Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism

Wendi dropped a comment on a recent post of mine, saying: “I’m taking a missions class called Perspectives. There was much discussion about how many (few) missionary efforts go toward clearly unreached people, and how much of our mission efforts and resources go to actually “reached” people, like the Swazi people.”
If our mission efforts should be primarily directed toward unreached people, why should any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% Christian already?”
You can read my reply to her here, but I thought the topic was important enough to open it up for more discussion.
I was listening to an international leader in mission, a former director of Operations Mobilisation in South Africa, last night. He mentioned that about 27% of the world still need to be reached and I can fully understand why people would say that our efforts should be directed to these countries rather than to those where Christianity is already strongly established, as is the case with Swaziland. The issue at stake here, as far as I can see, is what we define as “mission”. If mission only refers to “soul-saving”, then the statement would obviously be correct. But when one sees mission as something more than mere soul-saving, then it would be irresponsible to say that our efforts should be directed solely towards the unreached peoples of the world.
I’m unashamedly Evangelical. By that I mean that I believe that all people need to come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How it happens is of lesser importance to me. That the relationship exists, is of much greater importance. But this isn’t the Alpha and Omega of mission. David Bosch in his book, Transforming Mission, says on page 10-11: “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions, Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins and inviting them to become living members of Christ’s earthly community and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When defining “mission”, Bosch quotes P Schütz who described mission as “participation in God’s existence in the world.” He then continues to formulate the implication of this by saying: “In our time, God’s yes to the world reveals itself, to a large extent, in the church’s missionary engagement in respect of the realities of injustice, oppression, poverty, discrimination, and violence. We increasingly find ourselves in a truly apocalyptic situation where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and where violence and oppression from both the right and the left are escalating. The church-in-mission cannot possibly close its eyes to these realities, since “the pattern of the church in the chaos of our time is political through and through”
When one is confronted by the extreme poverty, the injustice, oppression, the problems of HIV and AIDS, to name but a few, which occurs in countries all over the world, then one realises that those who propagate that the church should focus only, or at least primarily, on the unreached people (implicating that the missionaries should withdraw from the “reached” countries) still do not understand what mission really is.
Shortly after I had finished my theological studies, I was called as chaplain to the South African Defence Force for a compulsory two years of military service. The soldiers, fighting against terrorists entering – what is today known as Namibia – from Angola, used to count the bodies after every battle. (This, by the way, was absolutely gruesome and perhaps one of the reasons why I feel so strongly against war today.) I sometimes feel that many Christians also go into the spiritual battle with the aim of merely counting the souls after every campaign. But this is not what mission is all about. Mission is about proclaiming the kingdom of God (the “reign” of God) all over the world in every place. And wherever God’s kingdom is not being acknowledged, the church has the task to continue with its proclamation, be it in “reached” or “unreached” countries.
Does that make sense?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - Posted by | AIDS, Church, David Bosch, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision


  1. […] Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism: Mission Issues. This is really a look at the holistic nature of mission. […]

    Pingback by Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism « Mission Issues | Friday, March 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. What kind of self-respecting blogger poses a thought provoking question and then drops out of the discussion? Well . . . one who’s son is getting married in a week and who is helping with last minute details.

    I am very interested in this discussion and do have many mixed thoughts on the subject. I hope the thread doesn’t grow cold by the time I weigh in.


    Comment by Wendi | Saturday, March 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. We’ll just revive it again!

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Saturday, March 28, 2009 | Reply

  4. I have enjoyed reading your stuff.

    Comment by Koffijah | Monday, April 13, 2009 | Reply

  5. Thanks Koffijah. I appreciate it. Feel free to take part in the discussion.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, April 13, 2009 | Reply

  6. Wedding hecticness (is that a word?) is finally over so I can jump back into a discussion.

    My question implies that I actually think we (Christians) actually should limit our mission work to evangelism, or that our purpose is simply to save souls from hell. Actually, I abhor this kind of thinking, believe it is contrary to Jesus’ methods. He talked about the kingdom of God, and invited people to believe in and follow Him, but never advocated praying the “sinner’s prayer” so that people can get into heaven.

    Furthermore, He said a whole lot about our responsibility to the least, last and lost, about advocating for justice and caring for the poor.

    My question is more about the 80% Christian Swaziland. I ask this fully understanding that the U.S.A. is considered 90% Christian, with our own lack of evidence that the gospel has transformed us as a people group. I also know that this is a big discussion, perhaps too big for a blog.

    But here goes . . .

    How is it that the gospel can so penetrate a country and not bring about changes in people that would (should??) prevent the plague of HIV/AIDS? How can people who love and follow Jesus give themselves over to bondage that is literally killing them? Could it be that a just “pray the prayer and get saved” method of mission evangelism had contributed to the lack of transformation (in Swaziland and the U.S.A.)?

