Answer

At the heart of every Disciple Making Movement (DMM) is a philosophy of education and transformation that is perfectly suited for how people were created to learn and to replace bad information with the truth. The discipleship process in DMMs is centered upon active involvement, not passive listening as in most churches. Disciples are taught how to study the Scriptures for themselves and to feed themselves spiritually. The focus in DMMs is not on gaining head knowledge, storing more stuff in the attic of their House of Knowledge, but rather on application and obedience to what they are learning from Scripture. The process encourages the resolution of internal conflicts between deeply embedded blocks of lies and the truth of God’s Word. These conflicts are not glossed over, as in most Christian education, but brought out into the open to be confronted and resolved with the help of the Holy Spirit. In DMMs the disciple is taught to listen to the Holy Spirit and to obey what God’s word and the Spirit says. If the disciple has a faulty, unbiblical worldview, then that will come to the surface when confronted with the truths of God’s Word. The kind of statistics we see in Jeff Myers’ article on page 20 are the result of the lack of an effective discipleship process that encourages people to confront and alter the defective blocks in their worldview. As said before, passive listening is not enough for this essential confrontation process to take place. Each of us must confront the lies in our worldview and replace those lies with the truth. Then we must help others to do the same. The future of God’s mission on Earth will hinge on whether we have the courage to choose a more effective path of discipleship.

Support the Work of Mission Frontiers

As is the case with most publications, Mission Frontiers cannot cover its costs from subscriptions alone. We need additional funds from those who believe in this ministry and are willing to sacrifice to help us move forward in casting vision for Kingdom Movements in all peoples. Like most of the people who work for Frontier Ventures, my salary is supplied by the donations of churches and friends who believe in what I am doing. And also like many staff members at Frontier Ventures, there are many months when not enough comes in to fully cover our allotted salary. To donate to my ministry with MF go to and click on the Donate button. Put MA 323 in the dialog box. If you would like to help MF cover its general expenses and expand its influence, go to the same web address, given above, click on the Donate button and put MA 030 in the dialog box. We greatly appreciate whatever you can do to help Mission Frontiers and Frontier Ventures continue its work to see Kingdom Movements emerge in all peoples.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

How to Stop the Bad Ideas That Plague Us

How to Stop the Bad Ideas That Plague Us
We live in a time of war. There are no soldiers in this battle. There are no landing craft, no bombers flying in formation, no artillery emplacements. Yet attacks occur every minute of every day.
The battle we’re in is a battle of ideas. To be spiritually and mentally strong, we need a healthy worldview that inoculates us against the bad ideas we pick up from the culture around us. In my new book, The Secret Battle of Ideas About God, I show how we can win against bad ideas by thinking of them as viruses and by paying attention to the steps doctors take to stop deadly diseases.

Bad Ideas are Like Viruses

The battles we face are more like germ warfare thanlike military warfare, because bad ideas are like viruses. A virus is an organism with genetic material coated by a protein. Genetic material is common and ordinarily not harmful. Proteins are necessary for the body to do its work. Separately, they’re harmless. When combined, however, they can be deadly. Secret Battle reveals the four steps doctors take to battle against viral outbreaks and shows how these same four steps can immunize us against bad ideas and replace them with good ideas about love, healing, purpose, peace and hope.

Four Steps to Stopping Bad Ideas: What We Can Learn from the Battle against Disease

A recent Time article frightfully revealed how scientists are scrambling to prevent the next viral outbreak that could kill millions. In the article, Bill Gates says that highly infectious disease is humanity’s greatest threat. Gates is right. Sort of. Deadly diseases have killed millions in the past. But bad ideas can be deadlier. The ideas of Nazism and Marxism resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions in the 20th century. Both ideas started in books—in Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. When faced with potentially catastrophic viral outbreaks, doctors have learned not to sit back and hope for the best. Rather, they take decisive action, using four specific steps to curb a virus’s growing impact. I call this the 4 I’s—Identify, Isolate, Inform, and Invest.

First, doctors identify the virus’ characteristics.

Doctors can identify viruses by the symptoms they cause: aches and pains, fever and so forth. We can identify the symptoms of bad ideas, too. Among Christians, for example, a terrible “virus” is striking the young. One measure of the virus’ reach is how many drop out of church. Up to 75 percent of students who were significantly involved in church in high school no longer attend church as 20-somethings, and only 35 percent return and attend regularly (defined as at least twice a month).
Many think higher education is the problem. It’s not. Those who don’t attend college after high school are even more likely than college-goers to stop attending church.
As I’ve worked with tens of thousands of young people, I’ve seen how easily their minds are taken captive by worldviews such as secularism, which says that God is irrelevant; by postmodernism, which says that the search for truth is fruitless; and by New Spirituality, which teaches that everything is one and that we are all gods. A recent study by the Barna Group, commissioned by
my organization, shows that such worldviews don’t just infect the young. We found that among church-going Christians,
• 61% agree with ideas rooted in New Spirituality.
• 54% resonate with postmodernist views.
• 38% are sympathetic to some Muslim teachings.
• 36% accept ideas associated with Marxism.
• 29% believe ideas based on secularism.
The battle of ideas affects us all. We need to identify ideasthat stand against Christ so we can take every thought captive in obedience to Him (2 Cor. 10:5).

Second, doctors isolate the virus’ impact by tracing where it has been and who is at risk.

Idea viruses hitch rides on someone or something that otherwise seems completely harmless. Just as viruses trick the body because they’re coated with proteins, something the body finds beneficial, bad ideas are lies coated in bits
of truth. For example:
• “The physical world is all we can see” (Therefore, anything spiritual is merely a creation of the human imagination.)
• “Some rich people are greedy” (Therefore, we are justified in confiscating wealth.)
• “Often, religious people lie” (Therefore, no religious message should be believed.)
• “Forces are at work beyond what we can see” (Therefore, God must be a force, not a person.)
Bad ideas masquerade as something good—or at least harmless. Otherwise, they wouldn’t spread. Bad ideas can seem good at first because they give us a feeling of power. We need to be able to isolate what makes them deadly so we’re not caught off guard.

Third, scientists inform people of how to stop the virus.

William McGuire, a psychology professor in the 1950s, specialized in showing people how to resist bad ideas. He suggested that you don’t just tell people the truth; you also inform them of the lies that stand against the truth. You give them a little of the disease so they can build an immunity to it. It’s called inoculation. Inoculation worked against deadly viruses such as polio and smallpox.
To test his theory, McGuire prepared arguments in favor of widely rejected claims, such as “Brushing your teeth is bad for you.” He then organized test groups with varying degrees of preparation to resist those messages.
As you might expect, better-prepared participants were less likely to be caught off guard. But one disturbing finding emerged: just reinforcing what people already knew seemed to make them more susceptible to bad ideas.
The point is that we can’t just pretend bad ideas don’t exist and hope no one will believe them. It seems counterintuitive, but with so many bad ideas threatening to infect us, we need to know what makes bad ideas bad so we are not as vulnerable to them.

Fourth, scientists invest in those who are sick by helping them survive and recover.

The final thing you can do to stop bad ideas is help people survive once they’ve been attacked. With deadly viruses, doctors treat patients with medication to combat infection and with massive doses of fluids and electrolytes to keep their bodies from going into shock. Prompt intervention buys time for the body to fight for itself, increasing the chance of survival.

In the battle of ideas, we should have compassion on those who’ve been misled, loving them into the truth more than arguing them into it. People who have been taken captive by idea viruses won’t be stuck in them forever if we’re willing to ask questions to get them thinking and to help them develop a hunger for the truth.

Jesus is the Cure

Jesus is the way, truth, and life (John 14:6). In Secret Battle, I show that Jesus offers the way to truly think like He thinks, feel what He feels, and live like He did as we go about finding love, healing hurt, discovering meaning, pursuing peace and living with hope.

Because of Jesus, fake worldviews cannot destroy us. His love is unconditional. He has triumphed over evil for our sake. He calls us and gives us a reason to live. He points the way to forgiveness and peace with our enemies. He enables us to live every day knowing that his unmatched power brings hope, both in this life and in the life to come. Because of Jesus, fake worldviews cannot destroy us. His love is unconditional. He has triumphed over evil for our sake. Yes, we are in a secret battle of ideas, but the outcome is assured. Jesus has won.. McGuire thought it might also help people resist bad ideas.

This is an article from the November-December 2021 issue: Do You Really Have a Biblical Worldview?

How Do Our Worldviews Develop and Why Should We Care What People Believe?

How Do Our Worldviews Develop and Why Should We Care What People Believe?
What we understand about God and the world affects what we believe about everything else, including what kinds of arguments we find persuasive and how we justify our intended actions. That’s why the apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” To understand what God wants from us, we must identify the world’s patterns, refuse to conform to them, and be transformed to embrace a God-pleasing pattern of living.
We call a pattern of ideas a worldview. A worldview answers such fundamental questions as, “Why are we here? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Is there a difference between right and wrong? Is there a God?” We all develop ideas in our attempt to answer these questions, and our ideas naturally give rise to a system of belief that becomes the basis for our decisions and actions. Our worldview is like a map. It helps us know where we are, where we need to go and the best route to get there.
Our worldview does not merely reflect what we think the world is like; it directs what we think the world should be like. In other words, our worldview not only describes reality; it prescribes how we should act and respond to every aspect of life. Because our ideas do determine how we behave, the bottom line is that our ideas do have consequences.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is aware of his or her deeply held ideas. If we were to ask a person on the street about her philosophy of life, we would probably et a blank stare. But if we asked how life began, she would probably
offer some sort of answer, even if the answer was not completely coherent. Still, her belief would impact the way she lives her life. It’s also often the case that people are unaware of where their deeply held beliefs come from. If we were to continue our street conversation by asking why this woman believes what she claims to believe, she might shrug and reply, “I don’t know; I just believe it.” Often people pick up their beliefs like they catch colds—by being around other people! And since ideas are everywhere—on television, in books and magazines, at the movies, and in conversation with friends and family—it’s easy to pick them up without considering whether they’re worth believing.
Regardless of where they come from, the ideas we embrace about the nature of reality lead to a set of core beliefs, which in turn form convictions about how we should live meaningfully. This beefs up our definition of worldview. A worldview is a “pattern of ideas,” but it’s also “a pattern of beliefs, convictions, and habits that help us make sense of God, the world, and our relationship to God and the world.”
Of course, some Christians don’t act Christian. There are also Muslims and Secularists whose lifestyles are inconsistent with what they believe. The Christian idea f the sinful nature predicts this. Human actions fall short of human aspirations. For example, if a person embraces the idea of sexuality as an expression of love between a married man and woman, he or she will probably believe in abstaining from sexual activity outside of marriage, which reflects a value of sexual purity and a conviction to safeguard it. This does not mean, however, that the person will never indulge in pornography in a moment of weakness. Such indulgence does not invalidate the person’s ideas, beliefs, convictions and habits, but it will produce guilt because the person knows pornography is harmful. On the other hand, a person with no existing beliefs about love and marriage will still feel guilty but may not understand why. People who continue to indulge in pornography may end up in a habitual pattern shaped by the culture’s permissive stance rather than what God wants.

Ideas have consequences. They form our beliefs, shape our convictions, and solidify into habits.

There are hundreds of different worldviews. Is it possible to know which of them, if any, is actually true? If you look in the religion section of a bookstore, you’ll see books not only on Christianity and Islam, of course, but also on Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Vedantism, Jainism, Shintoism and many other religions. Each religion attempts to explain what the world is like and how we should live. You’ll also notice books on Secularism and atheism in the religion section. This might seem odd, but when you think about it, even atheists have a set of beliefs aboutthe cause, nature and purpose of the universe. They’re religious.1 Even people who don’t care about any of this are religious; their religion says the ultimate questions don’t matter. All worldviews are religious.
If everyone is religious we would expect their beliefs to lead to certain actions. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We are now getting to the point at which different beliefs about the universe lead to different behavior.…Religion involves a series of statements about facts, which must be either true or false. If they are true, one set of conclusions will follow about the right sailing of the human fleet[;] if they are false, quite another set.”2
Here’s where we are so far. All people try to make sense of the rules of the world by developing ideas. These ideas flow in patterns, which we call worldviews. People’s worldviews lead them to value certain things, which leads to  particular convictions governing their behavior. These convictions solidify into habits that affect the way people live.

Why Should We Care What People Believe?

As people try to figure out the rules and patterns of the world, they diagnose what is wrong with the world and suggest prescriptions. As in medicine, a wrong diagnosis could lead to mistreating a disease or leave a serious illness untreated. If everyone lived in isolated caves, the consequences of our actions wouldn’t affect others. But we aren’t isolated. We live in families, communities, cities and countries. The consequences of bad beliefs can cause serious pain. Some ideas in history have led to death for millions. Nazism systematically exterminated approximately 21 million people, not counting the tens of millions who died in battles initiated by the Nazi regime.3  Communist regimes slaughtered well over 100 million people in the 20th century. As we will see in the article on Marxism in this issue, the slaughter continues to this day.

Every one of these deaths was in the service of an idea. Ideas have consequences, sometimes unspeakably tragic ones. Like a wildfire, these ideas began with a single flame and rapidly spread before a stunned and unprepared
populace, engulfing millions. People thought Adolf Hitler was a pompous fool early in his career. Who could have predicted he would actually amass enough power to slaughter millions? Similarly, who could have imagined that a radical writer named Karl Marx, a man deeply unpopular even with his friends, would be capable of unleashing an idea—communism—that would destroy more people than any other idea in history?

Is it possible to understand ideas and their consequences? More important, is it possible to identify bad ideas in time to stop them before they can lay waste to the lives, hopes, and dreams of countless people? Fortunately, the answer is yes. To grasp the world of ideas, we don’t need to know everything about everything. In the following pages, we’ll take an in-depth look at the pattern of ideas, beliefs, convictions, and habits that makes up a Christian worldview. We’ll suggest that understanding Christianity as a worldview will help us make sense of the world. Understanding other worldviews—other patterns—will confirm the essential truths of Christianity.

Here’s a sports analogy: Let’s say you play against a team that has 60 completely different plays. It would be hard to prepare for such a complex strategy. But if you know the team actually has six basic plays, each with 10 variations, then by figuring out the six plays, you can make better guesses about each variation and know how to counteract it.

In this issue of Mission Frontiers, we’ll discover the six plays and the 10 variations that worldview “teams” are running these days. Based on this information, we’ll form a mental model from which we can make more accurate guesses about how people all over the world see things. We will examine six dominant worldviews: Christianity, Islam, Secularism, Marxism, New Spirituality, and Postmodernism. Each of these six worldviews claims to present the truth. Then we’ll examine each worldview as expressed in 10 key academic disciplines to see whether they are, in fact, true.

  1. John Dewey, the father of modern education, helped organize a group of philosophies into what he hoped would be a new worldview that replaced Christianity. He called it Secular Humanism. The word secular means “that which pertains to worldly things rather than religious things.” And yet Dewey was forthright about the fact that his new philosophy was, in fact, religious: “Here are all of the elements for a religious faith.… Such a faith has always been implicitly the common faith of mankind.” John Dewey, A Common Faith (1934; repr., New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962), 87.

  2. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1972), 58.

  3. R. J. Rummel, “Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder” (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1992), chap. 1.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

How People Group Information Impacted a Mission Agency

How People Group Information Impacted a Mission Agency

The world is choking on data, most of which has no eternal impact.

Today, we take data for granted. Forty years ago, it was a different story. One Bethany leader said, as he made his way to the mission field in 1981:

"As a young missionary with Bethany International, I was starving for data. Who are the unreached, where are they, are they open to the gospel, how can we gain access to them? I had just graduated from what is now Bethany Global University and was a “wet-behind-the- ears” young leader of a new church-planting team. We read newsletters, read books, wrote letters and made phone calls, seeking information to help guide our direction. Our best data came from missionaries passing through on furlough. We eventually found our place in Asia among an under-reached people group. We may have been one of Bethany’s first data-driven teams."

This article is a testimony of how God used data to challenge an organization to engage more than 500 Unreached People Groups with the transforming power of the gospel.

Bethany International was founded more than 75 years ago with the goal of “evangelizing the nations.” Missionaries were trained, sent out and supported. Passion for world evangelization was great. These workers arrived on the field but still needed to figure out what impact they could accomplish once arriving in a country. There was little information about the presence of specific Unreached People Groups.

The power of data regarding the unreached came to life when a new board member showed a map generated from people group data, with South Asia lit up like a Christmas tree. His challenge to us was to focus on the darkest places, what he called “the edges of the kingdom.” These discussions led Bethany to adopt a new mission statement: “take the Church to where it is not and help others do the same.”

The Engage500 Initiative

In 2015 Bethany, as a member of a global consortium of missionary training and sending ministries called GlobeServe, began tracking church-planting engagements among the unreached. We were encouraged to see we were serving in 269 UPGs. People group information from Joshua Project helped create the initial list.

The goal of Engage500 was to place church-planting teams among 500 Unreached People Groups by 2020— in five years.

At the time this seemed impossible. How could we virtually double the number of UPG engagements in five years, when it had taken at least three decades to get to 269? We had spent much time in prayer and studying the pressing need of the unreached. We knew that God was challenging us to start this amazing journey.

Doubling the number of UPGs engagements required a dedicated team. We appointed Kerry, a missions mobilizer in Mexico, as Bethany’s researcher. He combed through people group data sets for each of the 70 countries where GlobeServe schools and missionaries served. We crisscrossed the globe sharing the Engage500 vision. Each time we met with a Hub, we
presented UPG data for their country and challenged them to adopt and then engage the unreached. They responded by committing to this Unreached People Group task.

The first two years of the Engage500 program were slow going. However, ministry members became more and more excited about the prospect of engaging the unreached. These unreached peoples were often in close proximity to them (though previously invisible to them). The first year we only added eight new engagements; the second year, 12 more; the third year we saw an amazing jump—83 new UPG engagements were added in just one year across the GlobeServe partner world!

As GlobeServe members began to field teams to the unreached, they fed new understanding from the front lines about Unreached People Groups. Sam, one of our researchers in India, embarked on a three-month journey to catalogue the Unreached People Groups where the graduates of their Hub schools were working. Working closely with a global people group list, we discerned the distinctions between castes, locations and people groups. Our Indian leaders used the resulting data for decision- making. Today a significant percentage of the GlobeServe
engaged people groups are from India.

On May 7, 2020, we confirmed the 503rd engagement among Unreached People Groups, a Muslim UPG in northern India. The number keeps growing—today we are engaging 529 UPGs with almost 100 more in the adoption stage.

The Scale for Effective Engagement

In 2017, we introduced an engagement scale to track and better understand progress towards transformational outcomes and Church Planting Movements. We track adoption, engagement, first disciples, first churches and replication, towards the Church Planting Movement stage in each of these Unreached People Groups. Bethany’s work among GlobeServe partners—pursuing and tracking Engage500 and now Disciple Making and Church Planting Movements—is strengthening our own Bethany Global University and Bethany Gateways missionary training and sending. Now our goal is to see 100 movements by the year 2026: again, a God-sized goal where our understanding is consistently refined by good data.

Data, used well, is transformative. Data is “just data” until it is used to spur God’s people to prayer and action. Without data it would have been almost impossible to fulfill Engage500. God used verifiable and timely information to burden our Bethany/GlobeServe members to pray. Prayer then moved them to action.

The lines between people groups are being blurred. The Engage500 lists at times include people groups found in different parts of the same country, or people groups across national boundaries. These can become hidden peoples, surrounded by believers who are unaware that no one is reaching them. In such a world we need data more than ever. Data about unreached peoples helped crystalize Bethany’s mission statement to “take the Church to where it is not”. God used data and people group profiles to burden the hearts of our missionaries to take the difficult step of doing incarnational ministry among the unreached. Data led to burden, burden to prayer, prayer to faith and faith to steps of obedience. God brings the fruit—fruit that remains.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Groups 50 Years Later?

People Groups 50 Years Later?

Dear Reader,

In 1974, when Ralph Winter introduced the concept of what would become known as “unreached peoples” (he used “hidden people”), it would have been impossible to gauge the impact this concept would have on mission thinking and strategy.

Almost 50 years later we can look back and see how profoundly a few simple insights can shape a whole movement.

Today most Christian mission organizations and most missiologists wrestle with Winter’s insight: that there are “peoples” in which there are churches planted and growing and multiplying in sufficient capacity to continue to reach more of “their own”, and there are peoples for which that is not the case.

That insight catalyzed shifts in where organizations sought to place personnel, whole movements to pray for unreached peoples, and also shifts in strategies for planting and multiplying churches.

The thinking began to dig into all sorts of themes and topics related to how to define what is meant by a “people group”. Most (not all) will accept readily that in the phrase “all the nations,” (e.g., in Matthew 28), Jesus was not referring to countries. Many would then add that Jesus meant the ethnicities and languages which constitute the peoples of the earth. Later, questions about other types of “identity” which shape how people determine “who are we” and “who are they” have added to the complexity of the understanding of reached and unreached in the way I phrased it above. Religion in all its varieties (whether religion is even the right word), social identities, the impact of location and thus migration and immigration, and so on, all raise questions about the boundaries of what we mean when we say “this is a people group”.

One of the eventual definitions posited by Ralph Winter was what he termed the “unimax” definition, namely, the largest group within which the Good News can flow as a Church Planting Movement before encountering significant barriers of acceptance or understanding. Thus, a Uni (“unified”) Max (“largest”) People Group is what he suggested be the strategic focus of frontier mission.

Simply stated: identify the barriers, innovate ways to overcome the barriers, and thus reach all unimax peoples.

Of course, the unimax definition is entirely based on the reality that those barriers will only be reliably discovered by a movement itself as it grows to the point where it reaches a “wall” that cannot be explained only by willful rejection of the good news, but which appears on close inspection to be due to barriers that are not intrinsic to the message itself.

This edition of Mission Frontiers is a product of, and a contribution to, a conversation about all these issues that stretch back to multiple writings and multiple intentional conferences and working groups.

May you benefit from these pages.

Kevin Higgins General Director Frontier Ventures

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Response to Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

Response to Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

Justin has put his finger on what I believe is the number one problem related to current people group thinking. For decades numerous voices have cast doubt on whether the people group paradigm can adequately describe human grouping in urban contexts. As centers of amalgamation, assimilation and integration of ethnicities, languages, and cultures, cities create hybrid or hyphenated identities over time.

“Fusion cuisine” is one product of such blending, yet such fusion goes far beyond food. It takes place within people as distinct communities living side-by-side in densely populated areas interact with others daily. The traditional framework of people groups, in which peoples are seen as clearly distinct groups with clear lines of demarcation, does not work in cities in a similar way. So does urban reality doom the people group paradigm to irrelevance?

It depends on how you define people groups. Historically, there have been two primary ways of defining them, one narrow and simple, the other broad and complex. The simple definition is best known as the ethnolinguistic definition, meaning that the peoples of the world are categorized according to shared ethnicity and language. The advantage of the ethnolinguistic definition is that it is quantifiable. This is the standard way peoples have been categorized, not only by missionaries, but also by the United Nations, national governments, etc.1

By contrast, the “official” definitions for people groups, hammered out by American, evangelical mission leaders, have been much more complex. These definitions of people groups did not neglect ethnolinguistic realities, but also recognized other factors. As early as 1978 Ralph Winter was defining “hidden peoples” more broadly: “Any linguistic, cultural or sociological group defined in terms of its primary affinity (not secondary or trivial affinities), which cannot be won by E-1 methods and drawn into an existing fellowship.”Here the word “sociological” broadens the types of grouping possible far beyond ethnicity and language. The emphasis is on “primary affinity” and is not necessarily ethnolinguistic.

Then in 1982 leaders gathered to agree on a standard definition of a people group,

A people group is a significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combinations of these. For evangelistic purposes it is the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a Church Planting Movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.3

Notice that the first sentence includes much more than ethnicity and language as acceptable affinities. The second sentence, added at Winter’s impetus, puts the emphasis simply on “group” and emphasizes “barriers of understanding or acceptance.” In other words, a group is identified not only because it represents a new language (barrier of understanding) but also because it may represent other barriers created due to religion, class, caste, etc. (barrier of acceptance), perhaps even within one ethnolinguistic group. By this definition, people groups cannot be reduced to ethnicity and language.

Even after the establishment of the 1982 definition as an industry standard (which saw the demise of the phrase “hidden peoples”), and even though Winter helped create that newer definition, he felt that people groups were still being interpreted ethnolinguistically. So once again he attempted to change the focus with his description of “unimax peoples.” “A unimax people is the maximum sized group sufficiently unified to be the target of a single people movement to Christ, where ‘unified’ refers to the fact that there are no significant barriers of either understanding or acceptance to stop the spread of the gospel.” Again, there is no reference to the type of affinity. Winter was less concerned about how groups held together and more concerned with why the gospel wasn’t getting to them, less concerned about affinity and more concerned about access, less concerned about bonding and more concerned about barriers.

The differences in these views of what constitutes a people group are important. Winter and Koch rightly asked, “What if an ethnolinguistic people is actually a cluster of unimax peoples, and while one of them is experiencing a church-planting explosion, other groups in the cluster have little or nothing happening within them?”5 Not satisfied with identification of ethnolinguistic affinity, they have pushed us to discover where and why the spread of the gospel may be hindered within a given ethnolinguistic group.

With that history in view, let’s return to the question: does urban reality doom the people group paradigm to irrelevance?

If people groups are seen exclusively as ethnolinguistic groupings, then I believe they have indeed become somewhat irrelevant for urban contexts. I say “somewhat” because we need to remember that even with all the realities mentioned above, people in urban contexts can also remain very devoted to their home cultures. Not all people in urban environments mix in equal measure. Traditional norms often remain very strong, as illustrated by mother tongue transfer to younger generations and marriage within existing groups. It is not accurate to portray cities as bastions of indiscriminate and wholesale mixture.

However, given that caveat, it remains obvious that if we equate people groups with ethnolinguistic peoples, cities create problems too difficult to overcome. Rather than defending ethnolinguistic people groups in this way, I think we need to remind ourselves that the actual definitions hammered out decades ago allow for a more elastic, non-ethnolinguistic definition.

I believe that these classic people group definitions remain valid in urban settings. Under this paradigm, we are looking for groups (whatever their affinity) that appear to exist outside gospel witness. In most cases, this will be due to barriers of acceptance. Regardless of the fusion of peoples in urban settings, they are still forming into groups. That is what matters, not the particular and varied affinities they are grouped around. We don’t have to abandon people group thinking to understand urban life. But we do have to return to the earlier definitions to be reminded of the breadth of possibility human grouping takes.

Finally, this line of thinking can be taken too far. One of the weaknesses of the 1982 definition is that it allows for literally millions of human groupings encapsulated in “a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combinations of these.” While a purely ethnolinguistic focus is too limiting, a focus on every conceivable human grouping in the world is far too broad. I believe the ethnolinguistic focus has served us well, but when an issue like urban contexts limit its effect, we need to delve deeper, but not too deep.

Our goal is not to describe every human grouping on this planet. It is to notice when the gospel is not getting somewhere, and then to prayerfully and humbly seek God for the wisdom needed to discern the barriers as well as the bridges to that group. The complex realities of human grouping will always frustrate simple definition and people group databases. They can only be discerned by workers embedded in urban centers over many years. Today’s urban missionary needs to become expert in new forms of research like social network analysis and become reacquainted with old forms of research like prayer. It is hard to imagine a more exciting vocation!

  1. 1

  2. 2 Winter, Penetrating the Last Frontiers, Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1978, 42.

  3. 3 Ralph D. Winter and Bruce Koch. "Finishing the Task: The Unreached Peoples Challenge." In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 4th Ed., edited by 3 3 Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 531-546. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009, 536.

  4. 4 Ibid., 534-535. 

  5. 5 Ibid., 539.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Unreached of the Day September-October 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Unreached of the Day September-October 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Fresh Vision for the Great Commission

Fresh Vision for the Great Commission

Never before has the Church had as much access to missions-related information. Yet, despite this unprecedented access to information, the Church doesn’t seem to be using its resources wisely and effectively.

Both the number of Unreached People Groups and the number of individuals in Unreached People Groups have increased since 2010. Population growth among the unreached and new discoveries in people group distinctions are outpacing the Church’s ability to reach people with the gospel. There are now over 3.2 billion people in Unreached People Groups. Yet, it is estimated that only about 3% of missionaries and 1% of mission finances are being directed to the unreached, that is, those with little or no access to the gospel1.


This vast discrepancy—between the number of people in Unreached People Groups and the allocation of the global Church’s missional resources towards overcoming the barriers that keep them unreached—is what Stratus calls the Great Imbalance. Put simply, the vast majority of missions resources go to places and people that already have access to the gospel as well as some sort of church infrastructure. It is simply easier, often more compelling, more ‘fruitful’ (from the standpoint of return on investment) and more instinctual, to work where the barriers to the gospel are lowest.

Fresh Vision

The Church doesn’t need more knowledge—it needs fresh vision. This fresh vision requires understanding both the global scope of God’s redeeming purposes and the barriers that are currently preventing the Church from carrying out its mission. It is essential that this missional vision affect missions strategy globally, as well as locally. Stratus ( was created to help provide fresh vision.

In a world where so much information is competing for our attention, Stratus seeks to bring clarity to the vast array of spiritual and physical needs around the world by synthesizing information from 38 disparate data sets (comprising over 200 different indicators) into one comprehensive index. In this way, Stratus promotes a unified vision of bringing the fullness of the gospel of the kingdom to bear on unmet physical and spiritual needs, especially when they go hand in hand.

While information on the spiritual needs (gospel access, people group and language data) and physical needs (systems of governance, developmental needs, social causes and natural barriers) exist separately, Stratus seeks to convey how these sets of needs are often closely related, better equipping the Church to make sense of them within the broader context.

By combining various information sets at the country level, Stratus allows the user to make meaningful comparisons in terms of relative need. Status seeks to help the Church to see themselves as God’s means in overcoming those barriers and meeting those needs. Stratus also provides the ability to easily sort and filter the information according to the abilities, interests, resources and assets that individuals or churches might possess, bridging the gap between the Church’s vast resources and the specific needs of individual countries and people groups.

Where are the areas of gospel access, and where are the voids? Where are developmental needs, like access to education, healthcare or economic opportunities and where is relative strength? Where are high natural barriers, like rugged terrain or a lack of infrastructure, or where are political instability, oppression and war most preventing physical and spiritual needs from being met? What countries are most affected by the intersection of all of these needs?

Stratus seeks to provide concise, up-to-date and visually compelling answers to shift the conversation away from “What can I do?” to “What is it going to take?”

Clarifying Presentation

We want the Church to be able to clearly see how countries rank according to each category and indicator, for example, to see how a country might be ranked seventh overall, 16th in spiritual needs, 66th in developmental needs and 105th in economic opportunity.

All of the data is taken from reputable, pre-existing and routinely updated sources, allowing the data to speak for itself. Even the prayer points listed for each country are derived directly from the country’s lowest-scoring data points.

Informed Strategy

We are hopeful that this tool will become a unifying platform for the Church to use in many capacities, from impacting the way individuals pray for the specific needs of certain countries, to the ways in which the global Church is able to more effectively leverage its assets and strengths to meet the most urgent needs and overcome the most insurmountable barriers. Our goal is to see the global Church better equipped, and ultimately, the Great Commission realized through the rectification of some of the systemic forces that perpetuate the Great Imbalance.

Stratus makes no claims that more data, in and of itself, will right the Great Imbalance or complete the Great Commission. But when data is well-synthesized and powerfully displayed, we fully believe the Church is better equipped to make more informed missional decisions. We echo the prophetic desire of Isaiah, that every valley will be raised up and every mountain made low, that the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all people together will see it (Isaiah 40:4-5).

Explore more at

  1. 1 World Christian Encyclopedia, 2020. Travelling Team ( “World Christian Trends”, Johnson & Barrett, 2001, 2013.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Group Information in an African Context

People Group Information in an African Context

The African Church and the growing indigenous mission agencies are becoming more familiar with global people group lists published online. As we celebrate what God has been doing through data curators, there are still concerns about the accuracy of the lists and the accompanying information. It is worth exploring the various views because many churches and agencies depend on the information presented in people groups lists to inform strategies, prayer, and missionary training. Until the whole Church is mobilized to reach the whole world, our work as researchers is not done.

Why are People Group Lists Needed?

People group lists are needed for ministry tracking, measurement, assessment, and direction. Lists help us identify the people groups with the greatest need for the gospel. The lists bring clear categorization of people groups for focusing missionary work and provide perspective on the magnitude of the unfinished task. There is a need to draw people’s attention to people groups that share similar lineage, language, and culture. Until we know what’s unfinished, we will not be able to achieve the purposes of God for all “nations” (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 5:9 and 7:9).

People group lists provide very important information which the Church in Africa has not been able to produce on its own, though Africans are needed to finish the task. Until we see the relevance of tracking all people groups, the African Church cannot focus on nor prioritize well which people groups are unreached with the gospel.

Using People Group Information in Ghana

The Ghana Evangelism Committee (GEC) and Ghana Evangelical Mission Association (GEMA) have helped many churches and mission agencies to understand people group lists through workshops, consultations and recently, the mission researchers forum. The outcome is amazing: many churches have adopted and are effectively engaging many unreached people groups (UPGs). Some student groups have also emerged from these initiatives and are earnestly praying for specific UPGs and forming resolute movements. Notable among them is the Chakali Movement, committed to praying for the Chakali people and sending missionaries to serve among them. In addition, two young missionaries are dedicated to reaching the Fulani as they go throughout West Africa to engage them.

Accuracy of People Group Lists

It is worth noting that the effort and time involved in gathering people group information and the increasingly rapid movement of people, especially rural to urban migration, has a tendency to limit or reduce the accuracy of people group lists and information. Africans consider people group lists fairly accurate, even though there have been cases of differing on-the-ground realities. In some cases, information published is not as accurate as what on-site workers think. These differences are understandable, considering the large amount of data collected and the difficulty of frequent updates. If published figures are estimates or extrapolations, the information will tend to be less accurate. As much as possible, cross-checks and verification ought to be done before information is published.

Are Unreached People Group Lists a Western “Thing”?

People group lists may have started as a Western “thing,” but the Western Church is gradually stepping out of mainstream mission engagement.1 The West has had the expertise, tools and funds for collecting and cataloguing people group lists which serve the global Church. In the past, people group lists were generated mainly for Western missionaries who were sent to serve the rest of the world. With the surge of the Church in the Global South as a growing mission force, people group lists become more critical for the Global South to fulfill its new sending role.

