SPEAKING OUT offers responsible Christians a forum. It does not necessarily reflect the views of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

In Megatrends, John Naisbitt pointed the way to a worldwide economy: Economically independent nations are melting rapidly into interdependence, he said. To ignore this international trading community is to commit commercial suicide.

A recent U.S. News and World Report cover story proclaimed that while some industries are being destroyed by overseas competition, others are “proving it possible to chalk up profits in nose-to-nose contests with foreigners.”

Economic intelligence foresees the inevitability of a global economy. Yet almost ironically, U.S. Christians are becoming isolationist. Big business plows billions of dollars into overseas operations. But as secular society looks outward, evangelical Christians tend toward spiritual introspection.

The current worldwide outlook should open evangelicals’ eyes. Here are four questions to help us as we reassess our mission.

Keeping Pace

First, how will our exploding world hear the gospel?

In the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Jan. 1985), British en cyclopedist of world mission, David Barrett, reported that Islam and Hinduism are growing at the same rate as world population, but Christianity is slipping slightly behind.

World Concern’s Tom Sine reached the same conclusion. He wrote: “More than two billion people have never heard a witness of the gospel. In many parts of the world, the population is growing faster than the church’s ability to evangelize” (World Christian, July–August 1985).

It cannot be God’s will to feed the fatted church and starve the spiritually malnourished of our world. Pop stars send millions to the starving world, while Christians invest their wealth in buildings and programs.


Second, who will replace a generation of retiring missionaries?

According to the best research, the growth in missionary personnel is not keeping pace with the population explosion. Lou Barilotti addressed the problem of a shrinking missionary force in the International Journal of Frontier Missions (I/1). By 1994 more than 30,000 missionaries will retire. Only about 5,000 will step into their shoes.

At the conclusion of World War II, between 20,000 and 30,000 missionaries went to every corner of the globe. Now as they conclude their life’s work, their task remains unfinished.

Meanwhile most missionary-sending agencies are desperately calling for more volunteers. For example, the Sudan Interior Mission aims to double its roster from 1,006 to 2,000 by the year 1993. And The Evangelical Alliance Mission is calling for 1,300 new missionaries by 1990.

Ways And Means

Third, who will give to make this missionary advance a reality?

World Christian (July-August 1985) estimated that most Christians give about 2.4 percent of their income to missions. Some denominations designate less than 1 percent of their income for overseas operations.

In the United Kingdom, the situation is worse. Sixty percent of all British missions are in financial trouble. Meager missionary salaries have been sliced in half. There is just not enough money to go around.

In our age of affluence, evangelical churches grow palatial while a pittance is set aside for missions. We are bankrolling an evangelical boom at home and sending nickels and dimes overseas.

First Church

Fourth, how can churches meet the need for missionaries and money?

The answer lies with the evangelical churches. In the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (July 1985), missions pastor Paul Borthwick said: “Many young people get their ‘call’ to missions in Christian college organizations, or at the Urbana missionary conferences. That’s great, but I am chagrined that so few of the church’s best people are selected and called forth by the local church.”

Similar sentiments were put forward by Wood Phillips, missions pastor of Grace Church in Edina, Minnesota: “It is the Holy Spirit who calls the candidate and the church who confirms the call” (Evangelical Missions Quarterly, April 1985).

The Great Omission is the title of a recent book by Columbia Bible College’s missionary-minded president, Robertson McQuilkin. If America’s missionary force is to be renewed and revitalized, we must not look to the great campus ministries, such as Inter-Varsity and Campus Crusade. Neither must we turn to the Christian colleges. The responsibility rests solely with the church, whom McQuilkin calls, “the interested but uncommitted.”

WAYNE DETZLERWayne Detzler is assistant professor of mission at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

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