It is an undisputable fact that the Christianity that started with some few disciples has grown and moved from its Palestine cradle to Europe, America, Africa and the rest of the world.
As a matter of fact, it has grown both geographically and numerically. Martin and Scott in their book, The Great Commission, observed that “Whereas in 1500, only 19 per cent of the world’s population was Christian and more than 83 percent of the world’s Christian lived in Europe. . . From 1750 to 1900 . . . the world’s Christian nearly quadrupled. In 1750, 160 million people claimed to be Christians, about 22 percent of the world’s inhabitants. By 1900; however, more than 558 million claimed to follow Jesus, over 34 percent of the global family.” Today, the number is over two billion.
Through the centuries, in spite of persecution and dispersion, satanic attacks and human failure, the church of Jesus Christ continues to grow. Why? Because it is God’s vehicle to take the message of life to a dying world.
The focus of this presentation is not to trace the growth and spread of Christianity around the world, rather, it is to briefly review some “old” methods used, determine their effectiveness and weaknesses and to consider modern strategies in bringing and conserving the harvest in the 21st century. Why is this necessary? It is because we cannot depend on the success of yesterday for today.
Mission, Missions, and Evangelism
Today, many people confuse these words: mission, missions, and evangelism. Although the difference is not much, but for the sake of clarity, I will make some few comments on each of them.
Mission: The word “mission” the singular, refers to the mission of God to redeem the world. It is also referred to as the missio, Dei, that is, God’s mission. In other words, it means God’s plan through all ages to redeem and save the world through His own initiative.
Missions: This is the intentional crossing of barriers from church to non-church in word and deed for the sake of the proclamation of the gospel. Missions involve crossing of cultural and geographical barriers to reach people with the gospel. It involves church planting and not just making converts but making disciples.
Evangelism: This is the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that people can hear the Good News. The main point of evangelism is for people to hear the gospel and its goal is the conversion of souls.
The point here is clear; we cannot do missions without evangelism, but we can do evangelism without missions. For instance:
- I cross the road to tell my neighbor who has heard the Gospel many times that Jesus Christ died for him and should repent. What I am doing is evangelism, not missions. This is because I have not crossed any barrier, cultural or geographical.
- Is it important? Yes!
- Should we do it? Definitely, all of us must do it.
- Is it missions? No, not really.
This distinction has helped us to see that it is the duty of any church to be involved in the local evangelization of her immediate environment (Jerusalem) and participate in missions to other places: Samaria, Judea, and the world. (Ayanrinola, Worldwide Missions)
David A. Fraser defines strategy as, “an overall approach, plan, or way of describing how we will go about reaching our goal or solving our problem.” In other words, a strategy is a thoughtfully constructed plan or method or action that is employed to achieve a desired result. It must be intentional. In this context, it is a method of achieving an objective or missions plan.
Matthew 9:35-38 is like a window into Jesus’ heart and it helps in throwing the light of understanding to what constitute “harvest” from Jesus’ point of view, The Lord of the harvest. The passage reads:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field” (Matt. 9:35-38).
This passage is a summary of what Jesus’ eyes saw that created a big burden on His heart and would not let go. Engraved on His heart were mental faces of the oppressed and destitute, He could not easily discard. All these appealed to His sympathizing eyes and compassionate heart. He could not ignore their cries, their pains, and predicaments. He did something; He provided a lasting solution!
Actually, when Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” What harvest was He referring to? Definitely He was not thinking about a botanical garden or farm plantation. Rather, He was talking metaphorically to mean the spiritual care that must be given to men and women who are abandoned, neglected to waste away with all their potentials. Jesus saw a “missiological farm” that was overripe and ready for harvest but was rotten away for lack of workers.
I am sure, if Jesus were to walk through our streets in villages, towns, and cities, I wonder if He would have seen anything better today than what He saw over two thousand years ago. I am sure He would see worse things.
From what I saw about Jesus, in the Bible, I am confident that He would cry and sob openly like He did at Lazarus’ graveyard and when He wept over Jerusalem. He would cry because some leaders are no more feeding His sheep, He would probably chase them out of their comfort zones and would probably be mad at some who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
A Brief Appraisal of the Early Strategies Used
Basically, strategies of missions followed the three traditional understanding of Jesus’ early ministries as a preacher, teacher, and healer. More precisely, in those early years, missions were understood as conversion, as education, and as a joint healing and meeting humanitarian needs.