The challenge for many Africans is the source of published people group information. If the source is still Western, then we need to quickly rethink how to overcome that. The users of data ought to be the ones determining what should be gathered.2 Therefore, the Global South needs to be well heard and directly involved in developing people group lists so the results are relevant to the Global South context. Based on my conversations with mission leaders in Africa, when the source of information comes from the indigenous people, it is considered more credible and accurate. Curators of global people group lists have sometimes accepted information from sources not on the ground, which has raised eyebrows in some African mission circles. People group information must be validated locally through in-country assessments. The assumption is that you cannot give an accurate update if you are not present on the ground.

Perhaps the question we should ask is: Is the people group list and the accompanying information representative enough of reality? This is where African ministries and missionaries can be of great help. Curators of people group lists from the West are doing the best they can, but they need to work closely with African missionaries and information workers who understand people groups in their context—their cultural dynamics and complexities.

People Group Barriers in Africa

Ethnicity is an innate thing, and it is still very strong in identifying a people group. People groups who travel in-country or across-country rarely deny their ethnic background. For example, new believers in unreached African people groups are requesting literacy materials in their own languages and songs and stories portraying their own cultures. They prefer not to merge with other people groups. The tribal instincts in Africa are still strong among most people groups.

This does not deny the fact that the traditional barriers of some people groups are changing due to globalization, immigration, and urbanization. This change is subtle among some people groups, but rapid in others. The change is in two forms:

1. Movement from their original location: They have become the scattered harvest field. It is still important to look at culture, language and worldviews of people groups. We all agree that the mission field has arrived at our doorstep, and it is not always necessary to travel to their places of origin. They usually live in clusters in their new locations, and that should be tracked.

2. Changes in their culture and language as a result of intermarriages, trade and educational policies. In some instances, people acquire multiple identities, and others have their culture entirely replaced by another. This is especially true for the younger generation, who have sometimes lost their cultures and languages because of living in urban centers, acquiring new cultures and languages.

These changes do not rule out traditional people groups. But we must adjust to the new changes, find ways of tracking them and develop strategies to reach them. As native languages begin to disappear, people group lists must take into consideration languages that the majority of the people of a particular group speak, and not only their native language. For instance, the Challa may still refer to themselves as Challa, but very few of them can speak their language.

In the next several decades there will be a major shift. We are witnessing new strands of people groups who are not defined by the classical ethno-linguistic groupings, especially in urban centers. They are usually seen as sub- groups such as “head porters”, “prostitutes”, “transnational truck workers”, “scrap workers”, “money changers”, and “auto mechanics”. There are languages and lifestyles prevalent in these sub-cultures. Some of these groups have redefined the barriers of their culture and formed new ways of life, and they are usually closed to outside influence. Perhaps it might be too much information to handle at the global level, but national or local researchers should be able to identify and track such sub-groups and devise the necessary strategies to engage them. They need insiders to meaningfully make an impact with the gospel since these groups are often neglected. Though they are not ethno-linguistic, these groups have a strong affinity.

People groups lists are important, but we need global collaboration to produce credible, Spirit-led information for mission activities.

  1. 1 Gina A. Zurlo, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing. World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South (International Bulletin of Mission Research, 2020), Vol. 44(1), 9.

  2. 2 Maurizio V. & Frances R. & Maria João V. R. The Users of Statistics and their role in the European Society (Brussels: ESAC, 2015), 2.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Translation Quality and Scripture Impact for ‘Last Mile’ Bible Translations

24:14 Goal Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (52 months)

Translation Quality and Scripture Impact for ‘Last Mile’ Bible Translations

Everyone deserves to have the Word of God in their heart language. Today, we are closer to seeing the Bible translated into every language than ever before, but significant barriers remain. Over 20% of the world’s people are still waiting for the Bible in their own language (6,600+ languages).

“Last mile” is used to describe the short final segment of delivery of services or items to customers. Last-mile logistics are usually the most complicated and expensive aspects of completing the service or delivery. This same dynamic occurs in completing the task of translating the Bible into every language.

There are reasons for the lack of the Bible in the remaining “last-mile” Bible-less languages. Many of these do not yet have the Bible in their own language because they live in areas hostile to the gospel. Unlike traditional translations of the past and present where translation teams locate in a place and work together for years, outside translators seeking to do translation in politically restricted and/or hostile regions often cannot gain access to these areas. Translators who do have access are often faced with working in secret, moving from one location to another and keeping their work secret from friends, family and the community. Often due to death threats and persecution, translators wait until the work is completed, secretly taking the finished product to partners to print and share with others. In recent years, there have been numerous incidents of translators in these types of areas being kidnapped and/or killed.

One challenge faced in these circumstances is to ensure the translators receive the appropriate mentoring, assistance and funding they need. However, traditional patterns of translation assistance and measurement are not possible. Those of us assisting from the outside must adjust to the new realities and recognize that these men and women risking their lives deserve our best efforts and servant-hearted support instead of asking them to fit into our previous patterns and paradigms of translation.

However, no one involved wants a haphazard and poor- quality translation of the Word of God. How then can we assure quality and accountability for the outside supporters while not risking the lives of those who are at the last mile translating in these restricted areas?

The Antioch Family of Churches alliance of Church Planting Movements (CPMs) has pioneered a seven-step process that has produced quality translations while also giving the measurements and outcomes that meet the needs of the outside supporters. Leaders of 24:14 have endorsed this process and are exploring how to help other CPMs follow this model. A CPM has four plus generations of churches planting churches (parent churches planting children, grand-children and great-grandchildren churches with multiple branches of the family-tree)— this usually means a minimum of 100+ churches and 1500+ baptized disciples. The broader 24:14 Coalition of Church Planting Movements represents 1053 CPMs with over 74 million disciples, primarily in hostile areas formerly unreached with the gospel.

The Translation Quality and Scripture Impact Assurance Seven-Step Process for hostile areas is:

Translation Quality

) Language Selection: The leadership of a Bible‐less CPM discerns through prayer and counsel with other 24:14 members that a translation of the Bible in a certain language(s) is warranted. After extensive prayer and discussion, the language(s) is selected based on the following criteria:

• commitment of the leaders to complete the translation process and make the best possible use of distributing and using the translated Scriptures;
• the current capacity of the CPM and outside partners able to assist the process;
• security for the translators is also a consideration, which is more feasible with a larger group of believers such as we see in CPMs;
• other language‐related movements in different countries;
• available trainings, translation tools and resource texts;
• the need and possibility of translation into two or more closely related languages or major dialects ofn a mega-language.

2) Translation Team Qualification and Recruitment: In each language, an initial group of 25‐30 full‐time mother-tongue bilingual literate speakers are pre‐ qualified by their local church leaders.

3) Translation Team Training/Preparation: A 24:14 Translation Mentor(s) begins training the translation team. Self‐learning tools and other helpful resources are also provided to help teams address gaps and find opportunities for further learning.

4) Initial Translation Drafting Begins: Once qualified by their local church leaders and the 24:14 Translation Mentors, these teams work full‐time collaboratively to define key words and produce quality drafts of Scripture. Each initial draft is reviewed by the Translation Mentor according to the 24:14 Translation Guidelines.

5) Checking/Editing of Texts: Scripture portions are peer‐checked, local church checked and then sent to the Translation Mentors for review. Once approved as an initial draft, the text is community tested through a approved set of questions to help determine clarity, naturalness, accuracy and acceptability. Adjustments are made and tested again. In total in each language, an average of 500 people are expected to be involved in this process.

6) Ongoing Coaching from Translation Quality Advisor: A series of web‐based and offline tools are used to help insure the accuracy, clarity, naturalness and acceptability of Scripture. Throughout the checking process each language coordinator that leads a translation team has frequent access to full‐time Translation Mentors who, in turn, have remote access to translation quality advisors.

7) Movement Church Leadership Evaluation: Once the texts have been assessed, evaluated, edited and checked by the local church network, the community and approved by the Translation Mentors, the drafts are forwarded for final evaluation by the larger church leadership in the CPM.

Scripture Impact

  • A) Commitment to completion, distribution and use ofthe Scriptures is critical.
  • B) Capacity: Priority is given to CPMs because they have greater maturity and capacity to complete the translation and effectively use it.
  • C) Bridging: Obviously, producing a translation that can be a bridge to help translation in other related languages or major dialects will increase potential Scripture Impact.
  • D) Translation Team Discipleship: The initial Scripture impact begins to happen with those on the translation team as they learn and apply God’s Word more deeply in their lives.
  • E) Discipleship: A second avenue of Scripture impact is in the lives of the believers helping at this stage who are deepened in their understanding and application of Scripture by testing and using biblical passages in discipleship processes.
  • F) Evangelism: A third avenue of Scripture impact comes by asking local nonbelievers to help in checking whether these translated passages are understandable. This is an effective way of sharing the gospel with family and friends. Often it is during this time of asking nonbelievers to participate (with caution) that the heart of the nonbeliever is softened and turned toward the gospel. Some come to faith just reading the Word of God.
  • G) Distribution: The next phase is to distribute the Word of God for ongoing discipleship and evangelism. Dependent on the circumstance of the local churches, distribution may be through print- on-demand and/or digitally through microSD cards, audio devices, Bluetooth, off-internet local Wifi devices such as Lightstream, etc.
  • H) Fruit Measurement: We know the Word of God will not return void, so measuring the impact in lives is a critical and often overlooked aspect of Scripture translation and use. Measurement of the increase in both quantity (number of new churches and disciples) and quality (discipleship metrics of transformed lives and communities) are the necessary final piece in measuring Scripture Impact.
  • I) Ownership: By involving at least several hundred people in translating and checking the translation, the community has a strong sense of ownership which will only increase their respect for and use of the Bible.


In conclusion, many of the languages included in the “Last Mile” in Bible translation involve some difficulties and dangers that we cannot overcome with the traditional translation processes that God has used so effectively in the past and continues to use today. The inability of outside translators to gain access and the persecution and dangers faced from opponents of the gospel mean that the Bible will not be translated into these languages unless we find new pathways.

It is exactly these high-persecution areas that most desperately need the Bible in their own language. Church history tells us that the Bible in a heart language is not necessary for initial evangelism and discipleship. However, the Bible in a heart language is one crucial factor for surviving and enduring persecution. One example is the longstanding survival of the church in Egypt and Ethiopia compared to the rapid demise of the Church in North Africa after the assault of Islam. A primary reason for this is that Egypt and Ethiopia had the Bible in local languages, while the church of North Africa had the Bible in Latin spoken only by the elites.

God is not surprised by these challenges. God in His wisdom has used existing trade language Bible translations to begin multiplying disciples and churches in many of these “last mile” Bible-less languages. These disciples are positioned inside these language communities and are willing to face life-threatening risks in translation because they deeply yearn to provide the Bible to both the believers and the lost in their own heart language. Additionally, God has allowed us to live in a day where we can strengthen and support those who risk so much by training and using the latest technological breakthrough for translation.

As has been seen, this seven-step translation process not only assures a quality translation but also assures Scriptural impact during and after the translation process. As we observe how the Holy Spirit has already used this process, we can trust and work and pray to see many more translations done until in our generation there are no more Bible-less languages. God is giving us the opportunity to see the world full of God’s glory, but it is a day that challenges us to trust and rely on Him as never before!

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Are Current People Group Presentations Engaging the Next Generation?

Are Current People Group Presentations Engaging the Next Generation?

Why is engaging NextGen with people group information important?

Barna estimates that three out of four US churchgoers have either never heard of the Great Commission or do not know what it means. Yet, we are depending on the NextGen to be our missions sending force of the future. Something must change. It is critical to engage a younger generation of Christians with unreached peoples.

In your experience, what is a younger generation's view of people groups in general? Is it part of their grid?

Most of the younger generation is completely unaware of people groups being a strategic focus for missions. The concept of people groups with little to no access to the gospel is not part of their thinking. I don’t believe NextGen is feeling challenged, and few have a burden to serve or engage with unreached peoples. More frequently, they feel God calling them to stay and be senders rather than goers.

Are other paradigms more important to a younger generation than traditional ethnolinguistic groupings?

With the advance of technology, interacting with people worldwide only depends on one’s internet speed. For example, a quick search on Reddit will reveal how globalized everyone is, and the idea of a Third Culture individual is becoming more common. Traditional barriers to the gospel are being reduced, and young people tend to feel more connected based on social relationships than ethnicity.

Do traditional people group presentations motivate a younger generation?

From the people group presentations I have seen from sites like Joshua Project and Go31, I can say that traditional methods have not motivated the younger generation. I don’t think NextGen relates to lists and statistics as much as previous generations. Stories and narrative seem more impactful today. As a younger person myself, the most motivation and engagement I have seen has been through personal sharing. I have found others are willing to listen and learn about people groups when I am in relationship with them.

How can people group information be better presented to impact a younger generation?

I strongly believe the presentation of people group information needs a younger voice and brand identity that understands the trends and desires of the younger generation. Fresh presentations need to be made by NextGen themselves. Instead of asking people to read an encyclopedia or look at a statistical website, we need to engage them on the platforms they are using such as Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok and Quora. Video and discussion forums are key.

What is the greatest need you see in the people group information space?

Unfortunately, whenever I sit in mission consultations, I often notice that I am one of the few that does not fit the description of an older, Western, white male. A key need is creating space for younger Asian, African, and Latin American unreached peoples data managers, thinkers and leaders.

How can NextGen’s skills be best used in unreached people efforts?

Companies such as Airbnb, Uber, and Fiverr have leveraged the younger generations skills with the gig economy model. Similarly, an idea is to offer missional micro-projects that are centered around community and creating impact among unreached peoples. How might we help people redeem their skills beyond the four church walls? Imagine a world where we can innovate ways to bring first-world skills to the ends of the earth.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

How Possible Is It to Multiply Rapidly and Still Make Healthy Disciples?

How Possible Is It to Multiply Rapidly and Still Make Healthy Disciples?

Is it possible to be both deeply committed to healthy, deeply transformational discipleship, and also to the rapid multiplication of disciples? Opponents of the trend in missions toward DMMs (Disciple Making Movements) and CPMs (Church Planting Movements) often express concern about the rapid growth. Are they truly being grounded in God’s Word? Is allegiance shifting to Jesus over Mohammed or other religious philosophies?

It doesn’t hurt to listen to our well-intentioned critics (Ps. 15:31). Some who criticize do so out of ignorance of what DMMs/CPMs are trying to do. Others have had personal negative experiences that cause them to raise eyebrows. There are those, however, who truly want to see God’s kingdom grow on this earth. Some of our critics raise valid points.

The issue of deep-level life transformation as it relates to disciple-making is something we must be concerned about. It’s something movements should regularly evaluate as they grow. We do not want shallow, superficial movements easily hijacked by false doctrine. Unless movements go both broad and deep, they will not be sustainable. Nor will they bring about the transformational kingdom impact we hope for.

Let’s explore the issue of transformational discipleship further. The question this article will address is whether or not it is possible to see both the rapid multiplication of disciples and churches, while also seeing the deep- level transformation of lives. We will attempt to answer the questions: Can disciples multiply quickly, but also be solidly grounded in the Word of God, its core doctrinesand deeply shaped by the life and ways of Jesus? Can we rapidly multiply emotionally and spiritually healthy disciples through movement strategies?

In this kind of magazine, I assume I am writing to those who are already on board with the idea of DMMs/CPMs. I won’t take time to explain here why DMMs and CPMs are necessary to fulfill the Great Commission. Let’s begin from that starting point. If you aren’t there in your thinking, please take a look at the Why DMMs? article on the website.

If rapid multiplication rather than addition growth is necessary to address the issue of lostness, particularly among the unreached, how can we be sure we do it in such a way that we see genuine transformation of lives as people encounter Christ?

It is possible to be committed to both transformation and rapid growth. How do I know this? Because Jesus was. His movement and ministry are our models for all we do. He showed us how to make and multiply disciples rapidly and in healthy, sustainable ways.

Four Failures in Disciple-Making

Peter Scazzero has had a significant impact on my life. If you’ve never read his books, I recommend them. Shortly after going through a season of marital conflict and depression, I came across Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Many of the lessons he referred to in the book mirrored my learning during that season.
Later, I read Emotionally Healthy Church, and Emotionally Healthy Leader. I am in the middle of reading Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, Scazzero’s newest book. He doesn’t directly attack DMMs or CPMs, I’m not even sure he is familiar with them. As I was reading, though, my mind was filtering his content through my disciple-making grid. I want to draw from some of what he said in the early chapters of this book.

In chapter one of Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, Scazzero writes about four key failures in discipleship.

1. We tolerate emotional immaturity.

2. We emphasize doing for God over being with God.

3. We ignore the treasures of church history.

4. We define success wrongly.

These four failures are worth considering as we pursue rapid multiplication. Let’s consider them together.

Tolerating Emotional Immaturity

Do we tolerate emotional immaturity, or do we address it in our disciple-making and leadership training in movements? What does the word emotional immaturity mean?
Scazzero describes emotional maturity as loving others well. Those who are emotionally mature can have healthy conflicts, talk through misunderstandings and disagreements in godly ways and reflect Jesus in their behavior toward others. Those closest to them and those they lead (including their families), feel valued and cared for. Emotionally healthy disciples are not “triggered” easily. Past woundings have been healed and worked through.

Let’s admit that in DMMs and CPMs sometimes we are so desperate to find the extremely fruitful movement apostle, we tolerate things in their lives we wouldn’t in others. When we find someone who is a “super-sower,” starting many new groups, we at times overlook how they treat their wife or husband or their lack of relationship with their children.

This is a danger. What should we do about it? Keep reading. But first, let’s look at Scazzero’s other points.

Doing Over Being

Movement leaders and catalysts are do-ers. Again, let's just admit that. It’s a strength. It can also be a weakness. Unless we live a life of deep abiding with Jesus, we will not be able to reproduce an abiding lifestyle in those we train, lead and coach. Obedience-based discipleship asks the question: what will you do to obey? This is vitally important, and part of what drives movements forward. Jesus said if we love Him, we would obey His commands (John 14:15). He spoke of wise and foolish builders and said that the person who fails to put His word into practice is like the man who built on sand (Matt. 7:24- 27). This is well established. We recognize it as a major weakness in legacy, or traditional, church practice.

We must be careful not to swing too far in the other direction. Avoid multiplying “Martha” disciples who do a lot, but don’t sit at Jesus’ feet. Model and encourage disciples to love Jesus, worship Him and be changed by His love. How can we be more intentional about modeling being as well as doing in our disciple-making?

Ignoring History

Again, it is worth considering this potential discipleship failure. There is much to be learned from the history of Christianity. Some traditions were developed for valid reasons in particular contexts and may be worth retaining. Others have impeded the growth of disciple- making and evangelism through ordinary believers. We don’t need to “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” to use an American idiom. We need to be discerning, running things through the reproducibility test. If church traditions are hindering the multiplication of disciples, they should be carefully reconsidered.

Scazerro is referring not only to church history, however. He is also speaking of our personal histories. Healthy disciple- making helps people find healing from their past. As Scriptures about forgiveness are studied, wounds from parents, siblings, enemies and oppressors need to be worked through.

How We Define Success

Once more, let us examine ourselve with raw honesty. There are times when we (DMM/CPM practitioners and trainers) define success by something extra-biblical. The commonly held definition of what is a movement (see my blog article What is a DMM?) is not directly from Scripture, nor did Jesus ever tell us to make it a landmark of great accomplishment to hit fourth-generation, multi- stream growth.

Yet, when we finally get to that fourth generation, wow... we’ve accomplished something! Most movement trainers and coaches would not say they define success in strictly numeric ways. I wouldn’t. Of course not. But it is something we need to be careful about. What does it communicate when you are always measuring according to having hit the fourth generation or not?

Some years ago, we had a speaker come and talk to us about tracking in our organization’s annual gathering. He emphasized the gathering of stories, not only the reporting of numbers. The kinds of stories we report say a lot about what we value.

I hope you have been tracking with me and can see that DMM/CPM strategies could potentially lead to emotionally and spiritually immature discipleship. It doesn’t need to be that way, however. Not if we are aware of this, honest about it, and continually evaluating our fruit. Good farmers don’t just aim for fruit, they want healthy fruit. If the orchard’s apples are full of bugs, that’s a problem, even if there are thousands and thousands of apples falling to the ground.

5 Healthy Discipleship Keys

Here are some areas to keep in mind as we apply DMM/ CPM principles in our ministry. They are at the core of appropriately using the DMM/CPM practices. Without them, multiplicative efforts may not lead to healthy, sustained fruit.

Make disciples, not converts.

Many leading DMM/CPM trainers have emphasized this. It should be part of our mantra as disciple-makers. At the same time, our old tendencies can rise to the surface in the rush of a ripe harvest of souls. Simply getting people baptized is not enough. Train them to obey, Jesus said. This is much more than someone getting wet! It takes time, love and investment to make disciples. It can happen rapidly, but it’s a process, not an event.

Focus on people, not meetings.

We need to disciple people, not just multiply meetings. I say this continually when I train. “Disciple-making is not a meeting.” You may have 13 disciple-making groups or Discovery Bible studies happening each week. Without genuine loving relationships and community in those groups, life transformation will not happen.
Disciple Making Movement practitioners must learn to be multi-relational, while still going deep with a few. How did Jesus do this? He had an inner circle of people He invested heavily in. He ate with them, walked with them and took them with Him everywhere. It was far more than a weekly one-hour Bible study. It was those men through whom He multiplied Himself. Jesus both went broad and deep. So must we.

Track growth, but never prioritize it over abiding in Jesus.

Scazerro says in the section of his book on wrongly defining success, “I’m not saying that it’s inherently wrong that we measure our progress by the numbers. The problem comes when numbers are the only thing we measure, and so become our ultimate marker of success... All numerical markers—increased attendance, bigger and better programs, a larger budget—must take a backseat to listening to Jesus. Jesus calls us to abide and abound in Him (John 15:1–8).” A big amen to this!

I am an advocate for carefully tracking growth. Why? Because it’s part of good stewardship.

If, however, we begin to focus more on our numbers than on abiding in Jesus, we’re in trouble! If we start to define our success by whether or not we’ve reached fourth- generation growth, red flags should be waving.

Hold both the urgency of the lost and the transformation of the saved as values.

Steve Smith highlighted this when he wrote about following Jesus and fishing for men—the twin callings (T4T book). They go together. Both matter.

Jesus loved the lost. He was deeply concerned about reaching them. It is not God’s will that any perish (2 Pet. 3:9). The gospel has not spread rapidly because we have not been as concerned about the lost as Jesus is. We’ve failed to adequately fulfill His command to go and make disciples who obey. If we don’t embrace changes, a more multiplicative model, millions and millions will continue to go into eternity having never had a chance to hear of the Savior’s love and desire to save. This is not acceptable.

Nor is it acceptable to be so focused on our inner life that we delay obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples. Abiding in Jesus, practicing solitude, silence, lives of prayer and sharing our testimony with neighbors, friends and relatives are equally part of obeying Him.

This graphic from Scazzero’s book caught my attention. It seems to say we must have deep change before we can have an impact. This was not the way Jesus discipled. Deep change and transformation happened simultaneously.

Instead, as we look at how Jesus made disciples, we learn that they immediately served and obeyed. He sent them out in Luke 9 and 10. Life transformation was an ongoing process.

I’ve consistently seen that those who pass on whatever I’ve been teaching them to others mature more rapidly. They immediately begin to have an impact on their oikos, even before they are mature or have been fully transformed. It would be a mistake to think we have to wait until we have all our issues worked through before we can begin to impact the world.

Keep Scripture central.

I have a lot of hope for DMMs and CPMs because the Word of God is foundational to every DMM/CPM practice. In multiplicative disciple-making, those discipled through
a participatory, obedience-based study of Scripture have a stronger foundational understanding of Scripture than the average church adherent. With Sunday Schools and Wednesday night gatherings becoming a thing of the past, grounding church attendees in the Word of God is rapidly slipping away. DMM/CPM praxis gets people into the word in community. It forces the issue of application to our own lives. Scripture is orally repeated and then immediately shared with others. This is a huge strength in the goal of reproducing healthy disciples who make healthy disciples.

New believers may not immediately be protected from false doctrine any more than a new believer in a traditional church would be. Over time though, within a few years, their understanding of God’s word will grow far stronger than the average Christian’s.

In conclusion, let me point us back to our Lord. He made disciples, who had some major issues. But they grew and were transformed into men and women who turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Within a short amount of time, they multiplied and spread His message across Asia. Thousands became His disciples through them and those they discipled in His ways. It is possible to rapidly multiply healthy disciples...more than possible. It’s happening in movements across the globe. And it will happen more!

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Groups and the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

People Groups and the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

The Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association (NEMA) is the umbrella body of the Nigeria missions movement. It was established in 1982 to foster the work of world evangelization by providing a common platform through networking, empowering and mobilizing. At inception NEMA was comprised of six missions organizations but has since grown to a national network with 150 member agencies and 15,000 missionaries serving in 197 countries.


NEMA has always been keen about people group information. Six years after her establishment, the association published The Final Harvest, the proceedings of the International Consultation on Missions hosted in Jos, Nigeria August 11–15th, 1985. Included in that compendium is a list of identified unreached peoples in Nigeria. That marked a significant attempt at projecting the remaining task in Nigeria at that time, and it turned out to provide remarkable direction for missions engagement as well as focus for existing missions structures. A review of this research list in the first quarter of 2021 shows that 65% of the 72 identified unreached peoples in 1985 were no longer on the Nigerian UPG list. Moreover, 85% of the delisted UPGs have contributed to the sending force of the Nigerian missions movement.

Journeying through AD 2020 and Beyond

Thereafter, NEMA gave even more prominence to mobilizing the Nigerian Church to frontier missions. Coinciding with the countdown to AD 2000, another attempt was made at updating the people group list through the NEMA Searchlight Project, giving special attention to unreached and unengaged peoples. However, in 2005, the association’s vision-casting took a new dimension in response to worldwide attention on the 10/40 Window. The leadership of NEMA took a bold step by taking responsibility for 34 mostly Islamic countries in the left side of the Window, with the dream of meeting the Chinese missions effort coming on the Silk Road from the right side of the window.

This initiative became known as Vision 5015 – mobilizing 50,000 partners from the Nigerian Church and training, sending and supporting 15,000 workers to these 34 countries. At the end of the target year review conducted in 2020, 4,000 Nigerian missionaries had been placed in 31 of the 34 countries.

Delisting Nigeria from Unengaged Peoples List

As the Association pursued Vision 5015, a significant twist came into the process. The leadership became very concerned that Nigeria, with her evangelical strength of about 55 million and Christian populace of over 100 million, still had unengaged people groups. This led to another intensive effort of people group information in 2017. At the end of the exercise, seven unengaged peoples were discovered among 73 unreached peoples, all located in the north of Nigeria. This discovery culminated in another very strategic consultation, named “Go North”, in the same year. It would only take 11 months for Nigeria to be delisted from countries with unengaged groups, and four years later the number of unreached peoples was reduced to 45.

Impact and Lessons Learned

Mobilizing the Nigerian Church has been successful using people group information, for Nigerians (and other Africans) are sensitive to people group realities. A random sampling of 50 church leaders indicates that 87% were effectively mobilized for missions based on people group information available to them. Moreover, our mobilization drives have relied heavily on people group information for desirable responses.

To date, there has been much dependence on Western efforts, and while these have been commendable, they have also revealed gaps and limitations. We have had to deal with issues of people group misrepresentation and insensitivity to cultural values and worldviews, leading to contention and occasional rejection of such data. The way forward will be a very healthy synergy among all research stakeholders, with deference given to the grassroots, national networks.

Moreover, in a polarized context such as ours, it may be helpful to present people group information from the perspective of the host peoples themselves. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult to rely on secondary sources for information gathering; we need a strict policy to ensure that primary sources receive priority. Where possible, respected and confirmed leaders of such people groups should be contacted to secure endorsement of whatever information is being released to the public domain.

People group information is a means to an end; therefore, strategy delineation should be kept clearly in view as data are gathered. In the same vein, training in information-gathering and equipping the Church and missions organizations in utilizing data is vital. Just as cultural sensitivity and intelligence is emphasized in cross-cultural mobilization, training and engagement, the same is required for gathering and utilizing people group information.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

More Lists, More Data, More Possibilities

More Lists, More Data, More Possibilities

Refining of People Group Information

Latin America has been involved in the global movement of cross-cultural missions for decades. For quite some time we received missionaries from other nations and then by the grace of God, we became involved in sending. The Latin Church was impacted by the lists of people groups (UPGs and UUPGs) it was presented, and today we can identify numerous missionaries with years of cross- cultural field experience who were mobilized by these lists. Even now in 2021, mobilization efforts employ lists among their other varied resources. People group lists have been extremely useful in their roles of shaping understanding, motivating people to pray, challenging people to obey and causing people to go.

Many Latin American ministries are trying to use more data, working under the assumption that more lists and more data give us more possibilities. This assumption needs to be evaluated on the basis of three ideas: First, the design of any workflow is instructive only. Processes are not linear, and they are not circular; they are complex. Second, people groups present themselves differently depending upon who is asking, “Who are you?” There is one response for the government, another for the local church and yet another for other people groups. This should lead us to be creative as to how to represent them. Third, our big goal for “lists or macro data” must be to reveal “hidden people groups.”

People Group Data Workflow: Steps 1-3

Step 1: Lists as macro data

We understand that the international lists of people groups are more like “macro data.” On-site ministry is an environment of constant change. We know that urbanization and globalization are causing rapid change, and they directly impact the creation and implementation of post-arrival field strategies. They also require that new information be collected in the first months on the field. Perhaps ours is just a different planning model. However, while the international lists and the national lists have certainly been used in the preparation and individual decisions of each missionary project, I have no evidence that lists are being used widely in post-arrival strategies employed in Latin America.

Step 2: Lists and harmonization

We usually begin by comparing the internal people group lists of Brazil with international lists. On the one hand, there are discrepancies that, at first, distance the dialogue between the lists. However, after a careful appreciation of both, we manage to reach a good harmonious relationship. Harvest Information Standards (HIS)1 has been one of the tools employed to help harmonize the lists. When I say harmonize, it is not turning two lists into one. We understand that several lists can be helpful and useful, bringing different views and possessing features that allow dialogue between them.

Step 3: Lists and micro data

After achieving an initial harmonization, we then add different data. What we have learned is that the deeper the micro data, the greater the level of security concern. That has a direct relationship to partnerships; the deeper the data, the fewer organizations are willing to join or share. For this reason, we have invested more in macro data as partnerships, and more on micro data as a local organization.

People Group Data Workflow: Complete Process

Step 4: When lists turn into action

Now, with the lists (macro data) and the micro data from the local organization, we have a good place to begin. We look at our challenges and goals, and we choose which information best supports us.

Each challenge requires different extracts of the same information. Power Users are those who understand their ministry and define how to use the information. Power Users include not only the leaders, but also the people on the ground.

In our understanding, it is the Power Users who define to the mobilization ministries which information can be used in their work. For each type of mobilization— church-planting, Bible translation, compassion—we have parts of the data sets that can help. These ministries help refine existing data and provide new local data.

The international lists have followed people group definitions directed by ethnicity and language, and this has been useful. In fact, it is the main model that we, too, have used. However, we have recently been able to experiment with different views of the data (Dataviz2). This allows observing the data not only by ethnicity and language, but also with different variations that better serve the different audiences of organizations and their different ministries.

We are migrating from the use of polygons to points in geography. We are doing some tests between languages in use and different domains. At times we look at clusters of peoples, and we also examine the relationship of the clans within a people group.

Step 5: Local data and security

Everyone participates in how to understand the data, and everyone can be a user of the data. Each ministry can produce new data that is potentially useful in a variety of arenas. Yet it is important when we collect new data from people who have their feet on the ground that their data be treated carefully, observing security requirements.

Step 6: Updating the national and international lists

After the data is carefully cataloged, we can update the lists in collaboration with the global Church. In the case of national lists, the update dialogues are easier. By contrast, for the international lists the update dialogues are still not very clear. A good example of international lists that add value to the local researcher is the Ethnologue. The “data collaborators program”3 provides an instrument that allows the sending of data, the visualization of other collaborators' data and proof of the support of the national research missionary.

In summary, we are using different techniques, strategies and models to try to meet two great objectives. First, we wish to assist the Church to make the most of data for its activities. Second, we want to bring hidden peoples into wider view. We give thanks to God for the servants He has raised up here in Latin America. May He increasingly empower those who are at work today, and may He bring more data missionaries to work for and with them.

  1. 1 HIS

  2. 2 Datviz visualization

  3. 3 Ethnologue

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

Urbanization and Measuring the Remaining Task

For a very long time, many missiologists have tended to measure “progress in the Great Commission” (however that was defined) to some extent in the context of people groups, and how they are reached, evangelized and/or Christianized.

This thread has been pushed forward by the work of David Barrett, Patrick Johnstone and Ralph Winter, who each in his own way pushed thinking and activism related to unreached peoples.

“Reaching the unreached peoples,” in particular, has tended to replace the idea of “a church in every country” as the operative definition of closure or fulfillment of the Great Commission. Unreached People Groups better fit the Scriptural concepts of “every tribe, language, nation, tongue before the Throne” (Rev. 7:9).

The principal motivation behind the development of the unreached peoples concept was the idea of “gaps”—that there were languages and ethnic groups who had “no access” (defined as the reasonable access of individuals in the group to the gospel within their lifetime) principally being shared) or ethnicity (they couldn’t accept what was being shared by outsiders).

However, as we have refined our strategies for closure as “reach the unreached” strategies, two additional issues have emerged, and we’re struggling to address them.

The first is the danger of under-engagement. The principle is simple: we love lists, we want to check items off and so we did what is immediately required to put in a “good faith effort” to remove a people group from the list. We adopt a people group, mobilize a team, send them off to the group,and we remove this group from the “unreached” list.

This is exactly what would have to happen with a “sufficient” engagement, but it’s also what can happen with an “insufficient” engagement, and we don’t always take the time to ask whether an engagement is sufficient or not. A people group of 10 million, stretched over the geographic expanse of a country and spilling over into additional countries, will need more than a single team. To use an analogy, we can engage Moscow, while Vladivostok goes untouched within the lifetime of a single individual.

We may say “each missionary team can only do what it can,” and this is correct, but that represents only a tactical viewpoint. Strategy must think more broadly. If oneteam can only engage one major area within a people group, then multiple teams must be mobilized, and more rapidly.

