Native Americans. Misreached?

Reached = Evangelized. Discipled. Equipped. Fully functioning1 indigenous church established.

Unreached = No significant response to the Gospel message either by no exposure or no acceptance.  Also classified as least-reached which means less than or equal to 2% evangelical Christian, less than or equal to 5% professing Christian2.

Unengaged2 = a people group is not engaged when it has been merely adopted, is the object of focused prayer, or is part of an advocacy strategy.” At least four essential elements constitute effective engagement:

  • apostolic effort in residence;
  • commitment to work in the local language and culture;
  • commitment to long-term ministry;
  • sowing in a manner consistent with the goal of seeing a Church Planting Movement (CPM) emerge.

Photo courtesy of Andre James

I recently heard that only 5% of Native Americans (called “First Nations” in Canada) identify as Evangelical Christians.  When one considers that some Native Americans have been exposed to Christianity since the mid 1600’s, that is a startlingly low percentage.  Based upon the common understanding of the terms used in Missiology  (above) the Native American situation may not fit cleanly in any of them. Churches sporadically spot the reservation maps but most of them (so I am told) are not driven by a methodology that is indigenously motivated.  Starting a church on a reservation with the same mindset by which one would start a church in Columbus, Ohio will undoubtedly establish significant barriers before the launching of the initial Sunday service!

The 5% reception rate communicates one thing quite loudly; Whatever has been practiced for 300 years has not worked very well.  Endeavors to “reach” native Americans have failed to accomplish the task.  Well-meaning missionaries have sought to engage Native Americans for three centuries.  All but one of the Native American languages have had at least some Bible translation work done in them yet the conclusion my research is producing is that Indigenous Native American churches are almost unheard of.  My training and experience in working as a church planter to an indigenous people group in Papua New Guinea has caused me to conclude that mission methodology may be the primary culprit.   When missions is driven by assimilation goals that are culturally, linguistically and historically insensitive it is highly unlikely that anything close to an indigenous church will result.  This is why, perhaps, the term mis-reached is the most accurate term to describe the attempts to reach Native Americans.

On another blog I will detail some of the social issues obstacles in Native American societies.  For now, understand that it is a condition that demonstrates the terrible darkness that Satan produces when unimpeded by the Gospel’s presence.  It is a reality that only Jesus can remedy.

Will you pray with me about this?  I desire to help in this dilemma in some way.  Perhaps my training and experience could be of some service.  I will be exploring some options out west in September.  Please pray for the 567 federally recognized Native American Tribes (326 Reservations) that exist in our country.


1Fully functioning based upon the church planting principles of Self-governing, Self-sustaining, Self-propagating.  These three concepts mean the church is not dependent on outside assistance in any way and the initiative and drive to maintain these principles comes from within the people group rather than from outsiders.


A Forecast for Missions in the Old Testament

There is an attribute of God called immutability.  It means “unchangeable” and comes from a Latin root which means “not changeable”.  From eternity past to creation of the world and on through to the present age God does not and cannot change.  He is the great I AM that is always in the present.  It is only because of the progressive revelation of who He is as He revealed Himself in the annals of time, interacting with human-kind through the Scriptures that we might get confused on this issue.  As God involves Himself in the tangled complexity of human decision and the ramifications of those decisions throughout history we are fortunate enough to see the depth of His being.   On this we must contemplate and even meditate.  For therein is the beginning of comprehension into the heart of God.  To consider the God of the Old Testament a god of wrath and vengeance contrasted with the God of the New Testament as the god of love would be a serious mistake.  We cannot cut away a portion of who God is simply because we see different aspects of His being.  For proof, finish reading the New Testament.  There is a coming time when God will be wrathful against sin…again.

