Introduction and Context – Over 35 years ago, a seemingly lone voice at the Lausanne Congress in 1974 raised a cry for the 2.7 billion in 17,000 unreached people groups. Today, the number of those living among unreached peoples has actually increased from those days by one hundred million, though the actual number of unreached peoples has decreased to around 8,000. Over half of these unreached peoples still remain unengaged, yet in those same three and half decades, over 350,000 evangelical missionaries were deployed. Roughly 85% of these missionaries went to already reached peoples. Sadly, the vast majority of the 2.7 billion which Ralph Winter championed lived and died without a real opportunity to find Christ and follow him in their cultural and linguistic context.
In the face of these facts, we must concede that the frontier mission movement, and the Centers for World Mission (CWM) which prophetically upheld this cause, were at best only partially successful. At the same time, we can also say with confidence and hope that our best days are ahead us. For we have the assurance of Scripture that there will be worshippers of Jesus among every nation, tribe, people, and language existing in those final days before Christ’s coming. The latest research indicates we are fast approaching this incredible milestone. Indeed it is not inconceivable that based on the progress being made, every people group on earth in our generation could be engaged with missionary teams in the next ten to fifteen years.
However, we should not conclude that this will happen all by itself, or even that these missionaries will be successful if not properly equipped, trained and covered in intercession. The last three decades bear witness that an entire generation of unreached populations can be lost in spite of the overwhelming capacity of the global Church to meet the need. The church’s lack of obedience to these matters reflects a lack of vision and prophetic awakening. At the same time, the extent to which there was obedience reflects the depth and breadth to which vision was spread and sown throughout the Church. This is the enduring legacy of the Center for World Mission (CWM) spirit—that God requires leadership and initiative in pioneering new frontiers. The entire history of the Great Commission lends credence to this reality, as do the Scriptures themselves. God requires us to act on the knowledge and capacity we possess.
Of course, it would be a mistake to conclude that the last three decades were entirely a failure. The small minority who did venture out to the unreached peoples dramatically increased in terms of their overall numbers, as did the number of breakthroughs. There are over 200 church-planting movements which are taking place in the 10/40 Window today which did not exist thirty years ago. Increased missionary presence and activity in some areas has actually resulted in a higher probability that a breakthrough will occur. In the year 1980 the ratio of missionaries to Muslims was one to a million. Today, it is 1 to 100,000. Some groups, such as the Turks, have even lower ratios, of 1 missionary per 30,000.
Even so, while we can rejoice in this progress, we must also be sobered by the fact that many places like Turkey have yet to see a significant breakthrough in spite of all the thousands of missionaries sent. The Turkish church still has a Bible which uses a name for God that is totally unrecognizable to 99% of the population. Perhaps just as significant, the patron-client mission model which the global missions force has exported to Turkey has resulted in a handicapped, divided and Westernized church, which seems to be losing more members than it gains, and there are not many to lose.
Unfortunately, the reality is that most MBB churches are in the same situation as the Turkish church. A recent study of MBB churches around the world discovered that 80% of the population in such fellowships are composed of “single, young, unemployed males who hate their fathers.” These churches tend to be highly unstable, and many more are lost than survive. Indeed, the international director of Frontiers recently remarked that the last twenty years of their efforts resulted in very little lasting fruit, yet the same traditional approaches continue to be used in most cases.
To a large extent these failed approaches are the legacy of traditional cross-cultural Western missions. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that this is confined just to the Western missionary force. Increasingly, the global missionary movement is being made up of non-Westerners, and to a large extent these missionaries are being trained with and are using the same methodologies and approaches as their Western counterparts. In some parts of the non-Western world, certainly not all, the missionary tone we see regarding reaching Muslims has a crusading tone to it—i.e., we are going to Christianize them before they Islamicize us. I hope this is changing, and that the non-Western world will learn from the failed approaches of the West. But for many, this change has come too late.