The second issue, however, is my primary focus here: urbanization. At the turn of the 20th century, the world was just 14.4% urban—232 million out of 1.6 billion people on the planet. The majority of these urbanites (69%) were Christians because most of these cities were in Christianized countries. Just five megacities (population over one million) were majority non-Christian.

In a century, the situation has vastly changed. People moved into cities, driven by all sorts of motivations. Shortly past 2000, the world became majority urban. Today, about 56% of the global population lives in a city: 4.4 billion out of 7.8 billion.

Furthermore, as far back as the 1960s and 1970s, we began to see a shift in the religious composition of urbanites: there were more non-Christian city-dwellers than Christians, as cities developed in the non-Christian world. Today, just one-third of the world’s city dwellers are Christians. This doesn’t mean cities make people into non-Christians; it means that non-Christians urbanized into their own cities. Today the world includes more than 593 majority non-Christian megacities.

An example of this trend can be seen in China’s planned city clusters. They are planning to develop five regional cities, each with as many as 100 million people. In other words, there will be more people in these combined five cities than any other country in the world except India.

Cities present a specific challenge to the idea of “reaching Unreached People Groups”: they are huge mixing grounds. Some cities are more “rural” in character—various languages are segmented in mini-villages. Some cities are more “urban” in character—with lots of different people all mixed together, using broadly spoken trade languages to communicate on the job and in the markets. Whichever is the case, focusing on a city raises different strategic issues than focusing on a single people group or a language group largely spoken in a particular province or set of provinces. It brings the cross-cultural and cross-language dimensions of the task to bear in multiple ways earlier on. This means that including “cities” as segments to be listed, focused on, described, researched, documented, tracked, measured,and strategically engaged is probably just as important as “Unreached People Groups.”

We don’t want to lose the “unreached peoples” focus. But we must remember: the whole reason people have passionately advocated for the unreached is out of concern for gaps—collections of individuals who did not have gospel access. An exclusive focus on Unreached People Groups could, in fact, lead us to focus on, for example, Kazakhs, to the exclusion of very small groups (e.g., the thousand or so Avar in Kazakhstan) or diaspora groups int he same cities (e.g., Buryats).

Not every gap can be tracked at the global level. But global lists could continue to identify where gaps are potentially located. Different kinds of gaps can be found in cities than amongst unreached groups, and that means we need to give cities similar attention and effort.


This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Why South Asia People Group Data Looks So Different

Why South Asia People Group Data Looks So Different

South Asia people groups are not ethnolinguistic

People group lists historically have used two factors to identify each people group: language spoken and ethnicity, where “ethnicity” is defined broadly. Such lists may be referred to as ethno-linguistic because both factors were used to form the lists.

However, in practice, language spoken has been given more, if not exclusive, emphasis than ethnicity as people groups were identified. This emphasis on language spoken has worked reasonably well in most parts of the world, but it does not work well in South Asia.

The South Asia people group data is not ethno-linguistic if by that term we mean a list of language groups and subdivisions of language groups. A very different approach is used for South Asia.

Language groups vs. people groups / communities

The classic definition of a people group is “For evangelization purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a Church Planting Movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance."

Outside South Asia the approach is to emphasize the understandability portion of the people group definition. This approach produces a list of people groups identified first and foremost by language spoken and may involve subdivisions of language groups.

However, in South Asia the approach is to define people groups consistent with the strongly held sense of “community” pervasive in that region. The term community does not refer to a physical location, but rather caste or social grouping within a structured hierarchy. The Indian term is jati. Barriers between communities/castes determine who one can associate with, share a meal with, marry, what homes one might enter, what occupation one might have, religious tradition and much more. This has profound impact on defining people groups and on church-planting. South Asian communities are the largest practical identity in which the gospel can take root and spread through relational pathways and means. The community perspective emphasizes acceptance barriers in the traditional definition of people group. Self-identification rather than language is the key determinate in defining South Asian people groups.

Relationship between South Asian people groups and languages spoken

In South Asia, individuals and people groups are typically multi-lingual. Quite often, languages spoken do not identify the community an individual or people group is part of. This many-to- many relationship between people groups and languages creates a highly complex situation. People group websites show only a very simplified presentation of this complexity. However, detailed South Asia district-level people group, language and religion data is available.

Importance of self-identification

A goal for South Asia researchers has been to consistently identify people groups by how individuals identify themselves. An illustration of this perspective can be seen in one definition for Aboriginal used in Australia: “An Aboriginal is one who identifies as an Aboriginal, and who is perceived as belonging to an Aboriginal community by the Aboriginal community”. In South Asia, individuals typically know the community they have been born into, and this is how they identify themselves to census and other government inquiries. This approach helps to identify the groupings through which the gospel message is most likely to flow without encountering significant barriers of acceptance. It is important to avoid identifications imposed from outside the communities themselves.

This self-identification produces a much more granular list with many more people group entries for South Asia. Outsiders may only see broad classifications such as Jat, Rajput, Brahmin or Pashtun and not see the distinctions and barriers between self-identified communities. It might take years of humble observation for an outsider to truly understand the difference between, for example, the Chetti Bania and Srimali Bania.

Toward a “unimax” list

Dave Datema and Kevin Higgins touch on the “unimax” view of people groups in their articles in this issue. A unimax people is “the maximum-sized group sufficiently unified to be the target of a single people movement to Christ”. South Asia people group data is based on self- identification and barriers beyond language which is a significant step toward a unimax view of South Asian peoples.

Long-term, on-site research is needed to fully identify unimax peoples. Current South Asia people group lists provide an excellent starting point for workers seeking to understand local realities. Certainly, there will be cases where two or more communities need to be merged on a list to better conform to what is discovered, or perhaps one community needs to be split to form several communities.

Current South Asia people group data is not perfect, but it has integrity and is faithful to the people who have collected, collated and published it over past decades. It is generally consistent with how individuals in South Asia identify their own communities. Caste cohesiveness may be diminishing, especially in urban areas, yet self-awareness of the community a person has been born into remains reasonably strong in most of South Asia.

The Joshua Project website is utilized by many more from India than any other country, including the United States. It is not unusual for an Indian to write saying such things as “my community is larger than that,” or “you should modify the name of my community.” However, very rarely have any users raised objections to the overall approach and presentation of the people groups of South Asia.

The non-ethnolinguistic, self-identification-based, granular, unimax nature of South Asian people group data makes it very different from the people group data in the rest of the world. Thankfully, the Lord has provided a remarkably rich dataset for the most complex people group situation in the world. May it be used to advance His kingdom in South Asia.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Seeing the Unreached World As It Really Is

Seeing the Unreached World As It Really Is

People group research is not a fixed science. Rather, it is a constantly changing dynamo of motion as people groups move, assimilate into other cultures, regain and lose their languages, come to Christ and fall away from the faith.

As a result, a continually updated people group list is essential for decision-making in the mission world. Lists help believers gain a clearer picture of the remaining task of world evangelization that is so dear to the heart of God.

I have been engaged in mission research in Asia since the 1980s. For much of that time I have wrestled with the ethno-linguistic realities of what we found on the mission field vs. what governments and the Body of Christ have acknowledged. This disparity presents challenges for the cause of the gospel.

In the late 1990s I wrote a book profiling all the tribes, peoples and languages of Laos. The Lao government amusingly insists there are just three groups of people in the country, based on elevation(!)—those who live on the plains, in the hills and in the high mountains. Our book was revolutionary in that it profiled and mapped 117 distinct people groups in Laos. Today, the number has grown to 127 groups according to the latest Joshua Project data.

A few years later we released Operation China, which profiled and mapped 490 distinct ethno-linguistic groups in China. Joshua Project now lists 545 distinct people groups in China, as new research over the years has brought the existence of new groups and languages into the light.

The Chinese government to this day, however, recognizes only 56 ethnic groups within its borders, and most Christians I have met—both in China and overseas— prefer to use those broad artificial classifications because they are more manageable.

This approach is clearly flawed, however, as countless groups have been lumped together in these official categories, yet have little in common. Two groups may hardly speak a word of each other's language, refuse to intermarry and proudly possess their own unique histories, customs and identities.

For example, the official "Miao" nationality in China actually contains more than 50 distinct tribes, of which five or six are strongly Christian, and the remainder unreached. Many believers have assumed that the Christian Miao can reach the other groups, but for more than a century this assumption has largely proven false.

A believer from the A-Hmao tribe will struggle greatly if they try to reach the two million Hmu people, who live just a few hours away in the same province. I have been present when gospel audio recordings and the Jesus film in one Miao language were played to Miao in another group, leaving them with completely bemused looks on their faces.

The language differences between such groups are sometimes as broad as those between European languages like English, French, German and Spanish. The "Yi" nationality in China is even more complex, with 85 distinct tribes speaking their own distinct languages. At least 30 tribes have been combined together to form the official “Yao” nationality.

There are clearly hundreds more ethnic groups and languages than what some ministries acknowledge in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The 1931 British census reported 37 distinct Kuki Chin tribes in Burma (now Myanmar) and another 13 in India.

Within those were strings of spoken languages, with some districts having as many as 20 distinct languages. These peoples and languages have not vanished, but some sources do not see any point in “slicing the pie” so thin, so they view the Kuki Chin as one cohesive group, which they are not.

A Troubling Development

Most alarmingly, in recent years there appears to have been a push by some in the mission world to ignore reality and to imagine the task is simpler than it really is. The aim seems to be to try to reduce the size and complexity of what remains to be done. I fear the motive for this may often be a misguided bid to please some donors who have grown weary of hearing about thousands of Unreached People Groups in the world; our data contradict the mantra that we will soon complete the Great Commission.

Manipulating statistics, altering definitions and reducing the number of Unreached People Groups by pushing a “delete” button will never help reach lost people for Christ, and millions of people may go without the Word of God in their language because mission agencies don't have the courage to acknowledge the true situation.

I encourage every believer and ministry leader to put aside mission politics and funding pressures, and to realize that the Lord Jesus is the Truth. If we can't accept the reality of the situation facing us, we risk falling into the trap of deception.

On the field, many church leaders have grown confused and disengaged because of the games Western ministries play with data. This has led to some ludicrous situations. Last year a good friend from Nepal—who is doing outstanding ministry in more than two dozen totally unreached tribes in the high Himalayas—attended a mission conference in the United States, where he was told that Nepal no longer has any unreached groups! In effect, he was told that the job has been completed in Nepal, and he should relax and live in the delusion that the tribes he has given his life to reach really aren’t unreached!

Decades ago, God used Dr. Ralph Winter to change the discourse of mission work, when he explained that the world is not like a flat pancake, where the syrup flows easily over the whole surface. Rather, he described the world as being like a waffle, with walls between distinct sections that must be broken down before the syrup can flow into those areas.

The number of unreached ethnic groups and languages in the world will be reduced as Christians share the gospel with them and as communities of redeemed believers emerge, and not by covering our eyes and ears and imagining that hundreds of groups and languages don't exist as we squeeze them together for administrative convenience.

The Gospel is Advancing

Regardless of what men may do, God is still on the move among the unreached!

Over the years, we have been cheered by seeing amazing progress among many groups. The 57,000 Mosuo of southwest China were a completely unknown people group until they were mentioned in a National Geographic article about 30 years ago. Believers visited and found them to be completely unevangelized and without a single known Christian in their midst. Today there are approximately 3,000 Mosuo believers, and at least one house church in every Mosuo village. Hallelujah!

One example of how people group research has helped reach the lost occurred in Laos. Beginning in the 1990s, thousands of Khmu people in northern Laos experienced a powerful turning to the Lord. Touched by the Spirit of God, many Khmu believers desired to take the gospel to other tribes that had never heard of Jesus, but they were only aware of the ethnicities in their immediate areas, and they knew little about the ethnic composition of the rest of their country.

Today, partly thanks to the influence of people group lists, dozens of Khmu missionaries are serving in southern Laos and even in surrounding countries. As a result, a number of previously unevangelized groups have gradually made progress from unreached to the list of those who have embraced the gospel and now have a growing church.

Part of our call at Asia Harvest is to help local believers get the gospel moving among unreached groups. Today, it’s humbling to look back and see how the Holy Spirit has enabled a small ministry to come alongside the Asian Church. Currently, we are privileged to support more than 1,500 Asian missionaries, who serve among 1,150 different ethnic groups. Hundreds more groups still need attention so that people will be transformed from the kingdom of darkness into God’s light.

A Reminder of Who Owns the Harvest

In recent decades, the world has been rapidly changing via technological advances and the increase of information. As we continue to progress toward the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the end of the Great Commission, let us remember that the salvation of people from every fragment of humanity is not our idea. Rather, it is the plan of the living God from before the foundations of the earth.

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people." —Revelation 14:6

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

People Group Lists and the Challenge of Growing Complexity

People Group Lists and the Challenge of Growing Complexity

A Brief History of Global People Group Lists

No comprehensive, global list of people groups existed when Dr. Ralph Winter gave his landmark presentation at Lausanne ’74. Partial lists began to be developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, three global people group lists have emerged:

  • Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s World Christian Database (WCD)
  • International Mission Board SBC’s Church Planting Progress Indicators (CPPI) database
  • Joshua Project (JP) database

These three lists have different definitions, sources, purposes and audiences as outlined in the table below.

Why Three Global Peoples Lists?

Looking at a picture from several angles often yields greater perspective. Using different definitions and criteria can help clarify a task and highlight areas needing further research. Global people group data compilers are confronted by questions such as: Is language always the primary definer of a people group? Should caste be considered when defining a people group? Should Christian adherents be considered when setting criteria for unreached? Should unreached be defined by exposure or response to the gospel? What are acceptable sources for input and edits?

A Growing Challenge

There is an increasing interest and call, particularly from on-site workers, to add further levels of refinement to people group data. This greater granularity can take two forms. One refinement would be increasingly finer slices of traditional people groups. This would involve tracking traditional people groups by province or district, subgroup, religious tradition and/or dialect.

A second, very different refinement being suggested is complete reconfiguring and mixing of traditional people groups into dynamic or hybrid identities. Distinctives of these hybrid groups might be by occupation, shared interests, skills, education, networks and/or social status. This represents a quantum leap in complexity.

Granularity and Complexity

Graph 1 illustrates the relationship between people group list granularity and complexity. The chart is divided into three sections. Very general uses are suggested for each section. The numbers in parentheses are counts from the Joshua Project list as of June 2021. Current numbers may be slightly different. Groups to the left of the dotted line would be considered traditional people groups and groups to the right would be considered dynamic, hybrid groupings or “unimax” peoples.

Consider the Fulani of Central Africa. Moving from left to right across Graph 1 on the previous page, the Fulani can be viewed as a single People Cluster4. This level does not distinguish specific Fulani people groups and combines 40 million individuals into one category. Typically, this is the level of granularity used by the secular media and general missions education material. To protect believers, movements to Jesus among the Fulani are reported at this broader level. However, a church adopting a people group for prayer and engagement needs greater detail and a smaller size group to focus on. The church would likely adopt a specific Fulani people group such as the Pulaar Fulani, in Senegal5. As workers begin on-site ministry, they might focus on the Toucouleur dialect- speaking, millennial age, healthcare professional Pulaar Fulani living in Matam, Senegal. This would be a hybrid grouping. The “glue” that holds such a hybrid group together goes well beyond ethnicity and language.

Changing Barriers and Shifting Boundaries

From a church-planting perspective, people group boundaries are defined by barriers to the spread of the gospel. The highest barriers define the extent of a people group. In some parts of the world, changing barriers are rapidly causing a shift from traditional people groups to dynamic or hybrid groupings. Table 2 compares these perspectives.

Existing people group identities are being mixed and recombined, and new hybrid identities are being created. For example, language consolidation is reducing the language barrier that traditionally has defined many people groups. Speakers of smaller languages are rapidly learning one or more global languages, usually for education and job opportunities. These are often languages widely used on the internet. New mobile devices are allowing on-the-fly, real-time translation. A rise in linguistic nationalism results in merger of people groups together through governmental pressure. At the same time, some people groups are dividing over a desire to preserve language and its cultural contexts. Few boundaries are truly rigid; the edges have fluidity.

Urbanization and migration are reducing ethnicity barriers. Groupings of individuals in cities are increasingly being driven by occupation, shared interests, skills, education, networks, social status and activities rather than by ethnic background or language. Globalization is reducing the ethnic as well as religious barriers. An inter- connected world allows exposure to and opportunity for exploring different worldviews, values and religions. Globalization allows connections and relationships with other likeminded individuals around the world, rather than only those in one’s immediate physical area.

New Groupings Are Emerging

These forces are changing the barriers to the spread of the gospel and impacting how the ethne of the world are defined from a church-planting perspective. Growing reports of movements to Jesus crossing traditional people group boundaries demonstrate a shift in how the gospel flows. For example, some have suggested that Gen-Z youth of Riyadh have more in common with their peers in Chicago than with their own parents. That might be an exaggeration but it makes a useful point. Youth in many cases are not identifying as strongly with their traditional people group, based on ethnicity and language, as they are with others in their age group and social experience almost anywhere in the world.

For on-site workers, other ways of grouping are becoming more useful and needed than groupings by ethnicity and language. For example, classifying Saudi Arabian Gen-Z youth in a database using traditional people group definitions could potentially obscure their preferred identity and limit reaching them with the gospel. Identifying Saudi Gen-Z youth as a unique dynamic grouping might accelerate the flow of the gospel along pathways of relationships and common interests.

Complementary Perspectives

Traditional people group lists are still important and useful but need periodic revisiting and evaluation in changing times. Lists help to outline the unfinished task of the Great Commission and provide church leaders and mobilizers with motivating benchmarks. At the same time, new perspectives and dynamics are bringing other groupings into focus. The “glue” that binds these new groupings together may not be language or ethnicity, but rather occupation, education, shared interests, social networks, generational issues and worldviews. These dynamic groupings will be increasingly strategic and effective pathways for the spread of the gospel. Both the traditional and dynamic perspectives of people groups are useful and should not be viewed as old vs. new, but rather as complementary.

  1. 1 An exciting revision of the CPPI framework called Gospel to All Peoples and Places (GAPP) is underway. See:

  2. 2 Includes sources such as national government census, UN, CIA database, other state/government generated data.

  3. 3 Ibid.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

What if?

What if?

Thinking about the theme of this MF, I wondered: What if Lausanne ’74 hadn’t happened?

Without Lausanne ’74, what might or might not have happened on the global level? With no Lausanne Covenant, would there be even less unity in the Church? Even less progress on social and justice issues for the poor? Less cooperation and understanding across cultures?

On a personal level, if Ralph Winter had not presented the vision for reaching the unreached at Lausanne, my life would have been very different.

I first heard Winter share that same vision at a weekend event for students, two years after he and Roberta returned from Lausanne. The Winters were days away from founding the U.S. Center for World Mission1—in part, because of Lausanne. A good friend (Doug) and I mobilized 25 college students to this event. We had a growing conviction that the task of reaching people with the gospel was something every Christian must be engaged in. We wrote a mission-focused newsletter for the church’s quarterly mailing. We read books and attended anything that might help us learn more about what was happening around the world. We were thrilled when we got our hands on the first U.S. edition of Operation World that same year—which detailed every country of the world and gave praises and prayer requests. We prayed.

But we had not heard or understood the concept of distinct cultural groups who were beyond the scope of the existing church mission efforts. Most alert Christians at the time knew there were Christians in every country of the world. But that did not solve the problem Winter spoke about. Doug and I learned, that even if every church in the world were to reach out as far as it could in every direction, more than one half of the world would remain untouched. Winter talked about Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist peoples and showed —on overhead transparencies—how few people were trying to reach them. He talked about “people groups” where there were no churches.

Doug and I just sat there stunned. Why hadn’t we heard this? Leaving that weekend event, we were even more motivated to get involved because the “task” Winter portrayed seemed doable. Doug became one of the earliest Perspectives coordinators. I joined Winter at the USCWM and have been there since.

So...What if Lausanne hadn’t happened? Humanly speaking, I would suggest we would have less hope.

When Doug and I first heard Ralph Winter, we knew enough about the world to see massive needs, but we didn’t understand the complexity. It was just a HUGE task. Lausanne helped us to see and gave the evangelical church mission world hope. “Bite-sized groups” of people seem more reachable, even if many of them are still radically different from us, and the task will require sacrifice.

  1. 1 Now Frontier Ventures, see

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

A Small Shift with Potential Significant Impact: Viewing Peoples Globally

A Small Shift with Potential Significant Impact: Viewing Peoples Globally

Traditional People Group Data Structure

It was in the 1960s and 1970s that Christian researchers began in earnest to identify the people groups of the world. When the original lists were made, there was limited communication and very little movement of peoples. At that time, an international flight may have cost 10 times what it does currently and taken much longer. An international telephone call typically cost several dollars per minute. The common way to stay in touch with people in other countries was often by hand- written postal letter.

Geographic distance was a significant barrier to the spread of the gospel. Diaspora groups had minimal contact with homeland populations; the homeland and diaspora peoples of the same ethnicity were considered distinct entities. People group populations were structured accordingly, and people groups were defined by including country boundaries as shown in Figure 1 below. That data structure has served the mission community well for the last 50 years. Figure 2 illustrates the traditional people group data structure and counts as presented on the Joshua Project website.


A Different World

However, the world is a very different place than when people group lists began. Travel is relatively inexpensive and rapid... we have virtually free and instant video connection... money can be sent with a few taps on a phone... family or associates can Facetime or Zoom anytime... business or ministry can be conducted remotely from another continent.

Globalization means anyone can essentially contact anyone, anywhere, anytime. The geographic barriers and “distance” between the homeland and the diaspora have significantly blurred. Migration means people are on the move with unimagined mobility. New people-groups- in-countries (PGICs) are formed whenever a homeland group moves to a new country. All this raises challenges and concerns related to the current people group terminology, data structures and presentation.

Challenges and Concerns

1. Multiple meanings of “people group”—Both entities in the dotted box in Figure 1. are currently called “people groups”. Sometimes the term “people group” means geopolitical boundaries are not considered, e.g., the Kurmanji Kurd everywhere in the world. Other times “people group” means country borders are considered, e.g., the Kurmanji Kurds in Turkey, the Kurmanji Kurds in Iraq, etc. Without context, it is unclear whether the reference is to a people-group-across-countries (PGAC) or a people-group-in-country (PGIC). This has caused substantial confusion.

2. Ever expanding list of “people groups”—The widely recognized count of “people groups” is the number of people-groups-in-country (PGICs) in Figure 1. However, the number of PGICs is essentially unlimited. Therefore, the traditional PGIC way of counting “people groups” is a continually increasing number. In turn, this causes the number of Unreached People Groups to appear to be growing. Again, confusion has resulted.

3. PGICs are weighted the same—The largest homeland groups and the smallest diaspora groups are considered at the same level when viewed at a PGIC level. They have equal weight as database entries. Each is considered a unique “people group.” For example, the nine million homeland Kurmanji Kurds in Turkey are counted the same as a few thousand diaspora Kurmanji Kurds in Norway.

4. Mixes geography into the hierarchy—Traditional geographic barriers to the spread of the gospel are diminishing. Fifty years ago, geography was considered in the hierarchy of people groups, but this may have contributed to "silos” of ministry focus at the country level and may be less helpful in today’s world.

Data modeling suggests the elements in a hierarchy ought to all be of the same “stuff”. Separating geography from the people group hierarchy may be helpful. Figure 3 shows a slightly modified people group data structure.

  • Only PGACs are called “people groups”.

  • All PGICs are no longer called “people groups” but

    rather “people group in country”.

  • The count of PGACs becomes the emphasized number.

  • PGICs are not part of the hierarchy but are still fully available.

    Fortunately, people group data is currently coded such that Figure 3 is already available. PGACs already have a unique identifier, and the data presently can be viewed by PGAC. The change would mainly be in the presentation of the data and which count is emphasized as “the number of people groups in the world”. Using the Joshua Project numbers from Figure 2, there would be 10,422 people groups and 17,433 people groups in country.

Potential Benefits and Opportunities

The perspective change in Figure 3 is relatively small, but addresses the four concerns above:

  1. Has the benefit of different names for PGACs “people groups” and PGICs “people groups in country”.
  2. The count of PGACs is a reasonably stable number. The goalposts are not continually moving. Also, there is likely a much higher degree of agreement between various people group lists at the PGAC level.
  3. Allows users to differentiate between homeland and diaspora people groups in country, in any way desired. Considering an ethnicity as a global whole might help foster strategy and best practices across the entire PGAC.
  4. Removes geography from the hierarchy but keeps PGIC counts available. The PGIC people-group-in-country perspective probably will continue to be the initial way users approach people group data as most users start from a country mindset. This modified structure also allows for further refining to people-group-in-states/ provinces without adding to the hierarchy and further disrupting terminology and counts.


  • A. Present a biblical basis for the PGAC “people group” perspective. Current geo-political boundaries did not exist when Jesus gave the Great Commission.
  • B. Begin highlighting and emphasizing the PGAC perspective. Show the PGIC and PGAC total and unreached counts side-by-side. Compare and explain the counts: Why two sets of numbers? What do they mean? How do they compare to the past?
  • C. Encourage other people group list keepers, mobilizers and stakeholders to begin using the revised terminology and numbers.

This is an article from the Sept-Oct 2021 issue: Is the World Still a Waffle?

Is The World Still A Waffle?

Guest Editorial by Dan Scribner

Is The World Still A Waffle?

I stared at the booklet on the desk in utter amazement. It was November 1991. I was sitting in the prayer room in Hudson Taylor Hall on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Mission. My prayer shift was from midnight to 4:00 a.m. It was now 2:30. As I turned the pages of the booklet, I struggled to comprehend what I was seeing.

The booklet was an early list of the largest ethnolinguistic people groups who apparently had little, if any, exposure or response to the gospel: page after page showed the distinct “nations” without any meaningful presence of Jesus Christ in their midst. How could it be that, after nearly 2,000 years, so many people groups were still unreached? Little did I know that booklet would change the next 30 years of my life.

Dr. Ralph Winter’s watershed address at Lausanne ’74 challenged the worldwide mission community to view the world, not primarily as geo-political nations, but as distinct ethnic peoples each needing a unique church-planting effort. A fresh paradigm was birthed.

Mission mobilizers began describing the world as a waffle rather than a pancake. Previously, the view that we could “pour enough syrup on the pancake to fully cover it” meant we simply needed to send enough missionaries, do enough evangelism, plant enough churches and eventually the Great Commission would be fulfilled. But the world really was a waffle with very significant barriers to the spread of the gospel; the sweetness of the gospel did not automatically go everywhere; many pockets of people were untouched afternearly2,000years.Peoplegroup lists and information were needed if the Church were to fully understand the scope of “making disciples of all the nations.”

Since then, several people group lists have emerged, each with unique definitions, purposes and audiences. Except for South Asia, these people group lists are primarily ethno- linguistic, with language being the primary factor in defining a people group. These people group lists have had a significant impact on the missions world. Don’t miss the articles from Asian, African and Latin American voices sharing how people group thinking and information have impacted their ministries. Read how people group data motivated and transformed a mission agency. Another article highlights how people group data is being combined with other datasets to produce a visual prioritization tool. The first half of this Mission Frontiers issue is only a small sampling of how the Lord has used people group information to advance His kingdom.

The world is a very different place than it was nearly 50 years ago when the people group paradigm was birthed. Should the missions community still view the world as a waffle? Is traditional ethnolinguistic people group thinking still relevant? There are definite challenges moving forward:

Urbanization is blurring, if not eliminating, traditional people group boundaries. Is the traditional people group perspective relevant in a megacity?

  • Globalization is allowing the free-flow and mixing of ethnicities, ideas, worldviews and cultures. T
  • There is a growing call for recognition of the greater granularity of dynamic, hybrid people groups in which groupings are not defined by language but by different “glue”. Can current tracking of people groups handle greater complexity?
  • Mobility is creating new diaspora dynamics. Is it more helpful to view people groups globally than by country?
  • When does a diaspora group become a distinct people group from the homeland group?
  •  Language consolidation is reducing linguistic barriers and movements to Jesus are crossing traditional people group barriers.
  •  Accurate, updated information is difficult to obtain. How can crowdsourcing and collaboration be leveraged to refine and update people group data?
  •  Current people group lists and presentations may not be impacting younger generations.
  •  We see a need for much greater space for Global South researchers and people group data managers to not simply come alongside existing efforts, but also to take the lead and set the agenda, bringing fresh insight and vitality. 

The second half of this issue of Mission Frontiers gives a glimpse into a few of these challenges. Space limits extensive exploration of all these topics, but hopefully some of these articles will stimulate further dialogue regarding people group information in a changing world.

Is the world still a waffle? Traditional people group lists are still very applicable in parts of the world dominated by formal and informal caste structures and in tribal and rural settings. This includes significant parts of Africa and Asia, where the great majority of Unreached People Groups reside.

At the same time, the traditional waffle barriers are changing. Global trends are creating new social dynamics and changing both the barriers and boundaries by which groups are defined. New hybrid, trans-national and dynamic groupings must be considered for evangelistic purposes, Disciple Making and Church Planting Movements.

Most of the material in this issue is important in shaping our thinking. But be alert for heart knowledge as well as head knowledge; don’t overlook the heart-engaging Unreached of the Day prayer section. It has been said that prayer is the “first domino” in reaching the unreached. The Unreached of the Day is a simple and practical way to be involved. It is available here
in print and by mobile app, email, podcast and printable PDF at

May the Lord stir hearts in prayer rooms in Lagos, Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, leading to a fresh wave of people group thinking and information-tracking. Regardless of how people groups are defined, the Lamb is worthy of worship from every tribe, tongue, nation and people. Soli Deo Gloria.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Innovation Grounded in the Spirituality of Frontier Mission

Guest Editorial by Paul Dzubinski and Steven Spicer

Innovation Grounded in the Spirituality of Frontier Mission

From big business to the laboratory to tech companies, everyone is talking about innovation and how to make the next incredible new thing. And we think about the amazing innovators of the past like Madam Curie (who discovered radioactivity and won Nobel Peace prizes in two fields), Thomas Edison and his light bulb, the Wright Brothers (who gave us flight), and Dr. Shirley Jackson (who completed research that led to solar cells, fiber optic cables, portable fax machines, touch-tone telephones and caller ID.) These are amazing people and quite honestly, we are grateful to God for the innovations that they discovered, but we are not talking about that kind of thing in this edition of Mission Frontiers.

We are talking about innovation that brings about the breakthrough of Jesus’ kingdom. You will see articles that discuss innovation in multi-cultural settings, innovation related to alongsiders and how Jesus-centered innovation can bring change to ministries and even social contexts. This is part of kingdom transformation.

At Frontier Ventures we define innovation for integral mission as the creation of sustainable new solutions to the problems faced in discerning, proclaiming and living out God’s good news for individual persons, societies and creation. We approach this with tools and practices of design thinking and systems thinking, but we insist on adding to them group thinking, spiritual discernment, theological grounding, and a missiological focus.

Group Spiritual Discernment

We believe that significant innovation in missions requires a group of believers to be on a journey of discernment together. Insights and innovative ways forward emerge from communities of prayer. They surface over time through a group’s experience of transformation together that leads to new ways of seeing, listening, and being. While innovation practices provide helpful ways of thinking, asking questions, and reframing challenges, prayerful group discernment is about creating space to abide in Jesus, allowing the Spirit to inspire fresh imagination in us as we follow the Father’s wisdom and direction.

Theological Grounding

The articles in this edition of Mission Frontiers address things like ministry models, contextualization and social transformation. But all of them have a theological grounding in a holistic understanding of the gospel of Jesus. As Colossians 1:14-20 shows us, it is the saving message of the cross, but because that work was so powerful in its impact on humanity, it also unites all peoples into the family of God, produces an ethical transformation in all of us, exposes evil before God’s judgment and is the power of God at work in history and in creation (The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World condensed, 2010).

Missiological Focus

The focus of Mission Frontiers is the frontiers of mission. That is also where we want to see innovation happen. We agree with the definition of frontier missiology that is used at Frontier Ventures. It is the attempt to understand and encourage the initial incarnation of the gospel into relational networks of people, and the growth of the initial disciples within such initial efforts into biblical, indigenous, holistic and sustainable movements of Jesus followers.

Not all of the articles in this edition of Mission Frontiers fit squarely into this definition. However, they all express an innovation in missions that either can be or is already at the frontiers of mission.

Inside This Edition

With that in mind let us look at the edition of Mission Frontiers that we have at hand. The nine articles that make up this edition can be divided into three categories of innovation in mission. Each expresses a different focus: alongsiding innovation toward localized gospel expressions, societal transformation and ministry design. Let’s look at each of them.

Alongsiding Innovation toward Localized Expressions

Grab a cup of coffee or tea and dive into the lead article. It is here that we, Steven Spicer and Paul Dzubinski, describe how discerning innovative ways forward in frontier missions requires personal and community transformation. A group that is open to being led by God into new and life-giving ways of being in Jesus outside of our cultural models and worldviews can help forge new paths forward at the frontiers of mission. Those paths might look and sound quite different all while following the same Jesus who shepherds us.

Some of the most difficult barriers to the gospel require new localized expressions of following Jesus. This often involves walking alongside others from a particular context as they discern faithful ways of expressing the Good News. This type of innovation in a multi-cultural setting is addressed by Kevin Higgins in his regular article entitled “Toward the Edges.” He shows us what innovating at the edges of mission can be like when insiders begin to explore ways for least-reached peoples to experience new life in Jesus. Innovation practices yield unexpected results. And while that can be true, Claire TC Chong’s article about contextualization in Cambodia shows how Cambodian leaders come alongside their culture to find nuanced insights toward new localized expressions of faith for the sake of the gospel.

Societal Transformation and Innovation

Innovation aimed at societal transformation is often called social innovation. It is about the creation of new value and good for the community by aligning people, relationships and resources in new ways. In mission this is expressed with a focus on kingdom transformation and expressing God’s blessing. A wonderful example of this is the work of Wordly Collective, which has built a collaborative ecosystem to help minority language communities flourish. Steven interviewed Pastor Melvyn Mak to hear more about Wordly’s fascinating work. Another example is the work of Ed and Joan McManness with a community of students from around the world. Their work integrates care for people, community, creation and God’s spiritual directives.

Ministry Design and Innovation

The last four articles show innovative approaches and practices for ministry design. They focus on ways in mission for creating sustainable new opportunities, services, and impact in people’s lives. Here, Victor Tukura beautifully shows us how Africans mobilize the church for global missions. Brent McHugh challenges us to adopt design thinking in order to reach the 7,000+ unreached peoples. Ryan Crozier describes an approach to support and walk alongside the underdogs who have a calling to bring change through all sectors of society. Finally, Derek Seipp gives us a disciplined approach to planning ministry differently.

