The fourth core ability of All Nations church planters (see previous posts for previous core abilities) is engage neglected peoples.
I’m going to be honest with you, when All Nations first began to use the term “neglected peoples,” I thought it was silly. Why weren’t we using the same terms everyone else was using, terms like “unreached” and “unengaged?” Now, many years into the process, other agencies are recognizing the inadequacy of terms like those and are proposing terms more like the ones we are using!
For All Nations, the term “neglected peoples” has always meant a people that did not have access to the Gospel. It does not refer to how poor they are in other ways or to any physical lack. We are concerned with those things too, but our first priority is to look around the world and see where people have never had a chance to hear about Jesus and then to go to those places.
However, contrary to expectation perhaps, this means that we might not go to some places where there are very few believers. The traditional definition of “unreached peoples” is: socio-linguistic people groups (ethne in Greek or “ethnic peoples” in English) in which less than 2% of the people group are believers. This definition is not universally used, but it’s certainly widely used. On the other hand, “unengaged people” groups are traditionally those with absolutely no gospel witness at all, either locally or from missionaries. In other words, being “unreached” is bad but being “unengaged” is even worse. These are both useful terms and have helped to mobilize us in the right direction, but they each lack something as well (as all terms do).
For example, sometimes a people group gets taken off of the unengaged people group list because a missions group said that they were going to go there. However, in the end, they might not make it, or they might make it there and then have to leave due to illness or civil strife or any number of other reasons. Although the people at Finishing the Task (ftt.org) try to make the list as accurate as they can, it’s a difficult task. Recently, for example, I heard people say that there were no more unengaged peoples in Nepal and that we should not send workers to Nepal anymore. I suspect this is because some well-intentioned church or individual committed in their heart to reaching the rest of Nepal, a noble and good thing. However, if one goes on the ground to Nepal, it’s very easy to find many villages, towns, and people groups with no gospel witness at all. So, in this case, taking Nepal off the list might actually be inhibiting needed workers from going there. Let me be quick to say that the people who curate the list are not necessarily to blame, but people often misunderstand how to use the list.
In terms of unreached peoples, the situation may also be complex. I think of Japan, for example. Japan is unreached but not because they lack access to the gospel. They are unreached because we have not yet had a lasting breakthrough of the Gospel in Japan. There are many missionaries there, and yet the Japanese remain the second largest unreached people group on planet earth. So, if All Nations is going to go to the Japanese, we have to ask ourselves if they are still a “neglected people” or not. Sure, they are unreached, but they are not the same as a people who have never even had the chance to hear about Jesus.
For full disclosure, I have advocated for All Nations to be involved in Japan. Why? I feel that there has been little or no people who have tried to ignite movements by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, I consider them to be neglected, despite the number of missionaries in the country. In this case, I think we have something unique to offer, and since none of the other approaches have worked, why don’t we give it a try? (Maybe our approach will not work either, but we’ll try!) On the other hand, I’m reluctant to send All Nations missionaries to Scotland. Why? Because there is a traditional church there that could finish the task, if they would be revived. Japan has little or no traditional church to reach the country, so missionaries are still necessary, in my opinion.
Others might disagree with my reasoning, but I seek to explain my thinking here and to identify that it’s not always easy to decide where and how to be strategic. In practice, All Nations listens to incoming church planters and decides WITH them and not FOR them where they will go serve. We do NOT keep a list of places where we will work and not work. We have suggestions, but we do not have hard policies (this is true for most things in All Nations). Sometimes, Holy Spirit identifies an unlikely place to us, and we prayerfully consider it together.
A place that might not seem obvious as a neglected place is Uganda, but I just got back from a trip there. Uganda has many, many churches all over the country. It is far above the 2% unreached threshold, yet All Nations is there. Why? We are helping Uganda to send missionaries to other places, from there to the neglected (and they are!). And, our workers there are Ugandans who are going to pockets of people that have been skipped over by traditional churches. So, I discourage more expat workers from going there while at the same time going in and out (this is called being a non-residential missionary in some circles) to encourage the Ugandans to become goers themselves.
I hope we can see that deciding where and how to be strategic is not always easy or straightforward. In our training, we help guide new missionaries and church planters to go where the need is greatest, given their gifting and family situations. We recognize that others might make other decisions, which is fine. At the end of the day, we long to see Jesus worshipped all over the earth, and we hope our people go to places where we can help see this in our lifetime.
Other blog posts in the Core Abilities series:
Pam spent ten years in Central Asia as a church planter and Bible translator working among a previously unengaged people group. Along with others, she was able to help lead people to Jesus and train them to lead their own churches. The local believers have, in turn, shared Jesus with others and also raised up other leaders. Pam’s heart is to train and send church planters to share Jesus with other unreached people groups: those who would never have any chance in their lives to hear about Him. To this end, she trains and coaches disciples who make disciples based on simple Biblical and research-based best practices. Pam is part of the Global Support Team and is also a member of the International Leadership Team.