I was doing homework for a class about world missions when I came across a passage about strategy that struck me as formulaic and robotic.
Completing the total task will require that in every single people group, at some point in history, there be a movement of baptized and obedient disciples capable of evangelizing the entire people…This means that it doesn’t matter exactly how many individuals populate these people groups. If a people group numbers ten thousand or ten million, the strategic priority is virtually the same with respect to finishing the global mandate.
Before I begin, let me begin by saying I believe intentional strategy is integral to the church planter’s duties. A missionary would not be doing his due diligence if they weren’t thinking strategically about important factors involved in reaching the people around him or her. Strategy is a very good thing.
However, strategy can quickly become a dangerous topic. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say, “When you become a missionary, this is your strategy.” Therefore, if we are not careful, strategy can turn into a way to fulfill God’s mission with our own strength.
If we develop the best strategy, the nations will be reached.
If we use our time most efficiently, a church will be built.
If we contextualize just the right amount, Jesus will be proclaimed.
While these are very good things to think about, our sinful minds have the potential to manipulate strategy into a way for us to have more control and for God to take a backseat.
Which brings me back to the passage I read in class. The author, in an effort to think strategically about fulfilling the Great Commission, makes an effort to think about reaching the world solely in terms of people groups, not on an individual level.
I couldn’t help but read it and wonder, “Is this really what the Great Commission is saying? To simply check each people group off our list or to see God truly worshiped among these people?”
While noble in his intentions, the author turns the return of Christ into the ultimate goal of missions (Matthew 24:14), all for the sake of strategy. He seems to imply that Christians should be focused solely on reaching each people group to a sufficient amount, while not factoring in that these people groups are filled with individuals.
To me, this seemed to be in direct conflict with God’s heart: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
According to Peter, God’s saving mission to bring all people to repentance is not a race. It is not a checklist. It is not simply a duty to be fulfilled.
It is much weightier than that. Human souls are on the line. Eternity is on the line. Heaven or Hell is on the line.
We can’t afford to turn this into a game.
I’m reminded of Paul’s prayer for Philemon, “That the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 6).
This prayer seems to really get at the heart of strategy in missions because Paul does pray for effectiveness. He wants their ministry to see fruit, to have some sort of forward movement of the gospel. Effectiveness is a good thing.
However, Paul doesn’t pray for effectiveness in order to hit a minimum number requirement and check a people group off the list. It is that the people would have full knowledge of every good thing we have in Christ.
The list goes on and on.
When Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, there is an emphasis on both the individual and the people groups. The command isn’t in place so we can race to bring Jesus back faster, but rather that no one should perish.
Strategy is a good thing and, to some extent, is needed in missions. But let us avoid turning strategy into a manmade tactic to complete a formula.
Let us use strategy to faithfully share the gospel and trust that God will continue to use our broken efforts to reach every individual within every people group.