by Jim Reapsome
Does the world need 120,000 North American missionaries by the year 2000? All along it’s been assumed by missions strategists, recruiters and promoters that the way to reach the unreached is to pump more North Americans into the realms of the unevangelized.
Does the world need 120,000 North American missionaries by the year 2000? All along it’s been assumed by missions strategists, recruiters and promoters that the way to reach the unreached is to pump more North Americans into the realms of the unevangelized. The strategy is something like the answer to the unrelenting demands of Americans for more petroleum products. You’ve got to go out and find more crude oil, or, failing that, invent something to take its place.
The quantification of missionaries fits the quantification of the world’s spiritual needs. You count the unreached and try to figure out how many missionaries it will take to reach them. This is the approach of the typical missionary magazine and the campus missionary recruiter. It’s neat, uncomplicated, and easy to sell. The question is, Is it right?
Yes, if you approach the matter from the standpoint of equality in spending the world-wide church’s resources to meet world-wide spiritual needs. The North American churches are embarrassingly rich in people, money, buildings, books, programs, trained staff, and gimmicks. Around the world you find some outstandingly big, strong churches, but on balance churches outside North America don’t have nearly the wealth, however you want to define it.
Beyond that, if you look overseas, you don’t find the glut on evangelism you find in North America. People are evangelized to death, by radio, television, tracts, sermons, books. A look at the numbers of people elsewhere who have never once heard the gospel reveals a gross imbalance in evangelistic opportunities.
Therefore, there is no reason to apologize for telling North American Christians to do something with themselves, their money and their church wealth, to help balance the world-wide spiritual scales. Talking about money, Paul the apostle said: "Since you have plenty at this time, it is only fair that you should help those who are in need. Then when you are in need and they have plenty, they will help you. In this way both are treated equally." The old analogy of helping the one man at the end of the log, as opposed to the ten at the other end, is still valid.
Back to our question. Is it right to say that the world needs 120,000 North American missionaries by the year 2000?
No, if you’re thinking North Americans are the sole answer. No, if you’re thinking North American styles of evangelism and church development are the way to do it. No, if you think North American missionaries are the saviors of the, world in the same way American GI’s went out and rescued captive nations in World War II.
Saying the world needs 120,000 North American missionaries smacks too much of missionary imperialism. It downplays the significance of our brethren in other countries. It makes them bystanders at a parade peopled by expatriates. It reduces them to children at an adult party. It presumes that North American quantification of the problem and the solution is divinely inspired.
Missionary triumphalism and superiority mentality must give way to partnership and servanthood. If some churches overseas appear not to be reaching the unreached, the solution may not be a wave of new missionaries but confession that North Americans failed the first time around. They are the father of the child.
Shall we then stop recruiting missionaries? Shall we stop tapping resources in North American churches? Shall we not aim for world-wide equality in spiritual opportunity? It would be ridiculous to stop. But it would be equally foolish to resort to unqualified sloganeering in order to get 120,000 missionaries overseas. The sending agencies, denominational and independent, are required to make careful studies not only of needs, but of the attitudes promulgated, lest they cast themselves in the role of unwanted, unloved saviors overseas.
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