Working on Commission
Balancing Our Mission to Reach Both Souls and Groups

August 8, 2012

By Dr. Rick Patrick
Senior Pastor
Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church
Hueytown, Alabama

Although at our recent Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting the new descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” went over like a pregnant pole vaulter, there is another issue concerning the Great Commission in Southern Baptist life that has largely eluded our focus, even though it profoundly changes the very way we define the Great Commission given to us by our Lord. After explaining the two views, this article will briefly explore the strengths and weaknesses of each, along with their theological underpinnings, their associated missionary strategies, and the curiously nonexistent Southern Baptist conversation on this issue.

The “Reaching Souls” perspective is the predominant view I have heard preached and taught nearly my entire life, which considers the primary task of the Great Commission to be the effort of reaching as many souls as possible wherever they may be found. One might say this approach is geographically and societally neutral, which is to say that any soul reached for Jesus is no more or less important than any other in accomplishing the Great Commission task. No matter where a person might live, no matter which people group they represent, as we reach each person on the planet, we are fulfilling the Great Commission task in a measure equal to the reaching of any other person on earth.

The “Reaching Groups” perspective has more recently been embraced and proclaimed in Southern Baptist life, which considers the primary task of the Great Commission to be the effort of reaching at least some of the souls found among each of the various people groups on earth. In 2011, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, David Platt stated, “We have not been given a general command just to make disciples among as many people as possible, as natural as that might sound to us. Our God has said to us, ‘Make disciples among every single people group.’” In “Let the Nations Be Glad” (3rd ed., p. 211), John Piper has written, “Therefore in all likelihood Jesus did not send his apostles out with a general mission merely to win as many individuals as they could, but rather to reach all peoples of the world….”

With regard to the Reaching Souls position, one strength is a culturally blind approach, making every soul on earth an equal target for evangelism. Another is the grammatical emphasis upon the direct object of the Great Commission rather than the qualifying object of the preposition modifying it, which is another way of saying our focus is on the people themselves and not merely the groups to which they belong. One possible weakness might be a tendency to place so much focus on reaching souls in areas of evangelistic success that the people in harder, more resistant places are too often ignored in the process.

With regard to the Reaching Groups position, one strength is in taking seriously the meaning of “ethnos” and getting past our typical fascination with the names of countries to the underlying language and culture groups within such nations which require our intentional evangelistic efforts. Another is the recognition that, while many cultures are unreached, some are even unengaged, meaning that no one even appears to be attempting the task of sharing the gospel among them. One possible weakness might be the tendency to divert limited resources from an area where God is drawing many to Himself to a place where the harvest is not nearly as plentiful, essentially sending a fisherman to every pond rather than sending more fishermen to those places where the fish are biting the most.

Perhaps the theological underpinnings of each view fascinate me the most, for clearly our beliefs result in strategies that lead to actions. Perhaps the reader will have noticed that John Piper, earlier mentioned as a proponent of the Reaching Groups approach, is perhaps the most influential Calvinist in the world today. Assuming with the Calvinist that God not only foreknows the elect but that He also predetermines monergistically the salvation of some, the task evangelistically would logically consist in going throughout the people groups of the world and gathering the elect of God from among each group. This sort of approach differs, it seems to me, from the harvest approach suggested by a general atonement. In other words, behind the Reaching Souls approach there lies a soteriology that envisions God desiring to save every single soul on earth rather than just certain souls from every nation. This would seem to lead to a more individual approach instead of a people group approach. The heart of the matter is to ask these two questions: “What is the best way to describe God’s unlimited evangelistic purpose? Does He truly desire to reach every single soul on earth or merely every single people group on earth?”

One other theological underpinning possibly related to this issue concerns eschatology. Here is the central verse: “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, HCSB) It would seem that Postmillennial optimism lies behind many modern Calvinist pronouncements of triumph, such as, “We are the generation God has raised up to fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime!” Alternatively, some other triumphal eschatology might be claimed, such as Piper’s “optimistic premillennialism.” While I join these brothers in praying for the hastening of our Lord’s return, I do not share this same optimism with regard to the events I believe the Bible predicts will occur next in God’s unfolding plan. In fact, many of us envision the worldwide preaching of Matthew 24:14 as being fulfilled by tribulation saints following the pretribulational rapture of the church. Regardless of which eschatological view we may prefer, Southern Baptists will remain united in spreading the gospel to all nations, a task which brings us closer each day to our Lord’s return. However, the idea that the church will still be on earth when the last soul and people group are reached is an eschatological hope many Southern Baptists, myself included, would reject.

