Friday, June 19, 2009

Bringing Our Strategies in Line with God's Goals (Part 1)

The Missionary Goal of God is this: His glory expressed in the worship of a maximum number of people from every people group. The question was asked in the last major post, "Will we align our strategy and resource deployment with God's goal?" Another question is immediately begged,
"How do we know exactly who the groups are that God wants reached, so that we can reach them?"
Are they political nations, divided only by geography? Are they smaller and more specific than that? Who are they? Are we ignoring any of them?

It may be (and I believe it is) that we have ignored many people in our Mission work. We have ignored them because we often hold to a faulty understanding of the biblical people groups that God is targeting. This has left thousands of groups, and millions of people, without any real Gospel witness.

Biblically, who are the 'people groups' God is trying to reach, some of whom are being ignored today?

The Language of the Commission

Looking at the 'Commission' first given to Abram (Gen 12:1-3) and then to the church (Matt 28:19-20), God primarily used two (English) words to describe the objects of His Mission: ‘Families’ (Gen 12:3) and ‘Nations’ (Gen 22:18, Matt 28:19). Other corporate terms He used in relation to the division at Babel until the consummation of the Mission include Tongues, Lands, Kindreds, and Peoples (Gen 10:31-32; Rev 5:9, 7:9).

Without going to the original languages (which is not needed in this case), what do these words tell us? The words in isolation do not give us a complete missionary strategy (as some would press us to believe). However, they do point to a reality that impacts God's view of the world and His Mission, and should impact our view of the world and Mission strategy.

There are at least two realities involved.

Reality #1 = God’s Goal: restore the divided

God seeks to reconcile all things to Himself (Col 1:20). This reconciliation is aimed at every individual who is separated from God (2 Pet 3:9). However, at the beginning of the separation in the Garden, the Mission was much ‘simpler’: just one family/people/nation/tongue to reconcile to Himself.

Reality #2 = Man’s Situation: division of peoples

Things didn’t stay that ‘simple’ though, did they? The Mission of God was ‘complicated’ when mankind was divided at Babel by language, ethnicity, and geography. This reality impacted the object of God's Mission. God’s acknowledgment of the new reality is reflected in how He speaks of the objects of His Mission from that time forward (e.g. - as divided peoples).

God desires all to receive the Gospel and worship Him (Reality #1), but these new realities (language, ethnicity, geography, etc.) produced new barriers to the spread of His Good News through His servants. Together, these two realities necessitated a different view of the world and of the Mission.

God overcame the language barrier briefly on the Day of Pentecost. But He usually chooses to overcome the barriers through the less spectacular Spirit-empowered toil and sacrifice of His people. He overcomes geographical division as we traverse great distances at great cost to reach the “scattered” peoples. He overcomes the division of languages as we strive untiringly to learn new tongues. He overcomes the division of ethnicity and culture as we demonstrate Christ-like humility, being sensitive to the ways of a people.

These divisions are realities that have affected the way God deals with the world in His Mission. He now deals with them in their division according to their language, ethnicity, and geography (tongues, nations, lands).

The Answer (finally)

I still haven’t really answered the initial question have I? "How do we know exactly who the groups are that God wants reached, so that we can reach them?"

The answer isn’t found in a complicated study of the Greek and Hebrew words God uses to describe the people groups. The key is in the various forms of division (Which was very important to God after Babel). A biblical people group is any group divided from God because of sin and from others because of language, ethnicity, geography, culture, etc. These all pose significant practical barriers to the spread of God’s Gospel. Because of His passion for people and His glory, He is driven to overcome these.

God wants to be worshipped by all of these groups in their distinctness (Rev 5:9, 7:9), but how can we know a biblical people group when we see one? The answer: any group of people divided from others due to a combination of the above barriers is a distinct biblical people group that God desires for us to target. Let’s call those that have little or no access to the Gospel, Unreached People Groups.

There was a time when we could look at people simply in terms of the country they were from, for there were many entire countries that had no Gospel access and few had been truly penetrated. So, we were called and sent to France, Haiti, China, etc. Eventually, most countries had some significant or growing Gospel witness. However, little attention had been paid to the many distinct people groups within these countries. Today this has resulted in multitudes of unreached people groups, though we have had missionaries in their countries for years. The time for our former country-oriented thinking has largely passed. It is time that we think in smaller units, as God thinks, in people groups. Think in terms of His division of language, ethnicity, geography, etc. Sometimes there are thousands of these distinct people groups in a single country, waiting to be reached for Christ.

Fortunately, we are in a better position than ever to reach these unreached people groups. As there are now few countries which have no significant witness, God has provided the knowledge we need to penetrate the biblical people groups which have not been reached within these countries. This knowledge is now coming through research done by Joshua Project,, and others. We can now align our Mission strategy with the final Missionary Goal of God. We can reach every unreached people group of our generation.

Within the next couple weeks we will see who, where, and how many these people groups are. We will also begin to entertain some strategies to reach them.

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