Is Space Really the Last Frontier? Or, is There Another?
An “Eternal Frontier” is Still Waiting.
How do our individual lives and churches become more Biblically strategic? This is an important question since it is obvious that the church has been at “Completing the Great Commission” for over 2,000 years, and we still have significant challenges ahead of us to complete the task. Let’s look at a brief history of misson’s advance, commonly called “the three eras.”
History and Definitions
The First Era (1792-1910) was initiated by William Carey when he left England to go to the coastlands of India. This era is called “the Coastlands Era.” Many other missionaries followed the example of William Carey. The Second Era (1865-1980), called the “Inland Era,” was established when a missionary named Hudson Taylor again left England to go to the Inland regions of China. This motivated the establishment of many mission agencies that went into the interior of unreached countries and continents. The founders of the Third Era (1934-?), “The Unreached People Group Era,” are William Townsend, the founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Donald McGovern, a pioneer missionary to ethnic groups and social casts in India. Both of these pioneer missionaries targeted what we now call unreached people groups. Dr. Ralph Winter, Founder of the US Center for World Mission, gave a landmark address in the Lausanne One Consultation on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974. He emphasized the unfinished task of the remaining unreached people groups in the world. Two important missiological definitions emerged from this teaching that changed the strategic thinking and direction of many mission agencies:
First, what is a “people group”?
For evangelistic purposes, a people group is the largest group within which the Gospel can flow along natural lines without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance due to culture, language, geography, etc.
Second, what is “an unreached” people group?
An unreached people group doesn’t have an indigenous community of believingChristians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.
Each of the three eras are interconnected, with the newest one building upon the pattern and results of the previous one. There is current discussion regarding the “fourth era of missions,” which includes an even more definitive holistic approach in finishing the Great Commission. In this regard, it is important for us to understand the meaning of “holistic.” Two definitions of holistic from the Hebrew language are: 1) The integrity of completeness. 2) Making everything the same color. Based on these definitions, we see that evangelism without appropriate humanitarian ministry to the unreached is not holistic. In like regard, doing only humanitarian ministry without a goal to somehow share the Gospel is not holistic either.
There are three readily accessible resources that will help understand the status of world evangelization and unreached people groups. The first is Operation World by Jason Mandrick. This important book breaks the world and its regions into six areas—you’ll find this on the contents page xiii. Each region has a listing of the countries in its area with the number of people groups, unreached people groups and Christian people groups. Operation World is the basic book on prayer for countries and people groups that AIMS encourages everyone to use. To order from AIMS, visit our soon coming online bookstore or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second resource is Joshua Project (www.joshuaproject.net.) This DB has important and strategic information on all the countries and people groups in the world. This is the most current resource of understanding the strategic scope of our mandate to finish the Great Commission. The Joshua Project team updates some of their website information every two weeks. Currently, they identify 16,700 people groups in the world with 6,933 unreached people groups.
Another new resource (although a bit expressive) is The Future of the Global Church by Patrick Johnstone. To place an order, contact Global Mapping International at www.gmi.org. This expansive work organizes UPGs into 2,400 people group clusters contained within 15 Affinity Blocs. (pg 169-224) These definitions facilitate the adoption process.
So, if individual believers, churches and mission agencies are to be strategically focused, there must be some mobilization of their resources to reach individual UPGs. Our Final Focus materials encourage the adoption of unreached people groups. Is this Biblical? We see the Biblical foundation of this approach both in two basic Scriptures:
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” -Matthew 24:14
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20
The word nations in both of these verses in the original Greek is the word ethne and refers to people groups. So we see that God looks at the world through “people group eyes” rather than just seeing countries, cities and regions. Whenever we want to reach a particular region of the world, research needs to be done on the people groups in that region, for each group could likely have its own language, ethnic identity and cultural expression.
Adopting an unreached people group means that a church or agency cares about eternal destiny of at least one people group and serves them until they come to know the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ. Further, we see that this is a long-term commitment to parent new churches in the people group until they are multiplying churches on their own and sending missionaries to other peoples. This follows God’s approach to us in Romans 8:15:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Also, we see the Biblical idea of adoption in Galatians 4:4-5:
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
One of the principle goals of AIMS is to help individuals, churches and mission agencies understand how to focus on finishing the Great Commission. One of our major sayings is “Making the Great Commission the Great Completion.” We do this in the West through the Final Focus Seminar and its accompanying manual, and overseas through training indigenous churches in our Equipping for the Harvest Training.
AIMS is eager to serve as an equipper, coach and consultant to help you, your church, or mission agency know how to holistically reach unreached people groups and move us closer towards finishing the Great Commission.