I just got back from our week-long region-wide conference in Germany. It was wonderful to see old friends, and meet many new ones. It was also great to learn about what colleagues are doing all across Europe to reach their respective "target people groups" with the Gospel and facilitate Church Planting Movements among them. Being there, several things struck me...
1. Our IMB leadership really supports us in what we are doing. This includes, in our Western Europe region, all levels of administration, from Jerry Rankin, to Gordon Fort (Vice President for Overseas Operations), to our entire Regional Leadership Team. It was especially refreshing to hear Jerry Rankin address our entire region, and speak quite openly about the tensions within the organization related to recent decisions by the Board of Trustees. One important thing he noted, in light of recent posts on several blogs (and this one too), was that "New Directions" was voted on and approved by the Board of Trustees back in 1997. Accordingly, he emphatically assured us that we as an organization will continue to work with other GCCs. We are not going back on that.
2. It was also significant, in my opinion, to see the overwhelming groundwell of support from IMB field missionaries for Dr. Rankin and his leadership. In his address to us, upon the first mention of the recent tensions, and the criticism he has received from some, there was an almost immediate and unanimous spontaneous standing ovation lasting several minutes. I don't think anyone who was there was left with any doubt as to where the vast majority of IMB missionaries stand in regards to Dr. Rankin's leadership and the stands he has taken.
3. I was "blown away" by the dedication, talent and creativity represented by our fellow IMB workers across Western Europe. We have people who are without a doubt on "the cutting edge" of what God is doing, and who are developing and implementing some excellent strategies for reaching their respective people groups.
4. I was also "blown away" by the vast spiritual need of Western Europe. It is evident that we live and work in one of the most spiritually dark and difficult mission fields in the world. There are isolated rays of hope here and there, and places where some "fruit" is being "harvested", and new disciples are being made. But overall, the picture is quite bleak. The truth is, compared with most of the world, we in Western Europe are seeing very little response to our efforts to preach the Gospel.
While on the one hand, at this meeting we were given many motives for encouragement, on the other hand, there are also strong motives for being discouraged about the progress of the work in Western Europe.
Biblically, there are various passages and principles which have traditionally served as motivation for missionaries. Of course, the Great Commission in Matthew 28 is the most cited text, with the reference to making disicples of all nations. There is also the oft-quoted reference in the Gospels to the fields being "ripe unto harvest". And then, we have the vision in Revelation of the multitude gathered around the throne from every nation, tribe, people and language.
Some, such as John Piper, in his classic book, Let the Nations be Glad, have reflected upon the implications of this missiologically. However, I find myself asking many times, how does Western Europe fit in to all of this? The vast majority of the people groups of Western Europe already have at least some born-again believers among them. The vast majority of people in Western Europe also have some knowledge of the Gospel, albeit, in great part, a distorted, spiritually void Gospel.
What I am getting to, and where I would really appreciate any insight any of you might have, is this: does the Bible really give us solid footing for continuing to have hope for Europe? I am aware that our eschatology in many ways shapes our missiology. And not all of us come from the same eschatalogical assumptions. In any case, whatever your eschatology happens to be, as long as you accept the Bible as authoritative, I am interested to hear any insights you may have regarding the hope we can expect as evangelical missionaries in the day in which we live for seeing something more than what we are presently seeing as far as response to the Gospel is concerned in Western Europe...