Pleas for Pastors, Part Deux


Go west young man. It’s a popular phrase, a catchy song and has meant much, much more to our society at large. It’s also biblical, in a way, I am convinced. In Romans 15:20 Paul said, It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” He is partially quoting Isaiah 52:14-15 which states, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.”

These passages evoke a passion for reaching the lost world with the message of Jesus Christ. They communicate a pioneering spirit seen in the likes of Adoniram Judson, William Carey, David Brainerd, Lottie Moon, and others. The Isaiah passage shares with us that Christ died specifically for those who have not heard.

Now, I understand that both of these passages are not necessarily to be interpreted as prescriptive for pastors – that pastors must move to the most unreached areas or be considered disobedient. I also understand, however, that statistics seem to bear out an unfortunate over-fascination with ministry in close proximity to home. The USA is recognized as having the 3rd largest population of lost people in the world. Research has also proven that, by far, the largest portion of our lost country reside in the Western (northeastern) United States. Yet, in light of that, the vast majority of our seminary graduates will serve in the Bible belt. They will continue to preach to those who have already heard. Not that they shouldn’t have the opportunity to continue to hear, but it is unfortunate that we do not have more pastors who share Paul’s passion to take the gospel to those who have not heard.

We seem to be committed to ministry that costs, but not that costs too much. We make grandiose claims of commitment to pushing back lostness and yet most of us aren’t living where lostness reigns supreme. In my conversations with friends I often ask why they don’t consider moving to less reached areas to minister and I hear things like, “my wife won’t agree to it,” or “I don’t think I would fit in that area.” I also hear, “God hasn’t called me there,” which is a frustrating phrase that I tried to explain in my initial Pleas for Pastors post. It’s sad and yet in my estimation these claims, in general, don’t hold water.

Consider these statistics:

In America there are approximately 235 million people with no relationship with Jesus Christ. (http://www.actsone8.com/site/pp.asp?c=euLXJfMQKrH&b=296537)

There is only one state, in the Western United States with a significant evangelical population, and that would be Oklahoma. (See this map for details, courtesy of Wikipedia)

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The North American Mission Board has just over 5,300 missionaries in cooperation with them. While that may sound nice, consider that it is only approximately ¼ of 1% of the total population of Southern Baptists. When you combine that number with the total population of SBC international missionaries, we are still sending less than 1% of our total SBC population to reach unreached peoples. (http://www.christianindex.org/2859.article)

I could share much more but for the sake of your time I’ll stop there. As I’ve said before, these pleas are not intended to be academic treatises (as they are obviously not) but rather simply pleas from my heart to yours. Go west young man, or north, or south. Simply, go, wherever lostness is. Forget the lure of home cooking and family and remember the call of God to go. Do not be swayed by the comfort of the expected and take a chance to strike out to where it may not be comfortable, but where you are desperately needed. Most of all remember two things.

First, according to Isaiah 52 Christ endured the cross for those who have not heard. Are you partnering with Him to complete that mission? Or are you wasting his sacrifice for the sake of your convenience?

Secondly, are you heeding the words of Christ to His personal disciples in reference to following Him? Matthew 10:37-39, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

6 thoughts on “Pleas for Pastors, Part Deux

  1. I’d be careful about equating a high percentage of “evangelical” or “Baptist” church members with a relative lack of “lostness”in a given geographic region. I’ve been in a lot of Baptist church houses in the South where the empty seats outnumber the congregation by a fairly wide margin. The SBC has a weekly worship attendance of 5.4 million, and if you scatter that out across Dixieland, that means that most churches only see about a third of their members on any given Sunday. I’m also observing that the younger you are, even in Dixieland, the less likely you are to be a member or participant in a church.

    That being said, I’m all for a concentration of Southern Baptist evangelistic efforts in the West. I grew up in Arizona, in a community with one of the highest percentages of “churched” people, at 10%. More than half of those were Mormon. The typical Arizona community is 95% unchurched.

    There are Southern Baptists there, however, until recently, the approach to SBC ministry in Arizona was to try to imitate what the churches do in Dixie. The result is that most Southern Baptist congregations in Arizona are made up of transplanted Southerners, most of whom were already Christians prior to moving west. One of the reasons I am not currently serving in my home state is because transplanted Southerners do not believe a native Arizonan can be spiritual, or “southern” enough to be a leader in a Southern Baptist setting. Without an accent, and a Baptist pedigree, I had to find another place to serve. A cosmopolitan place like Houston turned out to be just the ticket–with 85% of the population unchurched, and the majority of the churchgoers Catholic, opportunity abounds here.

  2. Lee-

    Let me make a point of clarification. My point with church vs. unchurched is not necessarily that they are lost or not. I grew up in the Bible belt and I am firmly convinced of the lostness therein. However, as someone else eloquently commented on Marty’s blog today, the accessibility to the gospel is unbelievably high in these areas. We must have a new commitment to go where no one has heard, hence my emphasis on Romans 15.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Micah,
    Encouraging thoughts! I too desire as William Carey said to “go or hold the rope for those who do.” We need strong churches through out the Bible belt sending, planting, supporting,and sustaining work in the West. Whereever God decides to place Tami and I after schooling I pray I am faithful to be involved in frontline missions.

  4. O.K., thanks for the clarification, and you’re right. I think it is partly a matter of motivating people in the pews to go and share their faith, and partly a matter of motivating them to continue with the people they reach in a solid, foundational discipleship ministry. There are more than enough churches and ministers to get that job done in the Bible Belt.

    Scott, I don’t know what your “calling” might be geographically (I’m not sure there is such a thing as a geographic calling but I’ll use it for the sake of discussion) but a young, seminary trained pastor just starting out, especially one who already has a bi-vocational career started, would find Houston to be an international mission field of a diversity that you probably could only find in New York or Los Angeles. With a population that is over 80% ethnic, of more than three dozen varieties, and over 85% unchurched, the problem might be figuring out exactly where to get started. Most of the local, established churches have no idea, or inclination, as to how to go about reaching into this melting pot of people from all over the world. It would be typical mission work–limited resources, slow progress, frustration, but extremely rewarding when it begins to sprout wings and fly.

    Thanks, Micah, for the advertising.

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