by George Jensen, Tanzania, East Africa

Missionary George JensenWhen elderships, congregations, and individuals ask about mission efforts it is a good sign. We each reveal our interests by the inquiries we make. For example, who has not heard a question about the most recent standing of a sports team? Sports fans are usually easy to detect. So also Christians ought to be known by their enthusiasm concerning work about the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

In a previous article we addressed one primary consideration when assessing the worthiness of a mission worker or work. Namely, it must be biblical throughout! Not only must the missionary teach the truth, but also the way the work is carried out must conform to New Testament authority.

We now turn our attention to an “evaluation tool” which is sorely misunderstood and frequently abused. This tool or test may be termed the “numbers test.”

It takes various forms and is spoken of in a variety of ways, but one basic attitude prevails. “How many baptisms do they have each year?” “How many congregations are being established?” In reality, if you ask faithful veteran missionaries, they will readily admit that this mindset often comes out in “mission reports” more as a numbers game, rather than a true test.

I heard from the lips of one church leader the statement: “We choose a work where we can get the best bang for our buck!” There was no mistake about it – the only determining factor to him was – number of reported baptisms.

What about the fantastic “results” that we are reading and hearing about? One writer took the figures another man reported, and the length of the short mission trip, and calculated that it would have required having one baptism about every 20 minutes, if the brother slept at all.

Some are reporting thousands of baptisms that simply stagger the mind. And yet, I heard from one native Indian preacher, that he had worked in India, as an Indian, for about a year and a half in one place, without anything remotely like what he read in some US reports. My own short two visits to India sadly revealed some disturbing activities. I am presently living and working in Africa, and can tell you the problem is not unique to India.

Consider the examples of Noah and Jonah. Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” who faithfully proclaimed for Jehovah, and God “preserved Noah with seven others” (2 Peter 2:5). In contrast, Jonah enjoyed overwhelming response (Matthew 12:41). Is it possible today, were Noah traveling the country seeking financial support, that he would be turned away empty-handed, because his work was “just not showing the numbers.” What about the ministry of the Son of Man? His primary focus while upon earth was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. En masse he was rejected!

Please listen. We are not suggesting that numbers cannot be considered. I am not unaware of the principle forbidding casting “pearls before the swine”(Matthew 7:6). However, I know the “pressure to produce” has been a mighty temptation behind many skewed numbers and many an inflated presentation.

The problem goes deeper than most know, and it troubles me more than I can describe. Furthermore, a desire to retain support from number-minded supporters has also led to a laxity in the second part of the great commission. After making disciples, we are commanded to also give attention to teaching these new converts to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19, 20). How sad when a missionary can be in a place for many years, and report “great success” (numbers of baptisms), only to have the work collapse after his departure!

God desires “all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). It would be another discussion to address what it takes to bring someone “to a knowledge of the truth.” But I have no doubt it cannot be done by hastily uttering five steps conjoined with five verses and then urging one to the water. Many of the reported “baptisms” are not conversions at all.

The word of God is likened unto seed (Luke 8:11). When the farmer plants the seed, it takes time to grow. Personal evangelism requires patient teaching. I recall years ago when the Crossroads/Boston movement was in its heyday. One brother fell into their trap, thinking they had found a way to make converts quickly. I had no doubt about his motive.  However, there are no shortcuts to reaping a healthy harvest.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Jensen Missions website.