Daniel D. Kim, Article Review: “An Urgent Plea Concerning Undiscipled People Groups: A Thai Perspective,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, January 2011. Vol. 47, No.1, 70-75.
Every issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly repays careful reading, but this article seems to have special relevance for those engaged in ministry to Chinese.
In this hard-hitting and, well-argued essay, a veteran Korean missionary issues an urgent, compelling call to the church to re-evaluate its missions priorities. In my opinion, his insights apply with special force to the Chinese situation.
After acknowledging the immense contribution of the emphasis upon reaching unreached people groups which grew out of Ralph Winter’s address to the Lausanne Congress in 1974, the author says we need a “change of focus” from evangelizing unreached groups to “discipling Undiscipled People Groups.”
He quotes experts who noted that growth of the church around the world has been “a mile wide and an inch deep,” without “sufficient growth in discipleship.” He sees signs of this shallowness in “Christianized” places like Nagaland and Rwanda, and even the United States, where there is “no biblical or spiritual depth” among the people who crowd our churches on Sundays, and notes that the famous “seeker sensitive” church of Willow Creek has radically changed emphasis “toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith.”
Turning to the Scriptures, Kim observes that Matthew “distinctly portrays Jesus as the disciple-making missionary.” He states that Jesus’ “last and most heart-gripping command was to make disciples, not just converts who pray a prayer after raising their hands to accept Christ. In John’s Gospel, “The mission of God was achieved by the incarnation of Jesus,” who, in turn, told his disciples that he was sending them into the world as the Father had sent him. “The incarnation is the foundation of his global vision, envisioning every people group around the world being discipled thoroughly through the Church incarnating among the various people groups.”
On that biblical foundation, Kim moves on to several suggestions for discipling undiscipled people groups.
First, “Local churches should promote qualified long-term workers over short-term missionaries.” “We must be willing to enter the culture of the people among whom we serve, to speak their language, to adjust our lifestyle to theirs.” He realizes that “churches and mission organization tend to focus more on visible and instant evangelistic results that appeal to their financial supporters,” but records the response of locals, who say, ”Short-term missionaries do not really get to know us… We need more long-term missionaries.”
Second, “Local Churches should promote ‘people-centered’ mission over ‘project/program-driven’ mission.” That’s because “[p]eople disciple people and people are discipled by people,” not projects and programs. Furthermore, “[p]eople centered mission requires long-termers,” as distinct from the short-termers served by project/program-centered mission.
Several rhetorical questions confront us with the unlikely probability of Jesus using a translator to communicate; Paul using some “mega-funded projects and programs… with local translators”; “Jesus and Paul paying salaries to local workers to disciple people.”
Finally, “Local churches should promote young, mature people,” rather than older believers, to engage in cross-cultural disciple-making. That’s mostly because it’s almost impossible for someone over 40 “to learn a new language and to adjust well to a new language.” While acknowledging the value of the experience and wisdom that come with age, Kim agrees with Ralph Winter’s criticism of the "amateurization of mission.”
Can anyone even slightly familiar with the Chinese church, either overseas or within the People’s Republic, deny the tenuous shallowness of much that is called “Christianity”? Counting the number of people who have “made a decision for Christ” or “prayed to receive Christ” leads to impressive statistics, but does it reflect real faith, hope, and love?
Almost all observers agree that the greatest need today is for real discipleship and in-depth leadership training. Christian meetings may be packed with enthusiastic people, but how many know what they believe, immerse themselves in the Scriptures, and know how to follow Christ throughout the week? Leaders preside over huge networks, but how many know how to live out the Gospel in their homes, or model their leadership style to match that of the Good Shepherd?
Such being the case, how can we in the West assist the growth of Chinese Christians? By sending short-termers to stay a while and work through English? Or by sending people thoroughly grounded in the Bible; growing daily in the knowledge of Christ; and committed to long-term efforts to acquire a difficult language, learn about a complex culture, and live among a great people with a long history, immense potential, and awesome temptations?
Other articles in the EMQ give useful advice on how to make short-term trips more effective and draw upon the resources which older Christians have to offer, because these really do have their place, if coordinated with local believers who can follow up. No one wants to downplay the zeal or good intentions of the thousands of Westerners, young and old, who go to China to help fulfill the Great Commission, or to minimize the important contributions that they have made. This article calls us not to criticize, but to reflect on how we might all work more effectively.
G. Wright Doyle