By this point, many readers may be asking the question, “Is there any practical difference between the Reaching Souls and Reaching Groups perspectives?” Most will concede that the two views can be identified and distinguished from one another, but might wonder about the actual significance in such a differentiation. Is this not merely a distinction without a difference, since reaching souls will necessarily involve reaching groups, and vice versa? Granted, the two positions are inextricably intertwined. We are right to think in terms of a “both/and” rather than an “either/or.” However, in trying to strike a balance between the two views we face significant challenges because a slightly different missionary philosophy seems to be suggested by each, depending on which view is emphasized the most.

If the Great Commission is primarily to reach individual souls, and if God truly desires to reach every single soul on earth wherever he or she may live, then our purpose should logically be to maximize the number of souls we are capable of reaching and to apply our energies and resources where they might result in the greatest number of souls who can possibly be saved. This assumes, once again, that such a number is not at all limited by God’s purpose since He truly desires for every single soul to come to Him, but rather is limited only by the free response of those souls who hear the gospel. This is indeed the “save as many as you can anywhere and everywhere you can” approach.

If, on the other hand, the Great Commission is primarily to reach every single people group on the planet, so as to fulfill a more recently redefined Great Commission and hasten our Lord’s return in the process, then we must be far more intentional in targeting people groups than in targeting individual souls. Would it not be true that in our Send North America strategy at the North American Mission Board, and in our Adopt a People Group strategy at the International Mission Board, our current denominational emphasis clearly favors the “Reaching Groups” approach? If indeed this is our focus, is it fair to say that our mutual understanding of the Great Commission is the same as that expressed by Piper and Platt? Can we best define our mission as reaching as many as we can wherever we may find them or as reaching at least some from every single group?

Although I am still not quite persuaded of this redefined interpretation of the Great Commission, the more troubling aspect to me is the startling realization that, although we have spoken of little else over the past few years besides the Great Commission, we have not publicly addressed as a convention any sort of official recognition of this Great Commission philosophy. First, we formed a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Next, we voted on a Great Commission Resurgence Report. Later, we voted to adopt the new informal descriptor “Great Commission Baptists.” But somewhere along the way as we formed committees and passed reports and changed names, all concerning the Great Commission, we appear to have redefined the Great Commission itself with very little debate.

In conclusion, let me clearly and boldly proclaim that the desire of my heart is to see both souls and people groups won to faith in Jesus Christ for the glory of God. I do not raise these questions as some anti-missionary contrarian, but I do think the two approaches assume different things theologically and therefore produce different strategies practically. I also believe this represents a rather remarkable change in the direction of our denomination’s missionary philosophy without the kind of fanfare and attention usually associated with such a paradigm shift. When one considers all our conversations about the Great Commission over the past few years, the Reaching Souls versus Reaching Groups discussion is one I believe deserves far more public consideration among Southern Baptists than it has received. Like the Blues Brothers, Southern Baptists are on a mission for God. It would be nice if we could more clearly define exactly what we believe it is.


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Jeremy Crowder

I’ve seen both approaches in action and prefer the reaching souls approach which is what I practice. I’ve witnesed to and taught people of different races white, black, and hispanic given these are the main ones where I live though we have a growing asian population. I personaly find the groups method a little uncomfortable though I see it often. The United Methodist Church (sure other denoms. as well) starts Churches often with a group in mind. They target hispanic, asian, upper income black, multi-racial, and all kinds of different niches to attempt to bring as many into the fold as possible. To me I am not part of any group and hate to be labeled as a part of a group. I don’t wish to go to Church with people like me in ethos or income etc. just want to go to Church with people that are on fire for God and allow God to use them to change the world. To me the SBC had a good idea with revivals that I wish could be replicated in a modern way. This is people being exposed to the word of God in a setting where they aren’t singled out. Friend evangelism which is that I practice takes time and effort you win a friend and then draw them out while praying for them for the right time to share the gospel and invite them to Church or to join some Christian group that will provide discipleship. To me though revivalism historicaly worked and I really believe is important to get back in the SBC and other Christian groups. We find that Jesus, Paul, and others spoke to crowds and it made a huge impact today that may be through online media or something as people don’t seem to want to go to a Tent anymore.