In a recent interview of a non-Western mission organization working among the Fulani, I was amazed to learn that the process of Christianizing nomadic Fulani includes resettling believing families among sedentary, non-Fulani communities. For these Fulani believers, it may be impossible to reverse this as time progresses. Yet how many more will be affected in the decades ahead? This is a crucial issue we face today. We are not really listening to those we are invading with our programs, methods, schemes and projects. Our paradigm is still doing mission to people rather than with people. Though the non-Western mission movement often criticizes the Western missionaries for not listening to them, both movements need to wake up to the reality that the global missionary force has turned a deaf ear to the emerging indigenous churches and their leaders among the unreached peoples we are all trying to reach.
Not long ago I was speaking to a Turkish church leader and he was telling me of the great harm that is happening to the Turkish church through the constant competition between agencies for national workers. Though he has attempted many times to voice these concerns, he is routinely dismissed. More and more we are hearing of this problem in frontier mission areas. Yet we do not invite such troublemakers to our global mission gatherings. This is a major oversight. We have many meetings about how to reach Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, and yet we neglect to bring believers from these backgrounds to the table who have the capacity to honestly inform our strategies. Even when we do bring such people they are often paraded like trophies, and almost always come in the context of a patron-client relationship. They do not come as equals, and so cannot freely speak their minds.
Can we hope that this situation will change with the emerging mission movement from the majority world? Certainly we can hope. But although a comprehensive study of non-Western mission methodology has yet to be done, anecdotal evidence would indicate their approach often varies little from their Western counterparts when it comes to reaching Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. The aim is to Christianize the world’s non-Christian peoples, and to a large extent, franchise our version of the faith among them. Yet this is the very thing which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for, and the very reason for the first church council in Acts 15. In that sense, we have gone backwards in mission today.
Strangely the open letter of Watchman Nee to the churches of the West is still as relevant today as it was two generations ago. He wondered why the West felt compelled to export all their divisions and theological controversies to China. Why could there not be a united Chinese church? It is now the 21st century and we are still too afraid to ask this question of ourselves. Yet for the sake of the remaining frontier regions of the world, perhaps we should. After all, in the past major fields only had to deal with a few mission agencies from a few sending countries. Now churches and missions from the ends of the earth are preparing to descend upon the final frontiers. Perhaps this impending onslaught will cause us to consider sparing these areas the divisions of the entire global Christian world. Though if we will not, perhaps God will intervene as he did in China and remove all the missionaries entirely.
In addition to exporting our divisions we are also exporting a methodology of missions which might rightly be called Christianization, or that religious tradition which emerged in the Western world as a contextualized offshoot of messianic Judaism. Though we have no biblical mandate to export a religion, many are insisting upon it (though perhaps unwittingly so). In Acts 15 the right of Greek believers to be “Christians” and not “Jews” was affirmed by a predominately Jewish council. But today, it is the “Christians” who are in need of their own Acts 15 reformation. By and large, we are not extending the same grace which was extended to us! Today, the “Christianizers” have drawn a line in the sand.
Ultimatums are being given to every major mission in the United States that unless they dismiss missionaries working alongside contextualized Jesus movements in the Muslim world, none of their missionaries will receive support. A similar anti-contextualization trend is taking place in other countries, even we hear in South Korea, the second largest foreign missionary sending force in the world. This is a disturbing and alarming trend. No doubt it is a result in part of doing mission in a post 9/11 world. Our fear and hatred of Muslims is increasing daily, and this has affected the Church in no small way. But to what end? Will mission agencies capitulate to the demands being placed upon them by anti-contextualization crusaders, thus forcing the creation of new mission structures, or will courageous leadership within the Church rise to the occasion and confront those seeking to bully Holy Spirit led missionaries on the field?