 One Old Testament passage in Isaiah permits us to see inside the compassionate heart of God as it relates to the nations (people groups).  Chapter 42:1-9 initiates a description of the Chosen Servant whom the Lord will use to represent a new covenant relationship with the entire world.  This Chosen servant is, of course, Jesus Christ…

5Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7     to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols. (ESV)

Notice the qualities of God we can glean from this marvelous passage;

  • Creator (vs.5a)
  • Giver of Life (vs.5b)
  • Standard of Righteousness (vs.6a)
  • Pledge Provider (vs.6b)
  • Light Giver (vs.6c)
  • Enlightenment Enabler (vs.7a)
  • Freer of Captives (vs.7b)
  • Rightfully Supreme (vs.8)

…How foolish we are if we consider God as one dimensional in


qualities!  19 years ago, I stood before the Malaumandan people for 5 ½ months declar

ing in their language these and many other qualities of God so that the light mentioned in verse 6 could dawn in that nation.  What a privilege it was! God’s heart has always been that all peoples of the earth would know Him.  It was in God’s heart and mind when He spoke the world into existence, spoke through the pen of Isaiah, and in the words of the Savior when Jesus commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).  Time has unfolded to where we are today.  Now, because of the Scriptures, we have time-unfolded, detailed knowledge of who God is.  We have been promised God’s presence and power to communicate it.  We only need to choose to go and share it.

Want to join efforts with the movement of God’s heart past, present and future? The blind are waiting to see and the captives are waiting to be freed (vs.7).  Join the cause! Let’s share light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6) and commit to communicating this eternal truth to all the peoples of the earth.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (ESV)
John 8:12

Specialized to Go

We live in an age of expertise.  Everything from the medical world to athletics, and computer technology to engineering, the workforce has gotten more specialized.  Authorities in certain areas a called upon constantly in the media for their opinions.  Training has gotten more specific and the workplace for that training has narrowed because of it.  This is the natural progression of a society that is learning more and applying that knowledge as a service to humanity.

Photo courtesy of Rita Morais (

Is there, however, a caution necessary when considering this and the role of a disciple?  Is there potential for us to approach being a disciple of Jesus with a “specialist mindset”?  If so, is there potential for too many people top feel “unqualified”?  How “expert” must one be to fulfill the great commission of Christ to make disciples?  Or, even to witness for Christ in one’s neighborhood?

Amos is an individual who shatters the specialist theory within the confines of the work of the Lord.  By his own admission this prophet did not have the specific training or background to do what God commanded him to do.

14 Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah:

“I was no prophet,
Nor was I a son of a prophet,
But I was a sheepbreeder
And a tender of sycamore fruit.
15 Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock,
And the Lord said to me,
‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’

Amos 7:14-15

As a sheepbreeder or “herdsman” (as some translations put it), his expertise was in a different area.  He even clarifies his lack of pedigree further by saying he was not the son of a prophet.  What he was, though, was obedient. The Lord told him to go and proclaim God’s truth.  Talk about a career shift!

Amos was from Tekoa which was south of Jerusalem near the dead sea.  His northward mission was to a place where he was considered a foreigner.  He was the representative of the Lord’s message. A missionary.  He was not groomed, nor trained as a preacher.  But, was used of the Lord because he obeyed the Lord when the Lord told him to go.

His bold message was communicated in a place devoid of the Gospel’s presence.  His influence was so significant it was annoyingly, acknowledged to the king!

 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words.

Let’s let the example of Amos ring out loud and clear.  The Lord equips those willing to be used.  Every breathing believer has been given a command by Jesus… GO (Matthew 28:18-20).  Let’s allow the Lord to direct the extent of that going because Jesus has already outlined the plan…

…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We need to look no further than the book of Acts to see how that power of the Holy Spirit used common people in extraordinary ways to accomplish astounding things.

Dear resolute, active, harvest-minded disciple, let’s go in confidence that the Lord equips, specializes and empowers those who are determined to follow His plan…regionally, nationally, internationally and to the farthest reaches of the earth (Acts 1:8).

True Sheep Share the Concerns of the Great Shepherd

In the passage below, Jesus again masterfully utilizes the local culture to press home a vital point.  The heart of God cares for society’s “least”- those who are socially or physically needy.  True followers of Christ (the sheep in this passage) will share that same compassion.

