Scattering the Theologically Trained
When I got my MDiv at Southern Seminary, one of my missions professors said, “80% of seminary graduates will minister at a church within 100 miles of where their wife’s parents live.” The professor’s point was that many seminary graduates take living in close proximity to their wives’ parents to be a huge factor for where they will live and serve the Lord long-term. The professor had been teaching at the seminary for over ten years, and had seen hundreds of his students follow this pattern.
Similarly, I have noticed that many people who graduate from Bible school or seminary will stay near where they studied after they graduate. Many who graduate from Southern Seminary in Louisville may stay around Louisville after they graduate. Or many who graduate from Moody, Wheaton, or TEDS will stay around the Chicago area long-term after they graduate. Certainly these places around Chicago or around Louisville need pastors and ministry leaders. But it seems that, as there are so many people who go to these schools, most of them should be scattered around the country and the globe to less reached areas after they graduate, with just a few staying in the area of the schools. This is better than the current phenomenon of most of them staying in the area, and few of them going to less reached areas around the country or world.
The problem is that, if so many seminary graduates end up close to where their wives’ parents live or close to where they went to school, there will be few seminary or Bible college graduates ministering in more unreached areas. If a seminary or Bible college grad wants to work in a church or plant a church in the U.S., why not do that in a less reached area, like a place like Maine in NE America or Oregon in NW America? When most of the Bible school or seminary-trained graduates end up staying around the seminaries, or other places in the South or in the Bible Belt, then there is no spreading out of the theologically educated. It seems better to spread some of that theological influence from seminaries, and scatter that training and influence across the nation and across the globe, rather than having just a few areas of the U.S. benefit from the many strong seminaries and Bible colleges in the U.S., and the thousands of students who graduate from them annually.
Serving in Harder Places Globally
Certainly not all of us are called by God to serve overseas. But for those of us who are called overseas, we can consider ministering in harder places overseas. When I first moved to China, I realized there were lots of missionaries in the eastern and southern parts of China. So after a few years in eastern China, I felt the Lord calling me to go to northwest China, where there were fewer missionaries. And in NW China, there are fewer local Christians and less-equipped local pastors than in most other areas of China. But, that being said, I still realize that there are many countries in the world [i.e. Yemen, Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan] that are significantly harder to minister in than anywhere in China. And definitely there need to be more missionaries from all over the globe going to these least reached places of the world.
And, at present, most of the least reached areas of the world are Muslim countries that are antagonistic towards Christians and the gospel. According to a survey from 2009, about 80% of foreign missionaries were serving in reached areas, while a small minority of foreign missionaries were in less reached areas. And less than 1/5 of missionaries are serving in the most needy places: among the 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, who are the heart of the unreached 10/40 Window. Missionaries need to consider going to those Muslim lands where there are very few, if any, known believers in that area. And many such places may have few people, if any, going to those places to bring the gospel of hope.
Challenges of Ministering in Harder Places:
There is some risk involved with ministering in harder places. Usually, in such parts of our nation or of the world, there is great spiritual darkness. This means that the Enemy has significant spiritual strongholds in these parts of the world, like in Boston or Islamabad. Ministering in a darker place means more attacks from the Enemy. It could also mean being in a place where the locals do not want you to be. Such areas of the globe may strongly forbid Christian missions activity of any kind. And even in the U.S., where there is freedom of religion, in ministering in harder places we can be hated by the people around us because we are Christians. Ministering in a spiritually darker place of the world is not an easy thing. It could mean being separated from our closest friends and family back home. It could mean having periods of feeling extremely isolated and lonely.
The question to ponder is: Who will reach those in harder places? There are many hundreds of millions of lost people in unreached areas around the U.S., and around the world. They hate Jesus or have never heard of Jesus. As long as most of us Christians are clumped together in certain areas of the country and the world, these people will remain unreached and having never had a legitimate witness around them to present our Savior to them. Who will help reach them, if not us?
The call to ministering in harder places is not just for full-time pastors or missionaries. All Christians can be strategic about where they live and work. It is possible to move to a spiritually needy area of the country or world to work as an engineer or to do business. You can be actively involved with a church there and minister to people through your work and lives.
Consider Paul’s words: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1). All Christians are called to lay our lives before the Lord, and ask: What do you want me to do for your kingdom? And, considering how we’ve handed our lives to the Lord to do with them totally what He desires: Where do you want me to go?
 Atlas of Global Christianity, 2009