Essentially, the room is divided just as it was in Acts 15 between those who would say, “Unless they become like us, they cannot be saved,” and those who would say, “Why put upon them a burden which neither we nor our forefathers could bear!” Yet what is at stake here is more than just the future of frontier missions. What is at stake is our understanding of the gospel itself, and ultimately as a missionary movement we need to ask ourselves, Are we going to serve God or mammon? Do we preach the gospel of the Kingdom or the gospel of Christianization? And by extension, a gospel of Westernization, since for the most part, even the missionary sending churches of the majority world are highly Westernized. Thus the Western legacy of cultural colonialism is ironically living on through them even as the mission movement declines in the West.
Of course, the Christianization issue is just one of many problems confronting indigenization in today’s mission context. Even among many peoples classified as “reached” there are troubling signs that would tell us our past efforts have produced very mixed results. One of the great contemporary mission scandals is how few Wycliffe Bible translations are actually being used by indigenous churches; or how few indigenous churches among minority peoples use their own language and cultural forms in worship. A contributing factor to this dilemma is that we continue to educate tribal pastors in institutions and programs that use the national language and the national Bible translation. As a result, national pastors naturally use the national language rather than their own mother-tongue. Is it any wonder then why their parishioners follow their example?
Now while it is not the purpose of this paper to describe all the problems in missions today, I bring up these few to propose that centers for world mission have a unique role to play in these matters and more. It is the business of a CWM to look at the big picture, to identify critical gaps in the unfinished task, and to take the initiative to implement solutions. In that sense, a CWM is in itself a kind of strategy that is essential to fulfilling the Great Commission. At the heart of this strategy is gathering the intelligence needed to understanding where those gaps are in the overall objective of seeing a church for every people in our generation. With our brief time this morning, and to help stimulate our discussion this afternoon, I would like us to take a look briefly at where we have come from as a network and movement, where we are now, and finally make some proposals as to what might be done in the future.
Where we have come from
At Edinburgh 1980 it was proposed that a network and movement of centers for world mission be formed which would do the following: research the unreached peoples, assess the potential harvest force, establish a global registry of unreached people engagement, develop and share resources, as well as ideas, approaches, and models, mobilize agencies and churches for frontier mission, facilitate inter-mission cooperation, coordinate training for frontier missions, sponsor regional and national frontier mission meetings, and equip frontier mission intercessors.
At various levels, this vision has in part been achieved, and we praise God for this. The fruit of this effort has been the greatest level of inter-mission cooperation to finish the task ever seen before in history. The last decade has seen the emergence of over 500 partnerships and networks which are frontier mission focused. We now have counterparts to the International Society of Frontier Missiology and the Perspectives movement here in Asia. There are more users of the Global Prayer Digest and the Adopt-A-People strategy in the non-Western world than in the West. Increasingly, international missions are being made up of a majority non-Western personnel and they are beginning to assume key leadership positions in these organizations. These and others are many hopeful signs of a maturing mission force in the non-Western world, which in the decade ahead will become the leading presence in the global mission thrust.
Where we are now
When one compares the world of forty years ago with today, there are vast changes which have taken place, which we would do well to reflect upon. In the 1970s, Ralph Winter prophesied the emergence of a frontier mission movement and predicted it would be championed by the non-Western world. To a large extent this has happened. While one can attend the annual meetings of the North American Mission Leaders Conference and hear almost nothing of frontier missions, if one attends a COMIBAM or MANI meeting today, the whole event is about reaching the least-reached peoples. This is an incredible indictment of where we stand today in global missions. While Western missions is plauteuing in overall numbers and spinning off into a thousand directions, the non-Western movement is growing and laser focused on the unfinished task.
At the last Urbana there was almost no mention of unreached peoples. While this is a cause for concern, the reality is that if Urbana were to disappear today it would make little difference now. The emerging student mission movements in places like Korea and Nigeria are more than sufficient to make up for the decline of the United States, and the West in general. Indeed, for the first time in modern history, the number of cross-cultural missionaries from the non-Western world has exceeded that of the Western world. Research indicates that this took place around the middle of the last decade, with the token demarcation assigned to the year 2005. In the year 2000, Western cross-cultural missionaries made up 59% of the total. Today, almost the reverse has taken place, with non-Western cross-cultural missionaries making up 63% of the global total.