Society has become more urban in its setting, so we must not miss the cultural illustration Jesus is using.  Palestinian sheep and goats often looked similar from a distance and often grazed together. But they needed to be separated at nighttime because the goats required a warmer place to rest.1

So the concept of separating the two resonated with those listening to the Savior’s words.  But Jesus’ purpose for this separation was not because of temperature.   It was for evidence of the actions of true sheep.

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:41-46)

In verses 31-40 while detailing a future time of judgement, the sheep (separated to the right) were blessed for the extension of their merciful care and compassion to those who were in need.  And, the context may be specifically emphasizing those who were needy in the brotherhood of the Christian community (see “my brethren” in vs.40). This is not about obtaining salvation, it is about the genuine actions of the truly saved.  The actions of resolute, active disciples of Jesus reflect the fact that the spirit of Christ is in them.

In contrast, the goats (separated to the left) were cast out (into everlasting punishment!) because they did not exercise the compassionate heart of the Savior to those who were in need.  This speaks loudly (in its actions) to the genuineness of the true follower of Christ.  Authentic disciples care.  To know and to ignore is unacceptable.  And, is unlike Christ in its core.

 The one-ness of the early church camaraderie (Acts 3:32-33) and the reality of persecution from following Christ (Acts 12, Hebrews 13:3) provided them the opportunity to extend compassionate aid and encouragement to the brotherhood.  As our American society becomes more antagonistic toward Christianity we have a great opportunity to act accordingly.  Additionally, worldwide, persecution of Christians is at record numbers2.  We cannot ignore these realities.

As an individual are you locally and globally involved in this good practice?  Is your church family raising awareness by addressing these issues?

10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 5:10


1Note. Matthew 25:32 NIV Zondervan Study Bible, pg.1986

2For more information on how you can become more aware and help the persecuted church go to…

The Gift of Reading

Though it occurred in 1999, my memory of it is very clear. I had just finished teaching a lesson in the village. We were about a month into the foundational evangelism teaching at Malaumanda. Yagitasa (a widowed mother probably in her late 30’s at that time and a regular attendee to the teaching) called me over to where she was sitting with her sister. She said, “Jeff, we were talking last night and we can remember what God created on the first, second and third days but we cannot remember what God created on the fourth day. Can you remind us?” I replied to her that on that day God distinguished day and night with their respective lights and created the stars. “Oh, that’s right! Now we remember” she replied. Then she said something I have never forgotten…
“When you missionaries teach us to read our own language and translate God’s Word for us in our language we will not have to ask you questions like this anymore because we’ll be able to find the answer ourselves by reading it.”

Just two years the New Testament was presented to that remote tribal group in Papua New Guinea. Believers in that church can now read God’s Word because their language had been established in written form and many literacy classes were taught over the years laying the ground work for that great day!

This was part of our church planting strategy and emphasizes why literacy in the local language is so important. Not only is reading a skill that produces life-long benefits, it is also a skill that opens to us the Truths written in God’s Word.

Note this fact in Ephesians 3:4. While making reference to the grace of God found in the Gospel, Paul notes the important connection between understanding and reading when he writes…

“by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ”

…We mustn’t miss the worth of this statement. Clearly, with reading comes understanding. In recent years some missionary methods have surfaced emphasizing the oral communication aspects of some cultures while minimizing the significance of the written word. Let’s not forget the crucial significance of reading the inspired, written Word of God. To have the written Scriptures in one’s language and to be able to read them are both gifts. Let’s rejoice in the treasure of these gifts today!

Please consider these five areas…

  • Take a moment and reflect on the significance of your education and thank the Lord for the fact you can read the language you speak. Many still cannot.
  • When was the last time you expressed your gratitude to the Lord for the Bible in your language? Many spoken languages around the world still do not have a Bible translated into that language.
  • Many people groups still exist without their language in written form. Would you pray for them?
  • All around the globe missionary efforts are presently involved in the tedious process of teaching literacy and translating the Scriptures. Often these two momentous tasks are being done simultaneously by missionaries. Pray for them to have the stamina and wisdom for both endeavors.