Is there any real difference between evangelism and missions?
Evangelism and missions both flow from the Great Commission – Christ’s command to “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28) by reaching them and teaching them.
Isn’t this all just Great Commission work?
Yes and no.
There is a big difference between those that have been reached with the gospel and those that have not.
First, what did Jesus mean by the word “nation?” This term doesn’t refer to geo-political entities, but rather people groups. People who share a common language and culture, who often live in the same area. A people group is considered “reached” with the gospel when a viable, witnessing church has been established within that group. Viable in that it will be able to reproduce itself, and witnessing in that they take the Great Commission seriously. The two go hand in hand.
In order to “reach” a people group, some type of language and/or cultural barrier must be crossed. This is the definition of missions, crossing a cultural barrier to share the gospel with a people group. Once that group has been reached, then evangelism needs to be done to bring all the members of that group to the Lord – that’s evangelism – when someone from their own people group shares the gospel with others in their people group.
Missions crosses cultural and language barriers to share the gospel, evangelism is sharing the gospel within your own people group. There are also two types of missions: partner missions and pioneer missions.
Partner missions would be the work of someone who is crossing cultural and language barriers to share the gospel within a people group that has already been reached, in partnership with the established church in that people group. This is the work of equipping and empowering the national church to reach and teach their own people.
The other type of missions work is pioneer missions. This is when a person or group is sharing the gospel with a people group that has not yet been reached with the gospel and there is no viable church. Roughly one-third of the world is still not reached with the gospel, so there is much work to be done in pioneer missions. There is much work to be done in partner missions as well – to continue training and teaching the growing church in the Global South. (See the chart below.)
So, what difference does it make?
A lot. For Freedom to Lead, it effects where we are focusing our efforts. We work with under-resourced leaders and churches in the Global South – partner missions. But we are also seeking to work with those that are planting churches among the unreached people groups of the world – pioneer missions. How we look at missions and evangelism shapes how we spend our time and our money. It effects how we pray and what or who we pray for.
All three are essential: evangelism, partner missions, and pioneer missions. As you consider how you or your church are seeking to be obedient to the Great Commission, I hope that you will be involved in all three areas and supporting those who are working in all three areas.
The need is great, the time is short, the Lord is near. Let’s evangelize, partner, and pioneer while it is still day, night is coming. (John 9:4)