All of these nine articles will give you a wonderful taste of innovation in missions both internationally and domestically. May God bless you as you read.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions



A little more than ten years ago, I was rummaging around the library at Fuller Seminary. The seminary had graciously given me “visiting scholar” status, so I could access resources for my dissertation on Ralph D. Winter through the University of Wales. As many PhD researchers do, when I found the specific book I was looking for, I poked around on the shelf nearby to see if anything else under that subject would contribute to my research. You never know what rabbit trails that might lead to—sometimes very fruitful ones. (And more footnotes are always impressive!)

One day, in the bottom floor of “the stacks”, I found a thick, thesis-looking book full of the photocopies of typewritten papers under the title Consultation on the Homogeneous Unit Principle and moderated by John R.W. Stott. I knew that the Lausanne Movement had produced dozens of what they call Lausanne Occasional Papers, and the summary of this 1977 event became the very first paper.1

What I didn’t know was that the 10 papers presented as fuel for discussion at that Consultation were in one place (I am now compiling these for publication.) And indeed, their “consultative” process was extensive and rich with discussion, suggestions, agreement and (some strong) disagreement. Our archivist, Helen Darsie, found a fascinating, on-going exchange of papers/letters about these issues in our Donald A. McGavran holdings.

The presenters (and dissenters) included McGavran, with a long paper from missiologist Harvie M. Conn. Ralph D. Winter presented a historical view, and Arthur Glasser a biblical view. C. Rene Padilla—who just went to be with the Lord in mid-May—gave a counter-perspective from the view of Latin America, along with a few others.

As you can guess by now, HUP is an abbreviation for Homogeneous Unit Principle. That principle is, at its core: that people like to become Christians within their own homogeneous units, without crossing linguistic, class, or race barriers.

In many ways, that sounds simple and reasonable. But at that time, HUP had already been a controversial topic in mission circles and is an increasingly complex and “charged” issue today. By the 1970s, Donald A. McGavran’s Church Growth theories had been both a source of strategy and fodder for critique—sometimes very negative. Other consultations and seminars had been held by various groups to try to learn, understand and/or point out potential problems—and they published the result.

Some of those who opposed the ideas felt the idea of targeting the gospel to flow within specific groups might lead to the exclusion of other groups—and potentially be unfair racially. Defining “groups” was/is problematic, and while we should still try, groups do change over time. Some argue now, that increasingly, everything is in a “melting pot” and or a “stew” and that culture is becoming “globalized.” Others longed for the way churches should be multi-ethnic—accepting of all cultures and color-blind. Which, in turn, raises issues about what it means to be a “multicultural church.” One major issue is control —one group within a local church will naturally take leadership based on their personality, position in society, etc. It happens everywhere; we all need leaders. But, it becomes problematic when a major language like English or Spanish or Mandarin or … is used for the main language of worship and teaching, which colors the outcome.

Further, what does biblical or practical “unity” mean when it comes to missions and church? Some of the issues and dialogue on race in America today were part of the discussion back in 1977.

All of this impacts how we reach non-believers—from reached or unreached groups. How do people come to faith? Our models of church should address both (1) what we do with/for those who are already believers, and (2) those who are not—near or far. How do we effectively share with them, or send global servants to them?

With all that in mind, and the fact that McGavran’s ideas are core to many current missions strategies (like CPM, DMM, T4T10), we are planning the next Ralph D. Winter Lectureship on this topic. It will be a seminar with presenters and Q&A on these various issues. That event is expected to be held online and in person in Southern California in late February to early March of 2022.

I am also working on publishing the original papers and summaries of the discussion in a book to be released before the event. You can look for announcements of both at or on the Frontier Ventures Facebook page.

  1. 1 Lausanne now has 66 of what they call: LOP.  See:

  2. 2 In case you are new to MF, CPM = Church Planting Movements, DMM = Disciple Making Movements, T4T=Training 4 TraIners.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Design Thinking: Designed for Missions

Design Thinking: Designed for Missions

In 2018, as headlines in the global press became captivated by the daily increasing influx of migrants and refugees to Europe—to Germany, Italy and then Spain—a group of ministry practitioners gathered in southern Spain. As Spain’s shores and airports together became the largest receiver of a cornucopia of least-reached people groups fleeing their homelands, this group saw a vast open door.

Those of us who had taken the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course were reminded of Dr. Ralph Winter describing involuntary coming (“when people were forced to migrate to areas of believers and were influenced toward the believers’ faith”) as one of the mechanisms by which the kingdom of God has expanded throughout history. The immediacy of the opportunity before us to engage the people the Lord was bringing to us prompted local actors to come together to brainstorm, discuss and collaborate to meet the God-sized opening to serve. It was humbling to listen and work with leaders from multiple organizations and churches, as well as with community advocates with years of practical knowledge, skill and gifting.

I have been a big fan of the app Meetup since 2013 and have benefited from its service to announce innovation meetings in our region. It was through one of these Meetup events that I met Gijs, the president of Bold Thinking, as he facilitated several workshops focused on developing solutions for big challenges. He soon began mentoring me in Bold Thinking practices, and I later completed a strategic planning and implementation certificate program through the University of Virginia Darden School of Business that hooked me on design thinking processes.

Though, as the name suggests, design thinking is rooted in the strategies and processes designers use, its principles provide a people-centered approach that can benefit a wide range of fields. This creative problem-solving process focuses heavily on the needs of the people who would benefit from the products or services that are created. As such, it’s a powerful tool that can lead missions practitioners to strategies that address the challenges experienced by the people we are seeking to reach with the gospel and in turn open doors for church-planting.

Our group in southern Spain saw this several times over. Through a series of Bold Thinking exercises built on design thinking, our local community initiated a call to action that has led to several solutions that have positively impacted the lives of migrants and refugees. The first was the development and launch of an NGO by leaders from at least six organizations; this entity continues to meet the needs of immigrants through activities like food distribution and language classes.

Our design thinking approach then led to the development of start-up academies that equip entrepreneurs in the immigrant community to incubate and accelerate their microenterprises. These programs engage the largest experienced need of the immigrant and refugee community—the need for employment and income—by coaching, mentoring and training newly arrived migrants to start local, regional or global companies.

These start-up academies were created to provide environments that inspire and facilitate experimentation, development and growth. They are labs where immigrants’ ideas are developed into products or services that are designed and tested, and where customers become partners. The academy serves as a greenhouse where the facilitators are the gardeners making sure to provide the conditions and nourishment needed for enterprises to grow and become sustainable. So far, three start-up academy programs are being offered in our community, and a fourth is beginning in another city soon.

From there, design thinking has led to the development of a tool to identify the skills of immigrants and refugees and assist them in integrating into the workforce of southern Spain. This initiative has grown exponentially and led to participation in a European Commission-wide call for wider implementation.

Most recently it has led to the development of an artificial intelligence tool that helps immigrants and refugees understand the pathway to asylum and access other services. Applying for asylum is a human right (according to the United Nations), so everyone must be able to enter another country to request it. Despite the fact that Spain and the European Union have clear protocols regarding asylum applications, many migrants do not know where and how to find this information; even when they find it, it is not always available in their native language.

Our solution gives asylum-seekers and other migrants access to the pathway in their own language so they can enter the asylum process and gain access to the labor market. The platform has a simple objective: to combine co-creation and artificial intelligence to make it easier for migrants to understand and access the services to which they are entitled.

Design thinking has led to these durable solutions that are allowing ministries throughout southern Spain to engage immigrants and refugees at their points of need for the purpose of planting churches among the people groups that God has brought to our region. These strategies are enabling us to build bonds of trust in migrants’ social networks and establish a respected name in the immigrant and refugee community—benefits to our church-planting strategy that have been affirmed as fruitful practices in the research of Eric Adams, Don Allen and Bob Fish. In addition, these solutions have reduced the number of refugees and immigrants who leave our community, thus increasing the likelihood of sustainable gatherings of believers from among least-reached people groups.

UVA Darden School of Business

Our design thinking approach was impacted greatly by Professor Jeanne M. Liedtka of the University of Virginia, who, by her instruction, has enabled our staff to grow in our ability to adapt to new opportunities such as expanding mobilization from the Majority World. She also taught us to respond to church-planting opportunities among the largest movement of people in our lifetime by asking four questions:

  1. What is?” (focused on what exists in the present)
  2. What if?” (focused on building on the present to envision a new future)
  3. “What wows?” (focused on helping teams hone in on solutions that stand out)
  4. “What works?” (focused on testing possible solutions with actual users in the real world

Based on my experience, I believe design thinking is an important resource for identifying solutions to the challenges we are facing in fulfilling the Great Commission. Numerous aspects of this approach make it a good fit for missions practitioners: 

  • Emphasis on engaging people: As mission organizations and cross-cultural workers continuously strive to connect with least-reached people groups in more direct and relevant ways, the people-centered approach inherent in design thinking provides a range of practical methods and processes through which we can realize the outcomes we are seeking for the kingdom in all its varied contexts.
  • Future orientation: As an integrative practice that focuses on identifying opportunities and obstacles through imagination, modeling, experimentation and visioning, design thinking offers tools that enable decision-makers to challenge and often redefine their assumptions about a challenge or opportunity they face.
  • Ability to operate in complexity: Design practices fit well with the complex multi-stakeholder landscape of church- planting. With its emphasis on integrating many different perspectives, design thinking offers tangible means of benefiting from strategic collaboration.
  • Systematic methods: Design thinking, as opposed to more loosely formulated terms like “innovation” or “creativity,” offers well-described methods and tools that can be readily adopted by mission leaders and field personnel.

As we as a community of church-planting practitioners consider the 7,000+ unreached peoples that must still be engaged with the gospel, design thinking is an important resource for developing durable solutions to reach them. In a world where the windows and doors of opportunities to engage people groups are opening and closing faster than at any other time in history, I hope you will consider adding design thinking processes to your team or organization as a fruitful means to foster innovative change.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Wordly Collective: Building a Collaborative Ecosystem for Minority Language Community Flourishing

Wordly Collective: Building a Collaborative Ecosystem for Minority Language Community Flourishing

New ways forward in mission often emerge by making connections between people who are able to collaborate together to address a challenge. In other words, relationships are at the heart of social innovation in mission. This rings particularly true when it comes to serving and working among minority language communities (MLCs) who lack access to important information, resources and opportunities due to language barriers. Mission organizations have long been at work among these communities from the angle of Bible translation and gospel witness. However, there are also incredible opportunities to express the gospel in innovative and holistic ways through the formation of collaborative relationships at the nexus of language translation and community development.

One non-profit social enterprise inviting the church into this collaborative space is Wordly Collective. In partnership with SIL International (a faith-based NGO focused on language), they aim, “to help minority language community flourish using the languages they value most.”1 More specifically, they, “seek to empower marginalized minority language communities, help more people step out of poverty, create localized information that will improve overall health and well- being and improve access to education.”

To discover more about what makes Wordly Collective’s approach innovative, I recently had an opportunity to interview Pastor Melvyn Mak. In addition to being a board member of Wordly, Melvyn is also chairman of Transformational Business Network (TBN) Asia, which takes an ecosystem approach to supporting social entrepreneurs, and co-founder of Actxplorer, which combines travel with benefit to local communities. He describes his call and gifting as being an integrator, which I might suggest is a synonym for “social innovator.” The essence of social innovation is the creation of new opportunities for people to overcome social challenges and barriers through the alignment of healthy and collaborative relationships. That seems to me an apt description for what Wordly Collective is doing.

See Pastor Melvyn’s explanation and reflections on Wordly Collective:

Steven: Hi Melvyn, could you share some about how Wordly Collective was developed, particularly with a collaborative approach that connects many different stakeholders around minority language communities?

Melvyn: Wordly Collective is about mother tongue language and how language can help bring people to the forefront of opportunities. We want to take whatever we have in terms of the linguistic side of things and connect with the world at large to bring about community flourishing—in other words, it’s about the whole idea of missions but done in a more collaborative and integrated way.

Wordly Collective runs a translation platform. We are basically an ecosystem builder. The translation app will connect translators with users from the different sectors of society, and as we do that, we actually are a connector. If you need a document, a health advisory, a curriculum, a book, or whatever to be translated, we can actually connect them. Then we give a fee to the translators according to what is normally accepted as a translation fee.

Now, of course in the beginning some NGOs wanted to be translated, but they could not afford it. Likewise, missions organizations could not afford it, so then we would raise funds for them. In other words, we pay one side [translators], but to help the other side. We bring forth connection so that the people working with a particular minority language community can actually speed up a lot of things and exchange ideas—what works and what does not.

Let’s say, for example, we look at a minority language group in Myanmar. That is really at the forefront because they have many minority language groups with more than a million people in Myanmar. (Wordly has chosen to focus on the roughly 386 MLCs with at least one million speakers each.) We connect people with these minority language communities. It could be foundations, it could be governments, it could be the United Nations, or it could be social enterprises. And when we can start connecting them, then we realize that actually there’s a role for us to play. Basically, we are trying to create turnkey projects that deal with economic, social, mental well-being and so on. And the Church has a role to play because the Church is involved with the spiritual and emotional well-being part of it.

Steven: Could you share about the role of geography and location as you work with stakeholders and minority language communities in the Wordly translation ecosystem?

Melvyn: For example, in Singapore we have migrant workers. They’re from Bangladesh; they’re from Myanmar. And it’s not just in Singapore. You see, in Malaysia, you see similar representation of migrant workers as well as refugees, like those that are in Indonesia too.

In other words, we’re talking about the diaspora. Now, our heart is that if we are reaching a particular language group, we always have this belief that, like the Book of Revelation says, God gathers the nations, every tongue, every tribe, every people, every nation. It is about the mother tongue. The heart language is still very key. God has not forgotten that, so just because people migrate to English for economic reasons doesn’t mean that it’s forgotten. In fact, I think the mother tongue can help speed up opportunities, and also it connects them in the diaspora. In other words, the Malaysian site working with the Rohingyas can know what the Indonesian site is doing because Wordly seeks to be that ecosystem builder.

Steven: As you bring together all of these different stakeholders and work with minority language communities at home and in diaspora, there are people from many different cultures and backgrounds involved. How does Wordly Collective think about this interreligious space of collaboration?

Melvyn:  The proposal is that the space where the Jubilee Gospel [the bringing together of the Church and marketplace for the sake of alleviation of poverty] operates is perhaps the largest evangelism space that the Church has not thought about. Because our model [of evangelism], and I speak about myself as well, is people coming to listen. But I’ve realized that in this space of fighting poverty through enterprise, you have so much connectivity—with the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Christians—the different faiths all mixed up together. For example, every one of our Transformational Business Network Asia conferences has interfaith collaboration. Those guys know that I’m a pastor. Sometimes my team would slip up and say, “Oh, Pastor Melvyn!”, so they know. And there’s nothing that I hide. I work with, for example, the CEO of the Buddhist foundation organization, who is a great man—a great guy with a big heart of compassion—and then we work with the Islamic boarding school principal, their leader, and we all know our own religious affiliations.

But we all know that we all need to come together to help one another, especially actually Christians helping Muslims. Because in our region is Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim nation in the world, and they need help. So the question is who will help them?


So, what makes Wordly Collective innovative? Christians have already been at work among minority language communities. In fact, Wordly’s partnership with SIL International builds upon years of language work in mission. Translation services also are not new. Phone apps providing services are not new. Neither are non-profits focused on health, education, and community development. But the reality is that with all those things in place MLCs too often lackthe information they need to make informed decisions, to access new opportunities, and to move out of cycles of poverty. The innovation modeled by Wordly Collective is the creation of new opportunities through collaborative relationships. It is the connecting together of all of these contributors in one ecosystem, and then applying them together in new contexts. The result is a sustainable new offering to overcome barriers to MLCs flourishing “in the languages they value most.” By thinking holistically about the people and communities that need to be involved, Wordly is able to offer services and relationships that bring opportunity—it is social innovation to address social challenges of marginalization due to limited language access.

It is no coincidence that MLCs are also often Unreached People Groups. While Wordly Collective is a neutral platform, it is an expression of a vision for kingdom transformation to improve spiritual, physical, mental and emotional well-being. It demonstrates value for the ethnolinguistic identity and dignity of peoples. Additionally, it provides a space for humble witness—both among the MLCs and with other stakeholder organizations in the midst of interreligious collaboration. It is an invitation for followers of Jesus to apply their vocational skillsets in a broader collaborative ecosystem that aims to bridge the information gap to see minority language communities flourishing. Thus, it is also creating new opportunities for us to follow Jesus faithfully alongside these communities.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

‘Little Drops, Mighty Ocean’: An African Case Study in Partnership

‘Little Drops, Mighty Ocean’: An African Case Study in Partnership

It was a long road trip from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, to Latana, a rural settlement located in Billiri Local Government of Gombe State, in the northwest region of the country. The rainy season was regressing, and the dry weather was just setting in. The cool harmattan wind and the towering mango tree above us did a lot to cushion the impact of the African sun, making our outdoor meeting an entirely refreshing experience.

I was in the village to meet with the members of the Latana Chapter of the Missions Supporters League (MSL). They were pleasantly surprised at my visit. It sounded unbelievable that the International Director of MSL would travel a distance of almost seven hours to meet with “unschooled people.” Indeed, uneducated, elderly women made up a large percentage of their membership, and they reasoned that their chapter was way down the pecking order, compared to other chapters of means.

Such gestures and relationship building are an integral part of who we are in MSL. Humility and servant leadership are highly prized among us. Our membership is drawn from all strata of society, and we strive to give everyone a sense of belonging.

Vision and Mission

MSL was founded by me and my wife Nosa. She is a physicist, while I am a lawyer. After my university and law school training, I was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985. Shortly afterwards, I took up the challenge of mobilizing resources for mission work, and this set me on the path of missions advocacy. In 1988, I set up a law office—Victor Tukura & Co. (Missions Chambers), with the primary aim of raising funds for missions. In the course of time, Nosa and I founded MSL, which serves as a platform for the mobilization of resources for global missions.

As captured in our books and other publications, the vision of MSL is: “A God-centered and dynamic missions support movement committed to the holistic transformation of peoples of the world.” Our mission statement is, “to raise prayer, financial, material support and other resources for all aspects of missions, through the mobilization of the Church for the salvation of nations.”1 The objectives of MSL are discharged through the establishment of chapters in various villages, towns and cities. These chapters are clusters of Christians from different local churches, who come together to fulfill the common goal of reaching the nations with the gospel, through missions partnership.

Why Chapters?

At the commencement of the vision, our ministry efforts were restricted to funds raised from the law office and other family sources, but God told us to go further to broaden and open things up by involving the Body of Christ (the Church). Whatever was ongoing on the family platform in praying and funding missions would only remain a drop in the ocean in view of the magnitude of need on the mission fields. But opening up channels of support for missionaries through chapters would constitute many drops that would in the long run become a mighty ocean. Consequently, we evolved a principle of “little drops, mighty ocean” in establishing clusters of Christians in mission partnership.

Problems we were trying to solve by adopting the chapter model:

  1. Multiplying available channels for the funding of missions.
  2. Trying to avoid donor fatigue that comes from individual or families for consistently bearing the burden of supporting myriad needs at the same time.
  3. Providing a more robust spiritual cover to prevent or minimize spiritual attacks that come from supporting missions if done alone.

Some advantages of the chapter model are:

  1. Provides a platform for the involvement of every Christian to pragmatically participate in the Great Commission, irrespective of status and class.
  2. Denominational barriers are broken as chapter members are made up of Christians from various denominational backgrounds working together.
  3. Little resources from each member can go a long way in accomplishing much when pulled together in a chapter, thereby creating multiplication and synergy.
  4. Adoption of a mission field or work by the members of a chapter gives them concentration and focus on service instead of dissipating resources on many needs at the same time.
  5. Mission work is backed with prayers and finances with equal intensity.
  6. Creates a bonding and fellowship between Christians within the chapter which showcases the unity in the Body of Christ.
  7. Everybody has something peculiar to bring for the advancement of the gospel work on the missions fields, e.g., giftings, expertise, experience, etc.
  8. Carrying the burden of the field is spread and shared by many and therefore less cumbersome.
  9. It creates opportunity for family involvement in missions that could endure from generation to generation, which leads to sustainability.
  10. The whole Church is strategically engaged in the task to preach the whole gospel to the whole world.

Methods and Membership

Our goal is to build bridges between Christians and Unreached People Groups, in the mission fields, by making disciples in the nations, one field at a time. It is our belief that Christians of all persuasions who are not missionaries serving God on the mission field are only at “home” to service all aspects of missions in partnership with the missionaries, by providing the resources needed to get the nations saved. Each and every Christian should, as a matter of necessity, be either a missionary or a partner, serving as yoke fellows and equal stakeholders in the mission of planting churches in the nations of the earth.

So, while MSL Chapters range in size from five to 20 persons, the numerical strength of the chapter is not the main issue. The most important thing is the commitment of the members to their collective assignment. Each chapter adopts a mission field and works with missionaries to proclaim Jesus within an Unreached People Group. Through sustained involvement in these fields, the chapters provide prayer, financial and material support to missionaries.

Prayer Thrust

Prayer is key to every missions endeavor. With this consciousness, MSL has put in place prayer platforms for members and Christians to stand in the gap for missionaries and mission work. The first platform is the prayer segment of the monthly MSL chapter meetings. In addition, the Prayer Web, which is the prayer calendar of MSL, is used to develop a global praying web of Christians for missions.

Financial and Material Support

In MSL, we have professionals like lawyers, engineers, medical doctors, judges, architects, nurses, entrepreneurs and teachers; but we also have artisans and local farmers. Some chapters periodically raise and send large sums of money to their adopted mission fields. However, some other chapters generate small amounts of money, but they do so faithfully. Some chapters send funds to their adopted mission field once a year, while others do so more frequently. Ultimately, each chapter adopts the approach that suits them.


In the traditional ways of missions support and partnership, donors contribute money to fund mission programs and projects. In MSL, we go further by establishing a consummate relationship between the supporter and missionary. It goes beyond contributing money to establishing a viable collaboration which makes the two parties yokefellows and equal partners in the missions endeavor. The partner does not support from afar but takes personal interest in the fruitful outcome of the endeavor.

An example of this relationship between the missionary and supporters was demonstrated in what the MSL Jos chapter did sometime in year 2000. They had adopted a remote mission field located somewhere in the Mandara mountains along the Nigeria/Cameroon border for support. Accessing the field takes a six-hour trek climbing through the range of mountains from the base. The converts were constructing a church building made of mud bricks and had gotten to the roofing level. The dry season had just ended, and the rains were threatening. Any delays would bring down the whole structure and the efforts of the converts would be reduced to ground zero. Being an emergency, the missionary quickly rushed to the chapter and they promptly rallied round to raise the needed funds. Joyfully, the missionary went back to the field with all the materials required for roofing and windows. Immediately, the roofing was completed, the rains came down heavily, but the building was spared. The villagers were astonished and held the view that the God of the Christians is very powerful. He withheld the rains until the church building was completed.

One of the ways of fostering this missionary/supporter relationship is through field visitations. In this case the supporters, at the convenience of the missionary, visit the latter on the field for fellowship and encouragement. Some have even engaged in medical outreaches.

On the flip side, the missionary could be invited to spend some time with the supporters when on vacation or when he or she needs to take some time off the field. In the process, a relationship commences and is sustained over time. It is this synergy that provides the needed impetus for field work to thrive.

Mobilization and Ministry Growth

Mobilization Thrust

In order to fulfill our mandate of mobilizing the Church and creating awareness among believers, MSL has adopted some measures, which include the Senders Assembly, an annual missions conference, and state summits, which are a one-day awareness program aimed at mobilizing Christians for missions in the different state capitals. We also organize breakfast meetings where the vision of MSL is shared with the invited guests. In addition, church visitations are conducted for the purpose of creating awareness in churches.

Other forms of mobilization include the MSL New Frontiers, an arm of the ministry that specifically targets the mobilization of 10,000 youth towards various aspects of the global mission workforce within designated periods. The essence is to inculcate a missions mindset in the youth and to prepare them for the emerging new frontiers in missions.

Ministry Growth

The first chapter was established in Jos, in Plateau State, but the vision has spread steadily to other parts of Nigeria. MSL is contributing modestly, and in productive ways, to global missions, discipleship and evangelism, through the network of chapters and the adoption of Unreached People Groups. Currently, MSL has chapters spread across 22 of the 36 States in Nigeria, and we are in partnership with 25 mission agencies based in Nigeria and other African countries. So far, we have adopted more than 102 mission fields or Unreached People Groups.

MSL is gradually spreading outside Nigeria. We earnestly believe that the task of reaching the remaining unreached nations of Africa is achievable. Just imagine what could happen if a fraction of the human and material resources locked up in the African church is released for cross-cultural missions globally. Certainly, no ethnic group would remain unengaged, as all would be ultimately reached with the gospel.


We believe that every Christian has something to bring to the table. The salary earners and big-time businesspeople bring in their contribution, the small fish farmer brings in the proceeds of his fish farm, the petty trader brings in her small income. A little of this and a little of that, and gradually something substantial is raised for the furtherance of the gospel in the mission fields.

Through simple but strategic ways, MSL members are touching the world by doing global missions in their local chapters. It is these little drops of water dotted all around the globe that will transform into a mighty ocean, and the knowledge of the glory of God will cover the earth as the waters covers the sea. (Hab. 2:14)

  1. 1 MSL Handbook.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

The Discipline of Innovation: Approaching Planning Differently

The Discipline of Innovation: Approaching Planning Differently



World mission is not immune to the massive changes that are happening in our world today. In response to those changes, we see local churches engaging in mission overseas, bypassing mission agencies in the process. Churches (knowingly or unknowingly) recognized the gap between those massive changes and what is happening in missions today and simply stepped in. Most every mission leader I know admits to feeling that new pressures are emerging.

People’s giving patterns are changing. Young missionaries have different motivations than the previous generation. The mission field itself has changed. Strategic drift is keeping us from being as effective as we could be.

What does this teach us? It shows us that those who align themselves with the future are consistently better prepared. They stay ahead of the curve by having strategies in place by the time the future arrives. It’s driven by an insatiable curiosity that seeks to understand the changes happening around us; changes which others miss (Oster 2011). The more we understand these changes, the better we are at finding creative solutions we can begin implementing today.

It is not easy to do so. Our brains are hard-wired to identify familiar patterns. Pattern recognition is geared to recognizing that which has remained the same. This helps us recognize faces, learn languages, and remember where we placed our car keys. But this also hinders us from recognizing change. As a result, we ignore the important cues, that change happened faster than we realized (Hannagan 2009).

Further complicating matters, the projects we manage and the organizations we lead have inertia; individuals and finance are invested in current plans. Assuming we even fully recognized a change, we still have to convince others of its existence, then agree upon how to react. Such discussions are often held off for annual reviews, where, because there are other expedient issues needing to be discussed, any big changes simply fall off the table. Consequently, we react even slower still. Organizations are designed for stability.

With our brain’s inherent biases against change, corrective steps usually fall short of what’s actually needed (Hannagan, 2009). This results in small, but growing gaps between what we do and what needs to be done. To make matters worse, these corrections are generally reactive, rather than proactive in nature. This means we’re constantly trailing behind while change gains an increasing lead. Hannagan calls this widening gap “strategic drift.”

Strategic drift eventually increases to the point that the gaps become vast chasms. Because drift is so gradual, most organizations don’t realize the resulting chasm until it’s too late. It’s the classic boiling frog syndrome.

So, how do we recognize and fill the chasm? How do we choose the right actions amid such uncertainty?


Peter Drucker said, “In a time of rapid change, the opportunities for improving, for getting results, are also changing rapidly. Things that were impossible or unnecessary yesterday suddenly become possible, and things that made great sense yesterday no longer make sense . . . One of the tasks of leaders is to make sure that we constantly put our scarce resources Considering multiple new future scenarios, we prayerfully explored the kind of future we wanted to emerge after the pandemic. This allowed us to take a proactive approach to the lockdowns, looking for the forces we have control over, and what other forces we can actively influence.

Now, even as life slowly returns to the “old normal,” many of our workers no longer want to engage the way they always have. They see new options to engage with greater influence. Through changing their view of the future, they’ve changed how they engage with the present.

In the end, that’s what innovation is all about.(people and money) where they do the most good… . Good intentions are no longer enough” (Hesselbein & Cohen 1999).

It might surprise you, but Peter was writing to leaders of a non-profit volunteer organization, helping underprivileged inner-city youth. He was helping the organization find the actions which would have the greatest impact on literacy and graduation. Knowing this, you may want to read that passage again.

He continues, “What we have really done is learn the discipline of innovation…It means being able and willing to abandon efforts that don’t get results—either because we don’t know how to produce results or because we are misdirecting our efforts…It’s not looking at need alone, but looking at need and opportunity…We need the discipline of innovation because in a rapidly changing society, our problems are changing” (Hesselbein & Cohen 1999).

If we enact new strategies designed to deal with changes that we recognize today, and have already happened (past tense), we simply align our organizations to the past. See the fundamental flaw? Yet, this is what most planning methodologies produce.

The most common planning tool, the SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat), does nothing to envision the future, track emerging trends, analyze their interactions and explore the new horizons of tomorrow. SWOT and most planning processes merely create incremental changes in strategy, when in reality, we have to jump the chasm and get ahead of strategic drift.

A better way forward is scenario planning. It comprises a set of tools which, since the 1970s, are now becoming mission- critical business processes to most corporations and are taught in the business institutes of Ivy League schools. The traditional strategic plan is out. Scenario planning has become the practice of many of the world’s largest companies. Instead of predicting “the” future which will emerge, it’s more advantageous to think of the future in the plural, as an array of plausible futures (Hines & Bishop 2006). This helps us position ourselves favorably within a variety of different future scenarios.

A weather forecaster looks at various weather patterns and how they will interact; then a forecast is developed for the next few days and weeks (2006). As weather trends develop and change, the forecaster updates his forecast to match new emerging information. Over time, the weather forecaster develops his skills and begins to understand to which types of information he must play close attention.

Predictions are precise, exact statements about what the future will be. Forecasts, however, provide just enough meaningful information to help us make better decisions about our day: should I take an umbrella, should I delay my beach vacation, or should I buy a snowblower?

Scenario planning thinks about the future in terms of forecasting multiple scenarios. We track various trends and events impacting the environment surrounding our ministries in order to paint various probable scenarios impacting the future of our ministry. Forecasts give us information about the future that empowers us to take meaningful action in the uncertainty of today (Saffo 2007).

In the process of exploring these scenarios, we learn that there are ways we can create meaningful dialogue and influence the future as it emerges (2006). A good scenario simply helps us think about the future in a way that helps us become like the leaders of Issachar, understanding the times and knowing what to do as a result. This recent pandemic has been a perfect example of why scenario planning is so important.

Certainly life returning to “normal” was one potential scenario. In this scenario we could all plan for when borders would open up, and we could get back to our respective ministries. But other scenarios begged the question, “What if life doesn’t return to ‘normal’?”

Considering all the global forces converging upon this pandemic (political changes, technical abilities, global missions trends, indigenous church trends, etc.), allowed us to imagine several new scenarios highlighting what “might” emerge. Suddenly, a return to the “old normal,” didn’t seem as plausible as it once did.

Very early on, we used the time to retrain many of our teams. We helped them see lockdowns not as a restraint, but a gift to re-evaluate their work. The goal was to change their perspective from an “inside worker” to an “outside catalyst.”

Considering multiple new future scenarios, we prayerfully explored the kind of future we wanted to emerge after the pandemic. This allowed us to take a proactive approach to the lockdowns, looking for the forces we have control over, and what other forces we can actively influence.

Now, even as life slowly returns to the “old normal,” many of our workers no longer want to engage the way they always have. They see new options to engage with greater influence. Through changing their view of the future, they’ve changed how they engage with the present.

In the end, that’s what innovation is all about.


  1. 1 Hannagan, T. Management: Concepts & Practices (5th ed.) Harlow, England: Prentice Hall, 2009.

  2. 2 Hesselbein, F., and P. Cohen. Leader to leader (LTL): Enduring Insights on Leadership from the Drucker Foundation’s Award-winning Journal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

  3. 3 Hines, A., and P. J. Bishop. Thinking about the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight. Washington, DC: Social Technologies, 2006. 

  4. 4 Oster, G. The Light Prize: Perspectives on Christian Innovation. Virginia Beach: Positive Signs Media, 2011.

  5. 5 Safo, P. “Six Rules for Effective Forecasting.” Harvard Business Review 85, no. 7/8 (2007): 122–31.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Is This China’s Final Solution for the Uyghurs?

Is This China’s Final Solution for the Uyghurs?

Gulbahar Haitiwaji (not her real name) was a Uyghur exile in France who returned to China to sign important papers. Chinese government officials had a photo of her daughter attending a Uyghur cultural event in France where the Uyghur flag was displayed. For this reason, Mrs. Haitiwaji was regarded as a terrorist and sent to a re-education camp for two years. Such reports keep pouring in from credible publications like BBC News and The Diplomat.

The first contact between the Han Chinese and the nomadic ancestors of the Uyghurs in 130CE was positive. These ancestors were ethnic Tocharians, Buddhists who founded the Kushan Empire. City-states thrived along what we now call the Silk Road. Trade lasted for hundreds of years bringing prosperity to many. The Kingdom of Khotan, surrounded by the Kushan Empire, was especially prosperous during the time it was a protectorate of China’s powerful Tang Dynasty, which defended it from nomadic marauders.

Trade eventually shifted to the oceans rather than land-based caravans. China’s Tang Dynasty fell, and the new Song Dynasty was powerless to protect this region, which was soon ravaged by Tibetan and Turkic marauders, the Uyghurs being among the latter.

In the 900s and 1000s, there was mass conversion of Central Asian Turks to Islam, including the Uyghurs. Eventually the Uyghurs assimilated the peoples who lived in this region, which came under control of the Mongol Empire in the 14th century. It took another four centuries for the Chinese to regroup under the Qing Dynasty and conquer this area. By that time the region had fallen into poverty.

The Qing Dynasty, 1644–1911, began to refer to this region as xin jiang, meaning the “new frontier.” That name demonstrated a key difference in how the Chinese viewed this Turkic region, and today one of the five stars on the Chinese flag represents the Uyghurs. The Chinese ruled through the Turkic-speaking Muslim elite, and from the start there were rebellions. One revolt resulted in an independent government which lasted from 1867–1878. This region, called both xin jiang and Eastern Turkestan, was devoured by the Qing Dynasty and named Xinjiang in 1884.