Rick Patrick


You raise an excellent point about the Reaching Groups approach I had not even thought to include in my evaluation. Presumably, every person self-identifies as a human soul, but many people may very well share your desire not to self-identify with any particular group or be labelled as such. Thanks for pointing that out.

William Thornton

Interesting article, Rick.

My view is that both NAMB and the IMB have the right approach, the one I would expect in light of the two factors above.

If reaching souls means allocating resources to a place where there are many lost folks but where there are also many established evangelical churches and Christians while denying resources to places where there are very few of the same, I think that is unjustifiable.

Should the IMB continue to put significant resources in Central America where evangelical groups are stumbling all over each other and deny those resources to places in the world that have very little witness? I think not.

It is very tough to make a case for NAMB denying resources to places where there are few evangelical churches and millions of lost folks in favor of putting hundreds of thousands of dollars here in Georgia where there are already several thousand of SBC churches.


Ron Hale

Great thought provoking article Rick! I wish to write more later; preparing for a funeral this morning. Blessings!


Appreciate the analysis, Rick, but why the either/or? Why not just advocate a both/and position. I’ve yet to see anyone say “reach only groups” or “reach only souls”. What I’ve seen is a reminder NOT to be one-sided. How is that not a healthy approach?

    Rick Patrick

    Thanks for restating my question from paragraph eight. Of course I agree with a both/and approach, but I still believe the way we frame our basic understanding of the Great Commission will place more or less emphasis on each approach. Hence the word “balancing” in the subtitle.

Bill Mac

Obviously we want to reach souls, but I think reaching people groups is probably the best way to do it, since the proclamation of the Gospel ought to be self-perpetuating. It is odd that you have turned this (at least in part) into something about Calvinism.

If you reach some in a people group, then you have created indigenous evangelists for that group. Gospel for Asia has a good model for this. Raise up missionaries from among local peoples.

    Rick Patrick

    Bill Mac,

    Thanks for your comment. Again, I view this as a “both/and” situation. I simply believe each philosophy suggests a slightly different approach.

    Regarding your mention of the oddity of a possible Calvinist connection, let me simply say that the chief proponents I have heard claiming this view, Platt and Piper, both happen to be Calvinists. I admit this may be circumstantial, but I have not heard others outside the Calvinist perspective promote the Reaching Groups approach so vigorously. This caused me to speculate as to whether or not our views of atonement suggest slightly differing world evangelization strategies. It seems rather logical to me that they might.

      Bill Mac

      Rick: As I said, check out Gospel for Asia. I think this is their primary methodology and I don’t think they are a Calvinist organization. I consider this both/and also, but I think “people by way of people group” is the right idea.


If we think of it in terms of building roads, the “reaching people group” strategy is like building the bridges that cross barriers to new areas and the “reaching souls” is then moving through those areas with the gospel. The former is explicitly commanded and modeled in Scripture, and the latter flows naturally through relationships.

As to NAMB & IMB, you can “reach souls” without an intentional strategy–just live life and share the gospel. You cannot, however, “reach groups” without an intentional strategy.

I am disappointed you have tried to make this a Calvinist issue, when the reality is none of the people you mention would argue against sharing the gospel with as many people as possible.

Grace and Peace,


    “I am disappointed you have tried to make this a Calvinist issue…”

    Is someone going to whine whenever an association between Calvinism and some theology/application is noticed?

    BTW, Andrew, try to take “whine” in the best way possible ?.


“pregnant pole vaulter.”

That’s really funny.

David :)

Bob G

Dr. Rick,
Thank you for addressing this issue so clearly and rationally, yet with passion. This is a wonderful demonstration of how theology drives ministry. For those who say, “Both/And:” Great! I can live with that. For those who say, “…Jesus did not send his apostles out with a general mission merely to win as many individuals as they could…” Deep sigh. How can one help but talk about Calvinism when Calvinists are so influential? And when theology has such and impact on mission? It’s an issue that must be addresed, and you do so with grace.

