Perspective is important. Perspective humbles. There are 7.5 billion people on the earth. This number has been divided into 17,400 people groups (Joshua Project). Everyone represents a people group. Yes, that means you too.
I majored in sociology at the University of Kentucky and did graduate studies in the field at the University of Louisville. While the discipline (and most social sciences) does not use the perspective or language of evangelicals when it comes to the peoples of the world, one thing is definite: the topics of race and ethnicity are of great interest to scholars. Many undergraduate classes are devoted to these matters. Academics specialize in related research. A multitude of books exist on the subjects.
Though many of my former professors and peers are likely to disagree with me, the Bible notes there is one human race (Gen 1:27). Every person who lives today is a descendant of Noah’s household and from the genetic makeup of Adam. However, the imago Dei manifests itself through a variety of social and cultural factors. Regardless of a people’s phenotype, life expresses itself differently. We have been created by the Divine Artist. His creation reflects the multitude of colors on His palette. This is a very good thing (Acts 17:26).
Historically, the Euro-American missionary understanding of the world revealed itself as an “us” versus “them” distinction. They (non-white Asians, Africans, and Latin/South Americans) are to be reached by us (white Europeans or North Americans) with the gospel.
Theologically, there were elements of truth in this view. The lost are to be found by those in the Kingdom. However, rather than producing a godly humility, the mindset frequently produced arrogance that viewed the peoples of the world as opposed to us and to be conquered, civilized, and Christianized. Of course, there are exceptions to my generalization of the colonial period; but this is a blog, and I’m trying to be brief.
While evangelicals are not in favor of a return to the colonial missionary practices of yesteryear, this us-against-the-rest-of-the-world mentality remains in some circles. I fear many of us do not think we are a people group. There is the world; and there are white, North American evangelicals. We must avoid this matter. It is incorrect on numerous levels. We are part of the world. We represent one people group among 17,000. Followers of Jesus are found among us, and thousands of other groups as well.
Perspective is important. It is humbling to know that while God has chosen to work through His elect (both in the OT and NT), He has not made this choice based on ethnicity or morality (Deu 9:4; Rom 9:10-13). This is important for mission strategy.
There is no place for ungodly ethnic pride in the Kingdom. Christ is building His Church from a multitude of people representing what has been produced from the Divine Palette (Rev 7:9-10). Pastors and mission leaders must communicate clearly the place of those who go. Yes, we go to reach the lost among the people groups, but we go as one group among a multitude. Our Father sends us to the lost, not to “them.”
To my white, U.S. readers, here is our categorization when it comes to mission strategy (Joshua Project): Our people cluster is Anglo-American. Our people group is U.S. Americans. Our culture is labeled as U.S.A. White, with geographical roots of European origin. Our ethnolinguistic family is Germanic. Our affinity bloc is North American Peoples.
Leaders, I am not stating you need to communicate this technical jargon to your people, but communicate perspective. We are one of 17,000 such people groups created in the image of God. Let’s keep this in mind as we make disciples of all nations.
This post written by J.D. Payne and originally posted at https://www.jdpayne.org/2020/07/you-represent-a-people-group-too/, and used by permission of J.D. Payne. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.