Category Archives: Ministry

Who Will Reach Those in Harder Places?

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.[1] 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?


[1] Atlas of Global Christianity, 2009

Prayer for Central Asia

This morning I spent some time praying for Central Asia, though I’ve never been there. But our region in NW China does border many countries in Central Asia.

I’m praying for the Muslim world, and particularly for those in Central Asia. There are many people in this region, most of whom have no Christian witness around them. The people have varying levels of religious zeal for Islam. There’d be many following folk Islam. And some of these countries [i.e. Afghanistan, Pakistan] are quite unstable. Some of the areas are isolated and in mountain ranges 15,000-25,000 feet high. So it can be a hard region for missionaries or outsiders to penetrate into, much less to witness to people on the ground in their own local language.

I pray for the Lord to move in huge ways in these areas. I pray there may be many missionaries sent to these areas, & that the Lord may sustain them and use them and the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of many locals and turn them to the Lord. And I pray that local churches may thrive and grow, not only numerically but also in depth of knowledge and obedience to God.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph. 3:20,21)

Urgency of Gospel

Originally in my July 30th, 2007 Journal [summer after 2nd year in China]

I was with God: listening to Piper sermon, singing praises, prayer, memorizing verses, writing, listening to Andrew Murray’s Ministry of Intercession. I’ve been really getting lots of satisfaction in God’s presence. The Spirit is teaching me some good stuff.

Our first priority is to preach the gospel. If I truly believe that people around me are going to hell if they don’t believe in Christ as Savior, how am I loving them by not telling them how to be saved? I know it’s disruptive at this school & it disrupts the peace here. But just because millions of people in China are content with their lives, does not mean that they’re NOT going to hell. They’re still going to hell whether they know it or not.

Chinese Students Bold in Evangelism

Originally in my March 12th, 2007 Journal [my 2nd year teaching at a univ. in eastern China]

This afternoon, a few students came over. We prayed together & gave them Bibles & then they headed out to the Education College [another university across the city]. They returned two hours later & again we met & prayed. They shared stories about the people they had talked to & given Bibles to. Good stuff.

Lord Changing Hearts in Chinese University

Originally in my January 6th, 2008 Journal [ministering in university in E. China]

There has been a confession of faith! Apparently, two days ago Edward (also from class 3) told Jairy that he became a believer. Yesterday he told Eric. This all followed his 6 hour conversation about the Lord with their lexicology teacher Andrew (a Chinese professor). What a huge blessing Andrew has been! So a guy student has given a confession of faith at the school. We’ll see what happens next. Needs lots of prayer. Also I met with Jordan. He said he feels God pulling him towards Him. He said he just needs more time. I said there are many examples in the Bible where people immediately believe & are transformed (like Paul). I said I know many people who say they’ll wait until they have a family to do the “Christian thing”. Obviously this attitude is wrong. I said “What if they die tomorrow?” They’d go to Hell because they’d have no faith. That got him thinking a lot. He needs immediate prayer. May he be hugely convicted of his lostness. I feel like he’s close, but we can’t relax until he’s turned to the Lord! I also met with Newmoon & she took Pilgrim’s Progress from me to read for the break. May the Lord convict her in a huge way through Bunyan or the Word or some other source. Great things happening with that class of students!

my article this week on Desiring God ‘Lay Aside ‘Lone Ranger’ Ministry’

This week I had an article on Desiring God titled ‘Lay Aside ‘Lone Ranger’ Ministry’

Here’s the link:


Or you can read the article below:

As we ministered in our first city in eastern China, doing outreach to college students, our missionary team saw significant fruit among several students within our first year. What caused it to grow?

It was indeed the Lord who caused the seed to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6), and looking back, I also can see how the Lord made us his means and blessed our team with a tight bond. Not only were we close, but a lot of our time with the students was spent together as a team. We were intentional to spend time and minister to students not just individually, but also as a group.

For example, my friend Eric was ministering to a Chinese student named Jordan. He would get lunch with Jordan and talk about the gospel, among other things. Afterward, Eric and I would discuss how it went and pray for Jordan. Some other time, I would go get coffee with Jordan and talk about all kinds of things, but I’d also try to be intentional to share spiritual things. Afterward, Eric and I would pray.

Eventually, by spending time with different Christians individually and together with us in groups, Jordan became more interested in the gospel, until he believed. To this day, he continues to grow and persevere in that faith.

Partnering with others in gospel outreach can be powerful and effective. And we find that shared outreach is a very common model in the Bible.

They Shall Know by Your Love

A big part of our testimony to the lost is not only our words to them, but also our deep love for other believers. Jesus himself says in John 13:35 that “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So, a huge part of our witness is how we love other believers. But if we are doing ministry on our own, it provides no opportunity for people to see our love for other believers and how we interact with them.

If we are committed to only doing outreach by ourselves, how will unbelievers see how we love each other? Certainly we need to proclaim the gospel through our words. This is vital, but it’s just one part of our witness. The other part of our testimony, biblically, is the conduct of our lives, including our love for other believers (Matthew 5:161 Peter 2:12). If we truly, selflessly love those in the church, others outside the church can see that and consider how this love may be unique to the Christian community. They may think this love expressed among believers as strange and be incredibly curious about the reason.