Thank you so much!


Rick, I have been taught through the years that both are really God’s plan. We are to preach and win as we go. Passages such as Matthew 10:7 seem to teach this. As you go to the bank, store, work etc… win souls. We are to also go with certain people in mind. The great commission seems to teach this clearly in Matthew and Acts. As you go daily win souls. Go to the world to win groups.

Now to sound like an old man for a moment. I am convinced that when our convention was full of people who were simply soul winners we were more effective. There is a real temptation to fall in love with the process of winning a group. I was with the IMB in a nation on a 17 day mission trip. I asked the number one man in the region, the one leading our orientation what are you most excited about in your part of the world that is going to bring people to Christ. He spoke for 30 minutes about a website design. He then sent me to work with a couple that was ministering among the deaf in this nation. We went to a mall in a particular city. A coffee shop in that mall was frequented by the deaf. They knew every person that came into the shop and had shared the Gospel with them. They knew their families and shared prayer request. They had started a house church for the deaf in that town and had 20 or so attending. It appears (to be fair it appears) that one was in love with the process and the others were simply in love with souls, precious souls. I hope I am not unfair just an observation.



    You have said very insightful things on this fine day, Brother.


Don Johnson


Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Calvinism doesn’t God determine where people go? If they go Georgia isn’t that where God wants them? If the fish are biting in Georgia doesn’t that mean God “elected” lots of Georgians?


Luther, I’m glad for the Ethiopian that Phillip was not so busy winning groups he ignored the Holy Spirit in winning souls.

After reading you pontificate about the excellency of and superiority of the reform’s missiology based on their superior understanding of the Bible you then use Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 to describe the way to do missions and evangelism. In 5:9 we see one of the most glorious images in all the Bible. The church age is over and all the saints of God now praise Jesus. He is no longer the suffering servant; He is worthy to take the book and open the seals. He is praised in paradise with a new song. The scope of the multitude of this crowd is not the result of a group who got missions right but the mercy of God for leaving the church here for over 2000 years.

Then you go to 7:9. This is not a pattern for missions that any of us can use. This is the result of 144,00 Jews sealed to witness during the tribulation period. Christ turns loose 144,000 apostle Pauls on the world. The result has to be a group that would cover all the earth. This follows the rapture of the church and the removal of much of the world’s population instantly. The world will be ready for their witness. It is not accurate to say this is the pattern we should follow. We are to win souls as we go and we are to go to win groups.


Here my ramblings on this subject since I think it is interesting and I’m glad there something on here that isn’t related to Calvinism. I think that this is obviously a “both/and” situation. We need to consider how both the approaches work in unison. To offer a WWII illustration, I think of the people group strategy as a “D-Day” type approach whereas the winning souls strategy is more of a European campaign strategy.

All churches should target unreached people groups and try to determine how to establish a beach head (international church plant). Once a group of believers are established and organized into a local church, then the strategy turns more to a winning souls approach. The disciples there are sent on mission in their immediate context with the goal of church multiplication (national church plants).

I think this two-fold strategy is key to actually obeying both the scope (all nations) and nature (baptizing and teaching) of the Great Commission. The people group strategy keeps us focused on the focus of the GC while the winning souls strategy keeps us faithful to the marathon of making disciples.



Could you elaborate on what you have in mind by “recently redefined” Great Commission? Is there a particular date, event, or publication you have in mind?

    Rick Patrick


    Sure. I was really referencing paragraph three, and the remarks spoken by David Platt and written by John Piper:

    The “Reaching Groups” perspective has more recently been embraced and proclaimed in Southern Baptist life, which considers the primary task of the Great Commission to be the effort of reaching at least some of the souls found among each of the various people groups on earth. In 2011, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, David Platt stated, “We have not been given a general command just to make disciples among as many people as possible, as natural as that might sound to us. Our God has said to us, ‘Make disciples among every single people group.’” In “Let the Nations Be Glad” (3rd ed., p. 211), John Piper has written, “Therefore in all likelihood Jesus did not send his apostles out with a general mission merely to win as many individuals as they could, but rather to reach all peoples of the world….”


