Why Are There Still Unreached People Groups – part 1

In 1984, someone handed me a Global Prayer Digest. I was shocked to discover that only 2% of the world’s missionaries were working among unreached people groups. I have never been able to get this out of my mind.

About that same time, I went to the mission field and began to write a daily devotional for field missionaries. It was a collection of my thoughts expressing my passion as well as my frustration with the state of Christ’s great commission. Years passed, but I kept searching for more evidence to confirm that little fact about missionaries. I kept hoping that one day I would find it all to be false as if waking up from a bad dream. Could the global church be so far behind? Could the missionary movement be so blind to God’s true purpose?

More than thirty years have passed, and I keep finding confirmation that not enough missionaries are going to unreached peoples. The love of Christ for unreached peoples is the reason for this series. I hope that it will give you a greater vision and brokenness for the lost who live in the most inaccessible places and unreached peoples of the world. I owe thanks to many people who have helped me see things a little more clearly. Most of all, I give thanks to the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the sources of all the truth in this series.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.

(New International Version, 1 Corinthians 13:11-13)

Please read all the scripture verses (or hover over their links) when reading this series. If you skip over them, you will miss the most important part of the message. They are in quote format to make a clear distinction between my words and scripture.

Have you wondered why we have not finished the great commission?

We live in a modern age with so much at our disposal. Still, with all our technology, effort, and sophisticated missiology, we have not reached all the unreached people groups. We could continue using the same methods, hoping to obtain different results. But those methods have not worked. One fact is evident; the great commission of Christ remains unfinished. A different model for missions is required meaning that we must radically move away from the current one.

So, where do you begin looking for a different model? Don’t look in the latest missiology book, missionary journal, or even to revolutionary new models being used by other mission movements. They might be correct, and they might not. You could read “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” It is a good book written by Rolland Allan in 1912. But if you read it, you will still be missing the point. He was only one step away from the answer. When you look for correct models for missions, you should go directly to the source, and that source isn’t Paul; it’s Jesus. We must put everything else aside and take a much closer look at Christ’s teachings found in the four Gospels and the first chapter of Acts, where he is speaking. Paul has a lot to say, as well as do the other disciples, but Jesus is the main source for all teaching on mission work. Think of the four Gospels as the definitive handbook to world missions.

The task of reaching every people group is no small thing, but the problem isn’t in the number of people groups who are unreached; it is in the number of people going to them. Most people sent as missionaries are going where Christians already exist. We no longer have the luxury of sending missionaries to where the Gospel has already been taken. All missionary sending must now go specifically among unreached people groups. We will never be able to catch up to the growth of false religions or population explosion even if they were a goal of the great commission, which they are not. We are now in the twenty-first century with only half the job done, but there is hope. I’m convinced that the task is doable with a few major adjustments to the way we are doing missions.

Obviously, the right candidates—those who will follow the simple teaching of Jesus Christ—need to go. Know that solid missionary candidates are not lacking. What is happening is that there is a gross misdirection of the candidates that are sent. This is happening because of what is taught to them. The enemy is very astute and would have us believe the missionary endeavor is extremely complicated and costly. He would try to divert our missionary sending to the lost masses or countries instead of people groups. What we need is a clear understanding of what Jesus requires of the missionary and where he wants them to go. Then we need to teach this to solid missionary candidates who will simply do what Jesus says. By “candidates,” I am referring to those who are serious about going as missionaries. As I mentioned, there are more than enough solid missionary candidates. Unfortunately, they are taught incorrect missiology, and they are not pointed to unreached people groups. Once the candidates know that they need to go into unreached people groups, they should steer clear of modern missionary methods and look only to Jesus. Going to unreached peoples will still be difficult. As more time passes, it will become more difficult. Unreached peoples are remote geographically, linguistically, politically, and spiritually as well as visibly to the Church. However, they are unreached because no one has taken the Gospel to them, not because the task is difficult. They are remote from access to the Gospel because there are no Christians or missionaries among them. No one has gone to them.

The greatest challenge we face is helping new candidates avoid the present-day missionary sending mechanism. This mechanism is designed to keep the missionary from going to these remote unreached people groups. The missiology behind this sending mechanism is incorrect and needs changing.

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come”.

(NIV, Mark 1:38)

It will be easy for the candidate to fall into the mechanism, and this will complicate getting to the field. If only we had been paying attention to what Jesus said and “why” he had come according to Mark 1:38, we might have avoided our current situation. But we have not gone somewhere else. Somewhere else is where he has not made known his message.

