How do we fulfill the Great Commission? There are two distinct mission strategies that we must consider. They represent different approaches, but they are not in opposition. We need not think that we must choose one to the exclusion of the other. Both are viable in their own right and should be employed to fulfill the Great Commission. These two mission strategies are:
Cross-Cultural Missions. This is the traditional strategy for doing missions, whereby missionaries are sent to a nation, people group, or culture outside their own; it works through missionaries that are foreign to the people group in which they are ministering.
Example: A North American church or missionary agency sending and supporting a North American missionary to Romania.
Indigenous Missions. This strategy does not send missionaries from one nation, people group, or culture to another; rather, it works through missionaries that are native to the people group in which they are ministering.
Example: A North American church or missionary agency providing the support for a Romanian missionary to work in Romania among his own people.
The church has a long and glorious history of cross-cultural missions. The Apostle Paul was a cross-cultural missionary in that he went outside his own people (the Jews) and outside his own country (Israel) and preached the gospel to the Gentiles. William Carey and Amy Carmichael in India, Hudson Taylor in China, and David Livingstone in Africa are all examples of cross-cultural missionaries.
It is not difficult to see that cross-cultural mission work is indispensable to the Great Commission. How can a people group who is entirely without the gospel come to a saving knowledge of Christ unless missionaries from another culture are sent to them? The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15:
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’” (NASB)
Cross-cultural missions is biblical and historical, and it is necessary wherever there exists a people group completely devoid of the gospel message or where the church is still struggling to take root in a culture or people group. In many areas of the world today, there are entire people groups that have no knowledge of Christ. For them to be reached, Christians must leave their own peoples and lands and go to them, bearing the good news. Also, in many areas of the world today, the gospel has been preached to some degree, but the church is still weak and in need of missionaries from another people group to help them continue on to maturity. Finally, there are areas of the world where the church is strong; but this does not mean that God cannot call someone from another people group to minister there as a cross-cultural missionary!
After two thousand years of missionary activity, over half the world has still not heard the gospel. The traditional missions method of only training and supporting North American and Western European missionaries is not sufficient in itself to reach the world. There are simply not enough missionaries or available economic resources from the West to reach all the nations of the world! A solution to this problem is to support indigenous or native missionaries to work within their own countries and people groups.