What does all this mean for today? Do we need to rethink our strategies in light of this trend? Will the surge of missionaries from China, Philippines, Nigeria, Korea, Brazil, etc., result in greater breakthroughs among the final frontiers, or will this surge actually hinder the growth and development of indigenous church movements in places like Turkey, which now has one missionary now for every convert? The verdict is not yet out. It is for this reason I would like to propose in this paper a next step that we might take as a movement, which I believe is critical to seeing a church for every people in our generation.
Where do we go from here
The combined goals of the various non-Western mission movements would result in hundreds of thousands of new missionaries being sent out in the next twenty years, if these goals are achieved. Interestingly, most of these new mission movements are frontier-mission focused. Thus it is likely that we will see a great surge in missionary work among the most sensitive fields in the world. For this reason, among others, the need for mission collaboration has never been greater. Fortunately, at the same time the desire for such collaboration has never been higher in history.
While the various regional, national and people-group partnerships have been a good step in the right direction, they are notoriously inefficient in accomplishing anything beyond fellowship in their periodic gatherings. What I would like to propose therefore as a next step is the creation of field-based centers for world mission. These field CWMs would function in a very similar way to the traditional concept of a CWM, but they would have a specific focus on a particular unreached area or people group. Their purpose is to serve the entire mission effort, including expat, national and indigenous pioneering activities towards the end of seeing fully discipled peoples.
Among other activities, these field-based CWMs might do one or more of the following:
1. Identify strategic population segments for missionary engagement
2. Evaluate the extent to which the gospel is impacting various identified sub-groups
3. Investigate reported breakthroughs
4. Track the progress of the gospel among every community (towns, villages, city neighborhoods) among the people group(s)
5. Serve as a hub for coordinating church-planting efforts
6. Produce and distribute indigenous evangelism and discipleship resources
7. Facilitate the reaching of nearby smaller unreached people group
8. Host meetings regarding contextualization issues, or other concerns of the indigenous church
9. Serve as a liaison between the outside mission force and the indigenous church
10. Act as a communication hub for sharing news and updates with both intercessors around the world as well as the church and mission community
11. Model missional community
12. Establish and maintain facilities for meetings, offices, and training
13. Serve as an incubator for establishing new para-church ministries and structures
14. Engage in for profit activity as a community to fund existing and future ministries
15. Champion both the breadth and depth of the Great Commission such that the goal of national discipleship is actively pursued
I would like to propose that we establish hundreds of these types of field-based centers. What would be ideal is to have one center for each unreached mega-people over one million in population. There are about 300 unreached mega-peoples today which could benefit from such centers. We could also have an equal amount of centers that are established for reaching clusters of minority peoples. This is a great need in almost every country. The vast majority of the world’s unengaged unreached peoples are minority peoples. It is estimated that an additional 32,000 missionaries are needed to minimally engage all the unreached peoples which remain. The vast majority of these need to be deployed among minority peoples. Unlike engaging mega-peoples which is primarily urban-based, these minority peoples are mostly in rural, undeveloped areas, requiring a modified approach to what can be done in urban areas.
We actually have with us at this conference two examples of what I consider field-based centers, and I think it is really providential that they are here. One serves primarily a mega-people—the Thai, and the other serves a cluster of minority peoples. One brother represents a center of this variety in Mexico where there are over 150 unreached peoples. His center has become a hub for training indigenous workers and coordinating inter-mission projects, as well as liaisoning with outside mission efforts. His recent interactions, for example, with the Story Runners project reflect the importance of this liaison ministry. He was able to bring together church-planters in the region to dialogue with the story-runners project and help them understand why their approach needed to be significantly adjusted if it was to have a long-term impact on the peoples of Mexico.
