Google returns approximately 471,000 results for “the unfinished task”. Nine of the top ten results are links to content about the Great Commission, the unfinished task of the Christian faith.
Tasks are part of a conceptual realm primarily associated with work. Management, scheduling, resource allocation, efficiency, strategic planning, and metrics all exist in the same conceptual realm. It is no surprise that when Christians begin discussing the Unfinished Task, efficiency, resources, strategy and management quickly enter the picture.
The natural question in this conceptual realm is “How can we complete the unfinished task as quickly as possible with the resources that we have?” This question is impossible to answer unless we can measure evangelism. Measuring evangelistic success is an admittedly difficult issue that has spurred a lot of discussion, both among scholars and practitioners. The longer the discussion has gone, the more new questions that have arisen.
Do we measure the number of baptisms or professions of faith or new church members?
How do we know that conversions are genuine?
Should we count the number of new churches instead?
How about the number of growing churches?
How do capture spiritual depth or faith?
These are very difficult questions. The idea behind a centered-set approach to evangelism is that these questions are difficult, if not impossible to answer. That is the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13. But that answer doesn’t fit in the “task” conceptual realm. The central presupposition of business thinking is:
What gets measured, gets done.
With the obvious corollary that what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done. Missions and development organizations have accepted that there may not be a perfect answer, but not having an answer is not an option. Or else the unfinished task will remain unfinished.
Every organization has to justify the investment of its donors. We tend to fall back on some version of “number of converts” and/or “number of groups of believers”, as our good enough metrics. Then, over time, the organization begins to work improving those numbers. That’s what organizations do.
How can we maximize these numbers? How can we reduce defective outcomes, reduce time per conversion? How can we maximize the eternal impact on our investment of time, money, and human resources?
Efficiency. Bang for the buck. This is an urgent issue and people’s eternal destinies are at stake. Devoted followers of Jesus seek for (and find!) answers to these questions as well as new methodologies for evangelism in the Bible.
But, as always, the question frames (and to some extent, determines) the answer. What if we asked a different question.
“Can methodology, strategy, and/or management solve the problem of free choice?”
The problems that every single major evangelistic outbreak in the New Testament run into are rejection and persecution (by government, businessmen, and local religious groups). There are zero exceptions. To use the language of the internet: rejection and persecution aren’t bugs in the gospel, they are features.
So the real question is, “Is there a better method of evangelism that minimizes all this unpleasantness and increases adoption rates?”
The follow up question is “Why didn’t Jesus teach that method right from the start?”
The answer that appeals to me is that Jesus did not teach a method of evangelism, therefore there isn’t a “right” one. (For more, see last month’s post here.)
Maybe the paradigm for mission should not be “task completion”, but being faithful to the God of mission.
Integral mission requires faithfulness. It requires love for our neighbor, which requires sharing the good news. The foundation of evangelism is love for our neighbor. We see that many times in the New Testament, perhaps most clearly in Matthew 9. Jesus heart was touched with compassion for the lost, so he told the disciples to pray for workers. Paul preaches in the Areopagus in Acts 17 because he was saddened by the condition of the people. Love for God causes love for people causes evangelism. But salvation is not a task that can be optimized. Salvation is from the Lord. In fact, Paul takes steps to make sure that the spread of the gospel can’t be laid at the feet of his wisdom or his method. Are we willing to do the same? Do we trust God that much?