Four years of Bible college with weekly Missionary Cabinets focused my attention on the foreign (overseas) mission field and calls to be a missionary to the ends of the earth. Then, another two years of chapels at Seminary to remind me of the importance of listening to God and keeping in step with the Spirit in God’s world-wide mission. And to top it all off, five years as a Bible College professor with weekly chapels with the students and two large missionary conferences (which I had the privilege of helping to design and set up) to keep before me the regions beyond, the burden to reach the unreached around the globe. Hundreds of great speakers and preachers and missionaries, but I will not forget one particular illustration that was used at all three venues a number of times.
A speaker, missionary, or preacher would ask 25 or 50 or even 100 of the students to join them on the platform with prearranged chairs set up, each with a 3x5 card on it—the students would sit randomly, for it was what was on the cards that mattered. Here’s the gist of what happened during the illustration:
The speaker would explain that the United States and Canada provide and train missionaries for the world, but most seemed to be called to stay and minister in the United States and Canada. The students represented those responding to God’s call to minister. The speaker would have the students respond to the cards on their chairs: a certain number of students would stand to represent those “called” to areas unreached by the gospel and unchurched—the lowest percentage out of the 25, 50, 100 (whatever number the speaker was using at the time)—two percent (2%). Then, students would stand representing the number “called” to foreign fields where the gospel had already been preached and churches planted—a little larger, but still a small percentage of the 25, 50, 100 students—maybe three (3%) to five percent (5%). Then, students of these two groups would sit down and the rest would stand—the vast majority, 90% to 95% of the number of students, would stand to represent the percentage of students “called” to stay in North America.
Then the speaker would look at us and say something like, “95% stay and minister to 5% of the world’s mostly already reached population and 2% to reach 95% of the world and its unreached people who have not heard the gospel or have a gospel-believing church in their community. Broke my heart every time—convicted me.
This always made an impression. The vast majority of Christians “feel” called to stay where the gospel had already been preached and the land was plentiful with churches. And only a small, very small percentage heeded the call to go where the need was greatest.
Now, the reasons for this are various and complex, ranging from comfort level to potential places and platforms for potential success, from levels of commitment to fear and discomfort. And to be fair, I am sure some honest personal calculation as well. (This isn’t judgment, for I have used the same criteria for “spiritual” decision-making as well. Plus, it’s simple reality.)
I often think about this illustration when I talk about the need for church planters in uncool places and the need for lay-folks to join, support, and go to our own inner-city, poor neighborhood churches. The vast majority still “feel called” to go or be among their own in places and neighborhoods that have the resources for church ministry. I have more than a few times been told (mostly by young, abled-bodied Christians settling in the burbs), “The wealthy and those in the suburbs need Christ, too, you know.” I am well aware that most will go to where there is less need and there is already an abundance of resources and claim God’s leading. I get that. It was and is true of missionary “callings” and it is as true for reaching those in neighborhoods of scarcity and lack in the uncool places in North America (or anywhere for that matter).
While it is true we are dependent on the gracious gifts of those with resources, that is, outside funding, so that we can both build up our church and reach our Hill neighborhoods (couldn't do this with out them), I am still praying that God moves (calls) into our neighborhood and into our church those who have resources—to actually be a part of the daily, weekly ministry of our church and mission to the Hill. I still am hoping, praying for some of our able-bodied, young adults to hear God’s call to minister among our Hill teenagers. I am still praying that those with skills and resources to come join us to reach Hill children (and their parents) with the gospel. I still pray that God would burden the hearts of those with musical talent to come among us to develop a music ministry—both for church and for the street.
Still, I realize that 95% of Christians within the sound of my voice, who read my Wasted Blog posts, and my prayers will “go” to the 5% that already have the resources and platforms for success; and, 5% will go to the 95% who are under-resourced and have little to no platforms for success. Combine this with the uncomfortable tension that well-resourced folks have with the poor and unsafe neighborhoods and the disparity in percentages are even worse.
Yet, I still pray. And, I still make the appeals. Hear God’s call.
I think of Keith Green’s old song, “Here am I, Send Me,” and two of the lines:
Oh Lord, you said the harvest was great,
The bottom-line: I’m looking for able-bodied Christians to come be a part of our Hill ministry to minister to Hill kids, Hill teenagers, to develop a music ministry, some to bring resources to the ministry. This isn’t one of the cool-places nor is it a typical venue for success. It’s a messy ministry. It is an under-resourced ministry in an under-resourced place. It is a place of great need. Still, the harvest is great. It is a call to ministry that is against the odds.
PS Anyone interested in a ministry against the odds here, please email me at ChipCPCtheHill@gmail.com or friend me on Facebook (Pastor Chip) and IM me.
PSS You can check out our Hill ministry through my webpage: Pastor Chip
PSSS Check out this Wasted Blog as well: Open Air Preaching and the Forgotten Elect: Not doing ordinary
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.