Many mission agencies, including my own (CBInternational), want to send more missionaries to the frontiers. But relatively few American missionaries are doing evangelistic, church-planting work among the world’s 3.8 billion non-Christians, followers of non-Christian religions, living in non-Christian lands.
Many mission agencies, including my own (CBInternational), want to send more missionaries to the frontiers.1 But relatively few American missionaries are doing evangelistic, church-planting work among the world’s 3.8 billion non-Christians, followers of non-Christian religions, living in non-Christian lands. Far more missionaries are gleaning from what was left behind by earlier harvesters, or are working back in the barns, or even back in the mills and canneries. This is all good, valid, necessary work. But for those agencies that want to harvest closer to the cutting edge, on the frontier between Christian faith and other faiths or no faith, changes in recruitment are needed.
It may seem that frontier missions is now all the rage. It may seem that everyone these days is flocking to World A (the unevangelized world) or the 10/40 Window (an imaginary box, stretching from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the Equator, where most of the world’s poor and unevangelized live). They are not! Some agencies send only to the frontiers. Some agencies are sending most of their new missionaries to the frontiers, but they are a small minority. Most new missionaries are going to established works outside of World A or the 10/40 Window.
For those agencies that want to send more missionaries to the frontiers, recruitment must change. Without serious change in recruitment strategies, ideas, and practices, there will not be serious change in deployment to the least-evangelized. I have talked recently to people from various missions that are doing well at recruiting for World A, and gathered the following ideas on how to recruit for the frontiers:
1. Promote, uphold, defend, explain, proclaim, and preach the cause of frontier missions through all of your mission. Promote frontier missions vision among your missionaries, your appointees, your short-termers, your field chairs, your supporters, your area representatives, your board members, and your headquarters staff.
Make it a goal that everyone anywhere connected with your organization understands frontier missions and believes in it. It is a mistake to think that you only need to plant the vision for frontier missions among your potential recruits. You need to plant it in every heart. If you don’t, frontier-minded recruits will not be attracted to you, and many of those who are attracted to you anyhow will not end up on the frontiers.
The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board has been successful, to a degree, in shifting the deployment of its missionaries toward World A. The FMB’s top in-house frontier missions advocates took every opportunity to teach, preach, explain, promote, and defend the idea—at events for furloughing missionaries, at seminary mission conferences, at Women’s Missionary Union events, in meetings of headquarters staff, and so on. And their target was everyone: missionaries and administrators, donors and intercessors, leaders and followers.
2. Promote the cause of the frontiers in your supporting churches. Do the pastors of your supporting churches understand and feel a passion for the cause of frontier missions? Do their members? For most churches the answer is No. Not yet. Each of your church relations people should know frontier missions well and teach it and preach it at every opportunity. Each of your missionaries and appointees could be trained, prepared, and urged to speak in the churches about their own ministries, yes, but also about the challenge of the frontiers. The literature, videos, and other resources you prepare for churches could also explain and promote the frontiers.
3. Let it be known far and wide that you as a mission are committed to, and are active in, frontier missions. All your advertising, publications, and promotional efforts could send this message. For mission agencies that have done well in recruiting for the frontiers, like Pioneers and Frontiers, this has been a key. People who have a burden for a frontier field already know whatthese agencies stand for and therefore come to them.
4. Look at thepreparation, recruitment, appointment, and career paths of your missionaries and consider every point where your people might be directed to the frontiers. When you talk to students about possible missionary service you can emphasize the needs of the frontiers. You can point people toward the frontiers when they are in the application and appointment process, if God has not given them firm direction elsewhere.
Some career missionaries come to the place where their work in one place is done, or where it is time to hand it over to a national, or where they for other reasons are ripe for a change of field. Frontier opportunities can be presented to them. Senior missionaries late in their careers can consider applying their gifts and experience to leading teams into new frontier peoples.
If your experience is like that of Pioneers and others, most new frontier missionaries will come to you with a field already in mind, but not all. Some will be directed to the frontiers before they come to you, and others can be prayerfully, sensitively directed to the frontiers by you.
5. Involve your frontier missionaries in recruitment. One of the main reasons why so few missionaries are on frontier fields is because new missionaries tend to go where old missionaries are. Many new missionaries are recruited by present missionaries, and thus are recruited to go where missionaries already are. But who recruits for where missionaries are not, or for where missionaries are very few?
So your frontier missionaries will need to understand the crucial role they must play in recruitment. They can be the ones chosen for recruitment-related events such as seminary mission conferences and Urbana. Maybe the greatest thing they do for the unevangelized will be to recruit others to join them.
6. Give prominence to your frontier missions opportunities. Typical mission agency recruitment methods involve each year asking workers in every field what kinds of new missionaries they want, and how many of them they feel they need. These requests are compiled in a brochure that becomes a key recruitment tool. To send more missionaries to the frontiers, this needs to change. The Southern Baptists, who have sent so many new missionaries to the frontiers, do not advertise every ministry opportunity, in every field, in the world. Every Southern Baptist recruiter who talks to a potential recruit presents World A opportunities first. Only after the World A presentation, and only after the person asks about other possibilities, does the recruiter then tell him or her more. You can be selective about the ministry opportunities you advertise, strongly emphasizing the frontiers.
