Eight Billion and Counting: How Should We Respond? – Ministry Spot

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On 15 November 2022 the population of the world reached 8 billion (according to estimates). I find it almost impossible to visualise such a huge figure. Yet, as Christians we should take this figure seriously because as the Body of Christ, we are called to reach people of every tribe, language, and nation with His life-giving message of forgiveness, compassion, and redemption.

Where does one begin? I think that a good starting point would be the realisation that we cannot personally take responsibility for the whole world! That is a burden that rests on shoulders much broader than our own. God is already at work bringing the nations to Himself. The church is merely the instrument through which this mission will be accomplished. Ultimate responsibility therefore rests with the one who initiated and sustains His mission in the world. This is not a license for complacency but rather a reminder that we go into the world in the name of the one who can claim ultimate authority (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

There is also another way in which we are not on our own. Our Lord has His people all over the world and He is calling them to look at this world with the eyes of faith and to respond to what they see by reaching out in word and deed. God’s people may be found in countries that most of us would struggle to point out on a map, living in cities and villages whose names we would be better off not trying to pronounce! One of the key implications of this fact is that we should always ask the question of how we can come alongside the local church as we think about bringing the gospel to the nations.

Keeping these facts (God is already working, and God may already have people on the ground) in mind certainly cause the challenge before us to seem less daunting.  They do not absolve us of the responsibility to pray, work and give towards the evangelisation of the nations but they do remind us of the fact that we can rely on the strength of the One who promised to be ‘with us to the very end of the age’.

So how should we approach the huge task before us as the church of Christ? For some of us the answer to this question will be to ‘up sticks’ and go to a part of the world where a Christian testimony is urgently needed. Many others will be called to support the work of the Gospel around the world through giving, praying or mobilizing (i.e. raising up the next generation of workers for the Gospel). In all of these activities we will have to be very sure that our efforts are directed at the areas where they will bear most fruit. With this in mind I would like to offer the following suggestions as to where I believe the Christian church should focus its global efforts in the decades to come.

Keeping the Gospel Central: A friend of mine in Cairo used to joke that a good proportion of the schools and hospitals in the city should be named ‘Saint Yesterday’. What he meant was that many of these institutions were started with the purpose of sharing the Gospel in addition to providing medical and educational services. In the intervening years Gospel priorities were weakened and finally abandoned altogether. Now there is obviously nothing wrong with teaching or healing; but if these activities are undertaken by Christian ministries in ways that do not point the way to a message that transcends immediate human needs, something is clearly wrong. A great challenge for us as a church is to prevent the ‘missional drift’ that caused so many beacons for the Gospel to turn into ‘Saint Yesterdays’ from occurring again. A lot of work, prayer and strategizing are therefore necessary to ensure that the ministries we set up will maintain their Gospel edge for generations. This is not only true on an institutional level but also on a personal level. Christians around the world will have to constantly ask themselves whether the life changing message of Jesus is still at the centre of all that we do (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Restoring the Primacy of the Church in Missions: For far too long missions was done at arm’s length from the local church. This had the damaging effect of creating the impression that missions is something that is best left to the ‘enthusiasts’. It also led to church planting and the strengthening of local churches receiving a lower priority in the worldwide mission effort. Experience has shown that this shifting of the focus away from the local church has led to sending churches being lukewarm about missions, due to the mistaken belief that it is not their responsibility. The undervaluing of the role of the church in God’s redemptive plan has also led to ‘daughter churches’ in the mission field not being firmly established in the conviction that they should view the evangelization of their local areas as a key priority. I firmly believe that Scripture teaches that the church is an essential part of God’s plan of redemption (cf. Ephesians 3:10). A world of eight billion people will therefore need many more churches and the planting and strengthening of such churches should be very high on our agenda when it comes to mission sending, support and prayer.

Emphasising Training: We are probably all very familiar with Paul’s instruction to Timothy: ”…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2) If ever there was a time for the church and Christian leaders to take these words deeply to heart it is now! There are so many areas and people groups that must still be penetrated by the Gospel that we simply cannot afford for any missionary or ministry not to have a duplication (or rather multiplication!) strategy. This is especially important in the light of the fact that much of the global church’s training resources are concentrated in the West while most church growth is currently taking place in other parts of the world. Ways will have to be found for Christians with access to these resources to pass it on in reproducible ways to individuals and churches in areas where the Christian church is still taking its first steps.

Reaching out to the least reached: There are many parts of the world where people live within very easy access to the Gospel. They can simply turn on their radios, go to a church or speak to Christians they may know. It is obvious that not all people in such societies (of which both Australia and New Zealand would be examples) are Christians but at least people have relatively easy access to the gospel. This is not the case in many parts of the world. There are countries and societies where accessing the Gospel would be extremely hard (in human terms at least). As a global church we should increasingly focus our missionaries, our resources, and our prayers on these areas. This will very often require creative and technological approaches because access to the Gospel is often restricted precisely because those in power want it restricted!

Coming alongside the persecuted church: So many Christians around the world are paying a heavy price for their devotion to the Lord Jesus. As fellow believers in free societies we should do our utmost to support these believers. Not only will our support aid the growth of the Gospel in some of the most spiritually needy parts of the world, it will also send a strong message to the 21st century world and its billions that the church of Jesus Christ is indeed a family that ranges across all human boundaries.

I trust that you will find these thoughts about what our priorities should be as we enter a world in which eight billion people must be reached with the Gospel helpful, especially as you think and pray about your (or your church’s) involvement in the world.

I want to, in conclusion, re-emphasize that when we are tempted to despair about the size of the task, we should always remember that God is in control and that He has his people all around the world. Christ also promised to build his church and that the very gates of hell will not stand against it! (Matthew 16:18)

May God bless you as you seek to find your place (as pray-er, giver, goer, or mobiliser) in the fulfilment of His eternal plan!