God’s Mission Needs to Go to the Whole World

Appropriate Sending in a Polycentric World

Chris Maynard 26 Feb 2024

Polycentric Sending in a Polycentric World

In the first article in this series, I argued that we still need intentional sending for the sake of the kingdom during the twenty-first century. In the second article, we explored the significance and power of a sending message. In this third and final article, we will see that in a polycentric world, one sending message is not enough. There must be many. And I will explore the major factors that should contribute to the development of such messages.

Can we Answer George Verwer’s Plea?

‘I am in no position to set myself up as a judge of other people’s methods, but as I cast myself on God, the Holy Spirit has moved me to plead for a more strategically thoughtful approach to the deployment of missions personnel.’[1] This was written by George Verwer in 2000 in a chapter titled ‘Future Missionaries—From Where?’. I believe that God has led me to take up his prayer, and I think that it is still some way short of fulfilment.

We Can Embrace the ‘Whole’ and be Free from the ‘Every’

We want the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. Amen. But that cannot mean every member of the church taking every aspect of the gospel to every person in the world. It was just about possible, in theory only, that Paul could have shaken hands with the estimated 170 million people alive during his lifetime. He would have needed modern transport, precision mapping and boundless energy, so it was only possible in theory. But now that task is impossible for any one human being—even in theory. It would take more than 250 years (night and day) for someone to shake hands with all 8 billion of us, only managing no more than one second to communicate with each! Every member of the church to every person in the world is out of the question.

Nevertheless, there is a spiritual beauty in the ‘three wholes’ of the Lausanne Movement. True, it is not, in itself, an actionable sending message. Yet it can be a sort of ideal umbrella statement under which all more specific sending messages could find their place. So what will ‘the whole church to the whole world’ look like? What place do sending messages have?

One Priority is Not Enough

To set one geographic or cultural priority for the whole church, is to aim at less than the whole world. For instance, the ‘10/40 window’ and ‘unreached peoples’ are very useful concepts to educate us and to help redress an imbalance in our work or our thinking. But they cannot be taken as a global priority for all of us or we will miss ‘the whole world’. When faced with an overwhelming task, there is a human tendency to draw a line at a certain point on a list, or on a chart and say, ‘If we can just do what is above the line, it will be enough’. That just will not do for the whole church. Certainly not at this point in our history. We must aspire for the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.

We must aspire for the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.

And there is good news about the 21st century church: there are many of us. In fact, even at a modest estimate of evangelical Christians we are 8% of the world’s population. We have the glorious ability and privilege to address[2] everything that God has commanded us! The corresponding bad news is that every attempt to grasp at any single global strategic priority and apply it to the whole body of Christ will only help us to fall short in this polycentric world.

Can we Make Sending Messages ‘More Strategically Thoughtful’?

I argued in the previous article that the sending message is a key to sending itself. It follows that a key to George Verwer’s prayer for ‘a more strategically thoughtful approach’ to deployment, is to take ‘a more strategically thoughtful approach’ to the development and evaluation of sending messages.

In the past, it may seem that sending messages have arisen spontaneously and without reference to each other. They have tended to be promoted as if they were the only godly way to respond to current needs. In today’s polycentric world, however, each message should make generous room for others.

Very often the focus of a message has been on the to, while the from and for what purpose have not been so clearly spelled out. They have been more or less taken for granted and therefore, in the end, they have been culturally determined rather than spiritually directed. In a polycentric world, where ‘mission’ can embrace so much, and be so independent of location, we may need to take care to be more explicit about all three: ‘from’, ‘to’ and ‘for what purpose’.

Sending Messages Should be Primarily Informed by Where the Need Is

Our sending messages should be strongly informed by need. In terms of faith we will need to ask: Who are the least reached? Where is there no church? Where do people have no Christian friends? William Carey spoke of those who do not have ‘the means of grace’, Hudson Taylor of China’s ‘spiritual needs’. Based on relative need, we will not encourage the Central Asian church to evangelise North America. The Spirit of God may well direct an individual to go from Afghanistan to the USA. We do well not to stand in their way. Nor should we despise those who follow Jesus’ command, ‘When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another’.[3] Yet mobilizing North Americans to be part of God’s mission to Central Asia is more appropriate, because of the relative need in Central Asia for faith in Jesus.

‘The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.’[4] Jesus has directed our attention there, to the place of relative need. Where is there a plentiful harvest? Where are the workers few? Jesus directs our attention to those areas primarily for prayer, but prayer, as we know, can lead to action.

Faith is not the only reason to send for the kingdom. We should understand the nature of the need in our area of ministry. Need is expressed in different ways. If our ministry is to prisoners, where are the prisoners? If our ministry is to widows and orphans, where are the widows and orphans? If our ministry is to the poor, where are those who have to live on only a few dollars a day? If our ministry is for justice, where is the oppression?