In many cases, I believe the physical facilities required for these field-based centers can be acquired relatively cheaply. Very likely with around 100 million dollars we could purchase all the adequate facilities we would need to establish around 500 such centers. This is really a small amount considering these facilities would be serving the billions of dollars in mission activity which will be spent over the next twenty years to reach these areas. In fact, if we sold our Pasadena campus we could fund them all right now. Ralph Winter once proposed this very thing! At any rate, what would be really tremendous is if we as a network could find the capacity to help one another establish these centers one by one.
There are many advantageous to having a physical place. One of the most important is that the place itself can come to be recognized as a neutral hub for cooperation. But beyond the psychological effect, there are many practical advantageous to having your own facility. A physical place also has the capacity to serve as an incubator for new ministries. Over the years we saw many ministries get going on the U.S. Center Campus such as Frontiers, Global Mapping International, Caleb Project, and DAWN ministries, among many others. These new ministries had the advantage of being able to learn from one another as well as from older, more established ministries. Additionally, they could benefit from the infrastructure of an established facility, such as mail service, hospitality services, food service, etc.
Another advantage to a physical place is the capacity to build community over time. As someone who grew up from childhood in the U.S. Center community I can testify how valuable this was to me personally and to others. Ralph Winter established a principle that we were committing a crime as a community if we did any work that a child was able to do! Thus I always felt welcome participating in the community life and work from my earliest memories. I really cannot imagine how we would have been able to do what have done at the U.S. Center without a physical place. Even if we were to take it away today, with all the modern advances in communication technology, I think we would still be at a significant disadvantage.
The second example we have at this conference of a field-based center is represented, who has the unique situation and privilege of being able to impact the entire body of Christ and mission movement in Thailand. His team have researched the entire country of Thailand, and have identified the major church-planting priorities for the whole nation. They have collected every evangelistic and discipleship resource ever made in Thai and digitized it, making available a whole library of resources to every pastor who wants it. His group has also been a champion among the expat community for bringing Thai leaders to the table when discussing strategy issues (He is in touch with thousands of pastors all throughout Thailand). His group also has a vision for establishing a larger facility that would enable them to bring other ministries together that have similar purpose and vision of serving the entire body of Christ in Thailand.
One more item is worth mentioning here. Two interesting parallels exist between the center in Thailand and that in Oaxaca. Both are engaged in for profit activity to fund their work. I believe this an important trend and sign of things to come. One of the reasons it is important is that such centers should eventually be handed over to indigenous leaders and thus they should be self-supporting. The keen foresight of Ralph Winter also built this into his model of the U.S. Center, which through its property management of 150 or so rental homes is able to fund a significant portion of its ministry, and indeed this conference itself is a benefit of that for-profit activity.
If Centers for World Mission are really valuable, then why not pioneer them from the very beginning among a people group? This is the fundamental premise of this proposal. One of the great mistakes Ralph Winter pointed out that missionaries made in the past was the failure to reproduce the very types of structures which brought the missionaries to the people group in the first place. In some cases, the missionaries just could not conceive that the nationals they were working among could be effective cross-cultural missionaries. What I would suggest is that we not make the same mistake with regard to establishing what might be considered ecumenical mission structures, or Centers for World Mission, among the peoples of the world, especially the final frontiers. In establishing these structures from the very beginning, we can model missional unity for the emerging body of Christ in the form of an apostolic community whose vision and purpose is to advance into new frontiers both locally and beyond, both in breadth and depth, and with both scholarship and activism. This is the enduring legacy of the CWM spirit which we would do well to pass on to every people group in the world, especially those where the Church is in its early stages of formation. If this vision is from God, then he will surely raise up the people of faith to give sacrificially towards this end, and the pioneers to carry the vision forward into fruition. Then all the stories represented in this room will become just one of many that will inspire future generations to the glory of God.
By David Taylor