Well, at least, not the way we mean it when we say it. What we usually mean is, “The people there are virtually unreachable,” or “Our resources are better spent elsewhere because there are areas in which people seem more ‘ready’ than in _________.” It’s a way of trying to get the most bang for our buck or missionary. It’s also sometimes our way of avoiding tough ministry.
I get it. I just don’t agree that we can judge, scientifically and with precision, where the Gospel is likely to take root and multiply. I don’t mind using it as one among several factors. I just don’t believe we can we forsake entire people groups on such data. It betrays a lack of belief in what the we read in the Scriptures about Nineveh repenting en masse, Jesus teaching on soil types and mustard seeds, the Great Commission and the spread of Christianity recounted in the book of Acts.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there is a difference between Nashville and San Francisco from a “receptivity” standpoint. However, if one looks at a history of missions, our history of assessing receptivity is somewhat sketchy. Today, the Gospel is exploding in places like India and China. Even the supposedly impenetrable 10/40 window has seen traction over the last couple of decades. Egypt has one of the largest Christian churches in all the world.
I chose to serve in Southern California as opposed to other parts of the country not only because it’s home, but because it’s a bit “tougher soil” than elsewhere. I’m drawn to that aspect of it. According to a Barna Group study, San Diego ranks among the ten cities with the fewest self-identified Christians–along with several other cities in California. So, I get it. But…
One thing spending times overseas will teach you is the Gospel reaches the hearts of people everywhere. It sounds simple, but that truth can’t make its way to your gut until you see it with your own eyes as you hear the crunch of the rocky soil underneath your feet.
I just returned from the Amazon jungle of Ecuador, where the Gospel on the move–as it is in Quito, the capital city. I serve in San Diego county, and can testify the Gospel is definitely on the move. I’ve seen it in Bangkok, Kiev, Ensenada, San Francisco, Long Beach, Brooklyn and Princeton.
Wherever you are, in rich soil or rocky soil, believe in God’s power to reach people. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. Don’t get cynical. Don’t throw up your hands or pull a Jonah. Believe in the Gospel’s power and lend your best efforts to its sowing.
For your encouragement this morning, here is a report from Leadership Network’s Warren Bird (a great researcher) listing the largest churches around the world by continent and weekly attendance. It’s really inspiring to read.
If we think an area is non-receptive, we reinforce it’s non-receptivity by our absence and cynicism. I’m not denying some soils are more receptive than others. Jesus said so, after all. What I’m suggesting is we could use a touch more faith in the Gospel’s power–realizing that sometimes fertile soil is hiding just underneath the rocks.
Note: I’ve just returned from Ecuador and am continuing this series of Leadership Lessons from Overseas.