by Gary Corwin
Few things stir the soul like being part of a major mobilization for a grand and worthy cause. The heart beats strong, excitement tinges the air, and the mind is wonderfully focused.
Few things stir the soul like being part of a major mobilization for a grand and worthy cause. The heart beats strong, excitement tinges the air, and the mind is wonderfully focused. That’s my impression of how things must have been when America mobilized to tame the beast of fascism in the 1940s. For many in the missions community, the challenge of reaching resistant peoples delivers the same exhilaration today.
Many thoughtful and innovative approaches to outreach have emerged. Balance seems always to be the toughest challenge, because it requires holding seemingly contradictory truths in tension, not just splitting the difference and settling for the "mediocre middle." The trick is to fully affirm and practice truth wherever it is found.
There is much to be excited about in the energy and enthusiasm that characterize this accelerating mobilization to reach the resistant (see Stan Guthrie’s "Global Report" on page 218). There are also a few cautions to be noted, however. What follow are five hopeful signs to celebrate, and four perception pitfalls to avoid.
FIVE HOPEFUL SIGNS TO CELEBRATE
1. A heightened awareness of and commitment to reaching resistant peoples. Although the phenomenon has dearly been a global one, perhaps the most exciting growth here has been among the burgeoning missionary movements of the Two-Thirds (or Majority) World.
2. A growing awareness that reaching the resistant will not happen apart from concentrated prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. "Praying like it all depends on God" (because it does) is propelling a lot of global energy to "work like it all depends on us" (how God most often does it).
3. An acknowledgment that God’s means for reaching the resistant may include methodologies, such as suffering, that we would not choose for ourselves. This seems to be spawning a mental shift, a more conscious and personal embracing of suffering, and even martyrdom, as reasonable costs in reaching the resistant.
4. A maturing and more effective use of "tentmaking" methods. This includes greater sensitivity to the ethical issues involved and a more thorough understanding of the need to link up discreetly with more long-term and traditional mission strategies.
5. An unparalleled openness in modern missions to new strategies and methods. Whereas the usual bias is toward the status quo, the bias in our own day seems to be toward change of any and all kinds. This opens up enormous possibilities for good but, as I will discuss below, it can have a significant downside.
FOUR PERCEPTION PITFALLS TO AVOID
1. A fascination for the unique over the proven. Grounded in a seldom-acknowledged but dearly mechanistic view of things, the endless search for the key to reaching this or that resistant group seems to occupy many. The benefits of "redemptive analogies" notwithstanding, if there is a key, it is the same key for all-God’s blessing upon the gospel preached and lived with power and clarity. We would do well to learn the lessons of the past and to acknowledge the sovereign work of God through his Word, rather than boast in our latest outreach strategies.
2. A fixation on and trust in our own methods for reaching the resistant. While our methodologies ought to be the best we can muster, they ought never to be viewed as ultimately determinative. The inverse is also true, in that we should not despair that our failed methodologies are the ultimate cause for the resistance of many. Doing so mistakenly attributes far too much power and authority to our own hands. God is many things, but he is not impotent without us!
3. A myopic point of view that ignores the incredibly ready for the sake of the incredibly needy. We must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit who prepares hearts to receive the Savior. The same One who commanded us to "go and make disciples of all nations" also admonished us to behold "the fields that are ripe unto harvest." While the most needy (those who have little or no access to the gospel) must always weigh heavily upon our hearts, and engage our energies fully, our work with them must not derail timely harvest among the most ready. Some of these more receptive ones may, in fact, be God’s answer to reach the most needy.
4. A perspective that confuses eternal truths for issues of cultural contextualization. Styles of worship and even patterns of church government may vary with cultures, but the content of the gospel and the eternal truths revealed in the Scriptures do not. While contextualized communication is worthy of applause, attempting to contextualize faith content is a disaster. Christianity is not only qualitatively different from the world religions; its most basic premise is antithetical to them.
While all religions outline means for reaching upward to God or eternity, Christianity is the record of God reaching down to a wholly incapable and rebellious human race.
When it comes to reaching the resistant, let’s celebrate and maintain the vision and the passion, but avoid the pitfalls revealed in our sometimes sloppy rhetoric and fuzzy thinking.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM.
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