SYMPOSIUM RESPONSE #2: A “Straw-man” Case?

by Paul Eshleman

In his final words to his followers, Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations or peoples. The idea that 2,000 years later there should still be unengaged, unreached people groups is a sad and heartbreaking indictment of the Global Church. Despite 12 million vocational workers and 43,000 denominations, we seem unable to make disciples in the few thousand people groups that remain. 

In his final words to his followers, Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations or peoples. The idea that 2,000 years later there should still be unengaged, unreached people groups is a sad and heartbreaking indictment of the Global Church. Despite 12 million vocational workers and 43,000 denominations, we seem unable to make disciples in the few thousand people groups that remain. 

Unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPG) have no church, no missionary, and no one planning to go to them. Most have no translated scripture and no known believers. Forty-one years after Ralph Winter sounded the alarm, it is long past the time to be obedient to the One who cared about one lost sheep, one lost coin, and one lost son. 

In his article, Ted Esler builds a “straw-man” case. If Esler had checked the general approach of most ministries embracing the “unengaged” paradigm, he would have found most of his concerns already being addressed. As a leader of just one of these networks, let me offer a few observations. 

1. Measuring the workers. Esler has a problem with a people group not being considered engaged without “full-time workers.” This was simply an attempt by the Finishing the Task Network to measure the quality of the engagement by the amount of time given by the workers to evangelism and church planting. The progress has been amazing! The FTT Network has tracked the new engagement of 1,213 people groups since November of 2006. Nearly 295 churches and organizations have sent out 14,810 full-time workers and are coordinating the ministry of 47,514 bi-vocational workers and part-time workers. Of these workers, 96% are nationals from the country of the UUPG.  

2. Defining engagement. Most mission leaders don’t equate “deployed” with their definition of engaged. FTT uses the International Mission Board’s definition which is (1) full-time workers, (2) living among the people group, (3) seeking to minister in the people group language, (4) for the long term.  

3. The ultimate goal. Of course, the ultimate goal is the fulfillment of our Lord’s Great Commission. The task we are finishing right now is the task of beginning to make disciples in every people group. That seems to me to have a greater basis in scripture than the arbitrary two percent evangelical believers proposed by missiologists some years ago. All mission work begins with being obedient to do what Jesus told us to do. Go, make disciples, teach them to observe all things I have commanded you. Therefore, I believe the engagement paradigm is a great mobilizing tool and an important first step toward our ultimate goal of making disciples of all nations. 

There is much work yet to be done. Engagement is just a beginning. Teaching them to “observe all things I have commanded you” will take a lifetime. Let’s continue to encourage one another and pray the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into his harvest until we have scripture in every language, the gospel for every person, a church in every village, and a disciple-maker in every people group.

….

Dr. Paul Eshleman is vice president of partnerships for Cru. Paul founded the JESUS Film Project and served as its director for twenty-five years. He currently serves as the director of the Finishing the Task Network and president of the Issachar Initiative. 

EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 2 pp. 141-142. Copyright  © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

SYMPOSIUM RESPONSE 3


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