7. Recruit in seminaries and other places of training, but also give fresh attention to building relationships among gifted lay people in the churches. For most agencies, their most serious recruiting occurs in seminaries and Bible colleges. That can continue. But consider speaking more often and with a greater urgency in churches to professional lay people who have knowledge, training, experience, qualifications, or assets that could provide open doors into creative-access nations. These brothers and sisters need to consider that God may have granted them what they have for a reason, a reason that relates to frontier missions.
8. Capitalize on wider efforts that are pointing God’s people to the frontiers. Millions of Christians in America were actively involved in “Praying Through the Window” I and II. Many of them came away from that experience with a fresh understanding and burden for frontier missions. The magazine Mission Frontiers has a circulation of 100,000, mainly in the U.S. Thousands have taken the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course. Frontier-minded mission agencies have found Perspectives alumni to be excellent potential recruits. For each of these efforts, and for others that will follow, ask, “How can we work with this, or follow up on it, to encourage God’s peopletoward the next steps, and ultimately toward long-term frontier missionaryservice?”
9. Affirm, help, and encourage church-based sending to the frontiers. It is time to admit that church-based sending of missionaries can work. Yes, we hear stories of gross failure. But now we also hear stories of exciting successes. Missions-minded local churches are sending short-term teams, long-term missionaries, and long-term church-planting teams directly to overseas peoples. Some of these efforts are producing ministry achievements comparable to mission-based sending ventures. This trend is related to significant, irreversible global trends: advances in international communication and transportation technologies, the information explosion, and globaliza-tion in general.
So where do mission agencies fit in? First, they can present and promote the idea, educating churches in the ways of cross-cultural ministry that work well and those that do not. Second, they can open up a wider range of options as to how they help churches do international cross-cultural mission. Third, they can simply help as these churches ask them to.
The fundamental difference between mission agency-based sending and church-based sending is that with the latter, the church is in the driver’s seat. The right response from agencies is to deliberately accept a servant posture. Of course, a church may ask for something that is impossible, impractical, unfair, unreasonable, or missiologically foolish. When that happens, the agency owes the church a careful, respectful, and patient explanation of its position. But they can let these churches know, in general, that they are actively eager to work with them.
10. Celebrate and facilitate the potential missionaries who come to you with an interest in a specific new frontier mission field. It is likely your experience will be like that of Pioneers: None of their new frontier fields have opened as a result of headquarters initiative. In every case, someone came to the mission wanting to be sent to a certain new frontier field, and Pioneers endorsed that vision and helped send him or her. In every case, other recruits rallied to the vision of that new field, and teams were formed.
Apparently the best way to open new frontier fields is not to simply pick them from a map or a list. People will present them to you once you promote and advertise your interest in the frontiers widely enough. Some ideas, of course, you will have to reject. Agencies strong in frontier missions can tend to attract wide-eyed zealots who are not always the best frontier missionary material. Some ideas will be rejected because the proposed “frontier” field does not meet the agency’s criteria. But otherwise, embrace these people with joy and encouragement.
11. Send your short-termers to the frontiers. One leading missions mobilizer said to me, “People go to what they know.” Long-termers tend to go to where they did their earlier short-term ministry. This poses some real problems. No agency wants to see their present long-term frontier missionaries burdened with the care and feeding of large numbers of short-termers. And most frontier mission fields are not easy places to send short-term missionaries, or short-term teams, without much help from mature, experienced workers. But this is so crucial that solutions must be found. Maybe you can appoint key people to the full-time ministry of training and leading short-term teams to the frontiers. Maybe you can initiate new short-term training and debriefing courses for more independent short-termers or teams.
In all of this, mission agencies will have to make clear that they desire to be for one thing without being against another. The desire is to increase the number of frontier missionaries; if the number of other missionaries increases as well, all the better. Ideally, this strategy should be pursued in such a way that present missionaries are as eager about frontier missions as anyone in the process.
One central imperative behind the entire missionary enterprise is this:Go where the need is greater. And the need in France, for example, is greaterthan the need in America. So rejoice in the sending of every new missionary to France. But be honest on this: The need in Morocco is greater than the need in France.
I see two reasons for optimism. The first is the bias of the ordinary saint in the pew toward frontier missions. When this cause is described, explained, illustrated, and preached, ordinary Christians tend to latch onto it quickly, often with great zeal. The second is the firm, scriptural basis for frontier missions.