The Qing Dynasty controlled Xinjiang until this dynasty collapsed in 1911. During the next three decades, there were attempts to create two independent Muslim states. With the rise of Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, these states were taken by China.

In 1955, the People’s Republic of China created the Xinjiang Uighur “Autonomous” Region as a concession to the Turkic Muslim majority that lived there. The centralized authority of the PRC was weakened during the chaotic time of the 1966- 76 Cultural Revolution, and the Uyghurs demanded independence. Part of this was because there had been a steady stream of Han Chinese settling in their homeland. This process of making Xinjiang more Chinese accelerated in the decades to come. By 2000, 40 percent of the Xinjiang population was Han Chinese—not even including Chinese troops.

As the nearby USSR dissolved in the early 1990s, Turkic “Soviet Socialist Republic” became independent, and Uyghurs under China’s control were hoping for their own independence. Fearing a spread of such independence movements, the Chinese government doubled down by suppressing demonstrations. The Uyghur separatists went underground.

China began major development projects in Xinjiang, which brought economic prosperity to urban centers. The good jobs went to Han Chinese, while Uyghurs watched from the sidelines, growing increasingly resentful.

The Uyghurs lashed back. In 2009 there were large-scale ethnic riots in the capital city of Urumqi, and 200 perished in the bloodshed, most of them Han Chinese. From then on, the Chinese government has blamed the entire Uyghur population, regarding them as Muslim terrorists. Throughout the 2010s Uyghur terrorists conducted a blur of hijackings, riots and attacks on police stations.

Starting in the 2010s, the Chinese government became increasingly cruel in their treatment of the Uyghurs. With a population of about 12 million, about one million Uyghur men and some women have been sent to detention camps, which the Chinese government has given the euphemism “re-education camps.” Instead of the vocational training that the Chinese government tells the public they are offering, Uyghurs are subjected to endless indoctrination sessions. While they are away, their wives and children face even grimmer consequences since the Chinese want to drastically change Uyghur families to become loyal to the government. Uyghur children are sometimes “adopted” by Han Chinese families. Under the guise of what the Chinese government calls the “Pair up and become a family” program, Han Chinese monitors stay with Uyghur families every two months, work and eat with them, and even sleep in the same beds as the wives.

Women who are sent to internment camps face even greater cruelty and humiliation. A February 2, 2021 article in BBC News reports gang-rapes of interned Uyghur women. The Chinese government responded by banning BBC News from their country after this story was published. Governments have spoken out against the cruel government actions, but Beijing is far from repentant. Uyghurs who remain in China are vulnerable to incarceration if their relatives outside the country speak out.

What is China trying to accomplish? Is the end goal to terrorize the Uyghurs into submission, or is it actually genocide? There has been a forced sterilization among the Uyghurs program since 2016. They have also used forced birth control and mandatory abortions to lower the number of newborn Uyghurs. These efforts have been very successful according to a graph published by the Associated Press in June 2020.

Historically speaking, totalitarian governments do not respond to outside pressure, and China is no exception. Yet there can be pressure brought on them from above. God is much more powerful than any government, and we need to turn to Him.

  • Pray for the Lord to intervene and bring truth, justice and mercy to the situation.
  • Pray for Him to provide spiritual and emotional healing to the traumatized and for Uyghurs who have escaped and are experiencing “survivors’ guilt.”
  • Pray for the Chinese Church to be salt and light in this increasingly dark situation.




( (

( camps-a9185861.html)



This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Accelerating Transformation

Accelerating Transformation

I like to root for the underdogs. There’s something special about seeing a group of people overcome obstacles and achieve that which many thought impossible. This might just be part of the reason that Romania captivated my heart at such a young age.

Romania is an underdog country. As one of the poorest countries in the European Union, Romania is still overcoming the devastation of 40+ years of Communism. Problems like brain drain, human trafficking, corruption and social injustices can leave the average person feeling hopeless. Many people have chosen to leave the country in hopes of a better life.

We serve a relentless God. He is at work in this nation.

I’ve seen God raising up a generation of leaders who have a calling to bring change through all sectors of society. They aren’t willing to simply prioritize their own interests but instead are making sacrifices to help others. They have chosen to stay in the country and start a nonprofit organization or social enterprise to solve one of the many problems facing society.

One of these entrepreneurial leaders is a young man named Andrei. I first met Andrei when he was a student of Teen Challenge Romania, a substance abuse recovery program. After fighting a heroin addiction for over 13 years, Andrei got a new chance at life. He found freedom and a new purpose in life through his relationship with Jesus. After graduating from Teen Challenge and getting married, he found a great job as a manager of a restaurant owned by a local Christian businessman. While this job provided the income and security for his growing family, it didn’t satisfy his heart’s desires. God began speaking to Andrei about starting a nonprofit organization that would educate young people about the dangers of drug abuse. A few years back, he took the bold step of resigning from his job to start this new venture. These bold steps of faith are easy to read about, but often difficult to live out.

The world celebrates the successful entrepreneur, but only once an idea has been proven to work. The journey of an entrepreneur is full of struggles. While many people start out full of hope and a clear vision for their work, they often find themselves discouraged and questioning if they’ve made an irreversible mistake by starting down this path. A few of the common reasons for this discouragement are the lack of financial support and not seeing the impact as quickly as they had hoped. The risks of entrepreneurship are high, especially in developing nations. The risks of social entrepreneurship are even higher.

For too long the American Church has focused on sending missionaries and often overlooked the opportunity of equipping local leaders. In many nations, it’s far more effective to invest in leaders who are already at work and help them increase their impact. A benefit of this model is the long-term sustainability of the work. I also believe this is truly representative of how we see Paul establish the early church by building up local leaders, allowing him to move on to new communities.

At Good Bureau, a nonprofit organization in Bucharest, Romania, we want to see this nation transformed. We believe the best way to have a lasting impact in Romania is to invest in local leaders, regardless of their faith background. While seeking God on how we could best serve these emerging entrepreneurial leaders, we were impressed with the popular model of incubators and accelerators helping launch new business ventures across the globe. These programs typically last anywhere from a few weeks to a full year and provide a support system designed to grow a successful business. One of the biggest advantages of such a program is the chance to pitch investors who will provide financial capital to sustain the business during the startup phase. Another benefit is having access to a community of entrepreneurs who share their experiences and lessons learned. These types of programs were a real inspiration to us as we designed our own.

Last year we started the Good Accelerator, a 12-month program that brings concentrated funding and support along with an invitation to join a like-minded community of leaders. While the program lasts just 12 months, we see the community being a life-long investment. We desire to walk alongside these leaders during the course of their lives to offer ongoing support. The intensive effort is designed to help them launch a new mission or make an even greater impact where they’re serving already. A key element of our program is that it’s not so much about the venture itself, but about making a concentrated effort to invest in the leader behind it. We have found that the leader makes all the difference, and yet his or her own well-being is often overlooked and forgotten in the process of scaling impact. One of the ways we make this personal investment is through one-on-one coaching with our team. These coaching sessions create a space for the leaders to pause from their busy schedules and process their thoughts and feelings aloud.

Andrei joined the Good Accelerator program during the first year of starting his nonprofit, Teen Challenge Smart. We intentionally picked a leader like Andrei because we believe God has great plans for him and the work he’s doing. It’s been a privilege to journey alongside him as he’s grown in his development as a leader. The work of Teen Challenge Smart continues to flourish. Andrei and his team of volunteers are running a powerful drug prevention program in schools across Romania. Students have a unique opportunity to hear personal stories from former addicts and how their choices led to destruction. They are also leveraging social media to reach millions of young people with the devastating stories of drug abuse.

When I reflect on the lives of our faith heroes, I like to think back to their start before they were recognized and celebrated for their accomplishments. I recall that season of life when they had taken the step of faith but didn’t yet see the results coming into fruition. They stood on God’s promises but questioned the vision and their own abilities to accomplish it. I wonder if someone came alongside to encourage and support them during this difficult season. I don’t want to risk these leaders giving up on the mission before them; the stakes are too high. I want to be that cheerleader in their life. 

In this life, we are all underdogs. Thankfully, we serve a God of the underdogs. He loves using underdogs to accomplish His will. This makes sure that He gets the glory. We each have a part to play in bringing transformation to the nations. Thank you for the part you play.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Transformation in Community: Discerning Innovative Ways Forward in Missions

Transformation in Community: Discerning Innovative Ways Forward in Missions


Innovation often springs from a need or opportunity. There is a problem, a challenge or an issue that needs to be addressed, or changing circumstances that present new possibilities. That’s also true for missions innovation. When people think about innovation in missions, they often think about technological innovations, the use of web apps like TikTok, new ways to do translation work like Katie Kuykendall outlines in her MF article from 2018 called “There’s an App for that,”1 or ways to get the gospel into closed countries through media. These are fantastic but are not the primary area of innovation we have wanted to explore in Frontier Ventures’ Winter Launch Lab.

So what challenges or issues have grabbed our attention? We are intrigued with the challenge of exploring local and culturally relevant ways for least-reached peoples to experience new life in Jesus. This requires prayerfully discerning new ways to express and live out the gospel where it has been rejected for hundreds of years.

For example, the gospel has been in the Buddhist world for generations, but there have not been many movements to Jesus in the majority-Buddhist countries. Why is that? Another example would be the country of India, where, according to tradition, the Apostle Thomas witnessed 2,000 years ago. There are some great movements of God in India, but many castes and sections of the country have never seen a Jesus movement. Why is that, even after many centuries? These types of complex gospel challenges are the ones we would like to prayerfully consider in order to discern innovative ways forward.

We jumped in with both feet. And after a number of attempts at innovation in Muslim, diaspora, and Hindu contexts, we came to realize there was another significant barrier—an unexpected challenge. In order to pursue this type of innovation, we ourselves had to become a different type of person. There is a need for humility, flexibility, holy curiosity, self-awareness, Spirit-sensitive creativity and faithfulness in discerning how Jesus is leading. We realized that at its heart, innovation in mission is about the process of transformation as God shifts our ministry paradigms, focuses our vision and calls us into new expressions of His kingdom we might not have imagined before. In other words, we are not only seeking fresh ideas or new ways of delivering the gospel message, but we are also expecting God to reshape us in the process. Who we are matters greatly for how we see and understand the challenges, how we live in healthy relationships, and how then to creatively act and follow God’s lead in the world. Ways forward to address long-standing challenges will emerge from new ways of being in Jesus and walking alongside others at the frontiers of mission.

As a group goes through an innovation process of seeking understanding, prayerfully reflecting, and then discerning new ways forward together, everyone in the group is changed. In one innovation group we facilitated someone said, “If we take this step to consider these things, we will be changed people. This process will change us. Is that okay with us?” It is not enough just to think differently. The barriers to the gospel at the frontiers of mission are deeply spiritual, in addition to all the complex social, cultural, religious, and linguistic factors. They require us to be different.

This is why we call our innovation process a Transformation Collaborative. It is a group spiritual journey as well as a personal spiritual journey into the challenge, into the call of God to innovate.

So, in a Transformation Collaborative, who is a part of the group that will be transformed, and what is the process we follow to move toward transformative innovation?

Forming the Innovation Community

We begin with the conviction that innovation in mission will emerge from worshipping and praying communities that are committed to walking together with God and one another. While God blesses human creativity and ingenuity, He also leads and gives vision and wisdom as a community prayerfully looks to Him. Ways forward will emerge from a group that is centered in Jesus, committed to relationships like Jesus is, and who accept that God wants them to bring their full selves to the innovation process. If the desire of God is to be glorified and dwell among His people, then the ways in which we move toward that end ought to embrace the importance of unity in community.

With this communal aim in mind, formation of the group begins with one or more catalyst leaders who have some sense of call to respond to a complex gospel challenge. These are often people with expertise, capacity, and connection to rally others, to champion an issue, and possibly even to catalyze movements. Walking with them, we assist in the process of clarifying the challenge. That challenge is formulated in a question that expresses curiosity and invites further exploration. For example, how might we bridge the gap between Buddhist and Christian worldviews so that Buddhists are able to understand the gospel as Good News? Or how might we incorporate whole-person healthcare (mind, body, spirit) into the DNA of movements to Jesus? Or how might we imagine appropriate ways for Hindus to begin following Jesus and remain in their families?

With some initial direction in place, the next step is for the catalyst leaders to begin inviting a larger, diverse community of others around the challenge as members of the core team. The aim for this core team is to become a prayerful and discerning community that will explore their shared challenge together. Just by looking at the example questions above, it is quickly apparent that the core team will need to include representatives from the relevant global communities and backgrounds to meaningfully respond to these challenges.2 Bringing their whole selves to the group, the team’s diverse perspectives and life experiences of following Jesus aid in the process of exploring complex gospel challenges and being transformed together as a community in Christ.

Allow us to give you a picture of what this looks like.

The Innovation Community’s Discernment Process

When we walk with a group facing new challenges and opportunities in mission, there are some important questions we all should be asking. How is God already at work? In what ways is the Spirit inspiring us, giving us vision? As Jesus shepherds us forward, what might He be saying to us? Where do we sense He might be leading us?

Along with these prayerful questions we might also be asking, who are all the stakeholders involved—who is impacted by this challenge? Who might benefit from the creation of new opportunities? Who is missing out on life in Jesus? These questions help us to know where to begin carefully and humbly listening to others.

And underneath that we are asking, what are the deeper barriers and contributing factors? What are the relational or systemic patterns that are dysfunctional, not bearing fruit of blessing and righteousness? What is happening spiritually that might require intentional intercession?

What are the opportunities and possibilities? These questions are about making sense of the challenge. We may begin with some starting understanding, but that will only get us so far: often challenges in mission are challenges precisely because our current understanding and practice are not enough. We will need to prayerfully explore and discover new insights that point toward possible ways forward.

The Winter Launch Lab’s iterative approach to innovation and discernment encompasses three main phases (see graphic below):
• Seeking understanding around the complex problem through prayer, interviews, Scripture study, research, and experiential learning
• Prayerful reflection on emerging insights and any initial sense of where God might be leading
• Discerning new ways forward by designing creative prototype initiatives that lead to further innovative insights and breakthroughs

Throughout the process we bring together innovation practices of design and systems thinking with group spiritual discernment. That means prayer and discernment play a central role in both divergent and convergent ways of thinking.

Divergence is about exploration of our curiosities and the creation of possibilities. It widens the scope to include more information. Convergence is the opposite: it is about synthesizing information to draw out insights, limiting options, and making decisions. Normally prayerful discernment is associated with convergent thinking. We all turn to God asking for direction when we are trying to make a decision. That still holds true here: when a group needs to decide which direction to move or which prototype(s) to create and test, it is important to make space for team members to sense how God might be leading. But that is only one expression of prayer in the innovation process.

For us, discernment in innovation is about seeing rightly so that we might become wise and faithful in all our being, living and doing. Let us unpack this statement. While seeing rightly certainly includes convergence, narrowing toward decisions for ways forward, it also includes divergence as we together prayerfully explore ways to understand the challenge and envision new possibilities. In an innovation process we need the Spirit’s help and inspiration to perceive or imagine other ways of framing the challenge and creatively responding. From there, wisdom is about synthesizing the understanding and insights that emerge from beginning to see well. These insights not only signal direction for potential ways forward but can also impact and change us. They have real implications for who we are in Jesus, in the world. By sensing how God is already at work in a context and what He might desire to do to express His character and blessing, we are then also able to act faithfully. That takes place at the level of our being, as we are being conformed and transformed into His image in agreement with His purposes. It also plays out in our living and the ways we form relationships and are present to God and others. And finally, changes in our being and living will impact and shape our doing as we also discern the next practical steps to take together, in alignment with the ways we have sensed God is leading us. The journey of prayerful discovery and discernment is also the journey of transformation.

Iterative Discernment & Transformation

We in the Winter Launch Lab recognize that discernment and hearing God’s voice or leadership can be a messy and uncertain thing. Some traditions emphasize God’s will in such a way that it is a search for a specific and sometimes hard- to-find answer. It can be paralyzing. Others move in the opposite direction, suggesting that believers already know God’s general will and can follow it in many ways, believing we’re too small to disrupt God’s purposes for our lives or contexts through our decisions about career paths, spouses or houses. Our approach is somewhere in the middle, emphasizing both that God desires to speak and lead the innovating community, but that He also invites our own participation as people who are also being formed over time to desire His kingdom.

When it comes to exploring new ways for the least-reached to experience life in Jesus, we already know the general will of God—that is not the question. The issue is that there are difficult barriers where current practices and understanding are not sufficient to see new movement to Jesus. Even worse, sometimes it is our own attitudes and approaches to mission that are part of the problem! Our knowledge, wisdom, and creativity are not always enough because the things we are hoping for—God moving to bless peoples and reconcile them to Himself—are only done by God. So without creating a trapping dependency on hearing a specific set of instructions from God, in our innovation process we recognize the need to humbly and prayerfully do our best to align our hearts and intentions with God’s heart and desires.

Sometimes there are moments of great clarity where God is surely moving, speaking, and guiding in some specific directions. On other occasions ways forward may not quickly emerge, but it is that intentionality of listening, reflecting, discerning, trying small things and giving space for feedback through which we may learn and discern together how God is leading over time. It is in the midst of life that God shapes us and forms all of us, and it is in the midst of challenging contexts that we listen, reflect, and pray about next steps in an iterative way, rather than expecting God to show us the entire path at once.

Importantly, all of this happens in the context of group discernment. We hope to see groups genuinely discern and follow the will of God in the context of diverse community that brings their full selves, formed over time in their own walks with Jesus. While prayerful discernment is always a subjective matter, a group seeking God’s guidance, sitting at His feet in prayer, and listening carefully with an open mind, heart and will is a healthy and balanced starting point. In a safe space it is possible for a group to share and reflect on the ways they sense God might be leading and to practice self-awareness about the lenses through which they are hearing. This allows openness to the move of the Spirit while grounded in a space of contemplation and waiting on the Lord. It also allows the wisdom of diverse perspectives and experiences to balance the potential for quickly running in a direction of an individual’s interests. In summary, just as God forms us over time, He also forms us in the midst of community.


For the most difficult challenges in mission, this type of transformation is paramount. To be able to perceive and lean into the new things that God is desiring to do in the world, we need to be a different kind of people. This is not simply a deconstruction of Western missions practices, though some of that critique may be required, but an openness to being led by God into new and life-giving ways of being in Jesus outside of our cultural models and worldviews. The paths of following Jesus at the frontiers might look and sound quite different all while following the same Jesus who shepherds us.

In one Transformation Collaborative, after sitting with the Scriptures for some time, we asked the core group and catalyst leader to spend an hour or so in individual prayer. The group was going in a nice direction, and it was time to make some decisions. We did not expect what happened next. Instead of coming back from prayer fully ready to move forward, more than half the group came back and confessed to one another that they were repenting from sins and from following Jesus in ways culturally foreign to their context. The group did eventually take steps toward innovation, but the key moment of the entire time was that repentance. This transformative time of prayer and discernment was the backbone of the innovation that was to come.

In our experience to date, innovation in missions includes the whole person, bringing our full lives and selves, and that means new ways forward will include our own transformation in communities.

  1. 1 Kuykendall, K. (n.d.). There’s an App for That: Technology Transforms Bible Translation. Retrieved May 14, 2021, from http://www.missionfrontiers org/i.ssue/article/theres-an-app-for-that1

  2. 2 For example, movements themselves should be the ones dis- cerning and making sense of new ways forward in their contexts. To the extent that others, or particularly Westerners, are involved, they will be walking alongside and encouraging in the process.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Toward the Edges: Innovation in a Multi-cultural Setting

Toward the Edges: Innovation in a Multi-cultural Setting

“So, brother, here in the West we have these lists of people groups, and as you know, there are organizations devoted to seeing movements to Jesus among all of the ones that aren’t reached. And ‘reached’ means…”

Unreached Peoples And Communication Challenges

I have had that conversation in various ways off and on for about 25 years, meaning I have talked about these things with believers within what would be considered Unreached People Groups. I have talked about the meaning of people groups, what the lists mean and how mission organizations view it all.

I have listened to the feedback, too. I have seen the different ways that people in those groups see themselves and their people. I have learned a lot about how some people groups on the lists see other people groups on the list.

Now, none of that has made me think that the lists are wrong or unhelpful! But my experiences have caused me to work hard at communication and at thinking about vocabulary. Of course, in many cases I was not using English, so I had the disadvantage, and advantage, of being able to use words of my choosing. In English, I needed to use long explanations.

Unreached Peoples, Innovation and Even More Communication Challenges

But more recently I have faced a different communication challenge.

How do we explain innovation? And beyond that, how do we explain it when we at Frontier Ventures are developing a unique approach to it? And how do we explain it to leaders of a movement to Jesus among a people group that is still unreached? How do we explain it relative to how that movement might use “innovation” to see a breakthrough in another people group? And how do we do all that using English but preparing for it to not be in English? To add one more wrinkle, how do we do that in a context with none of our usual tools?

Innovation in Frontier Ventures and Picking a Case Study

As others will explain further in this edition, Frontier Ventures’ approach to innovation is a unique mix. It combines design thinking and systems thinking. Those are pretty common in the “innovation world,” but Frontier Ventures adds a dimension that also blends spiritual discernment, theological grounding and a missiological focus.

The latter means we particularly aim innovation toward exploring new ways for people in least-reached people groups to experience new life in Jesus.

The process starts with a catalyst leader, who works with a core group to ask a question about a difficult or complex problem, and then the spiritual discernment and systems and design elements begin to kick in.

In the case I will relate here, this meant working with a team in South Asia. This team consisted of leaders from a large movement to Jesus as they sought to consider how to foster new approaches to reach what we now refer to as a Frontier People Group (groups with no known movement, less than .1% believers of any sort).

We were considering a particular Frontier People Group. The original framing of the question or problem was something like, “How can the barriers that keep the people from coming to Jesus be understood and overcome?”

So how did all of this work in another cultural context and with all the challenges that were presented?

Step by Step

I recently interviewed the South Asian leadership we worked with, and without going into all of the details of the process, I want to share the key insights from the interview.

“I missed a lot.”

The main interpreter mentioned this first. He had been involved through it all, had helped us design the process, had talked with us about how to understand it and explain it, etc. His assumption was that if he did all of that, he would be able to learn the process and reproduce it again.

But he felt that he did not absorb as much as he had assumed. He had to give too much of his creative energy to translation and interpretation.

But …“This was really helpful, I saw the fruit.”

He was asking how he could learn the process better. He saw how the people he brought together had responded, what they had learned about their assumptions and ways of making decisions in their own attempts to cross cultures, and how they ended up reaching more people with the good news.

However …“We didn’t reach the people group we thought this was for.”

As we proceeded, the participants did in fact gather a lot of data about the Frontier People Group that I had suggested we focus on. We learned a lot about them and confirmed that while there are some believers among them in the current movement, there is a barrier and a new movement will be needed.

But the group that gathered, as we entered spiritual discernment and listening prayer, identified several different areas of focus.

They identified a number of people groups that need movements, but none of them were the one we thought we had gathered in order to “innovate” together to reach!

A further observation…“I don’t think I gathered the right people.”

One of the most important elements in the whole innovation process is to have the right champion (which we did) and then the right “core” of people. In our case the champion determined afterward that he would have picked people differently had he better understood everything.

That led me to ask about what could have been prepared better, and he responded, “Nothing, I just needed to learn more about the process”.

And More

Other points of learning our friend reported:

“We gained a whole new understanding about why certain peoples are not coming into our movement.” “We understand better why this is hard, why some people are harder to reach.”

“We thought we understood how to reach Muslims in our country but we really only understood how to reach our people.”

(from a participant) “I never really noticed that in my area all these people were living. I just never thought about them. Then God told me to reach them, and I saw I would have to change my way of speaking and dressing and much more”

“Having outsiders there on the one hand was not a problem, but it meant we needed to be sure everyone understood why.”

“Using inductive Bible study helped us because that is what we do in our normal lives.” (Note, this was a change the Frontier Ventures team made)

And … a Surprise

I said above that our process resulted in specific new efforts to reach some Unreached People Groups, but not the one I had assumed or suggested.

However, just asking the questions, gathering the data and experimenting in other peoples has resulted in our trial people group landing on the radar of the movement leaders, and there has been a trickle of people starting to come to faith.

Edges to Edges

This case study is an abbreviated example of how working at the edges can lead to new insights, new approaches, and also to new edges!

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Doing Contextualization in Cambodia: Communities of Dialogical Practice

Doing Contextualization in Cambodia: Communities of Dialogical Practice

The Gap Between Theory and Practice

Contextualization, especially in highly pluralistic Asia, is needed more than ever in the 21st century. The rise of Asia is unfortunately accompanied by a disenchantment with the West and its religion—Christianity. The pandemic is precipitating reverse globalization and intensifying ethnocentric and nationalistic sentiments.

However, contextualization is a project in malaise. It is an old topic, originally conceptualized in the 1970s. Fifty years on, the gulf between talk and practice has not significantly closed. At three separate forums in early 2021, Asian thought leaders were still appealing to Christians to do contextualization. The question that begs to be answered is, “Why isn’t contextualization implemented?”1

This article is a reflection on promising activities in Cambodia in the last few years. By creating communities of dialogical practice committed to exploring the intersection of faith and culture, the Cambodian Church is inching forward in crafting out a distinct Khmer Christian identity. It is hoped that this report may encourage more robust practices of “being and doing church” in Asian contexts.

Faith and Culture Work by EFC

The “Faith and Culture Committee” of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC) was started in 2016 for the purpose of researching and teaching contextual theology. Three ongoing projects are “Christian Wedding Ceremony according to Cambodian Culture,” “Christian Birth and Death Ceremonies according to Cambodian Culture” and “Can Cambodian Christians tvaibongkum (worship) Their Parents?” The former two will be published in the Khmer language, and the latter, which was co-presented by Tep Samnang, the Director of EFC and by me at the SEANET mission conference in January 2020, is slated to soon become available in English.

The tvaibongkum project is an interesting one. According to Khmer customs, all children of any age should ritually demonstrate their respect by bowing to their parents on special occasions—this ritual act is called tvaibongkum. However, the Cambodian word tvaibongkum is translated into English and understood as “worship” among Christians. This poses a problem. The issue of Christian prohibition of “worshipping” parents and the ancestors is similar to that caused by the Jewish insistence of circumcision in the first century church. In this article, I thus frame my reflection on the process of contextualization according to some lessons drawn from the landmark debate of Acts 15.

6 Ps of Contextualization

1. Participatory—Being collectivistic in culture, Cambodians do not conceive contextualization as the work of an individual theologian; rather, it is carried out communally and includes diverse voices. The account in Acts 15 provides a model of such a communal and participatory approach. A sharp dispute between two competing views on circumcision had broken out (Acts 15:2), and to resolve the issue, the Jerusalem Council (of apostles and elders) convened before the church. (Acts 15:4,22) After much discussion (vs. 7), a carefully negotiated response was crafted. This narrative shows us that each “stakeholder,” regardless of his/her ideological position, should participate and contribute to the contextualization dialogue so that discussions may be rigorous and a shared decision may be made.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC) is comparable to the Jerusalem Council; it is an umbrella association under which churches and Christian organizations are registered. The EFC Faith and Culture committee of eight people, representing heads of denominations, principals of seminaries, and leaders of Christian organizations, organizes forums in different provinces to engage with pastors all over Cambodia. The response to such forums is overwhelming, indicating the relevance and pertinence of the subject matter. “Ninety percent of Cambodian pastors are favorable of doing contextual theology,” said Tep Samnang, the Director of EFC, “some are disagreeable, but it’s okay, in everything there will be some objections.”

2. Practical—One of the most striking features of the Cambodian approach of contextualization is the decision to center the work of theologizing around ritual. The subject of debate in Acts 15, similarly, revolved around a ritual— circumcision.

Tep Samnang explained, “The customs of ka (marriage), kart (birth), and kok (burial) are the three most important things in the life of Cambodian people. To focus on doctrinal theology is challenging for Christians, and even Cambodian pastors.” Ritual, on the other hand, is a Khmer way of life and an Asian spirituality. Ritual is not a pure religious category, as Christians commonly deem so; to evaluate it solely through the tenets of dogma does not justify what ritual means to the whole person and his/her whole life in community.

This primacy of ritual practice over abstract doctrine is also apparent in a conversation I had with two Cambodian monks studying at a Buddhist university. I had asked them what the central Buddhist kolethi (Cambodian Christian word for doctrine) are, and they curiously asked me what I meant as kolethi? It dawned on me that the way faith is practiced in the Christian religion based on the critical analysis of Scriptural text and formulation of doctrinal concepts is not the way Cambodians conceive religion. The Venerable Chuon Nath (1883–1969), the father of Modern Buddhism in Cambodia, taught Buddhism as propriety of behavior, and the proper way to behave as a Cambodian Buddhist is largely expressed ritually, through specific behavioral enactments or customs of relating to one another in daily life and special occasions.

Thus, doing contextual theology through ritual may be considered as an indigenous way of knowing (epistemology). A lot of contextualization done by current scholarship revolves around theological and doctrinal theses—a product of European Enlightenment, privileging mind over body and reason over experience. This could be one explanation for the tardiness of the contextualization project in Asia; we could be using the wrong tool for the job.

3. Pastoral—Doing contextualization is not just about acquiring and applying yet another new set of methodological techniques; rather, it is about nurturing a pastoral posture emanating lovingkindness (metta)—a cherished Khmer virtue. In this setting, metta is expressed as a willingness to patiently listen to the other, to empathetically understand and sincerely appreciate the other.

In the contextual approach employed by the Cambodian Church, exegeting culture is more than intellectually analysing the doctrinal meanings and functions of ritual acts. One needs to intuitively capture the affective meanings as well—the psychological, familial, social, and moral implications. Contextualization is not a rationalistic and evaluative exercise, assessing “right” from “wrong.” Rather, it calls for a “gentle, humble” and pastoral disposition toward the other, seeking to appreciate and affirm “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure.” (Matt. 11:29, Phil. 4:8)

Paul and Barnabas exhibited this kind and pastoral posture. In Acts 15, they noted that circumcision “troubled their [Gentile] minds” (Acts 15:24), and made it “difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19) It is apparent that they empathized with how the Gentiles thought and felt about the ritual practice of circumcision. Compassion superseded orthodoxy.

Similarly, listening to Cambodians, tvaibongkum is understood as a profoundly reverential and honorable way of demonstrating respect, gratitude and affection to one’s parents. Not to do so is an unthinkable behavior. Tvaibongkum is more of a social and moral category, and does not carry the same weight of religious nuance of “worship” implicit in Christian parlance.

4. Perceptive—One of the key points of Barnabas and Paul’s persuasion in the Acts 15 debate was the apparent evidence of God’s presence among the uncircumcised Gentiles through signs and wonders. (Acts 15: 12) Peter and James also recognized the undeniable movement of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles. (Acts 15: 7-9, 13, 15, 17, 28) “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa. 43:19) Contextualization calls for prayerful discernment of God at work in unfamiliar yet creative ways. It invites us to exercise restraint from being judgmental and too quickly labeling something different as heresy or syncretism.

Perceptive intuition is not an invalid way of knowing, according to Buddhist epistemology. In addition to the faculties of reason, perception is a form of knowing that comes from contemplating lived experiences, and raising insights leads to the realization of truth. Interestingly, in Acts 17, Paul invited the Athenians to “feel their way toward [God] and find Him.” (Acts 17:27) It is apparent that in the philosophical tradition of the Age of Reason, perception has been dismissed and even ridiculed.

In the tvaibongkum project, research revealed at least three cases in which godly men and women of vibrant churches are creating innovative ways to redeem the custom of demonstrating reverence to parents without compromising Christian allegiance to God. God is at work, and the Christian faith is blossoming in new ways in Khmer soil.

5. Pro-creative—The Jewish Council saw that God was doing something new among the Gentiles, and what they saw renewed their hermeneutical paradigm and transformed their theological interpretation. Re-reading an old prophecy in an illuminating new way, James redefined what “people of God” meant: from one that was ethnocentric, exclusively referring to Israel as God’s chosen, to one that includes “the rest of mankind” and “all the Gentiles.” (Acts 15:17) Similarly, Paul had a more nuanced interpretation of the doctrine of circumcision. Emphasizing the spirit of the law rather than its letter, he censured the legalistic demands of physical circumcision and preached on the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. (Rom. 2:25-29)

Instead of imposing predetermined theological conceptions, the Jerusalem Church allowed God to transform their long-established theological ideas. The hermeneutical process that we see here is one that oscillates between text and context, one that is deeply rooted in the Word and yet sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit in the present and to God’s continued authorship in writing history.

Re-reading Scriptures through Khmer eyes, it was noted that Moses bowed before his father-in-law, Jethro, a Midianite priest (Exod. 18:7), King Solomon bowed before his mother, Bathsheba (1 Kings 2:19), and Abraham even bowed before three strangers (Gen. 18:2) and the Hittites. (Gen. 23:7) The Hebrew word used for “bow” in all these verses is shachah, the same word for “worship” to God (Gen. 22:5) and the prohibition of “worship” of idols. (Exod. 20:5) The Khmer notion of tvaibongkum parallels the Hebrew practice of shachah. As explained to me by a Cambodian monk, the word tvaibongkum simply refers to an outward demonstration of respect and does not carry the meaning of worship as Christians define it; another Khmer word bozhea would come closer to worship.2

6. Peaceable—In Acts 15, the Jewish Council did not just “repeal” the law of circumcision for the Gentiles, they negotiated a holistic response. They recommended that the Gentiles followed certain purity codes so as to maintain the unity of fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. The Council exercised the principle of 1 Cor. 10:32-33: not being a stumbling block to Jews, Gentiles or the Church of God. Contextualization involves a complex negotiation of different relations.

Leveraging the core Khmer value of harmony and conflict-avoidance, the Cambodian process of contextualization endeavors towards peace-building relations by honoring indigenous socio-cultural norms:

  • a) Deference is given to Christian elders. It took more than a year to seek the endorsement of certain senior pastors who are well respected in the Cambodian community. The contextualization endeavor is owned and led by mainstream players; it is not a fringe activity of a maverick or young leader who has been groomed in foreign methods and manners.
  • b) Respect is given to the Buddhist community. Christian pastors in the tvaibongkum project engaged with Buddhist monks, temple leaders and elders in the community, and even engaged with explaining the Christian dilemma and in seeking suggestions.
  • c) Esteem is given to the governing authorities. Christian pastors and leaders are keenly aware of the importance of developing positive relations with the local governing authorities. The book, Christian Wedding Ceremony according to Cambodian Culture, when published this year, will be gifted to the Ministry of Cult and Religion to demonstrate Christian cooperation to “Khmerize” Christianity.

