Why the Green Zones Need Missionaries Too - Radical

Why the Green Zones Need Missionaries Too

The Great Imbalance is one of the most urgent global mission crises of the modern era. The Great Imbalance refers to the disproportionate allocation of missionaries and missions resources to reached countries. Over three billion people in over 7,000 unreached ethnolinguistic people groups will, unless something changes, be born, live, and die without ever hearing the gospel.

At the same time, roughly 97% of missionaries and 99% of missions giving goes to reached people and places. This imbalance demands correction. But does this mean that we should no longer send missionaries and resources to reached countries?

I don’t think so. In fact, I believe God allows missionaries in reached countries to be faithful Great Commission practitioners while simultaneously contributing to the correction of the Great Imbalance.

Reachedness Determines Priority, Not Completion

The priority in the Great Commission is advancing the gospel among the people and places where Christ is unknown (Romans 15:23–24). This means with limited resources and personnel, we must prioritize pioneer missionary efforts. Paul understood, and we must understand, that the Great Commission’s intent is to gather Christ’s redeemed of every race and tribe from among the earth (Psalm 96:1–9; 1 Corinthians 9:16; Revelation 5:9).

However, evangelistic engagement of a people or place is not the end of the Great Commission task. In Paul’s first missionary journey, he strategically chose to delay advancing the gospel into new frontiers to strengthen churches in southern Galatia (Acts 14:21–23). Until Christ returns, there’s still work to be done.

The Missionary Task Among Reached Peoples and Places

Although Paul prioritized the unreached, his concern for gospel purity and the spiritual vitality of the churches he left behind compelled him to send additional leaders, like Timothy and Titus, to build on his foundation (Galatians 4:19; 1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 1:5). While the particulars will vary depending on context and calling, missionaries serving among reached peoples and places steward a similar responsibility.

Preserve and Spread the Biblical Gospel

The shift in global Christianity is well known. The Christian population in the Global South increased from 8% in 1900 to an estimated 77% today. Regions formally classified as unreached are now considered reached. This shift allows us to redirect a greater percentage of Great Commission resources to the unreached. But we should avoid using reached and unreached criteria as the decisive determiner of missionary engagement.

Too often reached and unreached categories oversimplify the actual state of the gospel.

Too often reached and unreached categories oversimplify the actual state of the gospel. For instance, a close evaluation of the gospel in large portions of the Global South reveals an anemic, if not entirely distorted gospel. Health and wealth are decreed and declared. Liberation from sin is equated with liberation from political oppression. Expositional preaching is replaced with sensationalism and the biblical gospel of grace is painfully absent.

In some cases, enough healthy churches exist to preserve and propagate the biblical gospel. In other instances, missionaries are needed. Either way, gospel clarity is a matter of first importance worthy of our Great Commission resources (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).

Supplement Theological Education

In the Great Commission, we are called to make disciples and teach obedience to the whole counsel of God’s word (Acts 20:27). The heart of the missionary task is teaching disciples and churches with all wisdom in order to present them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). As a result, effective missionary strategy involves theological training, especially the training of local church leaders (2 Timothy 2:2).

Yet, statistical and anecdotal evidence reveals a global theological crisis. Many reached peoples and places lack discipled believers, theologically equipped leaders, and biblically sound churches. Many of these pastors are ill-equipped to rightly divide the Word of truth, and their churches fail to flourish because of poorly trained leadership (2 Timothy 2:15). In response, missionaries can provide pastoral training and theological education that balances acquisition and application (2 Timothy 1:13).

Of course, some will argue theological education isn’t a necessary credential for someone to serve as a pastor or elder. Some may even say it’s a hindrance to global missions. But Scripture teaches that an overseer of the church “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). This text implies that leaders should have substantial biblical and theological knowledge, as well as the skills to communicate that knowledge.

Collaborate for Gospel Advancement to the Unreached

I often pray, “God, my desire is your global worship. If this is better accomplished by sending us to the unreached, please reassign us.” Instead, God continues to increase our current influence as a means of increasing our gospel impact among the unreached.

As the Global Church becomes increasingly diverse, so too does the typical missionary profile. In 2021, the Global South church sent 47% of the total cross-cultural missionaries—15% sent from my context, Latin America. Praise God for how he entrusts our brothers and sisters in the Global South with the same Great Commission.

Being a missionary in a reached country can provide the opportunity to help correct the Great Imbalance by collaborating with the future missionary force.

So, although it seems counterintuitive, being a missionary in a reached country can provide the opportunity to help correct the Great Imbalance by collaborating with the future missionary force. Personally, I invest more time encouraging and training churches to serve in limited-access and restricted-access countries than in any other activity.

Ultimately, correcting the Great Imbalance does not mean restricting all Great Commission activity to the unreached. It’s a matter of appropriate balance. A balanced stewardship of missions resources and personnel that prioritizes pioneer missions without overlooking the unfinished work of strengthening and mobilizing churches among the reached.

Craig D. McClure is a Missions Advancement Strategist and professor at the Dominican Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a master’s degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is currently a doctoral student and adjunct professor in global missions. Craig and his wife Joanna live in the Dominican Republic with their four children, Joseph, Liliana, Lucas, and Matías.

LESS THAN 1% OF ALL MONEY GIVEN TO MISSIONS GOES TO UNREACHED PEOPLE AND PLACES.

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!