Why "Our Neighbors & the Nations"?
We exist to equip God’s people to delight in his glory and to declare his glory to our neighbors and the nations.
For many of us at Redeemer Church, it may be clear why we include both “our neighbors” and “the nations” in our vision statement. But over time new people join our local church and even existing members can forget why we’re so explicit about both neighbors and the nations. Thus, consider the following a brief primer on some of the theology driving the distinction in our vision statement.
The Primary Mission
God’s gracious and global purpose in Jesus Christ is to glorify himself through saving a countless multitude of rebellious sinners and transforming them into true worshipers of his glory and grace (Hab 2:14; Matt 24:14; Rom 15:8-12; 16:25-26; Eph 1:3-14). On this side of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these true worshipers make up the church, a Spirit-filled people whose worship expresses itself in obedience to Jesus Christ, their covenant Lord (Matt 28:20; Eph 1:3-14; 4:1-16). Our primary mission: to make disciples of all nations by spreading the news about God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel (Matt 24:14; 28:18-20; cf. Rom 10:14-15).
Serving under Jesus’ all-sufficient authority, the church has the privilege and responsibility to advance the gospel among all people groups of the world, whether those estimated 13,000 ethno-linguistic people groups live nearby or in distant lands. Thus, interwoven into the fabric of our lives is the activity of regularly bringing the gospel into the lives of others, or stated differently, regularly declaring God’s glory in Christ both to our neighbors and to the nations.
Local Ministries: “To Our Neighbors”
That means we cannot ignore the clear implications of Jesus’ commission wherever we happen to live, work, and play. While the responsibility tied to a text like Matthew 28:18-20 is certainly global in its scope, other places in the New Testament indicate we are obligated to bring the gospel into the lives of those currently living around us (e.g., Rom 1:11-15; 10:14-15; 15:21; 1 Cor 9:19-23; 10:31-11:1; Eph 6:10-20; Phil 1:5, 27, 30; 2:16).
In other words, evangelism and discipleship is not something restricted to those specially appointed for frontier missions (see “Frontier Missions” below). Therefore, we must develop and sustain local ministries that spread God’s glory in Christ among those in closest proximity to us, namely, our neighbors.
The focus of local ministries is the evangelization and discipleship of people groups where churches are present and the gospel is accessible. Local ministries should saturate regions where Paul-type missionaries can legitimately say, “I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” (Rom 15:19) or “I no longer have any room for work in these regions” (Rom 15:23). Such ministries may include healthy discipleship structures within a local church, strong avenues for outreach to neighbors, training of new converts and new leadership, various ministries for equipping men and women, outreach to the poor and widows, strategic initiatives in neighbor love, services that protect the most vulnerable in churches and society, planting more disciple-making churches, and so forth.
Frontier Missions: “To the Nations”
Nevertheless, Jesus’ commission to the church nor the rest of the Scriptures will let us reason that we only have a responsibility to witness to the lost where we currently live. The focus of Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28:18-20—or of other texts like Luke 24:47; Romans 10:14-15; 15:8-21—is not amassing individual conversions to Christ wherever you happen to be, although that is certainly included. Rather, the focus is amassing individual conversions to Christ among all people groups of the world, especially those “unreached” people groups where local ministries are presently nonexistent and where the gospel is inaccessible.
According to Joshua Project, an “unreached people” refers to “a people group within which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians to evangelize this people group.” Working from a slightly different approach to people group thinking, the IMB qualifies a people as “unreached” when less than 2% of the population are Evangelical Christians within that people group. The IMB then qualifies an unreached people further as “unengaged” when, in addition to having a population of less than 2% Evangelical Christian, that people group also has no active church-planting methodology implemented among them.”
If the church’s primary mission is the world-wide worship of God through Jesus Christ, then that mission demands we make intentional efforts to go to those people groups with the only message of reconciliation to God. Therefore, we must develop and sustain frontier missions that spread God’s glory in Christ among all the people groups of the world, namely, the nations.
The focus of frontier missions is the evangelization and discipleship of people groups where churches are nonexistent and the gospel is yet known and/or inaccessible. Unlike local ministries, the task of frontier missions squares with the holy ambition of the apostle Paul “to preach the gospel where Christ has yet to be named” and aims to see that every people group has “a living testimony of the gospel of the kingdom,” to use the words of Ralph Winter. Having “obedient disciple-making fellowships of believers within every people” group of the inhabited earth is the goal of frontier missions. Thus, as others have noted before, in many respects, developing local ministries among all people groups of the world actually becomes the goal of frontier missions.
To accomplish Jesus’ commission, the church must remain devoted to both local ministries and frontier missions, both to our neighbors and the nations. Local ministries must never become so inwardly focused that the church loses sight of the nations, and frontier missions efforts must never lose sight of the importance of establishing local ministries that honor Christ among all nations. The point is that all our various labors as Christians should serve the onward march of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Whether serving in contexts more familiar to us or in contexts that span cultural and linguistic barriers, we aim for the advance of the gospel.