Envisioning Communities of Dialogical Practice

This Cambodian case study provides some nuanced insights for an innovative practice of contextualization. Building on the concepts of critical contextualization and the hermeneutical community endowed to us by Paul Hiebert, I wish to describe a community of dialogical practice based on a reading of Acts 15. The work of contextualization by such a community of dialogical practice is:

  1. participatory—it involves a community and invites its members not to just sit and talk with one another, but actively engage with Christians and non-Christians outside the inner circle, experimenting and innovating practices, and critically reflecting together.
  2. practical—it does not dichotomize faith and life, doctrine and practice; theologizing is performed within the locus of ritual action.
  3. pastoral—rather than executing contextualization as an analytical project with an evaluative mentality, it is approached as an appreciative inquiry with an empathetic heart. Change is not imposed from without, but compelled from within.
  4. perceptive—contextualization calls for intuitive discernment. It is not a unilinear process employing didactics; it is a spiral process employing dialogics.
  5. pro-creative—instead of translation of forms and/or meanings, it is co-creation, birthing something anew.
  6. peaceable—contextualization by a community of dialogical practice is not merely a theological exercise; it is a relational endeavor and an intricate negotiation.

I hope that this report of the Cambodian Church may encourage others to persevere in exploring and experimenting new localized expressions of faith for the sake of the gospel. 

Contextualization is a very difficult thing to do. It challenges deeply ingrained understandings and practices and demands radical and uncomfortable shifts in mindsets.

  1. 1 See Contextualization: The Theory, The Gap, The Challenge by Darrell Whiteman (1997) for a review on this topic. “Why Isn’t Contextualization Implemented?” is the title of Chapter 5 in Appropriate Christianity by Charles Kraft. Two forums, “Missions Perspectives in Asia,” were organized by the Singapore Centre for Global Missions; the third forum is Lausanne Regional Listening Call (Southeast Asia).

  2. Hear the interview with the monk on this at SCGM Mission Resource Hub App, available at all app stores.

This is an article from the July-August 2021 issue: Innovation in Missions

Rich Soil for Spiritual Innovation

Rich Soil for Spiritual Innovation

Imagine the scene: we’re at the final interview for an Executive Director role of a 100-year-old ministry. The Board has just offered the position to us, but the Board Chair shared a caveat, “Do not say yes to this position unless you are 100% sure you’ve heard from God that He wants you to accept this role.”

It was clear in the interviews that the ministry, with ten acres of land and five buildings, had struggled financially. It was at a crossroads and needed new innovative initiatives to help it move forward sustainably. The question of hearing from God is not new for any of us, so, after compelling evidence through prayer and discernment, we decided to jump in headfirst into a context that needed a new approach of thinking and living—and to our surprise—it came partially through the son of a Tasmanian fisherman who first coined the phrase “permaculture” (“permanent agriculture”). In fact, we had heard about permaculture from a close friend who was planning to farm an acre on our property and had just completed a course on permaculture. For academic purposes, permaculture is “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way” (What Is Permaculture ?, n.d.). “Permies,” as they are often called, preach of “working with, rather than against, nature” and of engaging in “protracted and thoughtful observation, rather than protracted and thoughtless labor.”

For our purposes, permaculture principles gave us a new framework to imagine and live out God’s creative genius on our campus. In fact, how we interpreted permaculture was certainly not the original intent of those who developed the concept. However, when we reflected on the principles and what we could learn from them, we began envisioning deep design parallels with biblical stories and the values of our mission. As we prayed and interacted with our team, community, and friends that included people from around the world who live and study on our campus, inside and outside our faith tradition, it was clear God was calling us to something different, something more organic and natural in a permaculture sort of way.

We see connections between innovation and spirituality woven into our context where we intentionally engage with people of other faiths in our community. Our mission is to welcome people from around the world to live and study on our campus. In fact, we frequently have a dozen or more nationalities living in the International House, with another dozen studying in our newly- accredited academic English program.

Our campus has been a place of refuge for orphans, troubled teens and international students (in that order) for over 100 years. God has been orchestrating symbiotic activities that have thrived here throughout that time. As we prayed and discerned, we began to dream about how thriving could occur once again on this property while reflecting on the permaculture principles we were applying to our land and work. Permaculture has 12 main principles that aligned loosely with our mission to care for people, community and creation. For sake of brevity, below we’ll share just five of the permaculture principles with related stories.

Permaculture Principle 1: Observe and Interact

This principle emphasizes being observant to what is around us. So, we spent months in a design and innovation discernment process, walking our property, sitting quietly on campus, and interacting with friends, neighbors, students and residents while observing our natural and ministry context. We began seeing the organic around us taking shape—we just needed to cultivate the cross-pollination and co-supporting activities while recognizing the gifts we already had in the living things and components all around us. In fact, the web of cross -pollination seemed endless as our gardening, composting, continuing education offerings and prayer garden with a pond all naturally nurtured to another in our community. This also helped us relax into a posture more of observing “what is God doing” rather than “what do we have to do to make something happen.” That isn’t to say that we didn’t (and still don’t) nurture projects and keep them movingn forward or need great patience when there is a lull in activity, but I guess you could say we’ve also become more participant observers in planning for kingdom results in our ministry.

Permaculture Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

This principle suggests there are energy and resources that, if given the opportunity to grow, could also be valued, treasured and stored for continued use. The ideas that were generated during the discernment process were seeds ready to sprout to life. Many ideas were easily transferable, like catching rainwater for use in our garden. Others involved more time to mature, like making space for community life on the half-acre adjacent to our international house. So we involved all acting participants, harvesting the feedback from those who lived here, visited here, worked here or lived nearby while taking the time to discern which of their ideas to launch as prototypes of projects that had potential—that may or may not fail. In these ways we thought that we could “catch and store” energy that could take root over time and recycle itself in exciting symbiotic ways on our campus. Our mission and commitment to People Care, Community Care and Creation Care was stored perennial energy waiting to fulfill multiple functions toward sustainability.

Permaculture Principle 8: Integrate Rather than Segregate, a Reflection on Care of Community

This principle values collaboration and cooperation of a variety of community players. Obviously, every person who comes to our campus is already part of a community they left. But, when they arrive here, we are pleasantly challenged to care for them individually because we live in close proximity. This gets played out in very tangible ways. While Miriam was here visiting from Egypt, she was wrestling with a major decision. Knowing our spiritual inclination, and having gotten to know us through shared meals, she chose to seek out our advice. Also, being a business major, she learned of a local business employing local refugees that one of our board members owns. Miriam was excited by the coaching times she received, and the practical learning experiences gained. She also loved to see the surrounding community come on campus for our monthly farmer’s market and asked to sell some of her native food. She did quite well at the market and gave all her proceeds back to our ministry, which was used to purchase a book to teach the Enneagram to students who came the following year.

Permaculture Principle 11: Use Edges and Value the Marginal, a Reflection of Care for People

We related this principle to Jesus’ ministry, specifically who he was attracted to and who he cared for. Another master’s level student named Sarah from South Africa, who was studying at the nearby university, came and brought great energy to our small campus. We had many thoughtful spiritual conversations with her. She attended our house church and later met with a staff member for further clarification of the conversation. A large church in the area which loves serving our residents took her and other students on a kayak trip. This greatly facilitated her sense of belonging with the broader community. Once when we were tutoring high school students from Nepal in the dining room of the house, she walked through after classes and asked what we were doing. When I told her, she excitedly offered to help out once a week. The students loved being tutored by her.

Permaculture Principle 12: Creatively Use and Respond to Change, a Reflection on Care of Creation

And finally, a story about stewarding and caring for our property which demonstrates in a practical, welcoming way our love of creation and the invitation to others to experience God in the space. There had been a small pond and garden that disappeared in the overgrowth some years ago. After a local business dedicated a workday on campus, the pond was cleaned out. This gave us the inspiration we needed as a staff to weed and plant flowers. Residents and local neighbors were invited to join us. Slowly, a prayer garden was formed. Now, locals who walk by are invited to sit on the benches along the winding path to rest. The small sign leading the way reads, “welcome to all who seek peace.”

We also hope that they will feel welcome to join us for a cup of coffee at our pop-up café on Fridays.

This pop-up café is an example of learning through prototyping and moving from one iteration to another. We found that this weekly café became more successful when we tried mixing it into our monthly farmer’s market. Integrating the café into the narrative of our monthly events gives the community a connection point and invitation to stop by and join us weekly.

As you can see, we have been captivated by permaculture design, which we interpreted for our context as a unified and multi-dimensional ecosystem working symbiotically within our mission.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Understanding Human Nature and Money

Understanding Human Nature and Money

YOU WOULD THINK that after thousands of years of human history, people would have achieved a greater understanding of human nature and would be able to avoid the inevitable pitfalls that come with that human nature. But like the driver who hits the same pothole every day on his way to work, we keep making the same mistakes with money in missions, apparently learning nothing from the bad experiences of others. Perhaps the problem is human nature itself. Most parents have experienced the frustration of watching their kids make bad choices in life, which could have been avoided if only these kids had taken the time to learn from the mistakes of others. This issue of MF is your opportunity to learn from others in regard to the dangers of foreign funds in missions. You are not doomed to make the same tragic mistakes others have made over and over again. It is time

to study human nature as it relates to money and make the proclivities of human nature work for us in our quest for establishing indigenous movements to Christ in every people, and not against us.

Money is Psychologically Powerful

It is an understatement to say that money is an important part of our lives. God considers it important too. There are 2,000 verses in the Bible concerning money and its use, while only 500 on prayer. Our lives are spent working day by day to earn money for the essentials of life. Money is a medium of exchange for our time spent   at work. It represents compensation for a significant portion of our entire life span as individuals. It is no surprise then that money or the lack thereof impacts our emotions, our thinking and our behavior in dramatic ways. People will often lie, cheat, steal and worse to get more money. In fact, some statistics say that church leaders embezzle more money than is given to missions each year. So it should also be no surprise that money in missions can negatively

impact the understanding of the gospel and its spread in major ways. It is quite common in the history of missions for people to feign allegiance to Jesus in order to get the goodies the missionaries have brought. See our lead article, “What Have You Brought For Us?” starting on page 8. It is also very typical for money to stifle the growth of Disciple Making Movements as the influx of foreign funds impacts the thinking and behavior of its recipients.

No Substitute for Good Character and Hard Work

In the West we often think that money can solve all problems. But this is demonstrably false as seen in the case of Haiti. Billions upon billions of dollars have poured into this impoverished island nation with no apparent improvement in the grinding poverty that suffocates the hopes and dreams of the Haitian people. How can this be? There is one thing missing from this equation—the response of the Haitian people. How has the flood of foreign funds affected the thinking and behavior of the Haitian people? Has it made them more industrious

and hard working or less so? It is a fact of reality that no amount of money can replace the hard work, ingenuity and innovation of people. It is human beings that create wealth through their hard work and good character.

You can give every person in Haiti or homeless person in Los Angeles a beautiful new home, but unless these people demonstrate good moral character and hard work, that beautiful new home will soon become a wreck and the money spent for these homes is wasted. The question then for economists is, “How do you motivate and incentivize people to create wealth through hard work and good character?”

A similar question for us as Jesus followers is, “How do you motivate and encourage people to make disciples and plant churches?” Some think money is the answer, but as we can see in this issue of MF, money is often a disincentive to what we want to see in ministry. The money becomes the focus of peoples’ attention, not the love

of Christ and a love for others that compels these people to sacrifice their own time and money to bring the gospel to others. In many cases people come to believe that they cannot do ministry without foreign money and so all their efforts cease.

It’s Robbery!

As followers of Jesus we have the God-given privilege of giving to the Lord and working to see the gospel increase in the area where the Lord has placed us. This privilege is passed on to those we seek to reach both near and far.  When we use our missions dollars to try to “speed up” the spread of the gospel among the unreached by paying people, we discourage the unreached from giving themselves and their resources to the Lord for the work of ministry. We are robbing them of the joy and privilege of seeing the Lord bless and multiply what they give to Him. The foreign money not only does not speed up the spread of the gospel, it actually hinders it as it discourages the people being reached from taking personal ownership of the process of making disciples and planting churches. When someone gives of their own hard earned money and time to reach others with the gospel, they take a personal interest in the success of that ministry. As some might say, “They’ve got skin in the game.” No amount of money can replace this sense of ownership. In fact, money keeps it from taking place. The manpower and resources to fuel the harvest among the unreached must come from the harvest field itself.

When we see a baby chick struggle to emerge from its egg, our compassionate heart wants to help it out so it does not have to struggle so much. But in doing so, we rob that baby chick of the strength it gains from that struggle, which is essential for its survival. By helping we are hurting. When it comes to missions, our big hearts want to help people so they won’t have to struggle so much. But by doing so, we rob them of the internal strength and local resources they will need to foster a movement to Christ in their midst. That is a price too high to pay.

Guest Editor

The next issue of Mission Frontiers for July-August will be guest edited by the leader of the Frontier Ventures Launch Lab. 

Support the Work of Mission Frontiers

As is the case with most publications, Mission Frontiers cannot cover its costs from subscriptions alone. We need additional funds from those who believe in this ministry and are willing to sacrifice to help us move forward in casting vision for Kingdom Movements in all peoples. Like most of the people who work for Frontier Ventures, my salary is supplied by the donations of churches and friends who believe in what I am doing. And also like many staff members at Frontier Ventures, there are many months when not enough comes in to fully cover our allotted salary. To donate to my ministry with MF go to and click on the Donate button. Put MA 323 in the dialog box. If you would like to help MF cover its general expenses and expand its influence, go to the same web address, given above, click on the Donate button and put MA 030 in the dialog box. We greatly appreciate whatever you can do to help Mission Frontiers and Frontier Ventures continue its work to see Kingdom Movements emerge in all peoples.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Your Part in God’s Story: An Interview with Author Steve Addison

Your Part in God’s Story: An Interview with Author Steve Addison

MF: Why did you write Your Part in God’s Story?

Steve: For years I’ve been fascinated by the stories of when Jesus rose from the dead and faced a band of disciples who were defeated and disillusioned. Just like us! Luke tells us that it took Jesus just forty days to restore them and prepare them for a worldwide mission. How did He do that?

Jesus took His disciples from Moses to Malachi—He opened their minds to understand the great movement of God. He showed them how the Scriptures are fulfilled in His sufferings, His victory, His mission to make disciples of all nations. That’s how these disciples discovered their part in God’s story. Then Jesus sent them out into the world with His authority. This is not just an academic exercise. God continues His mission today, through us, by His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Over the last few years I’ve been working through every book of the Bible asking the questions: What’s God’s mission? What part do we play? How does He shape us? What does He want us to do? The more I studied, the more excited I got to discover the one story that unites all the stories of Scripture. I wanted to give people that same experience.

MF: What’s the “big idea” in your book?

Steve: The center of the book for me is the Risen Lord Jesus encountering failed disciples and turning them into a mighty missionary force. He did  this by teaching them from His Word, empowering them with the Spirit and giving them the core missionary task to make disciples of the nations. This is the very heart of what He came to do.

He is still at work today through His Word and the Holy Spirit to walk us through the whole of Scripture and reveal who He is as Savior, Lord and coming King. He wants to teach us God’s story and show us our part in it. Nothing could be more important. If we let Him do that in our lives, we will never be the same.

MF: What’s the format?

Steve: 40 key passages from Genesis to Revelation in 40 days. You can do the 40-Day Challenge as a group, as an individual or a combination of both. You read the passage and then read what I’ve written. I unpack the significance of each passage and show how each one links to a greater story—God’s story. Then you respond to what you are learning about your part in God’s story.

MF: Were there any surprises for you in writing the book?

Steve: One surprise was God’s persistence in wanting to include us in His story.

Take Jonah, for instance. The call of God comes on his life and he runs in the opposite direction. He had good reason; the Assyrians were cruel and evil in their oppression of the peoples they conquered. God chases after Jonah and through judgment and mercy seeks to win Jonah over to His cause—the offer of forgiveness if Nineveh will turn from evil. I’m amazed by His mercy on an evil empire but also His persistence with Jonah, the reluctant nmissionary. God never gave up on Jonah.

Then there is Jesus’ calling of His first disciples. They had been fishing all night and caught nothing. This carpenter comes along and tells fishermen how to fish. Jesus shattered Peter’s world with a miraculous catch. While Peter is broken before Him, confessing his sinfulness, Jesus tells him that from now on you’ll be following Me and learning how to fish for people. If Peter will follow, Jesus will teach him how to make disciples. If Jesus does that for Peter, He’ll do the same for each one of us.

MF: What do you hope people will gain from reading Your Part in God’s Story?

Steve: What Jesus did for those first disciples He can do for us today. He met them in their failure. He opened their minds to His Word. He showed them their part in God’s story. He promised the power of the Spirit. Then He set them loose on the world!

That’s my prayer for everyone who reads this book.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Dependency is a complicated issue!

Dependency is a complicated issue!

This edition of Mission Frontiers is addressing questions about “dependency.” Raising this in MF is fitting, as our focus on movements will naturally take us to the conversation about how movements to Jesus resource themselves, and how they avoid dependency, and with it the flip side of dependency which is “control,” as exercised through the golden rule: the one with the gold makes the rules.

Dependency is a two-sided problem. While mission organizations and leaders rightly caution against creating dependency, and while frequently it is assumed the problem is with those who are dependent, it is also true that some workers use funds and resources to maintain control. In addition, in some cases, the funding provided by outside workers also creates the ongoing need to be involved; so, there are times when both the outside and local partners are dependent on the financial arrangement. I know of cases in which, if it were not for money, workers would cease to have a role at all and might feel that if they don’t give funds they could be in danger of losing the rationale for being involved at all. Ultimately, this could lead to losing the “cause” for which they are raising support, including their own support.

For all of us who raise support (myself included), it is important that we acknowledge that we benefit from a certain type of dependency. So then, is dependency in and of itself actually and always a bad thing?

My view of partnership is shaped by many things, but perhaps most profoundly by my reading of Philippians and Paul’s usage of the term “koinonia.” I was first inspired to dig deeply into this by a colleague in the early 2000s and every time I re-read Philippians, I find new treasure.

The question is: is it a healthy dependency or not? My premise? That healthy dependency is part of authentic life in the gospel, and is marked by several things we see in Philippians and koinonia as used there. Healthy dependency is in essence rooted in our total dependence on God, our shared dependence on one another, and also on a shared life lived in service of a shared purpose.

Philippians 1 speaks of a koinonia, a sharing, in the Good News and in the grace that comes from this. (Phil. 1:5, 6) That is directly connected to our common experience of the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus of course, but Paul also does more than imply that our koinonia in the Good News is connected to how we share with each other in its advance. That is, in fact, one primary purpose for Paul in writing Philippians: to share how the Good News is advancing, and how the Philippians have assisted that advance through their giving.

In some ways Paul is dependent on the Philippians, although this is mitigated by Paul’s, I think very sincere, comments about not seeking such a gift and his statements about being content with or without it. Another mark of healthy dependence is in evidence here: giving or not giving does not seem to affect the deeper relational reality.

Philippians 2 speaks of a koinonia in the Spirit, or in spirit, it is not fully clear which. (Phil. 2:4) Perhaps for Paul the distinction is not as binary as for us. The verse comes at the conclusion of a section in which Paul is highlighting a unity of purpose he hopes the Philippians will more and more deeply share. It is also written in the context of saying things like “looking out for each other’s interests,” and pivots to a whole section about giving up rights and claims and serving one another.

Healthy dependency is rooted then in the heart and example of Jesus, and of a surrender of status and rights. Too often the cautions about dependency are aimed at the supposedly dependent ones. Philippians addresses the heart and value system of the “giver.”

Philippians 3 dives even deeper. In 3:10, Paul writes about his own desire to share (koinonia) in the sufferings of Christ. This is in a section devoted to some of Paul’s most detailed biography and transparent spiritual longing.

Healthy dependency is possible if we are all, together, mutually, rooted in Christ so deeply that we long to share with Him in the hard things, and thus with each other in the hard things.

Philippians 4 speaks most directly to our topic (4:15 especially). Paul speaks of the matter of sharing/koinonia in the area of “giving and receiving.” It is mutual. It is sincere. Healthy dependency is marked by these qualities.

It is also helpful to recall the context of Paul’s letter. He writes from prison. He planted the Philippian church. That pioneer planting effort is now what modern missionaries would refer to as “one of his supporting churches.” He is, in this sense, dependent on a church he planted.

A cursory reading of the above, and a look at the articles in this MF will be enough to show the reader how vastly different the mission enterprise today is from the pages of the New Testament. This is largely inescapable since our world is vastly different. But I see in Paul what might be called an embracing of dependency. And one of my questions of myself when I reflect on my own life and work is the question, “Kevin, if you were dependent in more of the ways you see in Philippians, how would your frontier church-planting have been different?

How would your own spiritual life have been different? How would the movements you see now have emerged differently?”

For me, the question is not whether dependency is good or bad, or how it can be avoided, but what kind of dependency are we called to, and do we, do I, have the courage to embrace it?

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Mission Co-Dependency: Its Symptoms, Long- Term Effects and Prevention

Mission Co-Dependency: Its Symptoms, Long- Term Effects and Prevention

Editor’s Note: The following article comes from the perspective of those who believe in foreign funding of indigenous mission work. The article provides some helpful insight into the many problems that can arise from foreign funding as well as some potential solutions. The other authors in this issue would generally take the position that any foreign funding is dangerous to the development of indigenous Kingdom Movements and that the funds to fuel the harvest should come from the harvest field.

Ralph Winter called it the Gutzlaff Syndrome. Named after one of the earliest fiascos in Protestant mission history, the Gutzlaff Syndrome is a form of mission co-dependency where the patrons and clients of a mission- field endeavor become mutually dependent on pseudo-results in a field-based con. You may be wondering, “Does this really happen?” It does, and more often than you might think.

Karl Gutzlaff was a “missionary” to China in the 19th century who began promoting the idea of paying Chinese nationals to do evangelism and church-planting. He may have been the first person in mission history to build a ministry around this paradigm. His sensational promotion of the potential of native evangelists is what inspired a young Hudson Taylor to believe the whole of China could be rapidly evangelized. Of course, Karl was half-right. The problem was he didn’t understand enough of Chinese culture to know he was being duped. None of the reports he was receiving were true. His “evangelists” turned out to be con-artists.

The nature of the Gutzlaff Syndrome is that its deception becomes self-perpetuating. In the beginning the deception is almost always unwitting, but in the end it becomes a necessity. After a while the implications of fraud become too great when large amounts of money are raised and spent. Over time the co-opted fundraisers become increasingly reluctant to conduct the due diligence required to verify results and are more likely to overlook any anomalies that may call them into question. In the end, they themselves become part of the deception.

In a contemporary case, a US based denominational mission began a partnership with a ministry in South Asia that was reporting fantastic results. They sent a research team over to document the work and gathered tens of thousands of names of supposed believers from multiple villages. Though it was all a con, the “missionaries” had no clue for years. Like mice racing through a museum, they saw everything and understood nothing. This con would have likely continued for many more years were it not for one of the lieutenants of the scheme confessing to it all. He felt he had not been properly compensated for his work and so he spilled the beans. When he was interviewed later about how the con worked, he explained that it was his job to organize meetings for the researchers and missionaries of pseudo-believers. He would coach the hired participants on what to say and how to respond, even to say hallelujah and amen in unison. Yet none of these people were actually followers of Christ.

Could this con have been avoided? Very likely. This wasn’t the first time it was done, and it wouldn’t be the last. After this “ministry leader” conned this denominational mission board, he went on to do the same to others. He was able to do this because American and Western missionaries very seldom conduct due diligence when selecting national partners. Increasingly these “missionaries” (sometimes called “strategy coordinators”) are not even
fluent in the local languages, and have a minimal understanding of the culture. They come in like power brokers and deal makers. They are the “trainers” and knowledge “experts.” This unfortunate cocktail of ignorance and arrogance makes them easy prey in patron-client cultures where the “expertise” is really on the side of the clients. Yet even for such cowboy apostles, the fraud perpetuated against them is usually avoidable. When mission fraud happens it is rarely the first time for the actors involved. In almost every case, these Western patrons of goodwill are averse to asking around. They want to trust, they want to believe, they are eager to be a part. To put it bluntly, we are often willing suckers.

As Western missions begin to transition into a new era that missiologist Tom Steffen calls the “facilitator era,” these types of problems are becoming increasingly common. In the “facilitator era,” Western missionaries and organizations work principally with national partners to achieve their common aims. On the one hand, this new era makes a lot of sense. National missionaries are doing the majority of the pioneering, frontier mission work today. They have an abundance of manpower, and we have the greatest disposable wealth in human history.

American foreign mission expenditures are now over 10 billion dollars a year. As a tacit validation of Tom Steffen’s paradigm, today the vast majority of this money ends up in the hands of national partners.

While enormous good has resulted from these relationships, the effects of corrupted partnerships are especially amplified in frontier mission contexts. When fraud occurs in a well-established field it can be more readily absorbed. But in frontier, pioneering contexts it can be devastating beyond repair due to the fragility of the emerging church. One of the tragic long-term repercussions are its effects on the gospel itself and the reputation of the Christian faith. If non-believers get the impression that Christianity in their culture is a Western financed invasion and its local actors are mere mercenaries seeking to profit from it, the reputation of true followers of Christ may all be called into question for many years to come.

To avoid such catastrophes there are seven rules every Western partner should consider adopting before entering into long-term partnerships with national believers, especially in frontier mission contexts:

1.  Check your agenda at the airport.

The biggest source of problems in partnerships with local believers is when we come in with our programs and brilliant solutions. The best and most productive vision is always the indigenous one. Avoid the posture of being the “expert” and come as a servant.

2. Remember it’s about relationship.

Good partnerships take time, so go slow. Yes, we want to hurry up and evangelize the world— it is our natural tendency. But when we get out of step with the Holy Spirit we get into trouble. Start simple, and try to keep it that way. Remember our God works in terms of centuries and millennia to accomplish his purposes.

3. Don’t exceed capacity and sustainability.

Has the ministry ever done before what you are now doing together? Is there a proven track record of faithfulness and fruitfulness? Most importantly, when the funds are gone will the work continue? Effective outside funding should increase capacity to grow without compromising the ability to sustain the work long term.

4. Ensure there is both internal and external accountability.

Make sure you know how funds are handled. Most problems can be avoided right here. How are decisions made within the ministry? Are the ministry leader’s personal funds co-mingled with project funds? If there is a building project, who owns the land? If there is a business, who owns the assets? Ask all the common-sense questions you can think of. Most importantly make sure that the ministry leader is accountable to other leaders that are not under his or her control, and make sure there are internal controls for good accounting and fund management.

5. Ask around, but reserve judgment about a potential partner.

Ask other missionaries, ask other national believers, and talk to ex-staff if you can. Remember that just because you hear something that isn’t positive doesn’t mean it’s true. Sadly, in the competitive environment for foreign funding, it is all too common for false rumors to spread. Nonetheless, you should be aware of what others think in the local culture, while being open to reserving judgment.

6. Don’t tie results to funding.

The moment you give economic incentive for glowing reports, you have changed the nature of your relationship. In a patron-client culture, the job of the client is to keep the patron happy by whatever means necessary. This is the source of endless problems in corrupted partnerships. As a general mission rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. Attrition and setbacks are a normal part of any mission endeavor. It’s a red flag if you never hear of any!

7. Listen to the Holy Spirit and don’t stop asking.

At the end of the day, no partnership should be engaged without significant prayer and discernment. This really should be the first and last rule! The more people you have praying over it and into it, the greater the safeguards you will have in any healthy partnership.


This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Movement Servants Needed!

24:14 Goal: Movement engagements in every unreached people and place by 2025 (56 months)

Movement Servants Needed!

What is the most strategic role you can imagine for a Jesus follower in the Western world who wants to see all peoples reached with the gospel as soon as possible?

Three hundred years ago, at the beginning of the modern Protestant missions movement,1 most missionaries were sent from Europe and the USA. Western cultural norms were also exported, resulting in a common image of missions portrayed as a white man standing before a group of seated “natives,” holding a Bible and preaching a sermon to explain the good news of salvation in Christ. The fruitful response envisioned was an altar call in which large numbers of people raised their hands or otherwise indicated they wanted to follow Jesus. This paradigm can still occasionally be found in fund-raising appeals. And whether consciously or subconsciously, this picture still informs the interest of some missionaries and missionary funders: “How many people have you personally led to the Lord this year?” But we need to recognize that the Great Commission does not require us acting as the “hero.”

Over the centuries, examples of a different pattern were seen in the co-laboring of Adoniram Judson and the Karen leader Ko Tha Byu, Hudson Taylor and Chinese evangelists such as Xi Shengmo, and the missionary efforts of non-Westerners such as Sadhu Sundar Singh.

Sadly, in past centuries some opposed the empowerment and leadership of local missionaries and leaders. However, in recent decades, more and more missionaries have come to accept this pattern. They have understood that the most fruitful ministry among the unreached is usually done, not by a distant-culture (Western) worker trying to directly reach the unreached, but through partnership between near-culture Christians and distant- culture (Western) workers.

In E-Scale terminology, “E1 is reaching one’s own culture across the barrier of ‘church culture.’ E2 is cross- cultural evangelism into a similar, but different culture. E3 evangelism is taking the gospel to cultures very different from that of the messenger.”2 The most effective evangelism generally happens through messengers culturally closer to the culture of those hearing the message. Thus distant-culture workers maximize their effectiveness by partnership with believers culturally closer to those they hope to reach with the gospel.

In most cases, the greatest number of people come to faith through the ministry of same-culture or near-culture workers. When E3 messengers in such partnerships report accurately on ministry fruit, they portray clearly that they play a role in the ministry, but it is their local partners who actually lead the most people to saving faith.

Especially in our day, colonial history has made a Western passport and identity often a liability rather than an asset in direct evangelism to the unreached. The vast majority of the world’s UPGs (Unreached People Groups) have some negative history with Western imperialism and the connection of colonial oppression with Christian missions. Thus, whenever the gospel arrives as a “white man’s religion,” with a face reflecting the colonial face of Christendom, it meets immediate barriers of perception and cultural preservation. This dynamic strongly reinforces the importance of strategic approaches in which the face seen bringing good news to most UPGs matches the majority face of Jesus’ followers in our day. Most of Jesus’ followers in our time (since about 19803 and increasingly so) are non-Western: majority Christians from the Majority World.

In recent decades, a new kingdom dynamic has burst on the scene of missiological awareness. Often described as “Church Planting Movements,” “Disciple Making Movements,” or “Kingdom Movements,” these rapidly reproducing movements feature disciples making disciples and churches planting churches in multiple streams to four or more generations. While confirming the high value of E2-E3 partnership, these movements have also opened highly valuable potential E3 roles that most missionaries and mission agencies have not yet realized.

As researchers have studied the amazing work of God in 1,371 movements (as of this writing), bringing over 79 million people into God’s kingdom in this generation,  they have discovered something surprising. Not only are movements the way God’s kingdom is growing fastest in our day, they are also the source from which most new movements are springing up.

Only 10 to 20 percent of existing movements were started by an outside catalyst(s) finding an inside catalyst(s) and planting the first churches. The vast majority of current movements—between 80 and 90 percent of them4— were started by believers from other (near-culture) movements. The metaphor of “hot coals” has often been used to envision taking embers from an existing fire to start a fire in a new location (rather than trying to start a fire from nothing). For example, the Bhojpuri movement in Northern India5 has started movements in at least eight other large language groups. Another family of movements in Southeast Asia has started work in over 50 UPGs and 17 countries.

This surprising reality has major implications for every person eager to see more movements begun, in fact for everyone who desires to see the gospel reach all peoples as quickly as possible. Those wanting to catalyze movements have often aimed to focus not on “What can I do?” but rather on “What needs to be done?” This motto demands a fresh application as we consider the newly discovered information about how most movements are now starting. What “needs to be done” that can be accomplished by distant-culture workers?

Actually, a great many things need to be done, but they vary from one movement to another, and sometimes from one year to another within any given movement. Distant-culture workers can play a vital role in strengthening and deepening a movement, and/or in assisting a movement to expand and catalyze fresh movements among other UPGs. The key lies in willingness to serve the actual needs being felt and expressed by the leaders of the movements. They don’t need outsiders showing up with their own plans and ideas. They want people humble enough and flexible enough to do whatever needs to be done.

In some cases, this might involve a specialized skill, but more often it involves applying a basic-level skill in an area of need.
Possibilities include:

  • Communication efforts
  • Job and business start-up training Computer and technical support
  • Video recording and/or editing Audio recording and/or editing
  • Fundraising in ways that do not create dependency
  • Social media help with creation and/or distribution
  • Prayer & mobilizing prayer from outside the movement International networking
  • Hosting vision trips for potential outside partners Administration help
  • Hosting and supervising outside interns
  • Disaster response service and/or training and/or connections
  • Medical service and equipping medical response within the movement
  • Assisting with support, networking, or whatever else might be needed to help bring the gospel where it has never been
  • Anything and everything that is needed

In many cases, the movements cannot give a specific job description, as their needs keep changing. Or they may start with a specific need and job description, but circumstances change the needs. They want people who are willing to do whatever is needed.

The ministry might not sound glamorous or important at first glance. And some candidates have expressed concern about the difficulty of raising funds for this type of support role. However, we need to examine our assumptions. Do we assume that a new worker from the West has the experience or ability that warrants asking for an “important” role? Do we think it somehow diminishes us to serve in a support role for those better suited for the frontlines? Does it not make sense to learn about multiplication from people who have been a part of multiplying hundreds and often thousands of disciples and churches?

One movement leader, discussing this movement servant role, said, “Westerners we talk to do not really want to do what we need. For instance, we would ask them not to go live in Afghanistan but seek to reach Afghans in Europe and partner to raise prayer and funds and key outside connections for Afghan believers in Afghanistan. That has not been appealing to anybody we have talked to. They all want to go live in the country and be the frontline workers.”

Another movement leader said, “I have a hard time believing that Westerners would come in and submit to our leadership over the long term. In a few cases we have tried something like this; after a couple of years, they decide they know how to do it better than we do and they break away and use the appeal of excessive funding to take some of our leaders with them to work for them.”

