Matt Rhodes. No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022. 255 pp. $13.49.
Matt Rhodes has served in North Africa since 2011 on a church-planting team. His book, No Shortcut for Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions, is published by Crossway in partnership with 9Marks. The book raises prickly questions about commonly accepted and often-lauded trends in modern missions. His concerns emanate from his study of Scripture as well as his experience on the foreign mission field.
Two novelties in Christian missions in the second half of the twentieth century collided and colluded to create the fundamental problem that Rhodes seeks to address in his book. First, when international air travel became accessible to middle-class America in the 1960s, short-term mission teams began traveling overseas on a regular basis, which exposed laymen to missions first-hand like never before. This, of course, had many benefits, but it also paved the way for a gradual amateurization of the missions force. The field seemed more accessible, and the idea that all one needed was a passion for the lost and a Bible to be a missionary began to take root.
Second, in the 1970s prominent missiologist Ralph Winter pioneered the concept of looking at the world as people groups instead of geopolitical states. Up to that point, Western Christians felt that the world had mostly been reached because some semblance of gospel witness could be identified in each country. Winter pushed back on that false sense of accomplishment by arguing that assessing the evangelization of the world in this way was flawed. The real question, argued Winter, was whether or not all people groups had a gospel witness or not. The answer, it turned out, was alarming. Initial models showed that there were tens of thousands of people groups across the globe who had no gospel witness whatsoever. Many didn’t have a single word of Scripture translated into their heart language.
As you might imagine, a byproduct of Winter’s work was to create a sense of urgency to get the gospel to these people groups as soon as possible, which of course is appropriate. This sudden urgency, however, resulted in a downplaying of the importance of preparation for the mission field and an emphasis on getting workers to unreached people groups by the shortest route possible. The urgency of the need and the accessibility of the nations paved the way for a regrettable trajectory. Speed and pragmatism came to characterize the modern missions movement. The primary questions became, How can we get the most missionaries to the field in the shortest amount of time? And what strategies are producing the most professions of faith and new churches quickest?
Rhodes wants us to ask different questions. How can we adequately and biblically prepare those who are called to the mission field? Which missionary methods are faithful to the Scriptures? Rhodes contends that when we approach the missionary endeavor with a full commitment to the Scriptures and eschew the temptation to be driven by speed and pragmatism, then we will see fruit that lasts. Rhodes is right. He’s right first and foremost because the evangelization of the world was commanded, described, and delineated in the Scriptures. In other words, churches, missionaries, and agencies have no right to commandeer Christ’s commission. He’s also right because the result of the last sixty years of mission work is now measurable, and it is lacking.
Rhodes exposes the issues in modern missions, but he doesn’t leave us without a way forward. He gives a prescription for correcting our course. I think missionaries will find the chapter entitled “A Long-Term Path for Missionaries” particularly helpful. Here he describes ten milestones that every missionary ought to pursue. Sending churches will gain wisdom from the chapter “Equipping and Sending” as they consider how to faithfully steward those who are called by God to go to the nations. All believers will benefit from reading this book as they seek to participate in the Great Commission, whether they are holding the rope or going down into the pit themselves.
Ryan Bush International Church Planters
Grace Bible Theological Seminary