      Thanks. I thought you might have Piper in mind. “Let the Nations Be Glad” is one of the most widely read missions book in the last couple of decades. I had forgotten about Platt’s message in Phoenix, but I remember him saying those things. I’m not sure, though, that I’d credit either one of them with the “recent” emphasis on people groups. I’m not sure I’d use the term recent, either.

      If I’m not mistaken, the recovery in contemporary missiology of “ethne” to mean “ethnicities” and not “nation states” goes back at least as far as the Lausanne meeting of 1974.

      Further, I really don’t think Calvinism or Limited Atonement has much, if anything, to do with the recovery of the meaning of ethne considering that the Lausanne meeting was convened by Billy Graham.

      Having said that, I too think a good balance of both/and people groups/harvest strategies is crucial. In fact, I think there’s solid biblical and historical precedent for both.

      Still, I think that history and the literature would render any connection between Calvinism and “people group” missiology to be coincidental.

David Rogers


Actually, the emphasis on unreached people groups in the IMB has been going on for quite some time, all the way back, some would say, to the days of Keith Parks, and especially with New Directions under Jerry Rankin. While Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad” has been influential, it is far from the only influence behind this, and many of the main influencers are not Calvinists.

I think a key issue is the interpretation of the phrase “panta ta ethne” in Matt. 28:19. The popular view in evangelical missions today (not just IMB) is that it refers to all the different ethnic groups, which different folks divide up different ways. Some, however, have argued that it may refer to Gentiles in general, not to differentiated ethnic groups. As far as I am aware, no serious interpreter today thinks it refers to nation-states.

I do think we have a special responsibility, as the Body of Christ, to see to it that the gospel is preached, and disciples made, throughout all the corners of the earth. It is God’s will that everyone be given a chance to hear the gospel, and certain geographic, cultural, and linguistic barriers make it more difficult for some people to be reached with this message than others. In order to reach these, a special missionary strategy is required.

Also, as several have already pointed out, I believe that as a particular region or ethnic group is evangelized, and a strong national evangelical movement raised up among them, our responsibility, as foreign missionaries, diminishes accordingly. Local, cultural indigenous evangelists are generally more effective than outsiders. The specific role of the missionary is to break through barriers to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

In any case, I believe our missionary efforts need to take both a “deep” and a “wide” approach to world evangelization and disciple-making. The end-vision is not complete just when we have a beachhead established among each ethnic group. The biblical end-vision, as I see it, is “that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:12-13).

Further thoughts on related topics:

    David Rogers


    I would like to add another note here of essential agreement with you regarding the important role of eschatology with regard to missionary strategy. Though I make a key distinction between Piper’s “optimistic premillennialism” and postmillennialism (and postmillennial-leaning amillennialism), I see one’s eschatology makes a big difference as to whether the ultimate goal (or “end-vision”) will be “Christianizing” the world (be it ethnic group by ethnic group, or nation-state by nation-state), or if it is winning individual souls to faith in Christ, making disciples, and building up the Body of Christ in unity, knowledge of God, and spiritual maturity.

    Nineteenth-century evangelicalism and missions had a largely postmillennial focus, which, on the heels of the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference, coalesced into a united emphasis on cultural transformation and “Christianizing,” and eventually morphed into the ecumenical movement and the WCC, and went off the deep end.

    As I understand biblical teaching on eschatology, in the end times, the kings of the earth, their armies, and the governmental and societal structures they represent, will all be united against the Rider on a white horse with a sharp sword coming out of His mouth (Rev. 19). In the meantime, we, as the Body of Christ, are engaged in our own battle, working together with God to rescue individuals from among every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7) out from this “sick and stupid culture” (Acts 2:40, The Message) in order to stand in united praise and worship around the throne of the Lamb.

    With all this in mind, I see eschatology as a major deal with regard to our Great Commission cooperation, bigger, perhaps, than how many points we accept or don’t accept in the TULIP.

      Rick Patrick


      Thank you for bringing clarity to this aspect of the post. Indeed, our eschatology informs our missiology. How that works out practically is a topic I would love Southern Baptists to explore more deeply.


