Mark Minnick, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the most careful expositors I know, preached on “Pioneer Missionaries” from Romans 15:15-25. (You must listen to the message to pick up the numerous anecdotes which were told. Trying to capture them in writing wouldn’t do them justice.)
In 1888, the Student Volunteer Movement took the motto, “The evangelization of the world in our generation.” In 1900, some connected with the movement suggested a plan: “If there were only one Christian in the world and he worked a year, and won a friend to Christ, and if these two continued each year to win another, and if every man they led into the kingdom of God continued each year to win another then, in thirty-one years, every person in the world would be won for Christ.” The world population was around two billion at the time.
However, within a few decades, the Student Volunteer Movement went astray (especially due to the influence of theological liberalism), and “the evangelization of the world in our generation” never happened. It still awaits completion. Today the population of the world exceeds 6.5 billion people. By the broadest definition of the term Christian, about two billion in the world are nominal Christians. Many of the other four billion still remain unreached. How ought we to view this challenge?
In a sense every Christian is called to fulfill the Great Commission. However, God gives differing gifts and callings to individual Christians. Tonight, I’d like to address one category of person who is in the audience: pioneers. Paul was a pioneer. His heart is revealed in verse 20: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not already named.” That is the viewpoint of a pioneer. Not all of God’s people are called to that kind of ministry, but some are. And some of you are. How would you know if you are a pioneer?
The Viewpoint of a Pioneer Missionary
Paul exemplifies the viewpoint of a pioneer missionary. Consider Paul’s staggering statement. He says, “I have fully preached the gospel” (15:19) so that “there is no further place for me in these regions” (15:23). If you have maps in the back of your Bible, look for the one that traces Paul’s missionary journeys. Our goal is to see the area “from Jerusalem…to Illyricum” (15:19). Starting at Jerusalem, ancient Illyricum (modern Balkan Peninsula) is at the end of a 2000-mile arc! How could Paul says that he had “fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ” so that he was no longer needed in those regions? Paul certainly did not mean that he had evangelized every individual, nor did he mean that he had taken the gospel to every town or village in that stretch. So what does a pioneer mean when he makes a statement like that? The answer is in the precise wording of verse 20: “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.” So it is legitimate for some of God’s people to feel that they are not called to a region where a gospel foundation has been laid. A pioneer says, “The foundation’s been laid. It’s time for me to move on.”
Does your viewpoint of the world accord with Paul’s? Do you tend to think like this: even though in any given country there are millions who don’t know Christ, nevertheless there are foundations there…so there’s no place for me. Are you burdened to serve in a place where no gospel foundation has been laid? Then you have the viewpoint of a pioneer missionary.
The Aspiration of a Pioneer Missionary
A pioneer missionary, like Paul, has the aspiration to preach the gospel in that unreached region. To evangelize those unreached peoples! All believers ought to evangelize, but some believers are burdened to evangelize in areas where there is no gospel foundation. Do you daydream like that? If you were called to teach in a Bible institute or if you were called to help a seasoned missionary disciple new converts, would you still be unsatisfied? Is your great burden the evangelization of unreached areas? Then you have the aspiration of a pioneer missionary.
Is there still a need for pioneers today? Are there any areas of the world that remain unreached? There are modern countries like the Philippines who have unreached people groups that their own government has not yet recognized. Further, two-thirds of the world’s people live in (what missiologists call) the 10/40 Window. 90% of the world’s unreached people live in that window. Many of those countries are classified as “Restricted Access” or “Closed.” This means that people who, in the providence of God, are pioneer missionaries must come up with alternative strategies to reach them. Even more, consider an article on Tanzania in the recently published December 2009 issue of National Geographic. The author lived with a people group in Tanzania that had no idea that you and I exist. People in the tribe didn’t know what country they lived in. Unreached peoples certainly do exist today!
The Divine Authority of a Pioneer Missionary
In Romans 15:21, Paul quotes Isaiah 52:15 as one verse in which he’s trusting for his pioneer mission. Look at that text in context (it’s from the Isaiah 53 Servant Song). The context before and after what Paul quotes is about the Messiah’s rejection. But right in the middle of that rejection are these words: “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” Paul uses that as his foundation for his pioneer view of missions. Paul knew that Isaiah’s prophecy also included the hope that the Messiah would “see His seed” (53:10). Those are the considerations that drive a pioneer.
If God calls you to this, it will be the most sacrificial kind of service. Look at the life of Paul. His life experiences are the experiences of a pioneer. The pioneer is the first wave, “the shock troops” going in. In church history, there have always been great sacrifices, many martyrs. But, O, what glory! Look at John Paton’s testimony. He didn’t see his first convert until four years into his second trip to the New Hebrides. After ten years, after burying his wife, he finally saw fruit from his pioneer sacrifices: “At the moment I put the bread and wine into those dark hands, once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to receive and partake the emblems and seals of the Redeemer’s love, I had a foretaste of the joy of glory that well nigh broke my heart to pieces. I shall never taste a deeper bliss, till I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus himself.”
If your heart rises to this, if you hear this and have a sense of rightness in your soul, if it feels like all the pieces are coming together, then tell the Lord in your heart that you are committed to evangelizing unreached peoples no matter what the cost.