By Mike Schrage
Go and make disciples. This 2,000-year-old command from Jesus is just as compelling and encompassing as ever. It’s a command for obedience. It’s a command for commitment. What must we do today to obey the command?
Robert Coleman said, “Evangelism is not an optional accessory to our life. It is the heartbeat of all that we were called to be and do.”1 How’s the American church doing with this command to go and make disciples?
Let me share a heart that’s full of concern for the bride of Christ found within our nation’s borders.
We’re living in one of the richest places on earth, from a material standpoint.
“[The] median household income has been on the rise for the past three years, climbing 3.8 percent to $53,891 as of June 2014.”2 Individuals who earn that amount are in the top 0.25 percent3 of a worldwide population of 7.3 billion people.
“I don’t actually make that much,” you might say. Well, maybe that’s true. Yet compare our poverty level to the rest of the world. An American who works 40 hours weekly earning the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) will make $15,080 in a year. That salary puts him in the top 8 percent of earners worldwide!4
My friends, we are rich!
This means we have a 10-talent responsibility. Our wealth is a great privilege, and to solely focus on how we can grow our own personal kingdom is like taking our talent and burying it. And we know what Jesus said about that (see Matthew 25:14-30).
With a compelling commission and incredible resources, why aren’t we progressing faster?
More Than Money
It’s not just about money. It’s about obedience and a passionate mind-set. As we, the bride of Christ, fall more in love with him, we’ll be compelled to make disciples. And what a massive task that is! In the world today, there are 1.7 billion Muslims, 1.1 billion Hindus, and almost 500 million Buddhists.5 Their worldviews may be different, but they are coming to our shores in record numbers.
Consider that the U.S. immigrant population stands at about 41 million, which includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees, asylees (people who are seeking or have been granted political asylum), persons on temporary visas, and the unauthorized.6 More than 886,000 international students came to study at our universities during the 2013-14 academic year.7 Despite this, 75 percent of international students report that during their four years of U.S. study they never set foot inside an American home.8 They are so near, yet often so far from seeing the positive attributes of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Can you comprehend a billion of anything? Consider this: if there were 1,000 baptisms per day, it would take 2,740 years to reach 1 billion people! Yet, there are more than 3 billion people, each made in the image of God, who claim to be Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.
Does this reality move us?
At the rate of 1,000 baptisms per day, it would take 8,220 years to reach them all. Mount Everest has not been around that long! The number doesn’t even include animists, secularists, or atheists. It doesn’t include future population growth either. The mission is clear; we must mobilize and accelerate!
I have always considered myself wise compared to those who willfully chose the wide path to destruction. However, what if I had an equal responsibility, in addition to choosing the narrow way, to call out to those whom I see missing this great opportunity for eternity with Jesus? What if few are finding the way because of our lethargy in sharing the ultimate destination where it leads?
What can we do?
First, pray! I like what my friend Greg Pruett told the board and staff when he was named executive director of Pioneer Bible Translators: Prayer is not part of our strategy; prayer IS our strategy.
Next, let’s look at how we use the time we spend at church, in venues like our Sunday schools. The first key to making disciples is to know your audience’s worldview, perceptions, and languages. What if we used that time to equip our members to relate to those who subscribe to Islam or Buddhism? What if we equipped ourselves to take in and minister to an exchange student? What if we taught Arabic, Mandarin, and Hindi languages to our children at an early age when language learning is natural?
Wait, what? My child becoming fluent in one of those “other” languages? Why, she might grow up and take a job in Indonesia or worse yet, become a poor missionary living “over there.” But what better way is there to “pay it forward” than to dedicate our children to the Lord’s service like Hannah did her firstborn child, Samuel?
Why relegate this intentionality to inside the walls of our churches? What about church-sponsored classes on language, culture, and religion? What if churches had a smartphone app to help members find every international student in a 25-mile radius of their homes? What if ministers and other leaders challenged church members to invite international guests for a meal, sporting event, or wedding before inviting them to a worship experience during the weekend?
What if mission trips were strategically designed to penetrate areas not commonly reached with the gospel (an unreached people group is one that is less than 5 percent Christian)? Millions of people every year go on mission trips to Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, and Kenya. I lived in Kenya, and it has a vibrant Christian influence and population. Let’s not abandon such areas, but really think about where to go next. What if we invested in sending church members to visit unreached nations and simply pray while they walked the streets?
Appreciating culture, learning languages, and practicing hospitality (the Greek word literally means inviting in a foreigner), are important factors in the process of making disciples. If we truly took on these tasks with a desire to build the kingdom, what would our world look like in a decade?
We have the resources and capacity to obey the mandate, so let’s do it. Let’s share our incredible blessings now for the sake of eternity. I love Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22, 23, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
1Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1993), 89.
2Tami Luhby, “Income is on the rise . . . finally!” CNN Money website, August 20, 2014; accessed at http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/20/news/economy/median-income/.
3Global Rich List, accessed April 24, 2015, at www.globalrichlist.com.
5Global Listings: All Religions, Joshua Project, accessed August 11, 2015, at http://joshuaproject.net/global_list?listtype=religions.
6Chiamaka Nwosu, Jeanne Batalova, and Gregory Auclair, “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, April 28, 2014; accessed at www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states-2.
7Institute of International Students website, accessed August 11, 2015, at www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Enrollment-Trends/1948-2014.
8International Students Inc. website, accessed April 27, 2015, at www.isionline.org/ChurchPartners.aspx.
Mike Schrage serves as executive director for Good News Productions, International (GNPI), which is devoted to accelerating global evangelism through media and technology. In addition, he serves on the missions committee at College Heights Christian Church, Joplin, Missouri, and coaches American families working with Kenyan nationals in northeast Africa. He served nearly 20 years in Kenya working alongside his wife, Karolyn. They worked with an unreached people group and later helped establish a GNPI regional center in Nairobi. They live in Joplin.