An understanding of the history of missionary strategy could be of great help at this point. But we will not dwell much on this now. Notwithstanding, it is necessary to call to mind few examples.
- Ulfilas (311-381), who walked among the Goths, used Scripture translation as a primary strategy (Terry, Missiology: 436).
- In 590, Pope Gregory instituted a mission from an established church to another region when he sent Augustine and others to England (Latourette 1965:93-94), like modern church planting.
- In the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, missions’ strategies rode on the back of colonial master methods: education, medical care, and commerce.
- In the twentieth and twenty-first century’s missionaries, mission agencies take advantage of media and technology and other scientific breakthroughs.
No doubt, the above-mentioned strategies of mission methods, have yielded some great fruits, especially in education, medical, radio ministries, etc. (Let us discuss some of the blessings). The major setback is that they have not followed Jesus’ method.
Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity is the living, the resurrected Lord of the church. His goal is the salvation of every person by the regeneration of their hearts through faith in Him alone. And His strategy for spreading the Good News of salvation is not through political, educational or even through religious philosophies, but through discipleship. Jesus, the Lord of the Harvest, is more interested in spending quality time with men than developing programs. The colonial masters and some early missionaries missed it when they engaged unregenerated people as teachers, medical officers, and political leaders. In the twenty-first century, it is not better. Mission schools have become “gold mine” where proprietors make “cool money.” Discuss what has gone wrong with the harvest?
The Remaining Harvest
Before we consider modern strategies of bringing in the harvest and conserving it, may we quickly have a glance at the remaining harvest.
|% of World
|Peoples with this
|Buddhism||488,420,000||6.7 %||612||506||82.7 %|
|Christianity||2,249,725,000||30.9 %||7,034||0||0.0 %|
|Ethnic Religions||669,987,000||9.2 %||2,640||981||37.2 %|
|Hinduism||1,102,772,000||15.2 %||2,139||1,982||92.7 %|
|Islam||1,682,675,000||23.1 %||3,448||2,918||84.6 %|
|Non-Religious||978,390,000||13.4 %||246||16||6.5 %|
|Other / Small||95,010,000||1.3 %||145||140||96.6 %|
|Unknown||7,569,000||0.1 %||51||21||41.2 %|
|Totals: 8||7,275,084,000||100 %||16,315||6,564||40.2 %|
From the table above, the world’s population today stands at 7.2 billion of which 30.9 percent are Christians (Source: Future of the Global Church).
The State of Christianity in Africa
Total African Population (2010) 1,033,042,510
- Christians 48.77 per cent
- Muslims 41.47 per cent
- Ethno-religionists 8.32 per cent
Source: Operation World
The pertinent question to ask is, “What are the implications of the figure above?” In the truth of John 3:16, 17, 36. They imply that:
- Many are eternally lost.
- More lands to conquer.
Lessons from Great Commission Passages
Our mission comes from the command of Christ in four passages of the Bible called the “Great Commission.” The passages are:
- Matthew 28:19-20 – This passage tells us of our authority, in the name of the trinity; which is to make disciples of all nations; and our time of service – until the end of the age.
- Mark 16:15 – This gives our geographical area – the entire world; and our method – preach the Gospel.
- Luke 24:45-47 – This states our message – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the possibility of forgiveness through faith in Him; and our starting place – Jerusalem (wherever you are, your home place).
- John 20:21 (see also 17:18) – Our commission is based on the commission Jesus had. Our responsibility is to be like Jesus.
Finally, the New Testament missions is important to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10; Revelation 7:9-10) and it should be done in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). (Ayanrinola: World Missions)
A proper understanding of the Biblical basis of our mandate and commission will prevent believers in this generation from making some costly mistakes past generations made. Before Ralph Winter’s major contributions to the meaning of “unreached peoples” some denominations had thought the Good News had reached the entire world, because of their presence in political nations. We are not there yet, there are still thousands of tribes and languages that have not heard and believe the gospel.
Again, some denominations, mission agencies, including individuals, have given up so soon. Whereas, the Bible clearly states that our time of labor expires at the end of the age. Some are experiencing mission burnout, mission fatigue, and other disillusionments.