This is an interesting article. As Rick does state this is a both/and issue not an either/or. I would use the analogy of harvest for the solution. In Rick’s discussion the question is raised: Is it our goal to have as great a harvest as possible or to be in as many fields as possible? The answer would be to do the former you need to engage in the latter. The more fields we are harvesting in the larger our harvest will be.
I don’t think this has much to do with theology. Speaking as a Calvinist but looking from a non-Calvinist perspective Rick states, “This sort of approach (Calvinistic limited atonement) differs, it seems to me, from the harvest approach suggested by a general atonement. In other words, behind the Reaching Souls approach there lies a soteriology that envisions God desiring to save every single soul on earth rather than just certain souls from every nation.” If it is God’s desire to save every single soul on earth, then its his desire to souls from every nation. Therefore to save as many souls as possible we need to be engaging as many people groups as possible.
It might be that Calvinists have been more likely to buy into the People Group approach, but my study of missiology indicates this has little to do with theology and more with sociology/anthropology. As missionaries studied the people they were serving among they found large groups being overlooked and said we need a new approach. By the way, Jerry Rankin introduced the people group approach to IMB long before Platt preached on it in 2011, and it might have been introduced before Rankin. I think Platt’s preaching reflected more what he found IMB emphasizing than what a Calvinist theology might emphasize..

Mike Davis

I also think the both/and approach is best. Obviously, for an overseas effort, there would be some group strategy involved in learning another language and culture, etc. But I like the Spurgeon approach–convert everyone possible.

By the way, can you imagine what it would be like if everyone started debating eschatolgy and Calvinism at SBCToday? Talk about shaking up all the Trad and Calvinist alliances…

Greg Harvey


I never encountered the group v. person emphasis as a matter of soteriology as much as–if you will–pragmatic praxology. In areas where there are no congregations, starting with groups was believed to improve congregation formation. My most recent–and especially pragmatic–exposure to that didn’t emphasize what we might call traditional tribes as much as people who might work together in similar professions. That presentation was by an IMB soon-to-be strategy leader who had just completed a term in Venezuela (before we mostly left there).

From a practical matter, missions-focused Calvinists in my experience depend not at all on trying to determine who is and isn’t in the elect. It arguably is a mystery and may very well be in the category that only the Father knows until the Holy Spirit begins regeneration. We certainly have biblical examples such as in Paul’s Macedonian call where God motivates desire seemingly prior to exposure to his Word. (Let me save everyone energy by offering that prevenient grace is an equally valid explanation of that event. The one thing that I’m convinced of is that it was a specific human being, not an angel.)

One of my dad’s favorite sermon texts has always been the Parable of the Sower and the Four Soils. The Sower broadcasts seeds and to Western ears it seems indiscriminate since our farmers prepare soil for seed. But that doesn’t mean the soil was unprepared. And yet the four soil types remained. And, oddly enough, the reader/listener isn’t given a specific direction that treats the difference in soils as a problem.

It’s seemingly an illustration to help us understand that faithfulness is in the spreading of the seed. That the seed is effective–even sprouting in shallow soil and among weeds–but it certainly does not seem the point is necessarily to try to choose the most effective soil “a priori”. In my Continuing Witnessing Training in my college days, my pastor phrased it this way: we were to be faithful in the task and leave the results to God. I think the core of fertile missiology and evangelism is that God had called us to be faithful in this essential Kingdom task of issuing the invitation to the wedding feast. Many are invited but few are chosen.

Ron Hale

I like your balanced approach of reaching Souls/Groups. I like to break down the Great Commission this way; we are to take the gospel to every: LAND (over 240 geo-political areas called nations), LANGUGAGE GROUP (some nations like Kenya have over 40 tribal tongues), LIFESTYLE, and every LEVEL of society. As we focus on reaching people in every land, language, lifestyle, and level of society … we will better fulfill the Great Commission. Thanks!

    Rick Patrick


    I love your summary, not only because it alliterates, but also because it’s very good and only requires a poem to become a sermon. I promise that when I plagiarize it, I will give it my standard attribution: “Someone once said…”

    Of course, if you prefer, I will modify that slightly to: “A great Southern Baptist theologian once said…”

      Ron Hale

      Yes, I like that last modified twist on the reference!


