Native Americans: Reached, Unreached, or Mis-reached?

By Patrick Lennox, Oct 5, 2015

When the Apostle Paul set out on his missionary journeys, he desired to preach the gospel to all who have not heard the good news of the Kingdom, which at that time, the whole world was a fresh mission field. In Romans 15:20, Paul says, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.” He wanted to go where nobody had yet been.

Recently I heard of two missionaries attending a missions conference where one missionary proclaimed his ministry to his country was more important than missions to Native America because his mission was to an unreached people group whereas Native America has already been reached. Essentially, using Romans 15:20 as a proof text, he declared that only missions to unreached people groups matter, or at least are superior to all other missionary endeavors.

There seems to be confusion out there concerning how we are to approach our missionary endeavors. Some have taken Paul’s desire to be the missions template. In order to conclude that, we need to ask some important questions. Do the words in Romans 15:20 represent Paul’s personal ambition for himself as a minister of the gospel, or is Paul issuing a command for all who wish to engage in missionary activities? Is it biblical to have missionaries go to where others have gone before? Tradition tells us that the Apostle Thomas went to India. Do we not go to India anymore? Once a missionary establishes a church, does that mean the entire people group is considered evangelized with no further need for additional gospel laborers? How many generations must pass and how empty do churches have to be before another missionary attempts to plant a church that preaches and teaches the gospel of grace?

Although it is true that much of Native America has been the target of missionaries over the last 500 hundred years, it would be a failure on our part to check them off on our list of “reached” people. Are we considering each of the 566 recognized tribes, (nations) or did we lump them altogether as one people with no recognition of their own identities?

Without question, many Native Americans have been reached, but history has shown that many of the problems we face today in ministry are the result of our past mission strategies. One particular guiding principle is expressed in the old adage “Kill the Indian, save the man.” That has led to the cultural genocide of so many Native American tribes and has left the church today with challenges that could have been avoided had we not attempted to “civilize” them them by force according to Western standards of culture.

History teaches us that Native Americans and First Nations people are a mis-reached and under reached people. Missiologists are recognizing them as a forgotten people. According to my limited studies and my own life experience, I agree.

There are people in Cherokee who have no idea who Jesus is. I know, I have met them. I don’t need a statistic to prove it to me. Please pray for Native peoples. Ask the Lord what you could do. Pray that that church would raise up disciples and leaders to go throughout all the reservations and the world with the gospel. 

Patrick & Regina Lennox are MTW missionaries with a long history of ministry to native peoples. 

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