How Much Is Left to Do in the Great Commission?

John Piper is a pastor who speaks my language!

The following is a guest blog first published in his Desiring God blog.

The only statistic I can add is that of the 6,800 languages spoken in the world today, about 1,850 languages still do not have any Scripture translated into them, nor has anyone yet been assigned to start a translation program for the 200 million people who speak these languages. No church can be planted without the Seed of the Word of God in the language of the people.

Now here is JohnPiper:

How Much Is Left to Do in the Great Commission?

We should be dumbfounded at how doable the remaining task of world missions is. Before I show this, let’s clarify some definitions.

Missions is not the same as evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the gospel with any unbelievers, and that work will never be done till Jesus comes.

Missions, on the other hand, relates to people groups, not just people, and the number is finite and relatively stable — like the “every people, tongue, tribe, and nation” of Revelation 5:9.

So missions is crossing a culture, learning a language, and planting the church through preaching the gospel among people groups that have no churches strong enough to evangelize their group.

According to the Joshua Project (as of February 16) there are 16,598 people groups in the world. 7,165 of these are “unreached” (fewer than 2% evangelical).

Defining things somewhat differently, the research arm of the Southern Baptist International Missions Board estimates 11,310 people groups, of which 6,405 are unreached and 3,100 are “unengaged” (no evangelical mission effort to reach them is underway).

Does that number sound large to you? 3,100? These are the people groups yet to be pursued and penetrated with a missions effort. The number is, in fact, amazingly small compared to the resources available to us.

Consider these numbers from the January 2013 issue of The International Bulletin of Missionary Research (vol. 37, no. 1):

  • There are 44,000 Christian denominations in the world — 14 for every unengaged people group.
  • There are 700 million evangelical Christians in the world — 225,000 for every unengaged people group.
  • There are 4.5 million Christian congregations in the world — 1,451 congregations for every unengaged people group.
  • There are 4,900 Christian foreign mission sending agencies in the world — 1.5 agencies for every unengaged people group.

This is simply mindboggling. I am not unaware that most of these 3,100 unengaged peoples are in places and under regimes that are hostile to Christian presence. So I am not saying it will be easy to reach them. It will be very costly.

But if God would grant the passion and courage and wisdom, the remaining task is neither vague, nor enormous, nor unattainable. Would you join me in obeying Matthew 9:38, “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”?

And then be a radical, sacrificial goer, or a radical, sacrificial sender. Jesus has all authority to accomplish this. He promises to be with us to the end of the age as we mobilize for this. What a thrilling prospect! What a cause to live for! What a holy ambition.

Closing note from Jack: Since I failed to find a suitable photo, here’s a famous quote to illustrate John’s point, “The Church is like a man wearing a deep sea diver’s pressure suit and helmet, bravely stepping into a bathtub to pull the drain plug.”

Our Life Theme Scripture

When Jo and I got married over 50 years ago, the popular thing among Christians was to choose a “Life Verse,” a few lines from some Bible passage to use as a theme for the rest of life together. I can’t remember, but we probably prayed about it and then, in our youthful idealism, picked one that appealed to us.

We chose a verse from a totally inappropriate chapter of 2nd Corinthians. Chapter 9 is the key chapter in all of Paul’s writings dealing with sharing material goods and urging generosity in giving. Since we were both continually dead broke, the chapter did not fit us at all. Except for one little couplet in verse 6 that Paul pulled in from the generally known law of agriculture.

“Remember: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”

We picked that verse and applied it to ourselves. Our focus was not on giving money but on doing and working since we had our whole married life ahead of us. We committed ourselves to work for God and His Kingdom not by carefully metering out our service, but going full blast, grabbing every opportunity, and thus sowing our service generously and bountifully.

We started immediately. Within months of our wedding we had quit our jobs and were working in camp as counsellors, then we ran daily vacation Bible schools in several churches, and preached in others. We checked out various missions agencies but each one insisted on applicants having pastoral or other major experience in Christian service.

So that fall we took on the job of pastoring a small-town church. In those days the pastor and his wife did everything, from visiting parishioners, to organizing programs, to preaching two sermons a week. The church was in a building program and the pastor’s salary was minimal. To make ends meet I drove a school bus daily, and taxi and ambulance occasionally. For a while, I sold books door to door. I was the Youth for Christ director for a nearby city, and served on the board of our alma mater Bible school.

A year later we took an unpaid leave of absence for two months to study linguistics in the University of Washington in Seattle in preparation for becoming Bible translators with Wycliffe. Eventually, after more training, we traveled to Brazil with two toddlers and a baby, to start a lifestyle of bountiful sowing that made those early years of married life look pretty laid back.

