Pressure Points by J.D. Payne
Each generation of believers faces a unique set of challenges. These challenges shape the church and present us with the question: how do we respond effectively and faithfully?
In Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church, missiologist J.D. Payne identifies and describes twelve of the most critical matters facing the church in the first half of this century. Our response is a matter of stewardship, and the stakes are high.
The twelve pressure points are:
- Unreached People Groups — At present, two billion people on earth have never heard the name of Jesus. there are still 6,426 people groups that remain unreached with the gospel.
- The West as a Mission Field — Within recent decades, the church in the West has been experiencing significant decline, while other religions have grown, as well as the number of those who claim to hold no religion.
- Growth of the Majority World Church — The largest numbers of followers of Christ live outside of the western countries.
- Pluralism and the Plurality of Faiths — The presence of other faith systems, and the view that there are many paths to God, present challenges to the Church’s trust in the exclusivity of Christ, and our missionary practice.
- International Migration — At the moment, 3% of the world’s peoples reside outside of their countries of birth. The majority of these peoples are moving to western countries and represent some of the world’s unreached and least reached peoples.
- Globalization — Globalization has transformed travel and communication, and has transformed how people live throughout the world.
- Poverty — The separation between the “haves” and “have nots” is increasing. 1 in 7 people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.
- Growth of the Cities — The Church now resides in an urban world, with over 50% of the global population residing in the cities.
- Children and Youth — Children comprise approximately one-third of the world’s population, providing for a young median age in certain areas. Youth and children are among some of the most neglected, abused, and needy people in the world.
- Health Care — Every year, multitudes contract communicable and non-communicable diseases which affect mortality and morbidity. Many of these diseases could be prevented with proper education, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, and health care workers.
- Oral Learners — Two-thirds of the world’s population are oral learners, meaning they cannot, do not, or will not learn through literate means.
- Pornification of Society — Pornography has gone mainstream, not just in the West but throughout the world. It knows no geographical, ethnic, gender, or even religious boundaries.
With each of these challenges, Payne offers a sociological analysis, as well as a theological and methodological reflection on how the church can respond.
A list like this can seem a little heady. Most of us aren’t thinking through global pressure points in our everyday lives and ministries. As I thought over the list, though, I have to admit that I’m facing most of them on a weekly basis without giving them much thought. And that’s just the point: since these pressure points are our reality, shouldn’t we give thought to how we can respond?
The most surprising pressure point to me in the book is pornification. I know that pornography is an issue, but I wouldn’t have identified it as a global pressure point. It seems like it was a surprise to Payne as well. “This chapter was not in my original plan for this book,” he writes. It’s the first time in writing eight books as a single author that he’s made such a last-minute change. As he began to research the issue, he realized it is a global pressure point that is affecting the church and its mission worldwide. It certainly is an issue both within and outside the church — even for those in ministry.
I was also surprised, and challenged, by the issue of orality. Payne estimates that 90% of the world’s Christian leaders are sharing the gospel using highly literate communication styles, while two-thirds of the world is oral. “In other words, many people are using methods designed for those who read in order to share the gospel with oral learners.” This is an issue even for churches in North America, where a majority of church members are primarily oral.
I found three of Payne’s prescriptions to be especially helpful:
- First, he argues that we need to return to apostolic or missionary thought and practice in North America in how we make disciples, plant churches, and appoint pastors in churches. I believe he’s right, although this adjustment will be difficult for many of us.
- Second, he argues that we need to keep our strategies simple and reproducible. “The greater the complexity of our strategies and methods, the less likely we will experience multiplication.” This is very helpful for me to read as a church planter.
- Finally, Payne argues that we need to share our stories, both our mistakes and our successes. Let’s not wait years to tell our stories of success; let’s share our successes and failures today so we can learn from each other. “Today is the day for sharing! Start talking. Start blogging. Start tweeting. Start publishing. Get your experiences out there!”
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the twelve global pressure points, but Payne doesn’t go there. He argues that each pressure can be both damaging and beneficial. Within each chapter, he outlines ways that the church can and should respond. This is what I appreciate about this book: Payne doesn’t shrink from the challenges, nor does he lose hope. He sees our response as one of both wisdom and stewardship. He says:
As we remain in the Word, walking in the light as He is in the light, His leadership will keep us on the right path. Apart from abiding in Him, all of our strategies, methods, desires, and interests are worthless for the sake of the kingdom. Greater is He who is in us than are the pressure points in the world.
I’m grateful to Payne for writing this book, and I highly recommend it.
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