This post is more about questions than answers.
A poster with the blog name of “mr. t”, who, on his blog, on mission, identifies himself as a fellow missionary in South Asia, left a couple of comments on my last two posts about evangelism, referencing the missionary strategy given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 regarding finding a “man of peace” and staying in that same house, rather than going from house to house.
Let me say right off, I am not looking to “pick a fight” with “mr. t”. In fact, I went to his blog, and absolutely loved what all he has to say. I highly recommend it. However, his recent comments, which are representative of a good bit of recent thinking by quite a few missions strategists, bring up some questions in my mind that I think are worthy of discussion.
The basic idea is that, as church planters, our main goal upon arriving in a new city, town, or people group, is to identify the “person of peace.” Once we find that person, who will many times be our first disciple, he or she will become the key to reaching the rest of the city, town, or people group. “Mr. t” makes the additional assertion that he believes “there are those persons of peace and worthy households out there among every people.” It is basically a matter of persevering until we find them.
For a good many contexts around the world, I believe this is great missiology. God is blessing it, people are being saved, and churches planted. However, as a foolproof, cookie-cutter, promise from Scripture, I have my doubts as to its hermeneutical validity.
First of all, many who use these passages as their strategy guide conveniently omit the part about not taking along “a purse, or bag, or shoes.” Some also by-pass the part about healing the sick. But my main concern here has to do with the part about “shaking the dust off your feet.” I honestly don’t know how to transfer the biblical principle here to our modern-day missionary context. I mean, it seems like the disciples knew pretty soon when it was time to leave town and shake the dust off their feet. Both William Carey and Adoniram Judson went 7 years each before baptizing their first convert, though.
Some make reference to the worshippers “from every nation, tribe, people and tongue” gathered around the throne in the book of Revelation, and say we thus have biblical warrant to expect a positive response to the preaching of the gospel from every people group segment. While this idea is appealing to me, I can’t help but wonder about various entire people groups from the Old Testament who in the last days were to be the objects of God’s wrath. And what about Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum in the New Testament (Luke 10:13-15)? I’ve always wondered how we specifically define nations, tribes, peoples and tongues. John Piper does as good a job with this as anyone in Let the Nations be Glad. But he still doesn’t answer some of my questions. What about, for example, entire generations of people groups in the Dark Ages without one person who we would today call an “evangelical believer”?
Then there are those who point to the supposed missionary strategy of Paul, stating he had the habit of staying in towns just enough time to preach the gospel, gather a few converts, name elders among them, and then leave—all in a period of a few days or weeks. My impression, upon reading Acts, is a bit different. I see Paul, towards the end of his missionary ministry, after he had learned some important lessons, staying on 3 years in Ephesus, setting up his ministry training school at the Lecture Hall of Tyrannus, and having more strategic impact there than anywhere else in his previous travels. I also see New Testament “missionaries” like Timothy and Titus, going back to places where Paul had been, in order finish the work he had started.
What’s my main point in all of this? In missions, one size does not fit all. Different situations and different spiritual and cultural contexts demand different strategical approaches. There is a time to reap. But there is also a time to plow, a time to sow, and a time to water. And even perhaps a time to “shake the dust off your feet.”