Jesus Sent Them Two by Two

In Luke 10:1–24, Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples in groups of two. One possible reason for this is so that they could hold one another accountable to the task at hand. If Jesus sent out seventy-two lone-ranger evangelists, it would be much easier for them to compromise the mission. But if they’re sent out with others, they can remind each other of their call and purpose, and encourage one another in times of discouragement and wandering.

Another possible reason why Jesus sent out the disciples two by two is for increased gospel witness. One person sharing a testimony can have great power, of course. But of even greater power is a complementary testimony coming from two or three people. One person may have a particular background or testimony that can hit someone with the gospel in a different way than another person who has a completely different background or testimony. The hearers can get multiple perspectives on the message, rather than just one.

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). In this place, Jesus is referring to acts of judgment within the church, following the Old Testament requirement of multiple witnesses to a charge (Deuteronomy 19:15). Nevertheless, it is easy to see how this principle applies more broadly to gospelwitness.

The testimony of two or three witnesses about anything is much more reliable and trustworthy than that of one witness. One person could just be confused, lying, or crazy. But having multiple people sharing a common testimony of truth is much harder to reject and brush aside. So when we are the only ones witnessing to someone about the gospel, it is quite a difficult task. It is much better to partner with another to deliver the gospel message with greater power and breadth.

Apostolic Ministry

Paul had a similar approach in ministry. Typically he was doing ministry together with others. Even when he was in prison, he often had other brothers with him. As he traveled on his three missionary journeys, he was not only traveling together with others, but also doing ministry with them.

On his first missionary journey, Paul — possibly one of the greatest evangelists of all time — did not go alone. In Acts 13:1–3, we see that the Holy Spirit himself told the church in Jersusalem to set apart both Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabs ministered together in Iconium, “speaking boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3). They are not only in the city together, but they are boldly proclaiming the gospel together. This is just one of many examples in Acts of Christians sharing gospel ministry.

Feel the Freedom of Mutual Ministry

Once we see what the Bible says and shows about doing ministry together, we should be intentional to put it into practice in our lives. Consider cooperating with others in your church, or small group, to evangelize together, working together with other Christians in your neighborhood to try to reach your neighbors, or when possible, partnering missionaries with other missionaries on the field to minister to the local people.

Here’s a call to embrace the wisdom of the Bible in place of our own individual efforts and work with Christ’s body to make disciples both at home and among the nations, for his glory and the increase of our own joy (Philippians 4:11 Thessalonians 2:193 John 4).

Time of Personal Spiritual Growth

Originally in my October 22nd, 2007 Journal [while ministering in eastern China]

In the afternoon I talked with one of the [visiting on short-term mission trip] Americans, Billy. He’s only about 35. He said that before he went into the ministry he had a 3-month period where he & his friend had no job & would just read the Scriptures together each day. He said that 3 months of preparation was huge for the next 10+ years of his ministry. This was further confirmation that I should be seizing all spare time this semester/year to be in the Word in some way. I shouldn’t be looking to be busy. This is a season of learning & preparation for future ministry.

[my prayer updates for that day]

Students to pray for this week: Emily, Sanya, Abigail, Jordan

*** I haven’t seen clear answers to last week’s prayers & I don’t know why I should expect anything, because my prayer life has been struggling. My mind gets so distracted after such a short time. I fall asleep. Lord, show me how to pray. I could split these things up & pray for them throughout the day rather than all at once.

Iron Sharpening Iron

Originally in my October 2nd, 2010 Journal [written at very beginning of long friendship with C.L. Harbor]:

From 11:15-3 pm we had Guys’ time and [C.L. Harbor] was there. I told C.L. that he challenged me greatly. My strengths [discipline & knowledge of the Word] are his weaknesses. His strengths [reaching the poor & afflicted] are my weaknesses. I’ve always been in churches that put much focus on knowledge of the Word, but not much on reaching the poor & afflicted. C.L. has always found churches that focus on reaching the poor, but not on knowing the Word. Since we are opposites, neither of us can be complacent, but we must constantly be encouraged by the other.

Knowing the Bible Well

Originally in my September 11, 2009 Journal:

I came back to the old campus and saw Jonathan [local house church leader] at his shop [a small supermarket]. From 9:40-11:40 am, I sat & talked with him. We opened the Scriptures and went back and forth, talking about the Scriptures and using verses to support our conversation. He has memorized much from both the Old Testament and New Testament. He seemed very familiar with the Scriptures overall. He knew exactly where each Bible verse we discussed was and also the verses surrounding it.

I’ve heard people say that the churches here in China put too much emphasis on knowledge of the Bible but they don’t live it out. I would disagree. I would say there’s not simply a lack of living out the faith, but more importantly a total lack of understanding or knowledge of the Bible.

They may go to church and Sunday school, but I’ve met very few “believers” here (or in the U.S.) who read their Bible daily, who have read through the Old and New Testaments a few times, or who can quote any Scripture at all. The problem is these people don’t know their Bibles. There is no emphasis on biblical knowledge, and it’s reflected in a dormant and lackadaisical faith. Too much knowledge is NOT the problem. I’m impressed with how well read local house church pastor Jonathan is.