A couple days ago I had a conversation with a friend about unreached people groups and why people sometimes just have a hard time with that concept. I wanted to share three of the basic important issues for the Church to consider that we talked about.
First, there is a critical difference between “lost” and “unreached” peoples. Obviously each group has people that don’t know Christ in it. The lost group is one where the gospel is present now, but isn’t well received by the majority. The unreached group is one where the gospel is not yet. We don’t stop doing ministry to people lost people groups in order to go to unreached people groups, but putting aside not yet places by placing them in the same category as is present now places would be wrong thinking. They have different and strategic issues to consider on how to minister within.
Second, there is a biblical command to go to those peoples. The Great Commission wasn’t the Great Suggestion, but we treat it often with the same attitude we have with those black and white signs with numbers on them along the road. “I understand why they say 65 and I agree with it one hundred percent. But we know they don’t really mean for us to drive that.” In the last things we have recorded that Jesus said we don’t have much room to pick and choose if he really meant it or was it something flippant he said as if he were casually leaving someone’s house after dinner. When Jesus says in Mt 28, “Go make disciples of all nations (ethne – people),” it means, well, all. Acts 1:8 isn’t an either/or, but a both/and. If we as a church don’t have that aspect in our missions engagement, we need to honestly ask if we are being obedient.
Third, semantics can be a real hang-up. Some people just don’t like the phrase “unreached people groups” because it’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon thing. I’ve also been told that it’s inaccurate terminology. “If there’s a church there, technically it is no longer unreached.” (Once somebody actually said to me, “They keep calling this group unreached, but we’ve sent missionaries there. I think they are trying to sensationalize it so they can get more funding.”) If wording is a problem, use different words. Call them hard to reach, least-reached, frontier people groups, hidden peoples, beyond-the-church’s-touch people, it doesn’t really matter. I like the definition of an unreached people group given in Operation World (962; 2010).
An ethnolinguistic people group among whom there is no viable indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people without outside (cross-cultural) assistance.
The real presence of unreached people groups should cause a dissonance in us, either a holy restlessness as we join in what God is doing that is outside of our norm, or a holy discomfort as we wrestle with imbalances, obedience, or our historical thinking.
BMP Connections: Yesterday I had an hour phone call planning to go to train believers in a Muslim part of Africa that hasn’t known peace for decades. Storying is one way that we can help establish churches in this area. Are we bragging, saying we “get it” while others don’t? No way! We are simply one of the parts of the larger Body that gets to focus on these places. The Church can’t ignore either the local unchurhed, the lost, or the unreached. There are other places we could go that have people who need Christ that would be a lot safer, we’d be more warmly received, have internet access, and eat better food. But as part of the Church, this is a place where we (all of us, the Church) need to be going.
After 2,000 years there remain billions of people who today could not hear about Jesus if they screamed at the top of their lungs for somebody to tell them. There is a reason the gospel hasn’t gotten into these hard to reach places – they’re hard to reach. As you’re praying with us, you’re engaging in taking the gospel into some of them because God is inviting us to join Him there.
“My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard.” Romans 15:20, NLT