Our missionaries’ reach only goes so far and then stops. Missionaries tend to stay where there are modern conveniences and communications because the mission agency requires those things of them. Had we followed Christ’s teachings, the Gospel would have naturally crossed over all geographical and linguistic barriers. The teachings of Christ are clear. We haven’t paid close enough attention to them, or we just don’t believe they apply to us today. With so many special movements motivating the body of Christ to finish the task, you would think every people group would have at least one missionary working among them by now. But thousands of young people dedicate their lives at mission conferences every year only to be deviated. Where are they? What happens to all those willing candidates? The enemy is sidetracking them before they ever get to the mission field. They fall into the missionary mechanism, and, somewhere, it becomes so complicated that they leave doubting that they can do it or doubting the seriousness of it all, or they just don’t qualify. Young people know the truth when they hear it. When they finally come into contact with the current missionary sending system and its non-Biblical methodology, it sounds ridiculous to them that they walk away. Most of the present-day missionary candidates have few real options offered to them. They need real models to do real mission work. Those who do enter the mechanism of missions either fall away or are molded into someone who is not able to go to remote unreached people groups. In many cases, God is not permitting them to take their message to the unreached. They have been disqualified because of what the system has made them.

However, emerging missionary movements are doing many New Testament models, so we need to be careful to stay out of their way. Our human-made missiology will contaminate these simpler missionary movements. Westerners tend to want to come alongside them and lend a hand, especially when they are having success. We need to stand back and learn or, better yet, just stand clear out of their way. They don’t need a hand. They need to keep following Jesus and his teaching. Some of the emerging movements are discovering that Jesus knew what he was doing when it came to missions. The problem is that they are mixing his teaching with old models they have learned from other movements. Satan is busy distracting the mission movement to prolong his reign. The Church has taken too much time in discipling the nations, giving the enemy time to create more strongholds. As time goes by, they will become stronger. But this isn’t anything Christ has not overcome. The real strongholds that stand in the way of the missionary candidate are not on the mission field. They are primarily within our modern missionary training and sending mechanism. This mechanism is the missionary missiology, protocols, procedures, and methodology they use. On the home front, the candidate has an exaggerated missionary sending protocol that they should bypass altogether to explicitly follow Jesus’s missionary methodology found in the four Gospels. An exaggerated non-Biblical protocol for missions exists, and something radical must be done to avoid it. Remote unreached people groups aren’t the problem; we are the problem. Getting to them and reaching them will require something radical of us.

We keep looking to ourselves to solve the problems, and we are not the answer. We keep attempting to modify our missionary methods, and this will never work. We have all the technology, resources, finances, and people necessary. It is not the lack of these things that hinder us. It is the way we are using them to do missions. If we had used correct missiology, we would have reached all the people groups by now. Jesus gave us a plan that works. The enemy has infiltrated us, and deservingly so. We are too self-confident of our methods. Too much of the missionary endeavor is in a spiritual crisis and will probably not repent. As I mentioned, only 2% of the missionary movement is where they are supposed to be, while the rest are doing their own thing. Satan is completely justified in using our weaknesses and pride to divide us and keep us unproductive. Who are we to add to Christ’s teachings? The only way to break away from this stronghold is to obey Jesus wholly. The truth will set us free to go to the ends of the earth. The unreached people’s remoteness is a definite challenge, but it is not the issue. They are unreached because missionaries are going into the light, not the darkness. Their increased remoteness is a natural byproduct of what happens when Christians do not do their job correctly. As we do what Jesus says, he will be with us, and he will pull down the strongholds.

The requirements are no different than they were two thousand years ago. Jesus knew what he was doing. He knew that his teachings were about the mission. He knew what the overall mission was, and when he spoke this to the disciples, he was specific. Jesus knew what he was doing then, and he knows what he is doing now. What Jesus said then is completely sufficient for us now. There is no need to add any more to what he taught us. What candidates need to do is reread the Gospels as though they were the handbook to cross-cultural missions. We must remove all the extra baggage that we have invented about missions. The modern mission movement and its missiology is a sinking ship. Toss off all extra unnecessary baggage, leave onboard the people and Jesus’s teaching, and let Jesus guide the ship to safety. The divided church, the competitive missionary agency, the haughty antiquated training centers, and the indoctrinated seminaries have guided us incorrectly. They have disqualified themselves from being part of God’s plan, and this is why they are not allowed to send missionaries carrying their teaching into the last remaining people groups. Their message divides and builds up pride and self-confidence. It is not the message of Christ.

The main purpose of this series is to challenge young men and women to obey Christ and his commission and go to remote unreached people groups. Here you will find many options based on Jesus’s teaching. The second purpose is to challenge those who are currently doing missions to consider other ways, Christ’s ways. I recently had a man in my office who told me that he has a doctorate in missiology from a well-known seminary. We both currently live in a difficult mission field surrounded by remote unreached people groups. He said, “I’ve only been on the mission field for a year, and I have to scrap everything I learned in seminary!” This is not a problem. Regardless of what level of education you hold, you can always go back to Jesus. It may require the extreme to return, but Christ is always the answer. The following chapters go against almost every mission model taught today. I hope to persuade you to consider turning or returning to Jesus and his ways. There is no doubt that taking the Gospel into the most remote peoples of the world will not be an easy job. It will be hard in every way you can imagine. But God cares little about how hard the job will be or how difficult their languages will be to learn. He cares even less about how geographically remote they are from your country of origin. It will be hard, but Jesus knew what he was doing when he laid out the plan. We can trust him and take him at his word. All we have to do is follow him, know him and his teachings, and disciple others to do the same where the Gospel has not ever been taken before.