May God send to and through our mission agencies large numbers of Spirit-filled new missionaries who say with Paul, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20), and who join with him in rejoicing over the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 52:15, “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”
Thanks to those I talked to by phone or e-mail who helped with this article, including Ernie Addicott (InterDev), Jeanine Drost (Youth With A Mission), Marty Frisk (International Missions, Inc.), Greg Fritz (Caleb Project), Kathy Giske (Paraclete), Kerstin Hack (AIMS), Todd Johnson (YWAM/World Evangelization Research Center), Glenn Kendall (CBInternational), Rob Kurz (Foothills Fellowship, Albuquerque), Tim Lewis (Frontiers), Justin Long (World Evangelization Research Center), Rick Love (Frontiers), Jimmy Maroney (Foreign Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention), Ed Mattson (Cross-Cultural Training Network), George Miley (Antioch Network), Donnie Scarce (Pioneers), and Ralph Winter (U.S. Center for World Mission). An earlier form of this article was presented to the Frontier Task Force of CBInternational, Wheaton, Ill. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. This article assumes the reader understands what frontier missions is and why it is important. In CBI we define our frontier fields as places where we are working among ethnolinguistic peoples less than 5 percent Christian of any kind and less than 50 percent evangelized (less than 50 percent of the people have heard the gospel in a way they can understand and have had a valid opportunity to become a Christian). This second criterion fits with the concept of World A, or the unevangelized world, which roughly corresponds to the 10/40 Window. The work of frontier missions today is mainly in North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, much of India and China, and parts of Southeast Asia.
The author has a profound grasp of the concept of frontier missions and what it will take to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Not only that, he is committed to accomplishing this task and mobilizing as many others as he can to join in the work. In his article, he appeals to mission organizations to focus their efforts, deliberately and intentionally on those elements of their work which address the truly unreached.
Although the author would not detract from the reality of millions of unsaved among the populations of many nations, he considers as mission priorities the unreached—those people groups that lack a culturally relevant, biblical, and outreaching church of viable size. These, he observes, tend to exist in what we have come to call “The 10-40 Window,” an area stretching from West Africa to beyond East Asia in a band from 10 degrees to 40 degrees above the equator.
The author is correct that if mission agencies wish to recruit for this task, they must be specific and make the unreached a priority. I have no quarrel with that. But I am concerned about comments that sound like oft-quoted statements to substantiate the priority of the unreached, but which don’t quite square with reality. Let’s examine a few.
First is the claim that relatively few are being sent to unreached areas. A truer statement would be that many mission agencies have backlogs of workers waiting to get into difficult access countries because visas are so slow in coming. Some of these countries try to have it both ways. They wear down the applicants for visas by making them wait, then claim that they are not denying visas, but rather the applicants give up too soon. Let’s get this straight one more time: Resistant countries, which enjoy perfect freedom to preach their religion in the United States, are denying visas to those who want to preach the gospel in their own countries. This is the reason missionaries are not there. It is not block-headed, weak, fearful Christians and mission organizations who don’t realize what’s needed to finish the job of world evangelism. The response to the opening of former Marxist countries demonstrates that missionaries will respond to the slightest suspicion of an open door.
Second, the author claims that most missions are going over the same territory that’s been covered before; they are not breaking new ground. My question is, How long does a population have to stay in a collapsed spiritual condition in order to qualify for priority outreach status today? The author and other spokes-people for frontier missions doubtless believe North Africa to be a modern priority. Yet this area boasted a strong Christian church for six hundred years after Christ. Augustine of Hippo was from that area. Turkey got the first impact of the gospel, and had vibrant churches, but it’s a spiritual desert today. Paul preached and got fruit in the Balkans, but all these areas desperately need frontier ministry today. Western Europe has been a strong Christian area at various times, but significant areas are now almost devoid of Christian witness. What is the probability of a French, Italian, or Spanish individual even meeting an evangelical in his or her lifetime when there is less than one percent believers in any of those countries? How long must Western Europe be left alone before it qualifies for priority status?
Third, the author indicates that relatively few new workers are being appointed to frontier fields. All I can say is that my missions students at Dallas Seminary are going into frontier areas as fast as they can get there. Recent grads have gone to Uzbekistan,Tajikistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, France (to work among Muslims), Spain (Muslim work), and Malaysia. These are career, not short-term workers, and this doesn’t count international students returning to areas that are in the 10-40 Window. None of these are having any difficulty finding mission boards to send them.
Fourth, the authorsays that established mission boards are still sending the bulk of their new workers to areas already reached. Are they? Well, they started out as unreached areas, and some are now responding. Many areas where the church has been established still need help in reaching viable size with a trained ministry.
Many established missions have targeted frontier areas and are now using newer styles of deployment, like tentmaking and task forces using innovative styles of ministry. Consider the statement of one Japanese who was a new believer at the time. He said: “I heard at least a hundred Christian sermons before I really understood what was being proposed.” We aren’t going to reach the world by making sure “everyone in the back row has a piece of bread before we give a second piece to those on the front row.” That was interesting rhetoric from a great missionary pastor, Oswald Smith, but it isn’t communication reality in the light of the problem of the unreached. The difficulty of reaching them once we are there is summed up by Paul’s description of the unregenerate: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
In the light of a challenge like this, we will need both a spiritual miracle and multiple exposure if we are to see any saved. Let’s go ahead and target the unreached. Paul would have made it a priority, but let us not disparage the immense task needing still to be done among the equally lost among the “non-frontier” peoples of the world.
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