Sending Messages Should be Informed by Where Our Resources Are

God asked Moses, ‘What is in your hand?’[5] Jesus asked the disciples, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’[6] Paul wrote, ‘the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.’[7]

Just as we must send to places of relative need, so we should be encouraging sending from places of abundance. ‘The Mobilization Index’ underpins a radically different sending message.[8] I might call it a message for ‘meta-sending’. It highlights where the current resources of the church are greatest, and recommends that mobilizers be sent there to challenge the churches to send in their turn to places and peoples of greater need. Jesus said, ‘From everyone who is given much, much will be demanded’.[9] Notice the ‘from’ in Jesus’ words, corresponding to the ‘from’ in sending messages.

The old paradigm was from ‘the West to the rest’ for a good reason. The West was where much had been given—Christians and wealth, to name two important resources. That is no longer the case. Now, we need to recognise the current places of high resource. Some are in ‘the West’ and some are in ‘the rest’.

Sending Messages Can Increasingly be Informed by Affinities

So as we craft sending messages, need is paramount and resources are important. But in this century we have a relatively new opportunity: to make use of connections between the workers and the harvest—of affinities between the resource and the need. Because the church is spread out, and because we are now culturally diverse, some of us are suited to tackle different parts of the whole. 

The current call to sub-Saharan Africa to ‘Go North!’ takes them to North African countries that they can relate to as Africans, and (for many) through a shared experience of Islam. I hear some in Ibero-America stressing their cultural and historical affinity to the Arab World, and so encouraging them to send in that direction. Affinities can exist for all sorts of reasons—physical proximity, historical links, shared language, trading blocs. Any of these and more can be a reason to inform a sending message and bring the task closer. This is not radically new. For instance, Christians have often sensed a responsibility to reach their own nation, recognising that they are uniquely placed to do so. Others have looked to spread the word to neighbouring countries. But the opportunities for this have noticeably increased over the last hundred years.

It is the presence of many natural and human-created affinities within each current nation that leads some to call for an end to expatriation. Where need and resource are well matched, that is indeed entirely appropriate. That applies to some nations, but not all. Context is significant. We need to understand the realities of the need, the resource and the affinities.

Globally We Must Keep an Eye on the Whole

While affinity can increasingly inform our sending messages, we cannot allow it to dominate everywhere. Need must still be paramount. If we go all out for ‘national workers’ or ‘near neighbours’, we will miss the very neediest unbelievers who are untouched exactly because they are not very ‘near’ to any of us. We will miss those people groups where the harvest is most plentiful and the workers the fewest.

In the light of ‘the mission of God’ there may be different sending messages for different sections of that mission, as well as different messages for different people.

Those who have the greatest riches of the kingdom may have an obligation to play down the idea of affinity for themselves and gear up to tackle the most remote fields. The statistics suggest this for countries like the USA, Brazil, Chile and some highly Christian island nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific.[10] Maybe these need to have their sights set on the least Christian people groups in the least Christian countries, regardless of proximity or affinity. They will face considerable barriers.

In the light of ‘the mission of God’ there may be different sending messages for different sections of that mission, as well as different messages for different people. And we need to ensure that our research and global data is always ready to support us in crafting appropriate sending messages to the churches.

Drawing on the Bible, the Spirit and the Church

We will often find the particular factors of our polycentric context that we should pay attention to when developing sending messages conveniently expressed in statistics. However, we should never think that we can be directly ‘data driven’ in the work of the kingdom. Being ‘data informed’ is the wise course as testified throughout the Bible, and above all in the book of Proverbs.[11] This diagram puts data about our polycentric context alongside the other inputs for kingdom sending.

Think about these Things

My primary goal in writing these three articles is that, within missions, the specific subject of sending may be taken into more serious consideration. 

Sending is still needed. Sending must always have a direction. Which directions today will glorify God tomorrow? 

The sending message is key. Can we be more conscious of the messages we are putting across? 

A polycentric world requires more than one message. Can we learn to craft appropriate messages together?

Don’t Forget Prayer

Could it be that the more strategically thoughtful approach to the deployment of missions personnel for which George Verwer was moved to plead will only come about if preceded by a more systematic deployment of strategic and united prayer?

I admire those devoted intercessors who pray through Operation World each day, or daily for Joshua Project’s ‘unreached of the day’. I hope that we could make use of appropriate sending messages to make such prayer for the world less onerous and to draw in many more.[12] Together we might pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers, especially to where the harvest is so plentiful and the workers so few.

You know, Lord Jesus. Push out more workers! Amen.

  1. George Verwer, Out of the Comfort Zone. (Weston Rhyn,Oswestry,: OM Publishing, 2000),97.
  2. I say ‘address’, not ‘complete’. We can aspire to address the whole. It is in God’s hands if it be completed.
  3. Matthew 10:23
  4. Matthew 9:37
  5. Exodus 4:2
  6. Mark 6:38
  7. 2 Corinthians 8:12
  9. Luke 12:48b
  10. Chris Maynard, “Challenge,” in To Fill the Earth with Faith. (Global Church Planting Network, 2014).
  11. Eg Proverbs 18:15, Proverbs 23:23
  12. My own first experiment in this area is available on the OC Research website: