by Steve R. Smith
I was walking with Church Planting Movement initiators during an outing at a conference. One of the most fruitful ones sidled up and asked, “Steve, is CPM all there is?”
He was experiencing second- and third-generation churches, and perhaps even some were fourth-generation. The kingdom was growing by leaps and bounds. New reproducible churches were being formed. My friend was rapidly becoming a poster child of CPM breakthrough in the Western world.
I said, “No, a movement is just the beginning. The movement is not the goal. The goal is what Paul declared in Romans 15—no place left for the gospel to be proclaimed. Every people group, neighborhood and ethnic segment with multiplying disciples and churches among them.” Relief spread across his brow. “Whew! I’m glad. I knew there must be something more.” What registered with my friend was critical in whether or not the movement in his city would move toward the end-vision of the whole city being reached or plateau out. He realized that a movement is not the end; it’s just the beginning!
Seeds of Movements
In all likelihood, Paul’s mind [in Romans 15] was ringing with Jesus’ parables of the mustard seed and leaven. That handful of churches he and his partners planted were the mustard seed in each region. As they began to multiply, Paul felt free to move on. Movements were starting with sufficient life and momentum to carry the proclamation of the gospel to every nook and cranny. Paul didn’t have to plant every church—just a few church-planting churches with a vision for their region and beyond.
Recovering the Real End-vision
The danger my friend faced was succumbing to the wrong end-vision: movements, rather than no place left. Paul could have stayed to build upon the foundations, but that was not the role of an apostle. The eyes of an apostle are on the horizon, where Christ has not yet been named. An all too present temptation is for movement catalyst(s) to pull out before there is sufficient momentum to get to no place left. The astounding numbers within a movement so thrill us that we lose sight of the bigger vision: every community reached with the gospel and embraced by life-giving, multiplying churches.
The temptation to slow down and not finish the task is great amidst an explosive movement within a city or people group, but greater still is the same temptation globally.
Getting to No Place Left Globally
Paul sensed a divine urgency associated with his apostolic stewardship. He seemed compelled to bring all Gentiles as an acceptable offering to His Lord (Rom. 15:15-16). He and other believers vigorously gave themselves to Jesus’ mandate (Matt. 24:14, 28:19-20). They pushed the frontiers of the gospel from province to province and from district to district. The question for our generation is whether we will finish the race that others have started and run so faithfully. With over 3,000 people groups, both unengaged and unreached with the gospel (UUPGs), it is easy to become complacent and stop running. Instead, we have the opportunity to increase our pace and run the final lap. We have the resources but do we have the resolve? The finish line is in sight. Sacrificial effort could result in the completion of the original mandate. In two thousand years, a multitude of people groups have been reached. We are in that number. But the benchmark is no place left. Will we take up the baton to get there?
Set an Urgent Deadline
In getting to no place left, setting a deadline seems to galvanize believers toward a sense of urgency. It is as though we realize that time is running short and faith-filled efforts must be employed. Will our generation rise up with new urgency? If we resolved to bring the gospel fully to the remaining 3,000+ UUPGs by a date such as 2025, what effect would that have on our efforts? Would great sacrifice match a great effort? Would it move us toward a spiritual wartime footing in which we called every believer to be part of a global effort to eradicate areas devoid of the gospel?
A Costly Deadline
The remaining UUPGs are in the most difficult-to-reach and most overlooked places. Getting to no place left in any generation—ours or another—will come with a great price. Jesus declared and demonstrated the path toward fruitfulness. It requires death—death to self and, not infrequently, physical death. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24, ESV)
He is Worth It
A clue to Paul’s motivation in settling for nothing less than no place left (Rom. 15:23) is found in the same chapter: But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:15-16, ESV) Paul, filled with gratitude, longs to bring every ethné back to his Lord as an acceptable offering. In this way, he could declare the Son’s unique worthiness. Throughout history, great pushes toward finishing the task have been matched by great sacrifices. We cannot have one without the other.
The end is in sight in individual movements, but let us not rest until we reach no place left. The end is in sight in bringing the gospel to the remaining 3,000+ UUPGs, but let us not rest until there is no place left. The commission is worth it. He is worth it.
This article was first published in Mission Frontiers. It was edited with permission.