350. Missions terminology


Every industry has its own jargon and its own special terms. Missions is no exception. Here are some definitions of a few words you may come across, and how they are used in the missions context.

Evangelism and Missions. Many think of missions as something you do in a far-away country. On the other hand, some churches have signs above their exits that read, “You are now entering the mission field.” Let’s try and define these terms.

  • Evangelism is a method of spreading the gospel to our culture
  • Missions is a way of reaching other cultures
  • Frontier Missions takes the message to a culture that has never heard it
It’s possible to do missions without leaving your shores. For instance, there are many people from other cultures living in the USA. The same is true of many other places in the world.

Nations. When you read the word "nations" in the Bible, it has a different connotation to what we think of as nations in our modern world.

  • A Geo-Political Nation (Modern usage): “The people of a territory united under a single government; country; state.” (Webster). These nations have international borders that control the entry and exit of people to and from their borders. To avoid confusion, we could use the word “country” instead of “nation” to describe them.
  • A Biblical Nation: We call these “people groups” or “peoples.” A People Group is a “significantly large grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another because of their shared language, religion, ethnicity, residence, occupation, class or caste, situation, etc. or combination of these.” 
  • For evangelistic purposes a "nation" or people group is “the largest group within which the gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”
  • Examples: The North American Indian tribes refer to themselves as Nations. E.g. the Navajo Nation. The Old Testament refers to the Gentiles as “the nations.”
Oral Communicators (or Oral Cultures.) We take reading and writing for granted. Many peoples communicate primarily through speaking and listening. In many groups, there are few, if any, who can read and write in their own language. This means we have to approach them in a way that is consistent with their communication style. 
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Redemptive Analogy. Embedded in practically every culture, there is some practice or understanding which demonstrates the Gospel. Don Richardson defined the concept in his book, Peace Child.

The Tailenders. This term refers to those cultures that are at the tail end of the line when missionaries hand out spiritual resources. For instance, missionaries translating the Bible, making radio broadcasts, or producing indigenous videos, will tend to start with the larger language groups. They may never get to the very small groups waiting at the end of the line. Here is a two minute video you can watch. Click here.

Unreached, Unengaged. Each word has a slightly different meaning. They all refer to the status of a given people group.

  • Unreached/Least-Reached: A people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.
  • Unengaged: A group of people in which no active church planting is underway. According to the Global Research Office of the International Missions Board, “A people group is engaged when a church planting strategy, consistent with evangelical faith and practice, is under implementation.”
World Christian. Do not confuse this with “worldly Christian.” Here’s David Bryant’s description. “World Christians are day-to-day disciples for whom Christ’s global cause has become the integrating, overriding priority for all that life is for them. Like disciples should, they actively investigate all that their Master’s Great Commission means. Then they act on what they learn.” 
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