The below post is from Jed Coppenger, Lead Pastor of Redemption City Church in Franklin, TN. It came from a recent trip he led with his church. We’re thankful that the leadership of B21’s heart beats to reach the nations with the gospel.
We’ll be talking at our panel about international missions strategy, the future of the IMB, and other questions with IMB President David Platt and our other panelists. Be sure to sign up for the panel here. It will be Tuesday over lunch at the 2016 SBC in St. Louis.
The last two weeks I spent time amongst a few unreached people groups and unengaged, unreached people groups on the other side of the world. If you’re new to this, an unengaged, unreached people group is an ethnic group that “has no known active church planting underway.” Just a step above that is an unreached people group, which is an ethnic group that is “less than or equal to 2% Evangelical Christian and less than or equal to 5% Professing Christians.” [https://joshuaproject.net/help/definitions] Like unbelievers in much of the world, these people have not believed the gospel and are guilty before a holy God (Rom 1:18-25). Unlike unbelievers in much of the world, these people do not have access to the gospel (Rom 10:14). The gospel isn’t on the menu of beliefs in their culture.
Three of these groups from my recent trip stand out especially to me. One was a people group that was 100% non-Christian. 100%! With another group, we had the privilege of speaking to the first Christian of that village’s people group! We also got to worship with the first indigenous church of one other people group. We heard testimonies of God’s grace and unshakable peace from a lady who, after rejecting Islam and surrendering to Christ, was kicked out of her home at the vulnerable age of sixteen. We heard the gospel proclaimed from brothers and sisters who were the first of their people group to have secured their place in heaven’s worship gathering (Rev 5:9). And we heard stories of unbelievers still considering the faith, wondering, skeptically, what life would even look like in their Muslim tribe if they converted and became the only believer.
As this minimal recap shows, it was a unique and impactful couple of weeks. As I continue to think about the faces of those men, women, and children who do not yet know the Redeemer, I thought it might be helpful to jot down a few thoughts that seem clear to me now in ways that didn’t before the trip.
- I Need To Focus More On The Unreached Peoples of the World – My attention naturally moves towards things like the thoughts and fears of personal failure, people’s opinions of me, and the needs of my family and church. While some of these areas are important, very rarely, does my attention drift towards the plight of the unengaged, unreached people groups of this world. That’s a problem. These people live and die without the gospel. That’s not, of course, the only problem worthy of our attention. But it is worthy of our attention. And that goes for the unreached people around me at home too. It’s easy to be so busy that the unengaged, unreached peoples of the world aren’t given a second thought, just like it’s easy for us to be so busy with our Christian lives that we forget the unreached people all around us. Sure, I’m investing in the lives of unbelievers around me and sharing the gospel consistently. But my time amongst these people groups made me feel an urgency that is often missing in my efforts. It’s easy to let even the Christian “worries of this world” choke out the word of our Christ and shepherd who came to seek and to save the lost (Matt. 13; Matt 10).
- I Need To Resize My Problems – Everybody has different sized problems. We have big problems and small problems, and the Bible says this is a normal part of living in a broken world. Our problem—my problem—is that many of what we consider to be our biggest problems aren’t called “big” in Scripture. Jesus says not to worry about our lives or tomorrow (Matt 6:25, 34). Yet, we worry about our homes, education, finances, church size, and more. The Bible calls us to worry about being reconciled to God and the advancement of his kingdom. As the faces of those unreached peoples came into view, I found that many of my biggest worries vanished in a way that never happened in my daily devotionals. There’s something jarring that happens when you look into the faces of those who are facing eternal punishment with little to no access to the gospel. Does anyone have a bigger crisis on their hands than those who not only haven’t believed the gospel, but don’t have access to hearing that gospel? No one has bigger problems than the unreached, unengaged peoples of the earth. Sure, we all still have problems we need to face with God’s help. But I found that the way I viewed my problems were disproportional.
- I Need To War Against My Addiction to Busy, Controlled, and Validating Environments – I couldn’t figure out what my problem was at first. I was anxious and fidgety in a place that moved at a much slower pace. I didn’t have access, for the most part, to social media, email or phones. Yet, I couldn’t just chill. After a couple of days, I figured out that I was going through some kind of busyness detox. I had busy habits that I was enslaved to because, I think, they gave me a sense of control. They were areas were I could receive some form of validation—whether through “likes,” “compliments,” etc. Those ministering amongst the unreached, unengaged peoples of the world seemed less “busy,” in an environment they couldn’t control, and validation was nowhere to be found. Sure, many of us must engage in environments that could be good or bad—validating and mission advancing. But I’m walking away from this trip with a fresh awareness of the danger of letting my heart slip into the arms of this soul-killing addiction (Matt 6:1; John 12:43).
- I Need To Beware of Letting God’s Blessings of Comfort Turn My Heart From His Mission – We live in an incredibly comfortable part of the world. No, I’m not talking about private jets. I’m talking about air conditioning, clean water, beds, and toilets—just to name a few luxuries. As you might have guessed, we didn’t have access to these things for much of the trip. We didn’t have access to our favorite restaurants. We didn’t have access to showers. We didn’t spend our nights in air-conditioned rooms. It was challenging. And we were there about a minute in the grand scheme of things. Our discomfort made us long to be in places other than reaching the unreached, unengaged peoples of the world. While some of those longings are fine, it was alarming to me how easily we can use the comforts God provides to turn our hearts away from the advancement of his mission. Jesus let those considering following him that he had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Jesus’ mission seems to move towards the uncomfortable in the short run.
- I Need To Remember God Can Do Anything – When you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you can’t do anything, you’re positioned to see that God can. Even in small things. One such instance happened when we were worshipping with the first indigenous church of a people group that we visited. In the middle of the preaching, my nose started running in a way that it rarely has in my life. Sweating and snotting like crazy, I looked desperately for a tissue. There were no signs of tissue in the small hot box we were worshipping in. And as silly as it sounds, I asked God—I pleaded with God—to provide a tissue before my snot runs all over their floor! Stunningly, right after the preaching, the preacher sat down, turned around, and gave me a tissue! It was the only time it happened the whole trip. No tissues were given to the team members next to me. As small and silly as it seems, it really strengthened my confidence in the God who can do anything. If you saw the situation we were in, it would’ve done the same for you. I took it as a reminder that “our God is in the heavens and he does whatever he pleases (Ps 115:3). There were bigger examples too. On a couple of occasions, before we walked into villages unannounced, we asked God to provide a place to stay and food to eat. We didn’t know anyone. Not a problem for God. We were fed and given places to stay. It was incredible! These are just a couple examples of a time that renewed my confidence in our God who can do anything.
This trip was unlike many trips I’ve been on. When you are working amongst the unengaged, unreached peoples of the world, the work is slow and complicated—and it is urgent. But God’s always doing a trillion things at once. Some of what I think he was doing in my life was helping me see and feel some truths my soul needed. Instead of busyness, I’m choosing purposefulness. Instead of comfort, I’m choosing advancement. Instead of fear, I’m choosing faith. I’m not accepted based on these new commitments, I’m accepted because of my God-given faith in Christ’s work on my behalf. But this saving faith is a faith that pushes believers into greater levels of obedience, freedom, and fulfillment. I hope God uses these thoughts to do the same in your life as well.