Monday, May 24, 2010

When Can You Throw In the Towel?

When can you leave a job or a ministry? Are there areas that are not ripe for the harvest? What are legitimate reasons for "throwing in the towel"? Did Jesus ever give his disciples permission to simply move on? And how can we know what those reasons are?

The 10/40 Window has been one of the most successful and convenient marketing missionaries tools in the last 10 years. Who hasn’t seen a map of the 10/40 window? Guthrie in "Missions in the Third Millenium" writes:

The 10/40 window is an imaginary box drawn between 10 and 40 degrees of longitude, encompassing parts or all of 62 countries in Africa and Asia and a bit of Europe.... Some 3.1 billion people, approximately half of the worlds population live in the Window... This area is the epicenter to Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. 82 percent of the world’s poor live here. 29 of the 62 countries that have the lowest quality of life based on life expectancy, infant mortality, and literacy reside in the Window.

Despite the apparent emphasis on the 10/40 window...only 3 percent of the global missionary force is there and 0.01 percent of Christian ministry funds go here (We aren't there either, Kenya is south of the Window). That all makes me feel sad and the Church has really misdirected many of its resources or that maybe we have been unwilling to go where we are needed most. Where it is hot, ruled by law of another religion, and potentially unstable.

I wonder what God would think about how our resources have been spread? Would God want a missionary to remain in an unreached area for several decades with no openness to the Gospel (but maybe seeds are planted)? Does God want more missionaries going to areas like Latin America where evangelical and protestant churches are exploding (but many of these populations have multiple chances to hear the Gospel in a meaningful way)? Does God need more ministers in Europe and in the City where churches are empty and Christianity is dwindling? Isn’t it just a matter of going where the most need is (when you lift a heavy log you go to the end where no one else lifts)? Can we distill the Great Commission down to a geographic window and some telling statistics?

I don’t know who can answer these questions. But I do think God would be saddened that there is still so much poverty, illiteracy, rape, hunger, violence, corruption, and despair in the Window. Also one wonders is the despair in the Window because these areas have not been reached by the transforming power of the Gospel?

Missions needs to go to these areas. But I don’t think guilt is the right response to get people there, or the right response if they go and do not stay. When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples he gave them few instructions (bring nothing but a staff and wear sandals). Jesus might tell his 12 disciples where to go, when to begin, how many people should go together, what should be preached, what activities to involve themselves, or even ultimately what was their purpose. But Jesus didn't tell them any of these things. Jesus gave them this final command.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you,
shake the dust off your feet when you
leave, as a testimony against them (Mark 12).

Jesus compels James, John, Peter, and so forth that if they are 1) not welcome or 2) not listened to they should leave. If you have come and spoken, but are not wanted or not heard... Jesus tells you to walk away. Am I suggesting we shake the dust off our feet at the 10/40 window, our churches, our jobs, our communities. Of course not. Blessed are the persecuted. His followers will be hard-pressed and afflicted. No, these places need determined missionaries, pastors, relief agencies, neighbors, friends. God's light needs to shine. They need His grace. But we must also reserve the permission and courage to leave when we are not welcome or heard; and then follow His will elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

Well written and thought provoking. I was thinking of the same scripture as I was reading. There are some in our Neighborhood Bible Study that seem to becoming less receptive to what the Bible has to say. When do I shake the dust off and move on? I am not sure.
Mom F

Anonymous said...

I ditto mom's thoughts. I was thinking of the same scripture as well. It has given Jason and I some comfort in making decisions about his career. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas.... is this Malin or Sara writing this post? Just curious:) love you,


The Friess Family said...

Malin was the author.