Learning from the Canelas and Teaching Them

Today, five decades later, we are living proof of the truth of that verse. We sowed generously and we are reaping generously. A church among the Canela where there was none. A 750 page partial Bible translated into their language. A strong, ongoing educational program in the village. Nine years of top Wycliffe leadership positions. Speaking scores of times a year for the past two decades, writing blogs and authoring books continually for the past ten years. Three daughters and their families including eight grandchildren, all committed to loving Jesus and making their lives count for God and His Kingdom.

Yes, we are reaping generously. And it’s not over yet! God is good!

PS. Today (Thursday) we are leaving George Town, Cayman, after 6 days of ministry, 5 major speaking events, 4 one-on-one meetings, 3 working lunches/dinners, 2 workshops/seminars, and 1 hour-long radio talk show interview. Tomorrow I help run the two-day Inscribe Conference. By the way, next week I’ll post the “rest of the story” about the night Bible class.

Mandate, God, Prayer, or Coincidence?

In 1983, a group of 40,000 Sudanese people called the Tira were listed on the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project as not having even a single word of the Bible translated into their language. Today, twenty-eight years later, many Tira are Christians and read the Bible in their own language.

Here’s what happened: 

  • In November of 1983, David and Ray, two American students signed up to pray for the Tira with the Bibleless Peoples Prayer Project.  
  • In May of 1986, Jerry and Jan promised to pray for this group.  
  • In March 1990, Jane and Margeanne committed themselves to pray.

In August 1990, a report came to the Prayer Project organizers that a young Tira man, Avajani, was studying linguistics and Bible translation techniques. The organizers wrote to encourage him with the news that three teams were praying for his people group. They gave the names and the dates when they began to pray. Avajani’s response was astonishing!

  • Avajani told them he became a Christian in November 1983, the month David and Ray began to pray.  
  • He was accepted for theological studies in May 1986, when Jerry and Jan started to pray. He heard about courses in Bible translation and was accepted as a student in March 1990, when Jane and Margeanne started to pray.  
  • A number of portions of the Bible were published during 1999-2001.

An atheist reading this sort of astonishing coincidence might well mutter to himself, “Hmm, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that God was involved.”

God is definitely at work on planet Earth, and He invites us to join Him. He moves some to pray, and some to do hands on service. He wants every person to hear about Him in the language they know best.

Here are some links to help us join God in His work:



Brief Introduction to Jack’s New Column, The Mandate.

Welcome to The Mandate! (Mandate son of Look)

This is the column where I will focus strongly on cross-cultural missions, Bible translation around the world, cultural anthropology, basic literacy in societies that have been illiterate for generations, and the beauty and intricacy of human language. 

In short, these columns will be like those I wrote in The Look when I was telling stories from our 22 years of living and working among the Canela people of Brazil. I will be writing about the biblical basis of cross-cultural missions, about how important it is that believers are mobilized to go to every part of the world and share the Good News with those who are not yet believers. 

The definition of “mandate” is “an official command or instruction from an authority” and obviously refers to what we know as “The Great Commission” from Jesus to evangelize the world and disciple the nations.

This columns, or posts will be shorter than The Look was, no more than half the length. They will be easier to read, absorb and put into practice. Although they are shorter, I expect their impact will be the same. 

So, what about all those neat stories from my personal life, and those incisive insights into current events that were not focused on missions? I will continue to write, bringing a biblical perspective to these things too, but not in The Mandate. I am starting another blog, where I will post about family life, marriage, education, history, current events, etc. 

It too will be shorter than The Look, but will make an impact. It won’t be focused on missions but I fully expect there to be a missions flavour. 

I thought of calling it INsights and OUTflows, you know, the idea of reading, remembering or experiencing something that leads to a biblical insight which then flows from my mind into yours. But knowing me, I thought I would instead call it, INsights and OUTbursts. I think you will know why! 

I will, of course, continue to write stories and anecdotes. As a “doddering old dotard,” I have more anecdotes and stories than ever. I must be in my anecdotage.

Please go to the top of the column and click on Follow in the upper left part of your screen. You can all click on Share to send it to others. Or go to the side bar on the right and click on Subscribe, or Follow by e-mail. Eventually I will stop sending out this column directly to your email Inbox and instead rely on you signing up and getting it automatically. 

Let me know what you think of this new effort at communication. What you like, what you don’t like, what your recommend. This development is still a work in progress.

By the way, remember that you can hold down the Control button on your keyboard and then roll the Scroll wheel on you mouse to increase or decrease the size of the font. Make it the size you like.


Jack “TheWordMan”