Jesus’ marching orders to us are to make disciples of all nations. Obedience here means baptizing people of all ethnicities in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It also means teaching them to observe his commands. This is what we need to do. So we need to take care that we don’t replace making disciples with strategizing about how to make disciples. But there is something to be said for being strategic sending.
Where We Make Disciples
A missionary in a difficult context once used the following illustration to explain why he was serving in the location that he was.
Imagine two burning candles, the first in a room lit by 99 other candles, and the second in a room by itself. What happens if the first candle is blown out? There would be a little less light in the room, but the difference would not be noticeable. What happens if the second is blown out? Utter darkness.
In some ways, both candles are equally powerful – flames on wicks that emit the same amount of light. In other ways, though, the second candle shines much brighter.
The difference is need.
This is why when we sit down to form missions strategies, we should not ignore needs. We should carefully take both physical and spiritual needs into consideration and accordingly prioritize the areas. Then we should focus on strategic sending of people.
Urgent Physical Needs
The United States is riddled with problems – a broken foster care system, generational poverty in urban housing communities, financially devastating medical problems, crime and violence, and more. Our churches are called to address these problems with the love and generosity of Christ.
Yet, think about the problems of a developing nation – no care systems for millions of orphans, extreme and inescapable poverty in urban slums, rampant death from preventable diseases, corruption and war, and so much more.
So one question that informs our strategy is: Where are these physical problems worst?
Urgent Spiritual Need
On top of the physical need is the even more important spiritual need. There isn’t a neighborhood in the world that is without lost people. But some areas of the world have more neighborhoods with more lost people than other areas of the world. The plight of an atheist in the Bible Belt is a bit different than that of a Hindu in Nepal. Both are on their way to eternal destruction without Jesus, but the latter will probably never hear about Him.
This question also informs our strategy: Where are the places that lack access to the gospel?
Strategic Sending Based On Both Needs
We send medical missionaries to places like the Dominican Republic and Congo because the physical need is high. We send missionaries to the 10/40 window because the spiritual need is high. Let us, then, be doubly sure to send missionaries to places where both physical and spiritual needs are present. Countries like Syria, India, and Myanmar are clear examples of this.
But some of the darkest, most candle-deprived rooms may not be as obvious. Physical and spiritual needs also coincide in Athens, London, and New York. It may come as a surprise to learn that such needs are present in these bustling cities, but they are. They largely exist in populations of international immigrants. These people are (at least at first) unfamiliar with their surroundings and homesick, perhaps financially struggling, and often totally ignorant of the gospel. Many are also refugees who are emotionally suffering from the past traumatic experiences that forced them to flee their home countries.
Has your church considered sending missionaries to the immigrants in an international city? It could be that they are in an unreached people group and came there from a closed country. It could be that they are struggling to make ends meet and no one living in the busy, urban setting cares enough to lend them a hand. Or it could be that they’re plagued by seemingly inescapable depression and anxiety.
It could also be that they’re more open to the gospel now than they’ve ever been before.