The 3 Words That Changed Missions Strategy—and Why We Might Be Wrong

A great rebuttal to the “people groups”-focused approach to doing missions. I highly recommend this read.

Here is a response to this article which should help carry this conversation. I lean towards agreeing with the first article, but this one makes some valid points.

I read the original article posted and was concerned about many aspects of both modern and early missions the article ignored. This article does a great and thoughtful job of analyzing additional modern and Biblical data. I’d recommend reading both articles for a more thorough discussion regarding how panta ta ethne was understood by the early church (as dictated by their subsequent behavior) and how we should consider obedience to the great commission today. I’m grateful for the thought and discussion going into this.

Hello Andrea! and welcome to Redemption Studio!

Granted it’s been a few years since I read the twin articles at TGC, the original against Unreached People Groups (UPG) and the other pro-UPG, but let me take a stab at responding!

I think there are some issues in the article you’ve shared. The article you shared seems to assume its conclusion rather than prove it at times, notably in the historical section on the traditions of the apostles, and I believe it is misinterpreting some passages, such as reading the nations clause of Rev 7:9 too literally for the apocalyptic genre of Revelation. I think the second article I shared does a better job in response.

I think the second article properly states that the main issue the first has with UPGs is a certain pragmatism that can exist in a UPG-only focused missionary endeavor. While they seek to ground this in exegetical and biblical theology, and I think they do a good job of it, I don’t think they are fundamentally against reaching out to UPGs, which seems to be a major concern of the second article and the one you’ve shared has about the original article. The first article states:

Is it necessary to take the gospel to the nations? Yes! Is it important to try to break into areas where the gospel has never been proclaimed? Yes! Must Christians own the responsibility to go and to send? Yes! Is it ever appropriate to think of the ethne in terms of geographic or ethnolinguistic categories? Absolutely! In fact, the apostles themselves could consider nations (Spain) or people groups (Scythians) in their efforts to take the gospel to all the world. So should we.

And in conclusion:

The Great Commission isn’t fulfilled, and our task isn’t finished, when we’ve identified every single ethnolinguistic people group and merely exposed them to the gospel. We’re called to more. Jesus sends us to make disciples of panta ta ethne, teaching them to obey everything he commanded.

Their main issue is a “Finishing the Task” mentality. As they say, reached nations are abandoned, yet it isn’t hard to look at how much 19th–21st century liberalism has harmed the Church. Now, whether or not there is a lack of making disciples is another question. I have no doubt that some ministries are less concerned with making disciples, but to what degree is such a thing truly happening?

This is why I think a focus on church-planting in other countries is a vital aspect of missions. It isn’t enough just to make converts, but those converts must be gathered into churches.

I’d be curious to know what information you think the article ignored. It certainly wasn’t a theological treatise, exhaustive in all it could say.