Top Ten Mission Trends in the 21st Century: Evangelism vs. Mission


There is a widespread confusion in local churches today in discerning the difference between the evangelistic mandate of the church and the missionary mandate of the church.  This confusion has led many churches to claim a wide array of mission activities which are actually, in fact, evangelistic activities.  In short, evangelism refers to Christian witness among those who belong to the same culture as we do.  Missions, in contrast,  refers to Christian witness across cultural boundaries to men and women who do not belong to our culture and where there are either no Christians or the national church is not yet viable.  Why is this distinction important?  There are three reasons why remembering this distinction is vital to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  First, we must always remember the vital difference between those who currently do have access to the gospel and those who do not.  If we belong to a culture where the church has been sufficiently planted then it is likely that non-Christians already have friends or neighbors or even family members who are Christians.   It is likely that there are local churches, radio broadcasting and a host of literature available which gives this non-Christian access to the gospel message.  Furthermore, it is likely that the Bible is also available in the language of these non-Christians.  In short, they have access to the gospel message even if they are non-Christians.  In contrast, there are thousands of people groups in the world today who simply do not have access to the gospel.  The missionary mandate focuses on this latter group and constitutes approximately 33% of the world as demonstrated by the graph below (See, Chart C).  Second, it is vital that local churches wisely allocate their scare missions resources.  Why should we spend missions money to send a young family to a part of the globe where the church is already viable?   If, for example, there is a vigorous church present among the Yoruba in Nigeria, why should we allocate resources to send someone who is culturally and linguistically removed from the Yoruba (e.g. an American, English speaking person) to do evangelism for the Yoruba Christians?  It is not only an unwise allocation of resources, but it is actually a missiological impediment to the full emergence of the indigenous church among the Yoruba.  Third, we must recognize that evangelism, even on a massive global scale, will never fulfill the Great Commission.  Even if every Christian in the world became an anointed evangelist and, furthermore, every person they witnessed to (friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members and so forth) became Christians, at the end of this wave of evangelism there would still be over one billion people who have never heard the gospel message.  Why?  Because these are the people groups who currently do not have any Christians in their midst.  There are thousands of people groups where people simply do not have any Christians in their family, or among their co-workers or in their neighborhood and so forth.
This distinction is not intended to diminish the vital importance of the evangelistic mandate.  It is merely intended to clearly understand the differences between the two mandates and the vital importance for the local church to be certain that everything they call missions is actually missions.
Chart C


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