For this reason we use the term Movement Servant. What movements most need are servant-hearted people. Some have encouraged us to use a “more appealing term” that would be easier to “sell to their supporters.” As if following Jesus’ example of not coming to “be served but to serve” is not appealing.
A Movement Servant will come alongside movement leaders to help expand the movement(s), assisting with a very wide range of ministry activities, depending on the ministry needs and the instructions of the movement leader(s). This will help increase the capacity of the movement to go further and faster, to become even more effective in advancing the movement(s) in which they are involved.

Consider, for example, the kingdom impact of working with a movement of 8,000 churches that has minimal computerization. They need help setting up a computer system for tracking church health and distribution, which will also help them know which peoples and places are still untouched by the gospel. This assistance brings the potential to reach tens of thousands more people and plant thousands more churches within a few years.

We can share a few examples of people serving movements. For one large family of movements, some translation experts currently supply help from the outside for movements translating Scripture. These movements are in areas that an outsider cannot enter due to political or religious realities, but the service of technical and translation experts has been invaluable to help those in that area do a church-based, computer aided, expert assisted translation process. These professional translators have had to allow God to change their paradigm from personally doing the translation to helping “amateurs” in the movement learn the skills and group processes that will produce an excellent translation.

In another movement with over 300,000 believers in a very large geographical area, some Westerners (who are not professionals) are helping with video editing. They work with movement leaders to produce short leadership training videos that can be shared from phone to phone.

A third example comes from a “kingdom business” project where outsiders help movements identify near-culture gaps needing movements. They assist with business training, prayer and fundraising (only supplementing funds raised within the movements) as movement families relocate and re-start businesses to sustain them long-term in reaching the new group. This has already resulted in reaching many new population segments.

As the apostle Peter described the glorious gospel revealed in Christ, he exclaimed: “Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Pet.1:12b) In recent decades, some gospel messengers and missiologists have felt echoes of that longing to look, when hearing reports of amazing things happening in Church Planting Movements. They’ve wished or asked to go visit a movement and see for themselves the amazing miracles and conversions being reported. But they’ve been told that for security reasons, it wouldn’t be wise for a person like them to show up in the midst of an indigenous movement among an UPG. Some indigenous movements do not want any Westerners visiting their movements (often related to the post-colonial reasons already mentioned). Other movements welcome a few trusted visitors, to interact with a limited portion of the ministry in certain locations.

Those welcomed in, count it a high privilege to see first-hand the Lord’s work in the movements they observe. The door to that privilege is now open for those willing to come as a servant, to do whatever a movement needs for its strengthening and expansion. Few people get this privilege: the opportunity to learn movement dynamics firsthand by serving in the midst of an actual movement. Movement dynamics are “better caught than taught.” This invitation welcomes servants. Way beyond reading a book or attending a training, a Movement Servant will gain experience in making disciples and learning from real-life multiplication.

What kind of people can fulfill the Movement Servant role? The essential qualifications, skills and experience include:
• Follower of Jesus
• Trying to be a disciple-maker6
• Advocate of CPM principles7
• Good people skills
• Willing to submit to non-Western leadership
• Willing to learn local trade language (at an appropriate level)
• Willing to learn and be sensitive to a new local culture(s)
• Faithful to keep commitments and a person of honor and integrity
• Willing to do whatever they can to serve the expansion of God’s kingdom

This role is not for people looking to emulate the ministry of the Apostle Paul. This is for those willing to serve more like Barnabas, or even Epaphras. (Col. 1:7; 4:12)

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:26) What if the most effective thing you could do truly looked like being a servant? What if your best way to maximally reach the unreached involved an assortment of jobs, chosen and assigned by someone from another culture? Would you be willing to lay down your life and some of your preferences in order to play a role in rapid kingdom multiplication among the unreached? The movements are already moving, and you’re invited to play a part in increasing their growth. You might be called to go try to start a new movement(s). If so, the best way to do that could be to go learn from an existing movement. You may have thought starting from nothing was your best option in serving among the unreached. But now you can think and pray about hopping on board to increase multiplication where the action has already begun.

If you’re interested, please contact us via the form at We already have relationships with networks of movements – in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. We cannot guarantee connection, because even if you are willing, we will need to find a movement that is ready and able to receive you. And there will likely be some challenging dynamics no matter how willing you are.

But we will do everything we can to help you find a group who is looking for Movement Servants. We would love to facilitate the connection and help you find the right slot for someone with your gifting. Take a moment to thank God for what he is doing through movements in our day. Thank him for the spontaneous multiplication of movements planting other movements among the unreached. Then ask him what role he might want you to play. May the Lord guide you and use you for His glory, to the ends of the earth.

  1. The Moravian church renewal in 1727 and resulting 100+ year prayer campaign and sending out of missionaries starting in 1732 laid the groundwork for William Carey, the Wesley family, and others who continued the modern missionary momentum.

  2. Ralph Winter & Bruce Koch, “Finishing the Task: the Unreached Peoples Challenge,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Move- ment:
    A Reader, fourth edition, p. 532

  3. According to World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, page 6.

  4. This question was asked of movement leaders representing over 1,000 movements. They all gave answers in the range of 80-90%.

  5. See “Movements Multiplying Movements: How the Bhojpuri CPM has Started Other Movements”: pages 185-188 in 24:14—A Testimony to All Peoples.

  6. It is not required that this person have multiplication fruit, but they do need to be a faithful disciple and witness to lost people, seeking to make disciples. If they come from a traditional paradigm of building-based discipleship programs, we encourage them to get some basic training and practice in Church Planting Movements (CPM) in their home culture before they go to serve a movement.

  7. A CPM is the result of God’s work. God has used a variety of ap- proaches to start CPMs, including DMM, T4T, Four Fields, etc. See for Core Principles and Common Outcomes of a CPM approach.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

A Support Structure for Staying the Course

A Support Structure for Staying the Course

In the book, Celtic Daily Prayer: Farther Up and Farther In, the authors who are part of Northumbria Community share about the very human side of monastic life in the following manner:

Monastic diseases are coping mechanisms—attitudes and actions that can bring dis-ease to ourselves and others around us. All of us have the potential to catch any and all of these diseases—the main problem lies in denial or wrong diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all, i.e. being unaware of them.1

Let us use this thinking as a window to peek in at our own attitudes and actions that create the diseases of unhealthy dependency. Missional diseases are coping mechanisms—attitudes and actions that can bring disease manifested as unhealthy codependency to ourselves and others around us. All of us have the potential to catch any and all of these diseases—the main problem lies in denial, wrong diagnosis or no diagnosis at all.

There is so much that tempts us to ignore our convictions, wise advice from others and lessons from past experiences when it comes to unhealthy dependency. My husband and I faced a barrage of temptations when we served as missionaries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Denial, wrong diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all play out in different ways:

  • Seeing someone struggle pulls on our heartstrings, and we quickly decide that short-term gain is better than the long-term pain that might show up because of our hasty solutions. We go with our impulse and ignore the warning signs.
  • We know better, but sometimes we compromise because of expectations from our donors, churches and sending agencies. They want to know what we are achieving or what they can achieve vicariously through us.
  • Helping and directing others has a way of making us feel needed and feeding our sense of self-importance. Our self-identity, which easily gets entangled in our projects and work, is hard to let go of when making decisions and plans to move into the shadows in order to allow the local people to shine. It requires heaps of humility and surrender, which is sometimes hard for missionaries who are highly driven and motivated to begin with.
  • We want to make something easier and better for us—less wear and tear on our bodies, faster results and fulfilling to our own dreams—so we settle for non-reproducible methods.
  • Everyone around us seems to give little thought to the causes and consequences of unhealthy dependency, so why bother to swim against the stream?
  • If we don’t offer fringe benefits, local people will simply go to other organizations. We can’t keep people if we don’t act as patrons.
  • We try to solve unhealthy dependency by substituting a problem with another problem because we aren’t thinking of solutions outside the dependency mindset. In this case, our solution lands us right back in the same place.

Many people know by personal experience that it is hard to stay the course once we have made up our minds to not be the instigators of creating unhealthy dependency. There is way more shouting at us to go ahead and ignore the crippling effects of unhealthy dependency than there is to be wise and aware. It takes intention, prayer, patience, evaluation and wisdom to recognize our blind spots, stick with our convictions, swim against the stream, close the gap between theory and practice and not substitute a problem for a problem.

With these challenges in mind, I strongly suggest that you form a support group around you made up of people who are committed to avoid perpetuating a culture of unhealthy dependency. In this way, you can hold each other accountable and learn from one another.

Five Stones Global has created a relational and instructive support structure for this very purpose. If you are interested, we will guide you or your team as you:

  1. work through a sequence of two-page worksheets that build upon each other on the topic “Avoid Creating a Culture of Unhealthy Dependency.
  2. process the worksheets with a coach or peer group.
  3. create a paradigm statement, guiding principles and practices.


This process will not only save you a lot of heartache, it will equip you to be a catalyst for creating a culture of dignity, sustainability and multiplication in place of unhealthy dependency.

If you are interested in receiving interactive instruction and coaching to “Avoid Creating a Culture of Dependency,” please visit the Five Stones Global website at for more information or email Maria Gilbertson at [email protected].

In the meantime, may God help us all to transition from denial, wrong diagnosis, and no diagnosis at all to recognition, right diagnosis and taking responsibility. We can do this, if we help one another.

  1. Celtic Daily Prayer: Book 2 (The Northumbria Community Trust, 2015), 1148.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Could Inspiring More “We Did It” Stories Help Break the Dependency Mindset?

Could Inspiring More “We Did It” Stories Help Break the Dependency Mindset?

During my years in Haiti I was involved in numerous construction projects. On one occasion, I arrived a few days in advance of a larger team to finalize the foundation for a church school which was being 100% financed with US dollars.

Although the local church had participated in the demolition of the old earthquake damaged building, they had yet to contribute even a small amount of money. Thinking I would further inspire local participation, I suggested the pastor take an offering from the church to help offset some of the costs of serving lunch to the workers.

Although an offering was taken, no one from the church congregation gave any money.

When I asked the pastor, “Why?” I was told, “It’s because the people see you are an American missionary. They know you always have enough money to pay for everything. Therefore, they don’t give.” Besides feeling hurt and disappointed, I remember asking myself, “What would this congregation have done if we Americans had never contributed to their school?”

Recently, a Haitian friend of mine helped answer my hypothetical question while we were co-conducting a symposium in Haiti centered around the theme, “What is the current state of the Haitian National Church?” Valery Vital-Herne, a three-generation pastor and the Country Director for Micah Challenge said: “The Haitian Church is a dependent church and a church full of initiative.” How can a church be dependent and at the same time full of initiative? The Haitian Church is a poor church and a rich church at the same time.

We’ve been receiving missionaries for years—missionaries investing in education, investing in orphanages, investing in building churches, investing in everything. The result in part is having dependent churches, dependent church leaders who say, “To build the next school we need to have a blan (foreigner). We need someone from the United States.”

But at the same time, when those churches receive a “No!” from a blan, or have struggled to find a white missionary, guess what? Years later you find a big building. And those pastors will tell you proudly, “We did it! We searched for international help. We didn’t find it. So, we told the church, ‘We serve a big God. Let’s put our hands together and let’s build that.’”

They feel a sense of pride and a sense of ownership. That’s why I said the Haitian church is a dependent church. That dependency mindset is still there. When they don’t find foreign funds, they work together and start schools and start churches. Some of the big buildings you see downtown or in Delmas are debt free, paid for only by Haitians.1

Why is being able to say, “We did it,” really important? As Valery shared about Haitian churches saying, “We did it” and “the sense of pride and sense of ownership” that pastors and their congregations experience through trusting in a big God, I was reminded of a couple of important principles.

The first is local dependence on God. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we learn that the Lord is watching each local church to see how well it utilizes the gifts and resources he has entrusted to it directly. Zambian missionary Dwight Kopp says, “If this were not so, Jesus would not have written seven separate letters to the churches in Revelation. Instead, one letter could have been sufficient—blaming them all for the sin in the church of Sardis.”2

Secondly, he multiplies “few” resources into “many” resources based on faithfulness (Matt. 25:21) and according to the power of the Holy Spirit at work within a community of believers. (Eph. 3:20)

With these in mind, could it be that when we as Westerners give towards church building projects in a foreign land, that along with creating dependency on us, we are actually hindering that local congregation’s intimate trusting relationship with God? How often do we unintentionally bypass God’s process of maturing faith and steal the real blessings of “satisfaction” and “sense of ownership” God wants to instill in every local church? Instead of writing more checks to building projects, I’d like to suggest we look for ways to inspire more “We did it!” stories.

With these in mind, could it be that when we as Westerners give towards church building projects in a foreign land, that along with creating dependency on us, we are actually hindering that local congregation’s intimate trusting relationship with God?

  1. Vital-Herne, Valery, 2013, audio transcription from presentation, “Ten Characteristics of the Haitian National Church”, http://

  2. Awake Africa!!!”, Dwight Kopp, Feb 19, 2006. Copyright (c) 2005 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS)

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Five Times, Ninety Days and One Generation

Five Times, Ninety Days and One Generation

Five Times

While visiting churches in an outlying part of another country, Mike and Rebecca’s charitable instincts kicked in. “We must find a way to help these churches,” they declared. Before they returned to the USA, they decided to give $100 to each of the three churches in the area to use for their most pressing need. Mike and Rebecca interpreted the recipients’ enthusiastic appreciation as an indication that the money was of great help. They made sure the churches knew that they were keen to partner with them.

While at home, Mike and Rebecca collected some children’s Sunday school materials from years past from various churches in their city and sent them to the three churches with whom they had formed a partnership.

Six months later, Mike and Rebecca arranged for another trip to visit the churches that had so captured their hearts. This time a small team of construction workers joined Mike and Rebecca. They used their time there to renovate the aging church buildings.

The churches’ anticipation grew every time they heard Mike and Rebecca were coming for another visit. An unspoken question often fluttered in the local believers’ minds: What might they help us with this time?

Two weeks before Mike and Rebecca’s next visit, one of the churches emailed them with a heart of expectation. The email contained the following request: “Would you be willing to bring us a guitar, one like Mike plays when he is here? Also, we were thinking that we need to build a place for the pastor to live on the church property. This would make our pastoral work more effective for Jesus and you could stay there when you come.” Mike and Rebecca assisted with this seemingly reasonable request.

Upon Mike and Rebecca’s next visit, a man who attended one of the local churches asked Mike for money to send his kids to school. The man was visibly disappointed when Mike told him that he had to think about it. This was the first time Mike wondered if they may have started something they hadn’t intended through their well-intentioned giving. The appreciation they had initially experienced had seemed to transition into entitlement. For the time being, Mike dismissed the nagging thought.

The more Mike and Rebecca helped the people there, the more complicated the relationships became. After two years of helping these three churches, Mike and Rebecca realized they may have established dependency.

This hypothetical but very realistic story reveals that it takes no more than five times of one-way foreign subsidy to establish unhealthy dependency.1

Ninety Days

This is bad news if the habit is unhealthy and good news if the habit is healthy. For example, if you chronically underwrite 90 days’ worth of ministry efforts on behalf of a church in another country, it will become a permanent lifestyle habit for that church to look outside of their congregation for resources to operate their God-given ministries. On the other hand, if you encourage that same church to mobilize local resources for 90 days’ worth of their own ministries, it will become a permanent lifestyle habit for that church to mobilize their own resources for their own ministry efforts. It is up to us to make the 21/90 rule to work for the good of creating a culture of dignity, sustainability, multiplication, and movements, rather than against it.

One Generation

Saranya Kapur wrote an online article for Business Insider called “Parents on Welfare Are Bequeathing a Culture of Welfare unto Their Children.”In this article, Kapur writes about a study provided by the United States-based National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The NBER study reveals that parents who are on welfare create a culture of welfare for their children. Kapur goes on to explain that there are three main reasons why this happens:

  1. Parents on welfare constantly provide information to their growing children about all the assistance programs available.
  2. The parents reduce the stigma of participation in these subsidy programs.
  3. The parents don’t invest in the self-development of their own family.]

Ultimately, the research shows that most often parents being on welfare is the main cause of their children being on welfare, rather than some other correlated legitimate factor.

In the same way, the first generation of churches being dependent on outside support is the main cause of the next generation of churches being dependent on outside support, rather than some other correlated legitimate factor. In other words, churches who are raised in an ecclesiastical culture of welfare are bequeathing an ecclesiastical culture of welfare to the next generation of churches:

It takes five times of one-way giving to create dependency. It takes 90 days to develop permanent lifestyle habits that go along with depending on others. It takes only one generation of families and churches steeped in an ecclesiastical welfare culture to bequeath it to the next generation of families and churches.

That’s dismaying information. Here’s the beauty from ashes. Any one of these rules can work in our favor for positive outcomes.

What would happen if you facilitated a group of disciples to give and share local resources for a cause dear to their hearts five times, or 90 days, or for the first generation of disciples? You would establish local-local interdependence, create a permanent lifestyle habit and bequeath the next generation of disciples with the desire and capacity to give and share their resources.

What’s fascinating about this is that we have to start with ourselves. If we choose to make it our aim and practice to use local resources to create what we need for 90 days, this will become our permanent missional habit. Beyond developing a healthy missional practice for us, we end up inspiring and modeling reproducibility and spontaneous multiplication to others in our realm of influence. In other words, reproducibility will become our value and our habit and others will catch on.

It only takes five times of unwise giving and free services to create dependency. It sneaks up on us really fast. But, if we determine to use the 21/90 principle in a positive sense, we can bequeath dignity, self- sustainability, faith, ingenuity, determination and so much more to generations of multiplying disciples and churches. May it be so!

  1.  Robert Lupton, Toxic Charity (New York, NY: Harper One 2011), 130.

  2. Saranya Kapur, “Parents on Welfare Are Bequeathing a Culture of Welfare unto Their Children,” Business Insider. http://www.businessin-–11.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Becoming a Person of Dogged Determination

Becoming a Person of Dogged Determination

She refused to give up. Pressing on through pain, weariness, discouragement, not to mention her sense of unworthiness, she pressed on. When her first groups started well, but soon fell apart, she didn’t quit. Oh, she felt like it alright. The burning passion to reach the lost of her city compelled her to keep trying. Again, she began new groups. She cast vision to her pastor, to new friends, and they continued taking unsteady but determined steps forward. Then, almost unexpectedly, they hit the tipping point. Things began to grow rapidly. Within a year, 52 groups were started. They were beginning to multiply. She was a woman of dogged determination and great faith. The kind of faith that refused to give up.

Movement leaders and catalysts are people of great tenacity. They have a dogged determination and focus to bring lost people home to Jesus. It’s a dream they absolutely refuse to let go of.

Releasing a Disciple Making Movement that multiplies rapidly and sweeps through a region of unreached people does not happen without resistance. The enemy will fight against you. Your inner life will be tested. You will have apparent breakthroughs that then dissolve. People who seem to be Persons of Peace fall into sin, distraction or struggle with a sickness that takes them out of CPM/DMM work.

Initial Excitement Must Be Tempered By Movement Backstories

When we first hear about movements, they excite us! We hear stories of what God is doing in other places and our faith rises to believe it could happen in our location too. This is something God Himself has done in our hearts. Faith is a gift from Him.

Our job is to hold on to that faith, to be steadfast. We must steward, guard, and feed it. This is especially true when we don’t see immediate results. And most people don’t.

Those who have seen movements launch tell backstories of tenacity and perseverance. They have many stories of failed attempts and obstacles overcome. Yet they kept going. They refused to give up, they fought forward on their knees, and God brought the breakthrough.

Will You Hold On, Until the Release Comes?

I spoke with a couple who worked many years in a large metropolis. They staked their claim in a very diverse area with thousands of unreached peoples. When they first drove down the main street, they knew God was speaking to them about living there.

IIn obedience, they moved into the city and bought a house so they could live among the least reached peoples, those who had immigrated to their country for a host of reasons.

“After years of effort, we’ve built many good relationships. But we still haven’t cracked it. Nobody has. Whether we see it in our lifetime or not, one day we know there will be a movement here.” Their faithfulness was evident. They were not going anywhere. No plan B had emerged. The reason we were talking was that they were exploring new options to move forward.

This is the kind of couple I am thrilled to encourage and come alongside. They haven’t given up. They need some new strategies and ways to take things forward. That is what a good coach helps with! God has a plan.

He has prepared Persons of Peace in their city, those who wait to receive His message of good news. Their prayers and efforts are not in vain. But what will it take to see a movement of disciples making disciples in their area?

It will take a move of God.

Disciple Making Movements are supernatural interventions of an Almighty God. They cannot be humanly engineered. They do not happen because we “do everything right” or follow the correct formula. Having said this, one thing is always true of movements, they don’t happen without doggedly determined people who persevere.

God delights in using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He forms and shapes these ordinary people, as they follow Him down the path of unshakeable obedience.

What is “Dogged Determination” Anyhow?

Another word that can be used for this is tenacity. Tenacity is the quality of being “very determined.”

The word determination itself means to refuse to give up, once you have committed to something. Collins defines dogged as meaning someone is “determined to continue with something even if it becomes difficult or dangerous.”

When it comes to seeing a movement, are you tenacious? Do you have a dogged determination to see this come to pass?

It must be emphasized here that I’m not talking about striving in the flesh. This kind of tenacity comes from deep inside of you.

I can not have this level of determination unless I know that what I am pursuing is absolutely God’s will. Knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God desires to do what I am going after, gives me the strength to continue. It releases courage to press through obstacles, fear, persecution, and even boredom when my efforts feel unfruitful.

Are DMM and CPMs God’s will?

Is a movement of disciples rapidly making disciples, lives being transformed, communities and society changing as the kingdom of God comes, His desire for your region or people? Did the vision to see a Disciple Making Movement come from Him?

Is it in line with His Word as you understand it?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are pursuing something that is beyond doubt the will of God. Let that powerful reality place within you a fresh determination to continue pursuing that dream.

Seven Things To Do When Visible Results Are Disappointing

1. Revisit your End Vision.

Go back to what God originally placed in your heart when you first heard about movements, when you prayed and istened to His voice. Revisit that sense of excitement and calling. Has it changed? Reflect on the things He spoke and what you felt He was saying at that time. In the Old Testament, God often told the Israelites to set up memorial stones. They were places of remembrance. When His people got discouraged, they would see those memorials and remember who God is and what He had done. Take time to remember.

You may need to adjust your End Vision. That is okay to do. Ask God again what He is saying. Just make sure your vision doesn’t shrink based on what you experience and see.

Stay focused on what you know, deep within your heart, God wants to do in your region, city, or people group.

2. Evaluate.

Dogged determination without a willingness to honestly evaluate results is simply donkey-like stubbornness. It is not wisdom. We must be able to evaluate our approaches and invite others to also give us input. Are there things you have done for years, that are not producing fruit? Maybe you need to stop doing some activities, to make room for new approaches. This requires a certain level of humility and vulnerability.

Is that community development center or medical outreach resulting in new disciples who make disciples?

Does your business platform take up all your time and leave little energy to reach out to neighbors? Are you building lots of relationships but timid when it comes to having spiritual conversations? There are many things to evaluate in light of fruit.

3. Talk to a coach.

Very often I’ve found that talking things through with a knowledgeable DMM/CPM coach brings clarity.

Good coaches ask you questions.

They don’t tell you what to do, but as you talk and process, understanding comes. The Holy Spirit guides you and you can start moving forward. A coach can also help you to diagnose your movement and can suggest you find out more about an approach that is helping in another DMM/CPM team in a similar context.

See the free guide to Simple DMM coaching available on my blog for more input on this.

4. Take small steps of faithfulness and be accountable.

Whether you find a coach, or a friend, spouse or team member, start with some small, achievable action steps. If you find you haven’t been seeing multiplication with all 10 house churches, choose one leader to coach and work with on this issue over the next month. Meet and pray often with them and see if you can’t get at least one group to experiment with some changes that will lead to them starting their groups.

As a DMM practitioner, you likely lead many others. Who are you accountable to for your personal disciple- making? Be faithful, start small, and get the momentum going again.

5. Innovate.

Similar to evaluation, when we aren’t seeing fruit, we need to innovate.

The coronavirus has forced innovations in disciple-making. Many of us are now training and making disciples online in new ways. We’ve begun to learn how to reach out through social media and advertising to find Persons of Peace. For more on this go to and make use of their excellent resources.

In some locations, it seems people have a default strategy for finding new connections. It might be coffee shops or English corners, Alpha, or medical outreaches. If your default strategy is producing disciples who make disciples, by all means, keep doing it! If not, maybe it’s time to get creative and think outside the box.

Instead of asking the question, “what could we do?” ask “what could we try?”

6. Actively participate in a committed community of DMM/CPM practitioners.

Communities of DMM/CPM practitioners are emerging all over the world. If you are not in one yet, find one. If there isn’t yet a group in your area, start one. There is great encouragement when we meet together with like-minded people. Iron sharpens iron. We need people who ask us hard questions, hold us accountable, and pray for us when we hit a wall. Find out more about practitioner’s communities on my blog ( or the 24:14 or websites.

7. Increase extraordinary prayer.

Last, but certainly not least, the first thing to evaluate if you are not seeing the results you hope for is prayer. Especially as Westerners, we tend to do many activities, but fail to pray in extraordinary ways. What could you do to increase prayer for your region, city, or people group?

Many Disciple Making Movements have a parallel prayer movement that grows along with the DMM/CPM. These committed intercessors are key to releasing what God is preparing to do to reach your area.

Ask God For Dogged Determination

Countless times in my DMM journey I have returned to Galatians 6:9 to find the strength to take the next step forward. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Would you join me in praying this verse of Scripture?

Father God, this road to releasing a DMM is longer than I expected. The rocks and barriers haven’t been easy to overcome. Sometimes I feel tired and wonder if I shouldn’t try to do something else. Give me the determination to not become weary in doing good disciple-making activities, even when I don’t see immediate fruit. I believe that harvest is coming, that you have promised it to those who refuse to give up. Fill me with a dogged determination that won’t let go of this vision until it comes to pass.

Strengthen me today to do your will. Amen.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Good Intentions Are Not Always Good Enough

Reprinted from Mission Frontiers September-October 2016 issue

Good Intentions Are Not Always Good Enough

The English intellect C.P. Snow asked the now-famous question, “Can we do ‘good’ when the foreseeable consequences are evil?” No, but what if the evil consequences are not easily “foreseeable?”

During and after the Korean war, American agencies raised money for Korean “orphans.” This was a major opportunity for Americans to support cute looking orphans for $20 a month. Genuine concern in the form of powerful maternal and paternal instincts also supported this kind of cause.

Those orphans were so well treated that many Korean families decided to “orphan” one or more of their own children in order to assure them of enough food and clothing and relieve the financial burden of another hungry mouth. In such cases, American money was not helping orphans so much as splitting families—not the donors’ intentions!

This was not immediately apparent. “Direct” help continued to seem reasonable. Years later, a superb improvement took place and “childcare”—not starving orphans—was now the cry, which helped the destitute family care for its own children. Later still, the larger concept of “relief and development” emerged whereby plans for helping the family earn a living began to replace simple relief.

That, in turn, gave way later to an even larger concept: “community development.” Rather than selecting certain families to help (and not others), the whole community was gently and sensitively led, where possible, to resolve problems, holding everyone back.

Sadly, not only did all of the earlier approaches have potentially negative side effects, by leaving those “direct” approaches behind they made it increasingly more difficult to raise funds in America. People began to realize that “we know we can’t help even our own poor in America that easily, and, in any case, why not help our own poor first?”

By contrast, and even better than the kind of community development which seeks an overly idealistic secular solution to solve the overall problem, Christian missionaries have often found a more basic solution: namely, that preaching repentance from a life of lying, stealing and addiction to nicotine and alcohol has often had dramatic economic effects. High in the mountains in Guatemala, the town of Almalonga was widely known for its high income from vegetable production and its pervasive alcoholism. All of its relatively high income was squandered on liquor. When faith in Jesus Christ took root, the whole town went dry, and almost overnight its economic status changed dramatically—an astonishing transformation.

Thus, what “good intentions” might see to be a “direct” answer may not do as well as the Christian faith, which can slowly work its way into a community, change lives one at a time and eventually make a major economic difference to the entire locale. But to many increasingly secularized donors, this just does not seem as “practical.”

In other cases, well-intentioned gifts from America have allowed some organizations to make rapid strides in evangelism by “buying” away the leaders of existing church movements with relatively high salaries. This also happens in the midst of a crisis of some sort like an earthquake, flood or famine, when outside agencies come in with huge resources of food or medicines and they urgently need some administrators they can trust. Christians are a good bet.

Key pastors are often pulled into these high-paying jobs.

But when the crisis is over, these key people cannot readily adjust or be accepted back where they were before.

Some newer missions even “buy” whole churches, promising a monthly subsidy if the existing church will put up the new sign over the door of the church. Donors may be pleased with such quick results.

In one area of India, 400 churches (out of 4,000) planted by a standard mission were offered financial “help” from a money-channeling agency. The pastors directly needed whatever help they could get. After a few years, these churches were no longer planting new congregations since the subsidy per church could not automatically stretch.
One short-lived US agency backed by a very good-hearted evangelical multimillionaire set out to generate low-cost audio cassettes by the hundreds of thousands to put the whole New Testament into the hands of village pastors in non- literate areas of the world. I cannot forget the sight of 6, quarter-of-a-million-dollar machines standing idle.
It was a “good idea,” but they soon found that in many rural villages of the world food is seen to be more necessary than Bible cassettes. One by one, Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc. cassettes were sold on the open market for reuse in other ways. Why? Pastors chose not to starve their children when they could give up one cassette per week and provide significant relief. The same thing can happen when motorcycles or other expensive tools are provided from the West. The people know of more urgent uses of that money.
One US church took pity on a pastor from East Africa. Realizing that he did not have a car to get around his parish, they took up an offering for that purpose. They did not stop to think that in his economy he would be unable to buy gas for it. Nor did they realize the position it put him in relation to the other 600 pastors who had no car.
In many cases, whether we are concerned about the American inner city or a foreign situation, our basic intuition may be simplistic. In this country, the clearly good intentions of our welfare system have, in effect, made it profitable for millions of single women to have children out-of-wedlock or to urge their husbands to live elsewhere. Why wouldn’t similar misjudgments occur overseas?
The television show “60 Minutes” recently reported that 10,000 young women a month are drawn out of Eastern Europe into white slavery in Western countries. They interviewed enslaved women who “did not know what they were getting into.” They interviewed parents back home who thought their daughters were going away “to get a better job.” It was hard for “60 Minutes” to imagine what grinding poverty will do. Selling (in effect) daughters is widespread around the world, as is selling children in general.
Their parents are reluctantly aware that others can “get more out of” their children than they are willing to—longer hours, more difficult work, etc.
This is partly why southern Sudan has continued to be a quarry of human chattel, whether children or adults. The answer is not as simple as buying the human beings who are procured from this part of the world. In some ways, this simply increases the flow.
It may appear that war is what brings on these problems. It is at least as obvious that incredibly damaging diseases make life untenable in southern Sudan, killing and maiming far more people than either war or slavery. But to the donor who wants to see results and “direct” answers, buying enslaved children or adults seems a good enough answer to the problems.
No wonder that many donors retreat to supporting nothing but evangelism, since that does at least safely deal with a very basic aspect of the problem. Our current mission theology does not incline us to fight the very origins of disease. That seems too “indirect” to appeal to donors who “want results.”
In fact, some strains of evangelical theology could lead logically to an essential hopelessness about human problems that directs attention away from almost all practical steps. Satan is gleeful no doubt over the confusion he is able to create where even major, publicly understood problems exist.
Just take my relentless example of nicotine addiction in the United States. Everyone knows that this captures 3,000 more young people each day, dragging them down into a horrible death. Chemically in the same class as illegal drugs, this vicious drug has the protection of many decades of cultural approval as well as continuing federal subsidy. I am astounded how the general public can be lulled asleep by a few funny ads on TV that poke fun at the tobacco industry.
Why would problems overseas be less complex?
Many donors are content to get “the duty monkey” off their back. They don’t have time to care what happens to their gift. They’ve done their duty. Yet much of what is most needed in missions will not seem attractive to the donor at first glance. The most strategic works do not lend themselves to easy fundraising.

If the challenge of cross-cultural pioneer missions is inherently complex, that is not the fault of the missionary. We must almost expect that, for some, the real challenge of missions will be puzzling, baffling, infuriating and finally rejected. This is one reason so little is given to missions and so few actually give their lives over to this holy cause.
The reality is that nothing can be as safe and as strategic as using our funds to send out patient, resourceful, godly, loving, incorruptible people who stay on the field long enough to figure things out beyond first impressions and initial ideas and who work for an organization that has itself been out there long enough for insights to be passed on from one generation to the next. Ultimately, if we regularly support someone we know will be educated naturally and normally across the years as to the real situation, many problems with money can be avoided.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Unreached of the Day May-June 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Unreached of the Day May-June 2021 (Formerly known as the Global Prayer Digest)

Click on the attached .pdf icon within this article to read the Unreached of the Day in this issue.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

The Impact of Dependency on the Home Front

The Impact of Dependency on the Home Front

Everyone who desires to do good and/or share truth is a creator of dependency and is dependent themselves.This is especially true for Westerners, or those with more resources than those they are working among. It doesn’t matter if we raise personal support, start a company or work for an employer. The question we should be asking ourselves is: how aware are we of the kinds of dependency which we create and in which we live?

In everyone’s everyday world, to accomplish anything we depend on relationships, good will and truthfulness in communication and understanding. When those interactions are weak or are clouded by cross-cultural, language differences or prejudice, it is even easier to create more dependency and it is hard to see ourselves.

For those of us from the West, just “walking in the room” brings reactions and challenges to open and honest communication. If we bring resources—human (like you!) or financial—people treat us differently.

Position brings pressure of a similar sort. When I was General Director of the USCWM, I knew that opened doors of both opportunity and danger. Without even saying or doing anything, I put pressure on people to treat me a certain way—even if they didn’t want to.

You see this when you travel internationally. When I arrive in a non-Western country and need a taxi, they assume I want to pay for the best taxi, so they take me to the “official” taxi stand, when I’d be happy with using a cheaper Grab ride (which is like Uber in parts of Asia). Several years ago while in Hong Kong, several of us from the U.S. and Korea went to a traditional Chinese dim sum restaurant on a busy street. The first five or six floors were all one restaurant. When we arrived, they took us, via escalator, past the floors of packed tables, full of people who didn’t know each other—all stuffed tightly together. Every level brought fewer tables and people! Finally, on the top floor there was plenty of room. It was a bit of a relief from the intensity of the first floor, but the prices also increased at each level! They simply expected (forced?) us to pay more because of who we were.