    Hope others will jump in here . . .

    Comment by Wendi | Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. Wendi, I hope that many others also take part in this discussion. The answer is complex. We know of many people who were saved by Jesus but of whom we know nothing else later in their lives. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well and the woman who was caught in adultery. Did their lives change after they were saved? We don’t know. Not all of the people’s lives changed after the Holy Spirit was given to the church. Ananias and Sapphira for example. I had been very busy with Romans during Easter and the question came up: What are we saved from? And the answer, that Paul gives us in 7:24 is that we need to be saved from this body of death. We need, in other words, to be moved from death to life, or as Paul puts it: We need to say farewell to our Adam family and become part of the Christ family. That is step one.
    When our children were born, step one was to get them from the womb into the world. But surely we won’t feel that we’ve reached our goal once the child has been born. But for many evangelists the ultimate goal is to “save souls”. But I think we can say that God expects much more from us. Certainly, people have to hear the news of salvation but then they have to move forward in their lives becoming mature Christians doing what God wants them to do.
    I’ll stop at this point and see what others have to contribute towards the discussion.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | Reply

  8. Yes – I resonate with all the examples you give Arnau, but each relates to individual transformation (to be sure, part of societal transformation). I have often thought it is interesting (and I’m sure intentional) that the HS doesn’t allow us to know how the story ends with the various people Jesus encountered and challenged about their sin.

    But I’m thinking, for example, about the story of St. Patrick and his (Christianity’s) influence on the barbarian Celtic people of Ireland. The model of the church in the 4th century was that a people must be civilized before they can become Christianized, so they resisted giving Patrick their blessing to go back to his barbarian captors as a missionary. Patrick prevailed, and by the time of his death had established over 700 churches. Most amazing to me as I reflect on the story, is that most of the practices of the barbarian culture (including the sacrifice of infants and ritual sex acts) within the short lifetime of Patrick, were all but wiped out by the influence of the Gospel.

    I wonder what it was about Patrick’s methods or the context of ancient Barbarian cultures that facilitated this, and what it is about the context of 19th and 20th century sup-Saharan Africa (and America) that doesn’t.


    Comment by Wendi | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Reply

  9. This is a topic which is becomming more prominent on a daily basis. It is interesting how many people claim to be Christians, look at facebook for example; many have “Christian: under religious as their religious view,but take a look at the photographs, groups they belong to etc. It tells a different story. Perhaps the word “Religious VIEW” is correct, as for many of us, it remains nothing but a “view”

    Reaching the “unreached” should start within our own churches, as many of us sitting there Sunday after Sunday is “unreached”

    The seed is sown all over the world, but what we do with the seed, is what counts. As “Christians: we have to share the Gospel by mouth, but also by allowing the world to see Christ in the way we live. The proof is in the pudding. If all who claim to be “Christians” can do that, we will see the difference in the world..

    just a thought

    Comment by Vince Aslett | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Reply

  10. Wendi, this post have been lying on open on my computer since last nigth, and I was wondering what I would reply. This morning I recieved an email from Annemie Bosch, the wife of the late David Bosch, in which she quoted some words which I wrote in a blog-post many months ago. It reads:

    Interesting is that Bosch, even after knowing that Luke 4, rather than Matthew 28, was becoming the primary mission text, still seem to opt for the Matthew text. But he then points out that Matthew should not be understood within this view of evangelism being primary, but rather within the framework of teaching people justice-love. For Bosch the ultimate mission is the establishment of justice, and he doesn’t believe that if individuals have a personal experience of Chris in traditional pietistic terms they will automatically become involved in the changing of society.

    I believe this is what we need to hear. Discipleship is what’s important, teaching people the way of Jesus.

    Comment by cobus | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Reply

  11. Wendi, I’m not a church historian, but the example you give is amazing, to say the least. Perhaps we need to invite people with more knowledge on church history to help us determine what he had done in order to make such a difference among those people. If we’re preaching the gospel and it doesn’t make difference in the community and within the culture, then we surely need to question our methods and our message.
    What Cobus (my son, by the way) says, when referring to David Bosch) writes: “he doesn’t believe that if individuals have a personal experience of Chris in traditional pietistic terms they will automatically become involved in the changing of society.” This is important, also when looking at the comment made by Vince. We have to be taught, because of our sinful nature, how to live in the image of God. To think it will come naturally after making a decision to follow Christ, is to fool yourself.
    That may be one of the reasons why we fail in Africa. Many people rush into Africa (and the same happens in countries like Russia), help people to say the “sinner’s prayer” and then leave them. This is not what is meant when Jesus says that we have to make disciples of people.
    But let’s hear what others have to contribute towards this issue.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Reply

  12. I agree with Arnau that we have to be taught how to live in the image of God, for so many years we have just assumed that people know when the majority of people did not even understand the message.

