Many years ago, I was a Bible translator, working with an isolated people group in Ivory Coast. It took years to learn the language, train a team of translators and then do all of the drafting, checking, consulting and what have you. To be honest, it was a pretty inefficient process. If all God had been concerned about was getting the Bible translated, he could have done it faster, more accurately and without any typos. But he didn’t. God doesn’t seem that interested in using the most efficient methods for getting his message out.
Now don’t get me wrong; the Bible clearly teaches that God will reach his target of the Gospel being preached in every part of the world. Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell won’t stand against it. That’s going to happen; no question. But God doesn’t seem to be over-focussed on the actual final target.
John chapter 17 is a fascinating passage of Scripture, with a huge significance for mission. As Jesus faces the cross, he prays for his followers. These are the ones he is sending out into the world, just as the Father had sent him. I find it amazing that Jesus prayed for other people at a time like that and even more amazing that he was actually praying for me.
Jesus doesn’t pray that Christians will be successful in mission. He doesn’t pray for lots of converts or for that we will bring justice and the relief of poverty. He prays that we would be one; that the church would be united and also that we would be united to him and to God the Father. At a crucial time, when he prays for the future mission of the Church, Jesus prays for our relationships: our relationships with each other and our relationship to God.
This gives us the answer to the question of why God uses people like us in mission; because he values his relationship with us. He doesn’t need us; what sort of pathetic God needs people like you and me to reach the world? But he loves us so much he doesn’t want to do mission without us. The Good News of Jesus is going to reach out to the ends of the world and people from every tribe tongue and nation are going to praise the name of Jesus. Nothing can stop that. But God wants you to be involved because he loves you.