Food for Thought for the Mission-Minded, part 2

When elderships, congregations, and individuals ask about mission efforts it is a good sign. We each reveal our interests by the inquiries we make. For example, who has not heard a question about the most recent standing of a sports team? Sports fans are usually easy to detect. So also Christians ought to be known by their enthusiasm concerning work about the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). In a previous article we addressed one primary consideration when assessing the worthiness of a mission worker or work. Namely, it must be biblical throughout! Not only must the missionary teach the truth, but also the way the work is carried out must conform to New Testament authority.

We now turn our attention to an “evaluation tool” which is sorely misunderstood and frequently abused. This tool or test may be termed the “numbers test.” It takes various forms and is spoken of in a variety of ways, but one basic attitude prevails. “How many baptisms do they have each year?” “How many congregations are being established?” In reality, if you ask faithful veteran missionaries, they will readily admit that this mindset often comes out in “mission reports” more as a numbers game, rather than a true test. I heard from the lips of one church leader the statement: “We choose a work where we can get the best bang for our buck!” There was no mistake about it – the only determining factor to him was – number of reported baptisms.

What about the fantastic “results” that we are reading and hearing about? One writer simply took the figures another man reported, and the length of the short mission trip, and calculated that it would have require having one baptism about every 20 minutes, if the brother slept at all. Some are reporting thousands of baptisms that simply stagger the mind. And yet, I heard from one native Indian preacher, that he had worked in India, as an Indian, for about a year and a half in one place, without anything remotely like what he read in some US reports. My own short two visits to India sadly revealed some disturbing activities. I am presently living and working in Africa, and can tell you the problem is not unique to India.

Consider momentarily the examples of Noah and Jonah. Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” who faithfully proclaimed for Jehovah, and God “preserved Noah with seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). In contrast, Jonah enjoyed overwhelming response (Matthew 12:41). Is it possible today, were Noah traveling the country seeking financial support, that he would be turned away empty-handed, because his work was “just not showing the numbers.” What about the ministry of the Son of Man? His primary focus while upon earth was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  En masse He was rejected!

Please listen. We are not suggesting that numbers cannot be considered. I am not unaware of the principle forbidding casting “pearls before the swine”(Matthew 7:6). However, I know the “pressure to produce” has been a mighty temptation behind many skewed numbers and many an inflated presentation. The problem goes deeper than most know, and it troubles me more than I can herein describe. Furthermore, a desire to retain support from number-minded supporters has also led to a laxity in the second part of the great commission. After making disciples, we are commanded to also give attention to teaching these new converts to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19, 20). How sad when a missionary can be in a place for many years, and report “great success” (numbers of baptisms), only to have the work collapse after his departure.

God desires “all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). It would be another discussion to address what it takes to bring someone “to a knowledge of the truth.” But I have no doubt it cannot be done by hastily uttering five steps conjoined with five verses and then urging one to the water. Many of the reported “baptisms” are not conversions at all.

The word of God is likened unto seed (Luke 8:11). When the farmer plants the seed, it takes time to grow. Personal evangelism requires patient teaching. I recall years ago when the Crossroads/Boston movement was in its heyday. One brother fell into their trap, thinking they had found a way to make converts quickly. I had no doubt about his motive.  However, there are no shortcuts to reaping a healthy harvest.     George 2011

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4 comments to Food for Thought for the Mission-Minded, part 2

  • Edy

    Thanks for the post, as well as the reminder to continue teaching after conversion. Keep up the good work in Africa!

  • I heard those words about more bang for buck, shortly before losing my support.

    Great article, thanks!

  • ken hargesheimer

    Roger Dickson, rdickson@mweb.co.za, produces the BIBLICAL RESEARCH LIBRARY CD. He will mail, free, 1 copy or unlimited amounts, postage paid, to anyone, in any country, for evangelizing. You may read/download it at africainternational.org

    Most people have never read the NT and know nothing about Jesus. The Jesus film is an entertaining, excellent introduction; then teach The Good News. I have it in many languages [adult & children]

    “The Bible in one hour” – an audio cd. Listen to a condensed version of the Bible. $3 mailed to US, MX or CA. $50 per 100 postage pd in USA. I have other Bible DVDs in English, Spanish and French.

    minifarms@gmail.com

  • Patrick Swayne

    I really appreciated this article. As a worker in Australia, I can say that my fellow workers and I always lose the numbers game when compared to works in developing countries. However, what about Ezekiel 3 makes Christians think they are held responsible for the numbers instead of the fact that warning is given? Also, why must Matthew 7:6 always be interpreted from the standpoint of evangelism? I read nothing in the context at all about evangelism! Didn’t Paul say something about “out of season” and what was meant to be done then?

    God bless you brother.