These issues impact the typical office or business situation as well. Dependence on a paycheck may mean you don’t honestly tell those above you about problems you can see clearly. Good leaders have learned to work hard at being sure those around them are able to speak the truth about what is happening. We’ve all seen situations where the opposite was true and no one was willing to confront a short-sighted leader who was unaware of the real need(s).

That kind of leadership exports the “American hero” mentality. We come across as though “we have come to solve your problems” or even the world’s problems. I believe we know the spiritual solution. But we must guard ourselves, and those around us, from the “get-er-done” and “finish the task for Jesus” mentality—since it often morphs into triumphalism or colonialism.

These kinds of issues impact how we mobilize. In the early days of the USCWM, we were convinced that we needed to share encouraging stories about what God was doing around the world. The thinking was that people need to see progress in order to get a bunch of them to get involved.
What we didn’t think about that much was: how does my approach to mobilizing shape the work of those who go? What happens when the “just do it” or “get ‘er done” mentality hits the reality of a place like India, or in the contemplative world of Buddhism? I would guess that we have not thought deeply enough about the impact of our mobilization.

I heard a story from an older Norwegian missionary to Japan. He was gracious and said that he did not know a lot of missionaries that were the typical ugly-American stereotype, but he did meet a few who were “American salespeople.” Interesting phrase!

While Jesus has a “time frame” for the end of history and His return, He has chosen not to reveal that to us. While He is patient, “not wanting any to perish” He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. I can’t explain that, but I’m trying to be in less of a hurry, yet still with purpose, passion and vision. Somehow, we need to express our heart for the lost—especially among the least reached, without linking it to what we can accomplish. Otherwise it becomes about us and takes away from the focus of the biblical story: Jesus.

  1. I’m not talking here about how we are all dependent on the Holy Spirit, or on brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Is There a Cure for Unhealthy Dependency?

Is There a Cure for Unhealthy Dependency?

One of the most difficult problems facing the Christian movement at the beginning of the 21st century is the dependency on outside funding that has developed in many mission-established churches. Church and mission leaders have several different reactions to this problem.

First, sometimes both mission leaders and church leaders are embarrassed about the dependency syndrome and would like to see the situation change. Not all of them fully understand what caused the problem or what to do about it, but they know that the situation is not healthy for the church or mission. Dependency among mission- established churches is not necessary; and where it exists, it can be eliminated.

Second, there are some who believe that dependent churches are a fact of life and nothing is likely to change that. hey rationalize that we are all dependent on someone; therefore, they don’t think there is anything wrong with Western Christians supporting non-Western churches the way they do. Some in this category are Westerners who feel guilty about their wealth and are actively looking for those with whom they can “partner” in the gospel. They feel that the concept of self-supporting churches doesn’t make much sense as long as some Christians are wealthier than others.

Third, there are some who are committed to planting new churches which are self-supporting from the very beginning. They know instinctively that the gospel can be shared and people can come into right relationship with God without developing an unhealthy dependence on outside funding. We now have many examples of how churches can be planted and grow without developing dependency.

Fourth, there is a group of older missionaries and church leaders who have lived for many years with the ideal of an indigenous, self-supporting church. They believed in the principle that mission-established churches should be self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. When the churches they planted did not develop that way, they resigned themselves to providing and continuing to provide outside support. Sometimes those missionaries are reluctant to see the outside support stopped because the projects they started might be closed down or fail to operate. Some missionaries may never live to see their work become self-supporting.

A fifth group includes local church leaders who were converted and discipled by missionaries and now receive their salary from outside support. They have concluded that their people are too poor to support their own churches and especially their own development projects so they might as well let the situation continue. Unfortunately, such churches are unlikely to learn the joy of sending out their own missionaries. Some of them feel they cannot support their own pastors, let alone help to plant new churches beyond their borders. Let’s not forget, there is a cure for this kind of dependency.

The sixth group is represented by newly planted churches where the people are actively seeking to attach themselves to individuals, churches or mission agencies willing to support them with foreign funds. This is the case in many parts of the former Soviet Union where western Christians are finding small groups of believers and adopting them as their “partners in the gospel.” In some cases, the outsiders visit for as little as two weeks and leave behind a church which they have “planted.” That church may have a pastor dependent on salary from the outsiders, and the building in which they will eventually meet could well be provided through the good intentions of their new-found friends from England or North America. When this happens, the dependency syndrome is developed within a very short period of time. The Westerners who create this kind of dependent church planting have probably heard very little about indigenous principles of self-support. Sadly, in their joy of giving, some do not realize the full ramifications of their monetary policies.

Fortunately, there is also a seventh group. This includes those who used to be dependent but have made the transition to supporting their ministries with local resources. Such churches exhibit joy, pride and dignity as they experience God’s blessing for taking this step of faith. Later in this article I will give several examples of churches like that.

What is the good news?

Look at the spread of the gospel in the time of the New Testament, and you will find that the Apostle Paul did not use outside funds to plant churches. In fact, one transfer of funds we find in the New Testament is from mission field churches back to the mother church when there was a famine in Jerusalem. (2 Cor. 8) Another is when mission field churches contributed to the support of their missionary, the Apostle Paul. (Phil. 4:15)

In our day, there is evidence that outside support is not essential to the growth and development of the Christian movement. Consider the rapid growth of a church in Ethiopia from 1938 to 1943. During this five-year period, membership increased from 100 to 10,000 believers with no missionaries and no outside funding present. The church in China increased from one million to perhaps as many as 50 million believers following 1951 when all missionaries and outside funding were removed.

Rev. Gerald Bustin illustrates this point quite well in an article regarding the planting of churches in Papua New Guinea and the former Soviet Union. That mission society started about 200 churches in New Guinea. Upon the occasion of the 20-year celebration, the people in New Guinea sent air tickets to the missionaries in America, inviting them to return for the celebration.

In the Ukraine (part of the former Soviet Union), after several years of church planting, the local believers asked for the privilege of repaying the missionaries for the expenses they had in bringing the gospel to them. All of this is to say that planting dependent churches may often happen, but it does not need to happen. That is good news for those involved in cross-cultural church-planting.

How does dependency affect the meaning of the gospel?

When outside money and other material things accompany the spread of the Christian gospel, sometimes people get the wrong impression about the gospel itself. For example, if those to whom the gospel is preached begin to receive material things that come with the gospel, they may become more interested in those things than in the gospel itself. I once met two missionaries working in western Tanzania. When they arrived, one of the first questions the local people asked was, “Where are your shipping containers?” When they said they did not have any shipping containers, the people said, “What kind of missionaries are you with no shipping containers?” Clearly the people were thinking about what they might get when servants of the Lord arrived from the outside.

What is wrong with the spread of the gospel in this way? Is it not precisely that the gospel itself is being distorted? Think for a moment about what the good news of the gospel is.

  • First, people will learn about the broken relationship between God and mankind and that there is one who repairs that relationship: Jesus Christ.
  • Second, when that gospel comes, one is freed from the burden of past sin.
  • Third, one is introduced to the Holy Spirit, a power greater than all the powers which caused so many problems in the past.
  • Fourth, one learns that if godly principles are followed, many other problems in life can be resolved.
  • Fifth, there is the most important benefit of all, eternal life for all who believe. All of these things come with the gospel.

Is there any price to be paid for this salvation? It is free, with one exception: For the rest of our lives, believers are obligated to give back to God some of what He has given to us. In other words, such things as tithing (giving back a portion of one’s income) becomes a part of the privilege and responsibility we have as believers.

When people come into the Christian faith for the material possessions they get, something goes terribly wrong in the spread of the gospel. That might be the single most important reason why the dependency problem so often cripples the Christian movement and why it is so urgent that it be avoided or dealt with where it exists.

What can be done where the problem exists?

No one should look for quick and easy solutions to the problem of dependency and especially where it has been in place for many years. Old habits are hard to break when changing them means learning a whole new way of getting support for the church. Those receiving salary from overseas funds may be reluctant to see the system change. Those responsible for creating dependency in the first place (like missionaries) may hesitate to see it
change because they have been getting a good feeling from giving, even if it has created dependency and left others unable to stand on their own two feet.

There are things which can be done to either avoid or resolve the problem of dependency. The following are a few suggestions for both church leaders and missionaries.

  1. We should all recognize that the healthiest churches are not those where leaders or members constantly look to outsiders for financial support. If you want to see joy and a sense of satisfaction on the faces and in the hearts of believers, don’t look for it among those who are dependent on foreign funds. Rather, look for it among those who have discovered the joy of giving back to God something of what He has given to them from the resources which He has put close at hand.
  2. Begin to recognize the kind of things which cause dependency and seek to overcome the temptation to establish or continue such practices. It will take serious determination not to think of solving problems with outside funds. And remember, the problem cannot be solved if the concept of stewardship is not first built into the Christian message.I will give an example. In South Africa there is a church which was very poor. 30 years ago only unemployed women and children were in that church. Leaders regularly went overseas to find funding for their church members. Then something dramatic occurred. The church was turned around. Men began coming to church, women became self-employed and soon the church was no longer depending on funds from overseas. When one asks what change took place, the women will say that they were taught how to make a living by making and selling dresses, grass mats or baskets. They were also taught that of everything they made and sold, ten percent (the tithe) belonged to the Lord. In fact, they were taught that giving (tithing) was to be built into the earning process. God honored that kind of teaching, and today that church is well able to stand on its own two feet. At a recent weekend conference, those present put into the collection the equivalent of over one million U.S. dollars. All of that was from a church which not so long ago included only unemployed women and children.
  3. It is important to realize that the need for spiritual renewal is at the root of this problem. Do not expect people who do not know the Lord to joyfully support their own churches. Do not expect believers whose faith has grown cold to willingly pay their tithes and offerings to the Lord. Spiritual life must precede an emphasis on stewardship teaching.
  4. There is something else which must precede stewardship teaching. This is what I call a feeling of true personal ownership. Without this, people in dependent churches will often look to someone else to build their buildings, pay their pastors, buy their vehicles or support their development projects. Imagine what could happen if people were to take full personal ownership for their own churches. Things which previously were thought to be impossible would all of a sudden become possible. Resources would be discovered which, prior to this, no one could see. These would be resources which were close at hand all along. Only when local ownership is fully in place will people begin to discover the joy of supporting their own church and the work of God’s Kingdom.
  5. There is sometimes a high price to be paid for moving from dependency toward self-reliance. Some local church leaders may need to say “No, thank you” to the outside funding which has been supporting them and their families. This happened in East Africa about 30 years ago when local leaders asked the people overseas to stop supporting them financially. They were actually declining the funds used to pay their own salaries. What followed, however, was dramatic. The leaders soon learned that local believers were not only capable of paying their salaries, but also able to pay for their own church buildings and vehicles. They also planted new churches from their own resources. They started a pension fund for retired pastors, something no one until that time thought could be done with local resources. Then those believers in East Africa heard about homeless children overseas and took a collection in Kenya shillings worth about US$30,000 to help with that need. All of these things happened after they paid the price to stop the outside funding.
  6. One might ask why it is so important to resolve the problem of dependency among mission-established churches. Think for a moment about how many funds are being raised for evangelism yet are actually being used to support churches where people are already evangelized. Is it right to keep on supporting those who have heard the gospel many times when there are millions of people elsewhere who are still waiting to hear it for the very first time? In some places the gospel has been preached for 100 years or more and yet the people are still looking to others to support their pastors or build their buildings. For those who have not yet heard the gospel even once, that is just not fair.

Remember the good news

The good news is that dependency does not need to be considered a terminal illness. There are churches which have proved that, as I showed previously.

For those who are interested in pursuing this issue further, a resource is Five Stones Global (http://www.fivestonesglobal com).. Their website has many articles on dependency and self-reliance.

A final word of encouragement

It is my desire to see those who feel trapped in dependent churches learn how to discover the joy and freedom which results from overcoming dependency. I dedicate my time and energy to helping those who want to discover the joy of standing on their own two feet.

Remember the Macedonian Church which the Apostle Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:3? Of these people Paul wrote, “out of severe trial and extreme poverty they pleaded for the privilege of giving.” Notice also that he mentions that “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” Without spiritual renewal, churches will not overcome the dependency syndrome.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

The Surprising Relevance of the Three-Self Formula

Reprinted from Mission Frontiers July-August 2007

The Surprising Relevance of the Three-Self Formula

Editor’s Note: Henry Venn’s father, John Venn, was rector of Clapham parish and pastor to William Wilberforce and others who made up the famous group later called the “Clapham Sect.” Henry’s grandfather, also named Henry Venn was the “spiritual father” of the Clapham Sect.

The Three-Self Formula is much better known in mission circles than it is practiced. It has been around for over 150 years and it states that a newly planted church is mature or indigenous when it is self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting. It was first popularized and implemented by a pair of mission executives who headed the largest mission agencies of their day. An Englishman, Henry Venn, headed the Anglican Church Missionary Society from 1841-72, while an American, Rufus Anderson, led the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from 1832-66. They represented some of the best mission thinking of the second generation of leaders of the modern missionary movement; both men arrived at the formula independently of one another at approximately the same time.

The thinking behind the formula derived from field experiences of the personnel of both agencies as well as from Bible study. The goal of the formula was simple: to speed up the pace of world evangelization by moving missionaries on to new places while the leaders of the churches they started would complete the task of local evangelization. Venn and Anderson gave missionaries a goal to work toward: the production of churches that were mature enough to function on their own without missionary help in their own locale. Once that was achieved, missionaries could go to the “regions beyond,” sure in the knowledge that the churches they left behind could succeed without them. That, after all, was how the Apostle Paul proceeded in his mission work.

This sounds good, but what was the result? Actually, it is hard to make a definitive assessment of how much the Three-Self Formula streamlined world missions, because it was so often ignored. During the period of colonialism, missionaries preferred to linger in one place rather than move on. Not only was it easier to remain in charge of the churches they planted, but they also began to doubt whether local leaders were ready to take over. This led to the problem of dependency, where foreigners felt they had to lead indefinitely the churches they planted, and local people felt powerless to run their own churches.

Roland Allen reacted strongly to this state of affairs in his famous 1912 book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, where he compared the mission efforts of that time with those of the Apostle Paul. Understandably, he found that Paul’s methods were far superior. He called on missionaries to have more confidence in their converts and to release control over them as Paul did, trusting that the Holy Spirit would help them learn how to work effectively in their churches, even through their inevitable mistakes. But Allen predicted that few would pay attention to his proposals, as colonialism had not yet ended.

In this prediction, Allen was correct, as “indigenous principles,” which incorporated the Three-Self Formula, became popular after developing nations became independent in the second half of the twentieth century. Along with the end of colonialism came the sudden interest in mission circles to indigenize local churches. Apparently, the thinking went something like this: if leaders of the developing nations are now expected to run their own countries, perhaps it is also time to allow the local church leaders to run their own churches. Not only that, but church leaders also insisted on taking over from missionaries after the prolonged delay associated with Western domination.

With the end of colonialism, we would naturally expect the end of the dependency syndrome as the Three-Self came back into prominence through the writings of people like Melvin Hodges and Donald McGavran. But that did not happen. Why? In fact, the Three-Self Formula came under attack from various quarters. We can summarize the gist of these multiple objections under the following six headings:

1. Lack of Cultural Perspective

Cultural anthropologists objected that the Three-Self Formula describes “indigenous” churches in terms of church policies rather than in terms of culture itself. As missionaries became more aware of anthropology, this appeared to be a major deficiency in the formula. Some missionary anthropologists suggested adding more “selfs” in order to include the notion that an indigenous church would communicate Christianity effectively in its own context. Probably the best suggestion came from Paul Hiebert who coined “self-theologizing” as the fourth self. By this he meant the ability of an indigenous church to read and interpret Scripture within its local culture.

2. Too Much Emphasis on “Self”

Some critics said the formula promoted a dangerous autonomy in the membership of the global body of Christ in an age of interdependence. This objection misses the point that the goal of the formula was to produce mature churches that could handle their own affairs. The word “self” was not meant to indicate self-centeredness or absolute autonomy, but rather responsibility and maturity. It did not mean to exclude reliance on God, but indicated that these churches had no need to remain dependent on outsiders.

3. A Hindrance to Partnerships

One of the first popular mission methods of the postcolonial period was the formation of “partnerships.” Since these are often in reality one-way flows of resources and not true partnerships, their advocates see the Three-Self Formula as an obstacle. But does the formula actually preclude valid partnerships? Of course not. If all parties in the partnerships are Three-Self bodies, then it is much more certain that it will be a partnership of equals, and not a disguise for dependency.

4. A Hindrance to Western Support of Foreign Evangelists and Missionaries

Another popular trend in postcolonial missions is support by wealthier Christians from the global North for poorer evangelists and missionaries in the global South. Again the Three-Self Formula is seen as an obstacle that must go in order to allow this method freedom to operate. Certainly, if the formula is valid at all, then this mission method is flawed. Support by Christians in the global North of workers who live in the global South perpetuates the old colonial mentality of wealthier Christians holding the purse strings while the rest do the actual work. Furthermore, it removes local accountability, whereby local Christians in the global South should be responsible for looking after their own workers. Finally, it can easily create dependency, where Christians in the global South may decide not to work for God if no Northern funds are available.

5. A Hindrance to Aid from Rich Christians to the Global Poor

Given that the gap between rich and poor is widening around the world, some mission thinkers say it is time to discard the Three-Self Formula in order to let aid flow. But does the formula actually prevent humanitarian aid from moving to those who desperately need it? Of course not. It does imply, however, that any such aid should not be perpetual.

6. Permission Not To Be Generous

A recent allegation states that current missiologists have twisted Venn’s original intentions in order to permit wealthy Western Christians to keep their money for themselves. According to this objection, Venn only meant to prevent Western domination in missions and was not so concerned about creating dependency. But domination and dependency are just two sides of one coin. Whenever one side is dominant in money or power, there is a danger that the other side may become dependent. Furthermore, since the majority who engage in missions today consider the Three-Self Formula obsolete, how can it so dramatically influence the generosity of Christian giving? For those who espouse the formula, the thinking about giving would be that all Christians, rich and poor, should give sacrificially to propagate God’s work where they are able, but without creating dependency.

Over the past few decades, the Three-Self Formula has been called an elevation of the self, an evil autonomy in the body of Christ, silent about Jesus’ love for the poor, a projection of American value systems, a hindrance to partnerships, a sacred cow that needs to be slaughtered, outdated, and senile. Yet the fact that all its opponents still regularly attack it as a worthy adversary is an admission that it continues to have staying power. It has survived over 150 years, but what exactly is its relevance today? Simply this: the formula, whatever may be its shortcomings and blind spots, remains the criterion in missions for a church or Christian organization that is not dependent. takes Christians in the developing world more seriously than many other current popular mission methods that continue to create dependency. A Three-Self body of Christians has enough strength and responsibility to work for Christ whether others are available to help or not.

The formula was the first projection toward a postcolonial mission method that respects local converts and cultures enough to assume that each locality can have active Christians who operate fully under the guidance and resources of the Holy Spirit to bring salvation in Christ to people in their context and beyond, for the glory of God. Many of its modern opponents seem to think local Christians in the developing world cannot carry out these functions without help from foreigners. But why should anyone desire that bodies of believers in various parts of the world not become self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting, when this is exactly what it will take to complete the task of world evangelization? So the Three-Self Formula remains relevant because it takes Christians in the developing world more seriously than many other current popular mission methods that continue to create dependency.

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

Could Inspiring More “We Did It” Stories Help Break the Dependency Mindset?

Could Inspiring More “We Did It” Stories Help Break the Dependency Mindset?

During my years in Haiti I was involved in numerous construction projects. On one occasion, I arrived a few days in advance of a larger team to finalize the foundation for a church school which was being 100% financed with US dollars.

Although the local church had participated in the demolition of the old earthquake damaged building, they had yet to contribute even a small amount of money. Thinking I would further inspire local participation, I suggested the pastor take an offering from the church to help offset some of the costs of serving lunch to the workers.

Although an offering was taken, no one from the church congregation gave any money.

When I asked the pastor, “Why?” I was told, “It’s because the people see you are an American missionary. They know you always have enough money to pay for everything. Therefore, they don’t give.” Besides feeling hurt and disappointed, I remember asking myself, “What would this congregation have done if we Americans had never contributed to their school?”

Recently, a Haitian friend of mine helped answer my hypothetical question while we were co-conducting a symposium in Haiti centered around the theme, “What is the current state of the Haitian National Church?” Valery Vital-Herne, a three-generation pastor and the Country Director for Micah Challenge said: “The Haitian Church is a dependent church and a church full of initiative.” How can a church be dependent and at the same time full of initiative? The Haitian Church is a poor church and a rich church at the same time.

We’ve been receiving missionaries for years—missionaries investing in education, investing in orphanages, investing in building churches, investing in everything. The result in part is having dependent churches, dependent church leaders who say, “To build the next school we need to have a blan (foreigner). We need someone from the United States.”

But at the same time, when those churches receive a “No!” from a blan, or have struggled to find a white missionary, guess what? Years later you find a big building. And those pastors will tell you proudly, “We did it! We searched for international help. We didn’t find it. So, we told the church, ‘We serve a big God. Let’s put our hands together and let’s build that.’”

They feel a sense of pride and a sense of ownership. That’s why I said the Haitian church is a dependent church. That dependency mindset is still there. When they don’t find foreign funds, they work together and start schools and start churches. Some of the big buildings you see downtown or in Delmas are debt free, paid for only by Haitians.1

Why is being able to say, “We did it,” really important? As Valery shared about Haitian churches saying, “We did it” and “the sense of pride and sense of ownership” that pastors and their congregations experience through trusting in a big God, I was reminded of a couple of important principles.
The first is local dependence on God. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we learn that the Lord is watching each local church to see how well it utilizes the gifts and resources he has entrusted to it directly. Zambian missionary Dwight Kopp says, “If this were not so, Jesus would not have written seven separate letters to the churches in Revelation. Instead, one letter could have been sufficient—blaming them all for the sin in the church of Sardis.”2

Secondly, he multiplies “few” resources into “many” resources based on faithfulness (Matt. 25:21) and according to the power of the Holy Spirit at work within a community of believers. (Eph. 3:20)

With these in mind, could it be that when we as Westerners give towards church building projects in a foreign land, that along with creating dependency on us, we are actually hindering that local congregation’s intimate trusting relationship with God? How often do we unintentionally bypass God’s process of maturing faith and steal the real blessings of “satisfaction” and “sense of ownership” God wants to instill in every local church? Instead of writing more checks to building projects, I’d like to suggest we look for ways to inspire more “We did it!” stories.

With these in mind, could it be that when we as Westerners give towards church building projects in a foreign land, that along with creating dependency on us, we are actually hindering that local congregation’s intimate trusting relationship with God?

  1. Vital-Herne, Valery, 2013, audio transcription from presentation, “Ten Characteristics of the Haitian National Church”, http:// Africa!!!”, Dwight Kopp, Feb 19, 2006. Copyright (c) 2005 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS)

  2. “Awake Africa!!!”, Dwight Kopp, Feb 19, 2006. Copyright (c) 2005 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS)

This is an article from the May-June 2021 issue: What Have You Brought For Us?

What Have You Brought For Us?

Reflections on Unhealthy Dependency via My Short-Term Missions (STM) Experiences

What Have You Brought For Us?

The Dominican Republic

The cattle truck turned off the highway onto a dirt road that wound through acres and acres of sugarcane. Two more cattle trucks followed, each one loaded with one to two dozen eager Americans. I was one of them. We were headed to yet another remote Dominican village. After getting our bearings, we began our visit in the village by following the same routine of all the other mission trips I had taken. We broke off into teams and set out to meet needs, pray, and share the gospel with precious people who needed Jesus.

Each and every day, we were welcomed with the joyful screams of children and the welcoming glances of the crowds who were gathered outside the clinics. But something happened one particular day that got my attention. Children began to shout, practically in unison, “Where are the dulces?” “Dulces” means goodies or sweets in Spanish. A girl who looked about six years old pulled on my arm and asked in Spanish, “What have you brought for us?” I whole-heartedly responded, “I brought with me the love of Jesus.” Upon hearing this, the girl instantly dropped my hand and ran towards another American group who indeed were passing out dulces.

Something really bothered me about that seemingly insignificant interaction with the kids. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Truth be told, I sat uncomfortably with this memory for several years before it started to make sense.

My Lesson Learned: The Gospel of Goods Waters Down the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Eventually, I was able to make sense of what I experienced back in the Dominican Republic. Group after group of foreign Christian visitors had come to the Dominican Republic using an evangelism method that included telling the gospel, giving handouts and meeting needs. The Dominican people had become so accustomed to this method that their favorable responses had very little to do with Jesus and a whole lot to with what the “Jesus-people” brought.

The kids who were seeking dulces from the foreign Christians who showed up on the cattle trucks are representative of a larger destructive pattern that sends the message that the good news of the gospel is not good enough. We unwittingly use a bait-and-switch style of evangelism: Here are some candy and free medicine … Oh and by the way, we will share the gospel with you tucked in there somewhere. The recipients of this, in turn, use their own style of bait-and-switch: We will put up with your gospel proselytization as long as you give us something first. It is a sickly pattern that we unintentionally perpetuate, but perpetuate nonetheless. The words of someone on the receiving end of missions may bring clarity:

One day Bolacha explained to me [Chris Little] that there are two kinds of gospels in this world. The first one, the gospel of Christ, provides for forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and sets people free from the power of the devil. This gospel involves suffering since Christ commanded us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). The second gospel, the gospel of goods (“o evangelho dos bens” in Portuguese), is the counterfeit gospel, which offers material wealth alongside the true gospel, enticing people to become Christians. In his opinion, the fundamental problem with the gospel of goods is that when the goods run out the people run away. He said he had seen denomination after denomination import shipping containers of food, clothes, etc., during times of drought and famine, attracting thousands of people. But when the shipping containers stopped coming the people were nowhere to be found.1

It never crossed my mind before that what seems to be compassion may actually water down the gospel and the process of making disciples. How do we begin to make disciples if we don’t even know what people are actually responding to when we interact with them? How can our hosts choose to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior based on His merit—what He said and did on behalf of the world—when all they see is the dulces?

Compassion in and of itself is not the problem.

The problem lies in the repetitive truckloads of foreigners, month after month, who offer fringe benefits—often labeled as development and compassion ministry—along with the gospel. We have conditioned a whole country into passionately seeking the dulces, while half-heartedly seeking Jesus. We can defend the holistic gospel—the integral blend of word and deed—all day long, but this won’t take away the struggle that Bolacha and others face due to our strong tendency to create unhealthy dependency on our goods as we spread the Good News. This gospel of goods that Bolacha refers to is the opposite of Jesus’ go-to approach in Luke 9:3–6 (NIV):

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake thedust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

The mutual give-and-take of the relationships between the disciples and their hosts is embedded within Jesus’ instructions. The disciples gave up their goods and position of power, while offering the good news and healing of the sick through Jesus’ authority. The people within the villages offered shelter, food, fellowship, and peace. Reflecting on the girl who quickly disengaged with me and my message of Jesus’ love because I didn’t have any candy to give her causes me to resonate with Jean Johnson’s comment in a Mission Frontiers article, “I would rather have potential Persons of Peace reveal the true intentions of their heart or spiritual condition than have them half-heartedly join in a movement effort for Jesus Christ because of mixed motives.”2

Papua New Guinea

When I went to Papua New Guinea, I decided to go strictly as a learner. This included gleaning from the experiences of others in that area. During my time there, an American missionary shared with me a revealing account. He had spent over a decade in a particular village. His main role was to mobilize and lead a team of local people to translate the New Testament into their own heart language. The local people joyfully agreed to this Scripture translation project.

As time progressed, the missionary deeply desired that the local people oversee the translation project based on their own determination, skills and resources.

But, he encountered great resistance with this transfer of ownership. When the reality that the project would no longer be free nor serve as a gateway for further development, their interest in the translation project quickly faded. I could sense the heartache in the missionary’s voice as he shared this account, but I could also see that he had learned some valuable lessons, which he had humbly passed on for the benefit of others such as myself.

My Lesson Learned: Ownership and Reproducibility Need to Be Built-in from the Beginning

There are three key reasons why local people did not have the desire to continue with the New Testament translation project.

First, the people’s enthusiastic acceptance of the project was based on their hope for the personal benefits. Precedent and prior missionary activity had led the local people to anticipate the fringe benefits that typically come with mission-driven projects such as trucks, resources, salaries and amenities. At the end of the day, the local people did not desire the New Testament in their own language as much as they desired the benefits of the project.

Second, ownership is not easily transferable, and therefore must be present from the beginning. When I was 10 years old, my parents had a vision for me to have perfectly straight teeth. What followed was three years of appointments and fees. As a child, this vision was never mine, it was theirs. Do you know what resulted? After it was all said, done, and paid for, I stopped wearing my retainers, and my teeth started to move out of alignment. In the same way, local people must perceive themselves as owning and stewarding their own vision, from the beginning, or everything will go awry. Without such ownership from the start, the local self-perception might look something like this: I am a recipient—an employee—and therefore, I will temporarily plug myself into another’s vision; this project does not live or die based on me, but based on the effort of the mission worker.

Third, the pattern and precedent of depending on outsiders was already deeply embedded in the local people’s psyches. Even if it was their passion to have the New Testament in their heart language, they could not take on the components that were not readily sustainable and reproducible for them. If our mission models come with costly price tags and require great cultural leaps and bounds to conform to an outsider culture, local people will not be able to reproduce these models without outside support. The tragic result is that we unwittingly erect higher barriers for local disciple-makers by setting unfeasible standards and making locally sustainable alternatives feel inferior. This same truth about reproducibility applies to short-term missions, partnerships and resident missions, no matter how sincere and heartfelt we are about a project or initiative.

I am so grateful that this missionary was willing to share what he learned with me. His story reveals the importance of local ownership and reproducibility, and the fact that both elements need to be built-in from the very beginning, rather than transferred from the outsider to the insider at some later date.


While I was in Uganda with my husband, visiting some relatives, we tagged along with a STM team made up of Americans who visited a Ugandan refugee settlement. We observed them as they put on a program for the children. Sam, a Ugandan man, accompanied them to serve as their interpreter. The team sang songs in English using hand motions and then shared a short lesson. Beyond serving as an interpreter, Sam played an instrumental role in rallying the kids and keeping their attention with his charismatic personality and energy. When the day was over, the STM team leader summarized their experience in the following way:

If we were a band, Sam would be the singer, the guitar player, the bass guitar player and the drummer. Oh, and us? We would just be in the background swaying and trying our best not to get in Sam’s way.

Wow! What a perfect image and honest reflection of what really happened in regard to the kids’ program at the refugee settlement that day. If someone would have asked Sam to share about his experience, I wonder what he might have said!

My Lesson Learned: We Reinforce a Pattern of “Hiding Strengths”

Sam could have done everything without the team—as a matter of fact, any Christian Ugandan team could have ministered effectively in that setting. Sadly, Sam, who knew the culture and language inside and out, was relegated to the role of interpreter in the shadows of the foreign visitors as they served in the spotlight.

How does this feed unhealthy dependency? As outsiders, entering places that we tend to label as the developing world, we often take on the mindset and role of heroes. We inwardly think that we, the ones who “have it all together,” are here to assist those who “do not.” I can say this with ease because this was my original assumption and behavior. Upon arriving in countries I had never been to before, I revealed all my strengths—my access to finances, my many connections, my higher education, my acquired knowledge and my well-rounded theology. Subsequently, I did my best to hide my weaknesses from my hosts—my culture shock, my selfishness, my desire for human praise, my anxiety, my broken relationships on the team, my lack of making disciples back home and so much more.

Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of my mission outreaches did the exact opposite. They presented their weaknesses— their lack of financial resources, education, ministry tools, equipment and so forth. At the same time, they hid their strengths such as musical capacity, ingenuity to fix and make things, the knack for working within the culture, deep and practical spirituality, faith that moves mountains, stamina under persecution and so much more.
Presenting our strengths as helpers from the outside, while causing the insider beneficiaries (who are the insiders) to hide their strengths, is both the cause and the condition of unhealthy dependency. In the end it is not helpful to either side.

My Guiding Principles

I still have much to learn about the causes and consequences of unhealthy dependency. One thing I do is try to take what I have already learned and create my own guiding principles. Based on what I wrote in this article, these are three of my guiding principles for cross-cultural mission engagement:

  1. I will strive to invite people to seek and follow Jesus based on His own merit, believing the Good News is good; therefore, I will “pack light” when it comes to any Great Commission efforts locally and globally.
  2. I will encourage and use reproducible forms and patterns of love, mercy, compassion and discipleship, so those who I influence will be capable of reproducing the same.
  3. I will do my best to unearth the immensely beautiful God-given capacity and strength of the people I serve.

As I gain more understanding and more experience, I trust my list of guiding principles will be refined and increased. Will you join me in creating your own list of guiding principles of how to avoid creating unhealthy dependency in your local and global mission endeavors? Those we serve deserve it!
If you need any assistance with understanding and creating guiding principles that lead to disciples and churches that are healthy and thrive without dependency, please see the article written by Maria Gilbertson, “A Support Structure for Staying the Course,” in this issue of Mission Frontiers.

Will you join me in creating your own list of guiding principles of how to avoid creating unhealthy dependency in your local and global mission endeavors?

  1. Quoted in Jean Johnson, We Are Not The Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency (Sisters OR: Deep River Books, 2012), 118.

  2. Jean Johnson, “Using Foreign Money to Start, Sustain, and Speed Up Movements,” Mission Frontiers. (November 2020).

This is an article from the March-April 2021 issue: Insider Movements

30 Day Prayer Guide for the Muslim World

Download or order your free copy now!

30 Day Prayer Guide for the Muslim World

Global Gates is committed to reaching every 10/40 Window diaspora community that God has placed in global gateway cities. And, we believe that prayer is the beginning point for every great co-laboring with God. That is why: 

  1. Global Gates missionaries this year have partnered with Paul Filidis at to write all of the articles in this year’s 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World prayer guide, slated for Ramadan, April 13 - May 12, 2021. 
  2. Global Gates is offering a FREE copy of the prayer guide (which would otherwise cost $3.50 plus shipping) to anyone who will partner with us in this prayer movement.

This is an article from the March-April 2021 issue: Insider Movements