One of the obstacles within the resource-rich Western church to reaching the nations with the gospel is the adoption of a mission goal that is hyper-concerned with the conversion of as many “neighbors” as possible before turning our attention to the unreached peoples of the world. What this means is that Western churches may be hesitant to pursue ambitious international mission strategies because of sincere concern and awareness that there are many “neighbors” who don’t yet know Jesus Christ. This local sensitivity, while perhaps motivated by heartfelt compassion, is slightly out of step with the overall trajectory of the gospel for several reasons.

  1. The Scriptures never set the call to make disciples in “Jerusalem” and “the ends of the earth” in opposition. These are not “either/or” commands, but rather, “both/and”.
  2. “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. This means that our primary concern in missions should not necessarily be to see more and more people converted (though it isn’t unbiblical to earnestly desire to see God save as many people as possible through the Gospel). I say this because we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what we cannot control. Our primary concern should be to make the Gospel plain among our neighbors and the nations. Our goal should be to take the Gospel to all nations. The work of grace that leads to salvation depends upon the Holy Spirit, not upon how saturated a community is with the Gospel. The anals of church history will attest to the power of the Gospel going forth leading to salvation even in areas where there was very little Gospel presence. However, there must be a Gospel presence for this is the power of God for salvation.
  3. The biblical perspective on missions understands that the goal of Jesus’ Gospel is to bring make disciples from all nations, not necessarily to save as many people as possible from every nation. Someone might object, “But God doesn’t want any to perish.” Remember those words were penned to a particular audience in 2Peter. He was writing to believers. It is true that God doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked. The scope of the Gospel is universal in its sufficiency to save and all who call upon the name of the Lord in fatih will be saved. But no where in Scripture do we see that the aim of the Gospel is to save as many as possible in every nation, especially since it is clear in the Scriptures that not all will be saved. What is clear is that the aim of the Gospel is to save some from every tribe, tongue and nation for the sake of Jesus’ fame and renown in all the earth. This means that our awareness of the lostness of our neighbors should not prohibit us from taking the Gospel to the nations.

John Piper writes in his excellent book Let the Nations Be Glad that missions exist because worship doesn’t. The proclamation of the Gospel is mandated to all disciples of Jesus by the Son of God Himself because the aim of the gospel is to make disciples of people from every tribe, tongue and nation because God wants worshipers of peoples from all nations. This means that obedience to the Lord Jesus is simple. Make the Gospel plain among your neighbors and the nations. Think as strategically about taking the Gospel to an unreached people group in the world as you do about reaching your next door neighbor for Christ. Be faithful to speak of Christ and place your confidence in the Word and the Gospel to accomplish the work of salvation.