Great Commission

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Sitting on my desk is a prayer map of the Latin America Caribbean Region. On that map is this quote from Loren Triplett, former Executive Director of Assemblies of God World Missions:

“We dare not measure our success against anything but the unfinished task.”

This is a sober reminder to keep the Great Commission in view, to go into all the world and make disciples. In a world full of distraction, Loren Triplett’s words help us maintain our focus.

Measuring the unfinished task
Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

But how do we measure the unfinished task? Every ten years, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) takes a census to determine the number and distribution of the population of Mexico as well as its main demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics, including religious affiliation. When they published their findings on January 25, 2021, we had the data that we needed to make our measurement.

According to those figures, the population grew 12.18% between the years 2010 and 2020 from 112.3 million to just over 126 million. During that same time, those who identify as Christians or evangelicals grew 46.82% from 8.2 million to just over 12 million. That’s great news!

However, although we can say that we’ve made progress on the unfinished task there is still an enormous work to be done. At the same time, while evangelicalism has grown, secularism has exploded. During the 2010-2020 period, those claiming no religion or no religious affiliation grew 336.18% from 3 million to 13.1 million.

What then is our response? We prioritize the Great Commission, committing ourselves to the proclamation of the gospel through word and deed (Rom 10:13-14). We then participate with others who share our commitment (1 Peter 4:10). But, most of all, we pray, asking the Lord to call others to join us in our efforts (Luke 10:2).

As Area Directors, we’re encouraged by the way our missionary colleagues, understanding the holistic nature of the good news that we share, have pivoted during this pandemic, shifting ministry to respond to the need. We’re privileged as well to work with national partners who, although facing tremendous hardship themselves, continue to share the hope of the gospel. And we’re humbled by the movement of prayer that is growing up around us as believers cry out to God to call more workers to reach the lost*.

Coming full circle, then, while we are encouraged by the robust growth of the evangelical church in the last decade, when faced with the 114 million in Mexico who have yet to trust in Jesus, we stop short of congratulating ourselves. Instead, we redouble our efforts in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, prioritizing, participating, and praying so that, one day, we’ll be able to celebrate the completion of the unfinished task.

*Will you join us in prayer for more workers?

Text “xapray” to 313131 and set a daily reminder for 10:02 AM/PM to be a part of this intercessory movement!

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I have the pleasure of reading some excellent blogs about missions and discipleship. Recently, I came across this excellent post from Guy Muse a Baptist missionary to Ecuador. He writes:

Everyday for the past two weeks and continuing for two weeks more, our team has been teaching groups of fifteen pastors who are coming to Guayaquil from all over the coastal region of Ecuador. They are being introduced to our COSECHA (Harvest) discipleship/church planting training materials that will be used to reach the goal of 1-million disciples in one year.

The heart of the training is making disciples. The only way to win/disciple a million in a year is to begin making disciples that make disciples. Nothing new. But are we doing it? Am I doing it?

If we are out there everyday exhorting everyone about the priority of making disciples, who am I discipling? My biggest fear everyday in the trainings is that someone will bluntly ask me who I am discipling!

These strong soul-searching words hit home. We solicit funds saying that we are going to reach the lost, and yet, as we look at our schedules, our calendars are full of spiritual retreats and Bible conferences. Our to-do lists include research for Bible school classes and fund raising for church projects, but discipleship, defined as reaching and training followers of Christ, seems surprisingly absent. If we were to truly provide evidence of meeting our goals of reaching the lost based on our professional activities, it is highly possible that we’d come up short.

But why? God forbid that we would have intentionally mislead churches into thinking that we were doing something that we are not. I think that we hit the ground intending to see lost people saved and an impact made in the community where we live. So what keeps us from being able to see the results that we so desire?

One reason I believe that this happens is because of our dependence on the local church as we get our “feet on the ground” in ministry. As we arrive in the community where we minister, we look for people to help us establish our lives in the foreign context. We need everything from furniture to handymen to help us to get started and build a secure environment for our families and a base from which we can work. Being representatives of a religious organization, more often than not we find that help coming from Christians.

This in itself is not a bad thing of course. There are few things more assuring to a man or woman who is dealing with his or her second complete move in a year to two separate and absolutely foreign environments than to be able to delegate important tasks to another believer who will treat him or her honestly and amicably as the missionary stumbles through cultural adaptation and adjustment. However, the downside to all of this is that we begin our experience in that new culture by building a cloistered environment for ourselves that keeps us from relating with neighbors who do not have a relationship with Christ and may be seeking the message that we came to share.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that these Christians generally introduce us to other Christians who then invite us to address any number of groups and participate in any number of events generally frequented by other Christians. Before we know it, we are deeply entrenched in a Christian culture and, although busy, have severely hindered ourselves from having a real first-hand impact on the predominantly non-Christian world that we live in.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that those of us who serve a predominantly Christian audience, doing leadership training and pastoral conferences, do a great deal of good. Nevertheless, there is a question that haunts me: Does my professional schedule exempt me from fulfilling the Great Commission?

Another often repeated concept is that most of what is learned, that is what is transferred and actually applied to a person’s life comes through the teacher’s ability to model what he or she is communicating. In other words, that which is learned is more often caught than taught. This serves as well to make the reality all the more convincing, we as missionaries can’t just train disciplers we have to be disciplers ourselves.

But how? How can we who have been caught up in the busyness of the ministry refocus our lives in order to prioritize discipleship ministry? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t stop preaching discipleship. Our continued involvement and reflection on the theme will continue to motivate us to “practice what we preach.” It will also enable us to explain our inability to fulfill expectations that others may try to place upon us that do not enable disciple-making ministry to take place
  2. Expand our circle of influence intentionally to include non-Christians. This requires an honest look at our lives in order intentionally create relationships with those who do not know Christ. Are we truly like our Master who was known as a friend of sinners?
  3. Look for opportunities everywhere. Discipleship opportunities can take place over a play-date with the kids or a late night greeting across the street. But we need to look out for them, recognize them for what they are, and utilize them to bring seekers closer to a relationship with their God.
  4. Be in constant prayer. When I prepare for a meeting or a teaching, I can control the elements. I pick the theme, the illustrations, and the length of time that I am going to speak. As a discipler, I don’t have these luxuries. I have to rely on the Holy Spirit for direction and clear insight into the matter at hand. Hearing his voice is only enabled as I practice acknowledging his presence in every moment.

These things are coming to pass in our lives as we have evaluated our ministry and daily life here in Mérida. I’m happy to report that we can count many non-Christians now as our friends. Pray for us as we engage ourselves in their their lives and adjust our schedules to keep discipleship a true focus of our ministry.

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