What’s a mission “field”?

9 02 2021

We say, “She went to the mission field.” Or, “They’re back home from the field.”

Why do we use this term?

I don’t know who revived the phrase, but I expect it originated with Jesus, when He told the disciples, “lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already ripe for harvest” (Jn. 4:35).

From this picture, we now speak of the “harvest field” and the “harvest force” — the field being the people needing to hear and grow in the good news, and the force being the workers who bring the gospel.

The analogy leads to strategy. The Apostle Paul says the harvest cycle proceeds through stages of plowing, planting (seed sowing), watering, and harvesting (1 Cor. 3:7). In hard spiritual ground, the plowing may take many decades. Seed sowing may not lead to visible crop in a lifetime. Prayer waters the seed and never goes unheard by God.

You may have been living a winsome witness, praying faithfully, and sharing the love of Jesus for decades without any noticeable response. Your efforts are not in vain, for as Paul says, it is “God who gives the increase” (2 Cor. 3:7). We have to trust God for the results He determines. Remember, the gospel seed is powerful and always at work.


We often hear the expressions “foreign field” and “domestic” or “home missions.” Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he charged the disciples to be witnesses locally and even to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Believers are still pursuing this command, by leaving home for foreign lands. This is essential!

Increasingly, mission strategists have sought to clarify what parts of the earth are farthest from the gospel. They are called “unreached (or least reached) people groups,” meaning they are cultural-linguistic peoples who do not have an evangelizing church among them. Currently there are 17,400 such groups! So the “foreign field” is in dire need of “harvest force” workers to leave home, learn a new language, translate portions of the Bible, and live among the people as a witness of the risen Jesus and the abundant life He gives for all eternity. Most of these peoples are in Central Asia and India.

One important factor, easily forgotten, is that some nations that were once vibrant in following Jesus and were sending missionaries to foreign fields have now grown cold and are again least reached. Germany, France, England, and Japan fit this category and are in vital need of fresh plowing and sowing gospel seed.


Often, ministry in the home country refers to “outreach” efforts such as assisting the poor, visiting prisoners, and caring for the sick and disabled. There are differing opinions as to whether or not in-country ministry should be called “mission” because it was not cross-cultural and did not require leaving home or learning a new language. But a turning has occurred in recent decades as local churches began talking about a “missional” thrust, or being “on mission.”

The idea has met with mixed reviews. Some with a burden for least reached peoples think it waters down the hard callings to Papua or Afghanistan. Does it really deserve the term “mission” when all you’re doing is lowering the lights, setting up coffee bars, and playing trendy music so as to attract 20-somethings who don’t want to feel like they’re in a church? Is that at all cross-cultural?

Personally, I celebrate every effort to bring the amazing grace of God in Christ to those who have not yet experienced it. The Bible doesn’t define “mission” precisely — in fact the word is not used in the Bible. The Biblical terms include “go and make disciples,” “be my witnesses,” and “proclaim Christ.” Do this everywhere, at all times, in every way.

Having said that, we must prioritize going to the hardest places. Why are they least reached? Because they are the hardest to reach, locked in traditions, cultures, and religions which result in super hard ground.


I conclude with the coolest thing God is doing today (Yes, I’m biased). Throughout human history there have been great movements of people, and you and I are living in the midst of one of the greatest diasporas of all time. In fact, visitors from the “end of the earth” are moving into cities in North America, Europe and Australia! Members from least reached peoples are seeking opportunity (as “immigrants“) or fleeing trouble (as “refugees“) constantly.

The diaspora is building a bridge between the foreign field and home missions! In a real sense, you live on the mission field.

If you view this mainly through the lens of partisan politics or economic advantage, these new neighbors seem a threat or undeserving. But Jesus put harvest spectacles in the hands of His disciples and said “lift up your eyes and look at the fields.

People who are least reached are moving within proximity of nations that are most churched! What an opportunity. It’s divine!

But what’s the needed element? What’s the factor that has such a vital role to play?  That’s right. The church must see this opportunity, and respond.

What would Jesus say to us today? Look around you with the hope and perseverance of the farmer. Plow up the soil by love. Plant the seed of good news. Water with heart-felt prayer. And see what I, the Lord of the harvest, will do.



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