Task: A piece of work assigned to or demanded of a person; an undertaking involving labor or difficulty.
Unfinished: Not completed or perfected; incomplete.
What is our task as God's people? To love Him, obey Him – and proclaim His blessed name among all peoples. That assignment is as old as Abraham, to whom God promised "a great nation. … And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen.12:1-3). Believing God's promise, Abraham obeyed His command to leave home for a strange land.
Abraham's descendants, however, failed to carry out their missionary purpose – restated over and over in the Scriptures – to be a light to the nations. Like Jonah, who ran from God's command to preach to pagan Ninevah, the Israelites frequently fled from their mission – or took it easy in Zion. This continued generation after generation, until God personally entered history to reconcile all peoples to Himself through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the living fulfillment of God's ancient promise to Abraham and Israel. And against the backdrop of God's command that His people lift up His name among all the peoples, Jesus issued the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations."
Go: the marching order. Make disciples: the goal. All: the whole world, not just the Jews, not just responsive or easily accessible peoples. Nations: the ethnae, the peoples tied together by religion, language, culture, and shared identity – not political states in the modern sense.
The church's primary task, then, is a God-given missionary assignment: Make disciples among all the nations. This task belongs to every Christian, not just missionaries. The ways we participate – prayer, volunteer service, short-term or career missionary service, financial support – may vary, but the task is for all. Until we join God in His task, we are modern-day Jonahs – and modern-day Ninevahs remain lost in darkness.
We have made great progress. When William Carey, "the father of modern missions," left for India more than 200 years ago, evangelical Christianity had penetrated only a few people groups outside Europe and North America. Today, Christian disciples among thousands of groups have the resources to evangelize their own people. More than 4,700 Southern Baptist missionaries and an army of short-term volunteers labor with millions of international partners to lift up Christ's name.
But are we finishing the task?
Not when more than 2,000 entire "nations" (ethnolinguistic groups) containing 1.7 billion people – nearly a third of the human race – have had virtually no chance to hear the gospel in any form.
Not when another 4,000-plus groups totaling 1.3 billion people lack a self-sustaining church movement, and an additional 1.5 billion people may have "heard" the gospel – but not clearly enough to understand it.
Not when less than 3 percent of Southern Baptist church offerings reach beyond our own borders.
Not when fewer than 5,000 of 15.7 million Southern Baptists currently take the task seriously enough to give their lives to long-term international missionary service.
But imagine a day when tens of thousands of Southern Baptist churches are committed to God's mission, not their own programs.
Imagine every church member becoming fully mobilized to reach the nations.
Imagine all kinds of creative church-missionary partnerships, specifically tailored for individual congregations and designed to reach whole peoples overseas.
Imagine 15,000 career missionaries (still fewer than one for every 1,000 Southern Baptists) targeting every unreached people group without ignoring responsive areas.
Imagine 50,000 volunteers each year (little more than one per church).
Imagine a thousand Southern Baptist college graduates heading abroad every year for two years of mission service.
Imagine even high school graduates serving for a year before they make decisions that will shape the rest of their lives.
It could happen. It is happening in churches infected with God's vision. It will happen before Jesus returns in glory. But only we can decide whether it will happen among us, or if God will have to seek obedient servants elsewhere.
Jesus' said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (Matt. 24:14). His Word will come to pass – when the task is finished!