After SPENDING twelve years as a church planter in Europe, a former student of mine received an unexpected blow—his home church dropped his support. While they recognized that he was an outstanding missionary and that the country in which he was ministering has an evangelical population of only one-half of one percent, the church had decided to focus on the 10/40 Window.
The 10/40 Window is the rectangular-shaped area from West Africa to East Asia, from ten degrees north to forty degrees north of the equator. Most of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists reside in this region—billions of spiritually impoverished souls. No doubt the spiritual needs of people in the “window” are great, and missionaries are needed there. But choosing to support only those missionaries working in resistant areas raises questions about the wisdom of emphasizing “strategic focus” at the expense of “biblical balance.”
The apostle Paul demonstrated both focus and balance in his missionary career. In Romans 15 we read that he focused on four distinct categories of people in his missionary ministry: (1) the unreached, (2) the newly reached, (3) the misled, and (4) the unfed.
Paul explained that by God’s grace he was a minister to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:14–11). His commission became the basis of his lifetime ambition “to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” Although Paul was not around when the Lord Jesus Christ issued what we call His Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20), he quickly grasped the essence of it after his conversion. He knew that Christ’s concern squared with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). Paul understood that God’s blessing was intended not just for Israel, and not just for nation-states as we understand them, but for all families or clans of the earth. Paul’s personal ambition was thus part of God’s larger plan for all believers.
Everyone is under divine obligation to the unreached, but Paul differentiated between his mission and that of others. He recognized that Peter had a different calling from his own. Both men were apostles, but Peter’s charge was to the Jews (Gal. 1:7–8). Yet Peter preached to Cornelius, a Gentile, and Paul ministered to Jews. We must be careful not to imply that what God has prompted one to do is what all believers should do.
The Newly Reached
As Paul prepared to go to Spain (unreached people), he planned to visit a newly reached people, the church at Rome (Rom. 1:11–13; 15:22–29). Although Paul constantly tried to reach the unreached, he also built up the newly reached. He wrote thirteen letters (fourteen, if you count Hebrews) to newly reached peoples and to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon—all of whom worked or lived in new churches.
Strengthening newly reached peoples, then, and helping existing churches in other cultures reach out to their neighbors near and far are legitimate missionary tasks. Africa and Latin America, for example, are still relatively newly reached areas where development of churches and leaders is still needed. It is unfortunate if, in our concern for unreached peoples, we consider work among the newly reached as any less strategic and valuable.
In Romans 15, Paul mentioned another group that I call “misled people.” Paul exhorted the Roman believers to pray with him that he might be delivered from “those who are disobedient in Judea” (v. 31). Perhaps Paul meant the Roman authorities, but more likely he had unbelieving Jews in mind because they had caused him the most trouble throughout his ministry.
Although Paul was deeply concerned about the unreached among the Gentiles, he continually sought out the Jews. His “heart’s desire and prayer” for the Jews was that they might be saved (10:1). He even wished himself accursed for their sake (9:2–3). The Jews had as much of the Word of God as then existed in their own language, and it was readily available in their synagogues. They had teachers and places to meet, but they had no life in Christ because their leaders had misled them.
While Jews are still an important ministry focus, we also see misled people in churches today. Many have Bibles and ministers, but no spiritual life in Christ. These people have been misled by their leaders. Churches like this abound in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as North America. Paul was deeply concerned about the misled people, even though his main ambition was to reach the unreached.
In light of this we must be careful when we focus on the 10/40 Window, where most unreached people live. Certainly this geographic area has the greatest need in sheer numbers of lost people, but in focusing too narrowly on the window we may lose sight of the misled.
In the middle of the twentieth century many churches and missions began to focus on physical needs more than spiritual needs. In reaction to this “social gospel,” some evangelicals have gone too far the other way, sometimes excluding relief and development ministries from the category of legitimate missionary work.
Nevertheless evangelicals have been in the vanguard of famine relief, medicine, education, agriculture, and community development since the early days of the modern missionary movement.
Would the apostle Paul have included unfed people in his missionary vision? Romans 15:25–33 shows that the man whose passion was to reach the unreached, as well as the newly reached and the misled, also revealed a remarkable concern for the unfed. Actually he put the unreached (Spain) and the newly reached (Rome) on the back burner to take care of a relief project. He said he would return to Jerusalem to take the relief money from Macedonia to the believers in Palestine.
This had been his project for some time. He and Barnabas had been doing relief work ever since the Holy Spirit had shown the church in Antioch that there would be a famine in Palestine (Acts 11:27–30). When Paul had to answer to the Jerusalem church for his doctrine, the elders urged him to remember the poor. He responded by saying he was eager to do that very thing (Gal. 2:10).
Concern for the poor (whom I call the unfed) is at the heart of the gospel. It is not a sidetrack to “finishing the task.” It is one way Christians can show Christ’s love to others. Paul, a man of focus and balance, did not consider helping the unfed an obstacle to reaching the unreached. He saw it as an integral part of carrying out his mission.
As a missionary who understood the focus and balance of God’s heart for the world, Paul went beyond merely endorsing these four priorities: he implemented them. One did not contradict the other. His ambition to reach the unreached was like the North Star, a magnetic pole giving him his central organizing principle. As he pursed his goal, he also ministered to the newly reached, the misled, and the unfed. Such focus and balance must also characterize our mission strategies and priorities.
Dr. Michael Pocock, senior professor and chairman of World Missions and Intercultural Studies, served with The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) for sixteen years, six of which were spent in Venezuela and other parts of Latin America. He was also TEAM’s director of mobilization for twelve years.
Adapted from the April 1996 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ). All rights reserved.