One of the thoughts that often arises in the minds of missionaries as they approach a city, village, population segment, or people group is, “How in the world are WE going to reach everyone with the gospel?” When they begin asking this question, they have ceased to think like missionaries.
This is not a wise question for missionaries to ask. Here are a few reasons why:
- Church planters are often outsiders and have little to no social networks established among the people they desire to reach
- Church planters have a limited amount of time, resources, and opportunities, while the needs are many
- Church planters remove the opportunity for the new believers to be faithful to the commands of Jesus to preach the gospel to their own people when they attempt to do the work for them
- Church planters fail to use the natural social networks (i.e., gospel bridges) that the Lord in His sovereignty has already established
How will 5 million lost souls be reached with the good news? What about 1 million? 3,000? How will we be faithful and wise stewards so that all may be reached with the gospel?
Don’t ask: “How in the world are WE going to reach all of these people?”
Think Persons of Peace
Ask: “How are WE going to reach the initial believers from out of the harvest, equip, partner with, and mobilize them to return to the harvest field? Ask: “How do WE do all that is necessary so that the gospel can spread among all of these people that they may repent and believe?” These are completely different questions than, “How are WE going to reach everyone with the gospel?” Such is not a matter of semantics.
One perspective requires us to do all of the work; the other perspective requires us to reach some and then carry out our Eph 4:11-12 callings, that everyone may be reached.
One is egocentric; the other is ecclesio-centric.
One requires poor stewardship; the other is wise stewardship.
One requires our abilities to accomplish a great task; the other demands a complete trust in the all-loving Spirit of God, recognizing the task is impossible for us.
Here is a visual to help:
The right question places the focus on our missionary God Who has been at work among the people, and the power of his Spirit in the lives of the initial believers (persons of peace). The wrong question places the focus on our strength and ability to do that which we cannot do.
The importance of social networks and gospel saturation is seen in the Scriptures. It was through John the Baptist’s connections with two of his disciples that they followed Jesus (John 1:37). One of these men was Andrew. He brought his brother Simon to Jesus (John 1:40-42). It was through Nathanael’s relationship with Philip that he came to Jesus (John 1:43-46). It was through the social networks between the woman of Samaria and her people that many of the Samaritians believed in Him (John 4:39-42). It was through the relationships with believing wives that unbelieving husbands would possibly come to faith (1 Pet 3:1).
We read of Lydia coming to faith, and her entire household (Acts 16:14-15). The same is true with the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:31-32). We also observe the movement of the gospel along social networks as Cornelius was faithful to the vision that eventually resulted in both his conversion and that of his household (Acts 10). Epaphras, who was likely of Colossae (Col 4:12), brought the gospel to his own people (Col 1:5-8). And he was probably converted as a result of Paul teaching in the Ephesian Hall of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9-10).
It is amazing that the Apostle Paul could plant several churches in a geographical region, and then move on to repeat that process. He had great missionary faith in the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to work through new churches as they preached the gospel to all nations. He commended the Thessalonians in that the word of the Lord “sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia” and has “gone forth everywhere” (1 Thes 1: 8, ESV). He declared his labors finished from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum, believing that he had “fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:19, ESV). Had everyone been reached with the gospel in these areas? Such is doubtful. But the churches were now living out the Kingdom Ethic to bear witness to the risen Christ.
In the beginning, focus on the new believers. Begin working with those firstfruits so that they can do work of evangelists among those with whom they have extensive social networks. Here is a more excellent way to begin in order that everyone may be reached with the gospel.
Before I conclude, I know that some of you are still troubled at the title of this post. While I believe I have made it clear that we should labor so that everyone may be reached with the gospel, some of you remain concerned. So for you, I write the following, before any nasty comments arrive:
The Scriptures are clear. We are to make disciples of ALL nations (Matt 28:18-20). Our Lord does not wish that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And if God so loved the world (John 3:16) that He gave His son as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), then we must desire, go, sacrifice, and labor to see everyone hear and respond to the gospel!
Just don’t reach everyone with the gospel.