    I spoke the a friend this morning asking him to come back to church, he responded by stating that some people who cared about him while he was in their cell group, now ignore him because he opted not to go anymore and as a result prefers to do his own thing at home with his family.

    Comment by Vince Aslett | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Reply

  13. The best book I know on Patrick and his methods is called “The Celtic Way of Evangelism” by George Hunter. I’d summarize Patrick’s methods this way:

    He set up monastic communities and then invited the Celts to come into the community and do life with them (the Christians). They shared meals and prayers, service to others and community chores. After a while, the barbarians would awaken one day and realize that they had come to share the beliefs of the community members. They would then become baptized to publically affirm their faith.

    I think this is discipleship, and it did seem to transform cultural practices that would have otherwise kept the Celts in bondage. What is keeping us from having the same kind of success?


    Comment by Wendi | Thursday, April 16, 2009 | Reply

  14. Wendi, if I understand this correctly (help me if I’m wrong) then this is what we have always described as “mission stations”, where Christians are grouped together in a community from where they operate. If I’m correct in my analysis, then I think the reasons why this isn’t working anymore could be attributed to at least the following:
    The cost involved in running such a community. This method was still being followed in Swaziland until a few years before I came here, but eventually the people living in the community all wanted to be supported by the “mission” which led to huge conflict.
    A second reason would be more theological. People have realized that you cannot take Christians out of the community and expect the community to change. (I know this is contradictory to your example which is the reason why I feel that I may be misunderstanding the concept.) Believers have to be taught how to live as Christians within the same circumstances their families and friends are living and how to live life differently.
    In Swaziland’s mission history serious attempts were made to change some cultural practices such as polygamy and the feast such as the Incwala and Umhlanga Reed Dance. Many Christians don’t attend these feast anymore, but I believe that a much deeper conversion has to take place to address the cultural issues.
    One problem in Swaziland is that the king does not want to break with unchristian cultural practices and for people to do this, means that they are actually opposing the king. That can be done of course, but it’s not easy.
    Coming back to the issue of AIDS in Swaziland – we all know that this has to do with an immoral lifestyle, but the example which they get on TV and through DVDs doesn’t do anything to help them to want to change.
    Do you have any ideas how something like this could be implemented in a workable way?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, April 16, 2009 | Reply

  15. The biggest ah-ha for me reading Hunter’s book about St. Patrick had to do with expecting people to be “civilized” before they could be “Christianized.” At the time I was on staff at a church where there was a culture of expecting people to get their lives completely cleaned up before they could become part of our faith community. Our local “barbarians” were welcome to come to our church services, but there was a big resistance to inviting them to engage with us in service of any kind. I was advocating for inviting people to become part of our faith community by participating in what we do (of course, I didn’t advocate for letting “barbarians” teach SS or give spiritual leadership). My opinion was (and is) that non-believers, created in God’s image, have an innate desire to make a difference. Doing so while rubbing shoulders with seasoned believers, IMO, is a natural and organic method of evangelism. Patrick’s methods seemed to affirm my beliefs.

    I may not have explained Patrick’s methods, as I understand it, very well. Yes, there were mission entourages that set up faith communities near tribal settlements. But they were also very committed to becoming part of the culture. They did not try to impose the Roman “civilized” way onto the people they tried to reach. On the contrary, they would learn the language and in every way possible, become part of the tribal culture they were trying to reach. And the doors to the faith community through which they expressed worship and served one another were completely open.

    Practically speaking, I think you are right, it is far too expensive today to send large teams into unreached areas. Theologically speaking, I think Patrick’s methods agreed with you. His communities were “in but not of” the pagan cultures they reached.

    The same questions I’ve posed to you about Swaziland I ask myself. Why is it that Christianity hasn’t organically influenced the American culture more? Movies, TV and music, as you point out, demonstrate the lack of influence.

    I want to learn more about Swaziland’s mission history. What should I read?


    Comment by Wendi | Thursday, April 16, 2009 | Reply

  16. Wendi, while reading through your comment I just realized once again how the church has failed to do what God had expected from it. But I do want to agree with Bill Hybels when he says that the local church is the hope for the world. Someone’s blog which I consider worthwhile following in this regard is David Watson’s http://www.davidwa.org/ He writes a lot about taking the church into unreached communities and making it work there. I started applying his principles at a new place where we wanted to plant a church but then it came to a standstill mainly because we didn’t have someone who could carry on with the work.
    I have two excellent books on Swaziland mission history. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re both in Afrikaans! I’ll have to try and find out what else is available.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, April 16, 2009 | Reply


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