Jesus is Lord Over Missions
Jesus commissioned His church to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). Although our Sovereign God is not limited to any means, we as the church are limited to the ordinary means of grace to make and grow disciples, e.g. preaching, teaching, praying, Scripture reading, corporate and private worship, partaking of the sacraments, and singing.
Roman Roads: A Means to the Means
When the Apostle Paul entered a city, he already knew the language and the common Greco-Roman culture. I believe mission strategies may employ various mundane means to reach the unreached with the understanding that they are ever moving towards the implementing of the ordinary means of grace. Specifically, that may entail going to a people group to live among them to learn how to communicate the gospel, e.g. learning language, cultural norms and taboos, etc. Wycliffe Bible Translators is a prime example of that. In order for them to be able to translate the Scriptures and present the gospel in a way that is comprehended by a people group, they must first live among them, learn the language, culture, and mindset of the people for real communication to take place. For other mission teams, that may begin with a “soccer ministry,” for example, in the community in order to meet people where they are, intending on forming genuine relationships. Essentially, as the church today, we must build our own “Roman roads” to get to the people who need the gospel. Relief and mercy ministries are legitimate out workings of the gospel, yet we need to be diligent as not to create an unhealthy dependency.
In Native America, as with so many other mission fields, the message of the Kingdom of Christ has been heavily wrapped and delivered in European/Western packaging. The Great Commission was often seen as the Great Imposition. Although God is sovereign and his word does not return void, much damage has been done by his people in the “name of Christ.” The Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny were unbiblical driving doctrines that caused much pain and suffering on such a vast and diverse mission field. The systematic destruction of Native cultures by the church and state over the last 500 years has caused heavy resentment among the Indigenous peoples on the North American continent (Turtle Island), and much of that hurt was caused in the 20th century (For more on that read my post The Indian Boarding School Movement: Christian Complicity, pt 1).
We need to go boldly to Native America, yet with humility and meekness. Rather than going in the name of paternalism, i.e. seeing Indigenous people as people who need to be fixed, i.e. “civilized,” and taken care of, I want to go in the name of the Father expecting to see them participate in the Great Commission in a way never seen before. I want to go in the power of gospel, not in the power and influence of our culture – whatever that is. I want to see a broken people who have been trampled on in the name of progress and “civilization,” come to life in the name of Jesus and behold what He will do with them and us together as one church, one faith, one baptism, under one Lord.