A good understanding of the mentioned biblical truths will help in bringing in and conserving the harvest in a way that the Master will be happy with us. As already pointed above, Jesus’ method is through discipleship. It is the only way we can win the world. This is the foundation for any mission methods. It is fundamental. It differs from that of Islam that aims at establishing pan-Islamic states under the guidance of the prophet and the Quran. Anyone who opposes such philosophy is considered enemies and infidels.
Islam also teaches that democracy is the rule of the majority based on human constitution, in place of the revelation of God contained in the Scriptures. Their aim is to establish Islamic kingdoms like the one prophet established in Arabia. In modern day, like Islamic political rule in nations like Pakistan (David Claydon, 470). This is the root cause of the insurgencies we are experiencing today.
New Strategies of Bringing in the Harvest and Conserving it
In addition to some “old” strategies that have been alluded to at a point in this presentation, namely: education and medical, which have brought great missions dividends, then and now, when handled correctly, Here are more strategies that can be helpful:
- Mission Volunteers and Short-term Missionaries
Mission volunteers and short-term missionaries are people who are not theologically trained: they are professional men and women who are willing to use their training to meet the needs and to expand the cause of God on the mission fields.
In our context as Nigerian evangelicals, a volunteer or a short-term missionary is “a born-again person who has felt the call of God on his or her life to serve on a home or international mission field for a short period.”
- Tent-making Missionaries
Tentmakers are Christians who use their businesses or employments to further the work of evangelism and church planting. They follow the example of the apostle Paul who was a tent-making missionary. In Corinth, he lived and worked with Aquila and Priscilla; each Sabbath the Apostle preached the Gospel of Christ in synagogues, but during the week, he made tents in order to support himself (Acts 18:1-4). When properly trained in cross-cultural missions and thoroughly prepared, people with international business assignments can serve as tent makers. These Christians can penetrate into places and peoples not open to traditional missionary work. However, those going, should be willing to work under the supervision of a national leader or a career missionary or as the case may be.
- It is to be noted that most evangelized people live in countries where the government does not allow Christian career missionaries to enter unless they have some other jobs.
- Tentmakers can shine for God in what they do, and would not go anywhere near religious professionals.
- Strategic Church Planting
In some denominations, church planting has been done individualistically. This has its merits and demerits. What are they? The class will discuss this question. Also, church planting must be done intentionally, with the aim of reaching out to specific areas of needs. For instance, if the Lord gives the vision, a church could be built to reach out to students.
Class discussion: In what way is the church like a “factory” taking in raw materials and sending out finished refined products?
- Meeting Human Needs (Social services)
Recently thousands of refugees struggled to get to Europe. Unfortunately, most of these people are from the Muslim countries. In Nigeria Boko Haram has made Nigeria to top the list of countries having the highest number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). I asked myself, how are the believers preparing for these missions opportunities? In the early church when believers were displaced, anywhere they went, it was a fertile ground for Christianity. In the light of this, let’s discuss Acts 2:42 and Acts 8:4.
- Christian Literatures
In some African countries, there is famine in the land, not the one caused by lack of rain, but because there is no good literature to feed the inner man spiritually. If the harvest will be preserved, there is the need to teach Africans to write their literature in their indigenous context.
- These are other strategies:
- Internet/ICT Missions
- Radio and TV ministries
- Theological Education
- Children ministry
- Bible Translation and others.
Jesus knows that ripe harvests could become useless if labourers are not sent to gather them on time. Some of the effects of leaving overripe harvests on the field are:
- Wastage: Harvesting must be timely. This is to ensure the grains, fruits or crops do not waste.
- Pest attack: overripe crops attract pests and insects. Once the crop has been eaten partly or bruised, it:
Reduces the economic value of the crop,
May render the crop unmarketable,
May render the crop unfit for consumption.
- It exposes the crop to microbial attacks
- Weeds may take over the field if the field is neglected
- The land is occupied unnecessarily. After harvesting, that same land could be allowed to fallow or used for the second season.
The pertinent question is what did Jesus do with the things He saw?
- He created awareness.
- He clearly stated the problem.
- He went about teaching in their synagogues.
- He enlisted people to pray about the problem.
- He provided a lasting solution. In Matthew chapter 10, He called twelve disciples.
As you are hearing me, I have no doubt God is speaking to you. What will you do when you leave this place about conserving the harvest?
Image credit: fmcusa.org