“In conclusion, let me clearly and boldly proclaim that the desire of my heart is to see both souls and people groups won to faith in Jesus Christ for the glory of God.”

On this I think we can all agree, whatever our theology on salvation might be.






      Rick Patrick

      Ed and David,

      Amen and Amen!


Rick , Thx for writing about this as it is a subject dear to my heart. I appreciate your willingness to tackle a seldom talked about subject.
I think it is a both and scenario. I see no reason to separate harvest Vs UPG focus. I do not think it is a Calvinist thing at all. As a former missionary and missions pastor who focuses heavily on UPG’s, I have had the privilege to learn from some of the best at the IMB and to travel in SBC mission circles. All three of the men I consider mentors and who taught me people group strategies are not reformed, I am.
I believe the reason the IMB focuses heavily on reaching the ethnos is simple:
1. It is a scriptural thread that, IMO, runs through the Bible. Gen 12:1-4, 1 Chron, 16:24, Ps 67, Matt 24:14, Matt 28:19-20, Rom. 15:19-20, and Rev. 5:9, 7:9 to name very few.
2. There are currently over 6000 UPG’s that have zero access to the gospel.
3. Around 90% of American Missionaries go to places that already have the gospel in their language. About 10% attempt to reach UPG’s
4. Church money given to reach the 2.7 billion with no access, from American churches, is less than 1% of their offerings.
5. Few SBC churches focus on taking the gospel to these groups, most focus on harvest fields in their international efforts. I know many missions pastors who would like to go to more UPG’s but are compelled to go to harvest fields simply because of the numbers they can and need to report when they get back. I remember right after 9/11 an M working in the NAME region shared with me that 80% of the people and 100% of the pastors planning trips to that part of the world canceled their trips after 9/11 happened. Some would say that is common sense. I would say it is an embarrassment to us as SBC Christians. One month after 9/11 we had 4 women to work with Muslim ladies on a short term trip, 200 miles from where Bin Laden had a training camp years before. The UPG people had posters of him in their shops. The results were amazing in that the UPG’s saw that these women were willing to go to a place considered an enemy of Christ to share His love, and they were willing to risk their lives to do it. I have spoken to several churches who are simply afraid to go to some of these hard to reach places.
On the flip side I had an IMB worker focusing in central America tell me they turned away around 2 thousand volunteers a few years ago because they had so many already coming to that part of the world.
If we are to be a part of seeing Rev. 5:9 and 7:9 come about, which of course it will, then we need to see more churches begin to focus their efforts on reaching those with little to no access to the gospel. I think at this time we way way too focused on harvest fields. Thx for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Efrem Saffik


After looking over a few of the posts on this site [and a few others], I’m curious if you are open with your church about how much time you spend on the blogosphere. Are you getting paid by your congregation to do this? If you are not, how would your congregation feel about what you do on these blogs and the amount of time you spend commenting?

As a pastor’s son I know the pressures of the pastorate firsthand, but I am asking out of a genuine desire to see pastors rightly order their time in the pastorate. I’m not questioning your motives, but I am curious.

    Ron Hale

    Rick is a serious writer/blogger as well as Pastor. People who feel a calling to share a message find the time to write by giving up things like T.V., sipping lattes at Starbucks, or maybe some golf or fishing. Don’t begrudge a man his right to write … especially when he makes tremendous sense. Blessings!

      Efrem Saffik

      No begrudging here, just honest questions.




Theological arguments aside, the current people group focus comes directly from Ralph Winter and Donald McGavern of Fuller Seminary. They each gave papers at the 1974 Lausanne Conference organized by Billy Graham. McGavern focused on the North American context and the homogenous unit principle and Winter applied it to international missions. The point of both was very pragmatic – people are more likely to be willing to go to church with people who are most like them. You can google and find both papers online. Winter’s work laid the foundation for a drastic change across the board in missiology. The IMB made the complete shift in the late 1990’s with New Directions under Jerry Rankin. I provide this for you simply assist you in helping you understand the larger framework of the discussion.

Blessings, Cory

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