Go to Italy: or, the dangers of focusing only on the unreached
Yesterday, two things happened. And as a result I’m breaking my recent personal don’t-post-more-than-once-a-day rule.
The first was this post, “The dangers of focusing only on the unreached.” I commented on the post, and Rodney Calfee responded to my reply. He notes, in part:
I think you’ve missed the point of the article, brother. You’ve argued for an approach to mission that emphasizes where those in the missions world see deficiency. Zach has argued for an approach to mission that listens primarily for where God is actively sending his people, and he’s left room for those two approaches to overlap and run in parallel. There is a qualifier you’ve overlooked that is rampant throughout the article—”only.” This post is meant to address the growing tide of belief that UPG-focused mission is the only mission. Many in that stream are trumpeting the idea that mission to the so-called “easy” places is somehow lesser—or worse, that it is not really mission at all, which is fundamentally and categorically untrue.
That focus in mind, there is nothing “straw-man” about any of his points. People tied exclusively to UPG focus absolutely do promote a skewed eschatological tie to mission, and it’s not merely the fringe. It is commonly held and promoted by big names/organizations in the missions world, and Zach was doing exactly what you said—calling them on it. The rest of your points, again, miss the fact that he is addressing those with an “only” UPG perspective. In the steadily-growing echoes of the “UPG!” war cry, people are being told that God’s call to people and places not on the UPG map is false. “God is only sending to the UPGs and UUPGs,” they hear. Zach’s analysis is spot-on where this is concerned.
This comment is rather disturbing to me. Not because Calfee disagrees with me, mind you, but because apparently some do promote a flawed missiology that says (1) our work determines when Christ will return [interpretation of Matthew 24:14], and (2) we should send only to the unreached.
I’ve addressed the closure argument before in Finishing the Task will not bring Jesus back. I’ve addressed the “send only to the unreached” in part in Why should missionaries be sent to Europe? But, for my part, I’m going to re-address it here.
The second thing happened last night, as I was teaching Lesson 9 of Perspectives, which is all about the unreached, and the current status of world evangelization. Afterward a young lady came up to me, and told me the story of how she felt about the big push toward the unreached. Her passion was for Italy, but she wasn’t sure if it was the right thing given all the talk about the unreached.
I looked her straight in the eye and tell her what I would tell anyone: “You go to Italy.“
The directive and command and calling of the Lord trumps every statistic. It trumps every situation. If she didn’t go to Italy, I told her–if she went somewhere else–she might find herself eaten by a big fish. It’s a little funny, but it speaks to the greater reality.
What we need is a balance between sending to the unreached and sending to the mostly-reached. No one should be calling for 100% to the unreached. The current situation (90% to the more-reached, 10% to the less-reached, or thereabouts) is a big red flag, telling us there are obviously challenges in discovering one’s calling to hard places, and acting on it, and sustaining it. We need to help people overcome those challenges, and we need to do so intentionally.
But this does not mean we tell people called to Italy to go to Indonesia. That’s a very bad idea.
Now, our organization–and others–do limit where we send. We at ActBeyond only send to unreached areas. But that’s an organizational-specific limiter, not intended to be a church-wide limiter. Other organizations go to other places.
I personally don’t know of people saying this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. If you hear of someone saying “we should be sending only to the unreached,” call them on it. Or, send me a link, and I will call them on it. Mobilizers shouldn’t be telling people where they out to be going–we should be helping people listen to God for direction.