How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? Romans 10:14-15
One of the most dynamic, influential missionary statesmen of the twentieth century was a wiry, lean, somewhat sickly man with a temperament akin to that of the Apostle Paul’s. He preached in more than 70 countries of the world and founded the People’s Church in Toronto, a church that has given literally millions of dollars to world missions during a period of time when other churches were thinking more about building larger facilities and having more for local programs.
His name, Oswald J. Smith; and he was convinced that a church without a vision is like the Dead Sea, cold, lifeless, with mineral deposits that grow more salt-encrusted with time, while a church with a world vision is like Galilee, which teems with life, with fresh water coming in from the north and feeding the Jordan at the southern outlet.
In his powerful little book entitled The Challenge of Missions, Smith recounts the story of Christ’s feeding the 5,000. He reminds us that the disciples asked the large crowd to be seated in groups of 50. Then Jesus took the loaves and fishes and blessed them, and then the disciples began to distribute the food. Smith then asks, “Do you remember how the disciples started at one end of the front row and went right along that front row giving everyone a helping? Then do you recall how they turned right around and started back along that front row again, asking everyone to take a second helping? Do you remember?”
If you know the story, you know that’s not the way it happened. Then Smith drove home his point. He said, “Had they done that, those in the back rows would have been rising up and protesting most vigorously. ‘Here,’ they would have been saying, ‘come back here. Give us a helping. We have not had any yet. We are starving; it isn’t right; it isn’t fair. Why should those people in the front rows have a second helping before we have had a first?”
The he asked a question which has forced thousands of people to think: “Why should anyone hear the Gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?” Since Oswald wrote his little book, the world’s population has more than doubled, and the number of people in the back rows has increased substantially.
Who would deny that most of the western world is supersaturated with a deficient version of Christianity—one that is spread widely through our culture but doesn’t go very deep? Billy Graham says that the average person in the USA hears the Gospel over 1400 times in his lifetime, yet more than half the world’s 6.3 billion people have never heard the Gospel even once in a clear enough fashion that it would confront them with the truth of what Jesus Christ did when He became flesh and lived among us.
The tragedy of the whole situation is that most of those on the back rows live in extreme poverty and hunger. Many of them have never seen a Bible, do not know who Jesus Christ is, and think of God as someone out there disinterested in their pain or existence.
Oswald Smith was right about the folks in the front row getting serving after serving while the folks in the back still haven’t had their first taste of the Bread of Life, the One who satisfies the deep hunger of your heart. Look for the folks in the back row. Some may well be in your neighborhood, closer than you think.
We at Guidelines are committed to feeding the back rows as well as the front. To know more about our vision to reach those on the back row, visit our web site at guidelines.org
Resource reading: Romans 10.