by David Nelson
Beyond doubt, the 10/40 Window as a trend has mobilized many like never before.
The twenty-six-year veteran of missionary service anguished, “We’re being told that we’ve wasted our time and God’s resources because we don’t work in the 10/40 Window. But less than one percent of the people here are believers,” he continued, perplexed over this reaction to his life’s work and calling.
At a missionary retreat the question was asked, “Are any of you angry or resentful about the 10/40 Window emphasis?” There were around one hundred of us there and the response was almost unanimous. I was genuinely shocked. After having served in Spain for thirteen years I was certainly battling resentment. I had no idea that so many others were too, and that some were very wounded indeed.
Please understand, this is not a missionary sob story. Rather, I want to address some misconceptions that affect us as a result of the Window emphasis. Some mission leaders are saying that the 10/40 Window has become a fad rather than a trend. This distinction is important to responsibly balance zeal with knowledge and avoid riding the pendulum of what motivates and excites us.
Beyond doubt, the 10/40 Window as a trend has mobilized many like never before. The “AD2000 and Beyond Movement” was one group that did an admirable job at communicating the vision of “unreached peoples” of the 10/40 Window in particular. There was an identifiable target for vision, prayer and resources. The rallying cry was, “A church for every people and the gospel for every person by AD2000.”
However, the goal was never to promote the 10/40 Window vision to the exclusion of other missionary activity. Yet at a recent conference I heard an international missions leader assert that only one percent of the mission work being done today is real mission work, narrowly defined as first-contact evangelism. Why?
There’s ambiguity regarding the terms “reached” and “unreached,” even among our most prestigious missions analysts. Peter Wagner gives an explanation of why people groups with less than twenty percent practicing Christians are unreached and therefore still need cross-cultural evangelization. His premise: “The missionary is needed until the church has reached the stage of becoming self-reproducing” (Wagner and Dayton 1988). Ralph Winter writes,
The majority of mission leaders has shared the view that “reaching a people” must consist of planting adequate church movements… [they] must be given the opportunity to join a fellowship, not just hear a message. (Winter 1993)
Conversely, Patrick Johnstone writes “strictly, [unreached] should be a measure of the exposure of a people group to the gospel and not a measure of the response” (Johnstone 1993, 654). However he later defines “unreached” as those who have “no viable indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people without [cross-cultural] assistance”(Johnstone 1993, 655). The result of this ambiguity is that missions and churches are forced to arbitrarily decide who’s reached and unreached. The second result is that the missionaries’ ministry is then qualified by that standard. Many pastors are now stating that their churches won’t support missionaries not working in the “Window.”
Besides belittling the sacrificial lives and fruit of many missionaries, this approach fails to distinguish need from call. It’s painfully obvious that some aren’t heeding their call since the 10/40 Window need is still largely unanswered. However, if someone isn’t gifted to do extreme cross-cultural evangelization should we insist that Jordan be their destination instead of Peru? Should the missionary doctor abandon his clinic in Cameroon to become an evangelist in Yemen? What about home-country pastors? Are precious time and resources being squandered on the “reached” around them? Is their call to preaching, teaching, youth, worship, visitation to the sick, all invalidated because of the unevangelized world? Of course not. Perhaps we’re too eager to invalidate similar missionary non-evangelistic ministry.
To ignore the importance of calling and gifting in our zeal to see the world evangelized is short-sighted and unworkable—not to mention unscriptural. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:7-9a "So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers…"
We’re all familiar with the five-fold ministry passage of Ephesians 4:11-13, both pastors and missionaries are called to “perfect the saints.” The difference is that missionaries do it in cultures that aren’t their own until the host-culture church can live without them. To do otherwise is spiritual abortion.
Why put a yoke on our missionaries with double-standard terminology and extra-biblical principles? While presenting world vision, needs and goals, let’s still enthusiastically recognize all missionaries as fellow ministers, worthy of their vocation and call wherever and whatever it may be. We’d do well to trade the easy-answer, tunnel-vision approach with God’s majestic plan to fully reach all humankind in all of his “bigger than a window” world.
Johnstone, Patrick. 1993. Operation World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House.
Wagner, Peter and Edward R. Dayton, eds.1980. Unreached Peoples ’80—The Challenge of the Church’s Unfinished Business. Elgin, Ill.: David C. Cook Publishing Co.
Winter, Ralph D. 1993. “Mission Network News and World Concern.” Operation World. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House.
David Nelson served in Spain as a missionary from 1984-97. While there he and his wife, Janet, established two churches. The Nelsons are currently full-time itenerant missionaries with Elim Fellowship of Lima, NY and travel extensively to the Spanish speaking world doing courses, seminars and field projects in the areas of missions and ethnomusicology. They have four children.
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