The World’s Greatest Problem Has No Close Second

What makes a problem great?
Do great problems affect the most people?
Or do they bring the most difficulty to your life?

Imagine that you were one of the 18 million people around the world diagnosed with cancer each year. Surely this qualifies as a great problem. Cancer diagnoses are oftentimes accompanied with the feelings of fear and devastation. Not only is such a health report largely unexpected, but it’s also life-threatening.

Now imagine that you were one of the 50 million people living in South Asia’s Himalayas, the world’s highest mountains. Despite living in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Himalayan people are burdened with alcoholism, domestic abuse, and poverty—problems which tend to compound on one another. Does a combination of issues make a problem even greater?

No one would question that these problems are great, but even they are not the greatest problem.

The world’s greatest problem is lostness. Nothing else comes close.

How do I know? The Scriptures make it clear that the eternal destiny of those who die without Christ is in the lake of fire (Revelation 20).

What matters most is this: that we labor day and night so that those who die before Christ’s return die in Christ (1 Thess. 4:16). No work is more important, more pressing, or more urgent. Nothing we could do out of concern for the poor in the Himalayas, the refugee in Greece, the neighbor in Johannesburg, or the stranger you walk by on the streets of Lima, begins to rival the importance and urgency of sharing the gospel with them. If people do not die in Christ, they die lost and condemned to an eternal hell.

Peter took a great risk welcoming Paul, not only as a friend but as a leadership partner. People haven’t changed in two thousand years. The gossip that must have flown around Jerusalem about Peter’s behavior!

Jesus made His approach to lostness clear: He left the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost (Luke 15:4-7).

This truth captivated Sandeep and his wife Lalita, believers living near the Himalayas. Every weekend, they load up their family to journey on buses through rough terrain to reach a slum area deep in the mountains. Working with International Mission Board missionaries Mike and Beth McKenzie to locate unreached people groups, these and other national partners faithfully go into such hard-to-reach areas and research 13 remote peoples with no gospel access. They located and built relationships with many people in these groups, including one woman named Shanti.

Shanti had a great problem. Not only did she live in a society rampant with alcoholism, domestic abuse, and poverty, but she recently received the dreadful diagnosis of cancer. Shanti’s greatest problem, though, was that she was without Christ.

She was set to be one of 61.8 million people who die spiritually lost each year. That’s 173,451 souls in our world who die every single day separated for eternity from our life-giving, soul-saving Lord.

During the last months of her life, Shanti met Sandeep and Lalita and heard the news of what Christ had done for her greatest problem. And praise be to God, the gospel reached Shanti just in time!

Shanti trusted in Christ and a few months later became the first among her people group to die in Christ. Mike McKenzie reported that she finished her race faithfully. She had become part of a healthy new church planted among her people group in partnership with national believers. 

Planting the church required perseverance, sacrifice, and determination. But the price paid was worth it. This work to find and reach the lost made an eternal difference for Shanti.

Despite the joy this story elicits, at the same time my heart grieves.

At the IMB, we track numbers about lostness very closely. Here are a few stats you need to be aware of:

Global Population
Added Daily
People Die Daily
People Born Daily

There are more than 7,000 unreached people* groups consisting of 4.8 billion people and growing by 123,151 every day.

There are more than 3,000 unengaged* unreached people groups consisting of 288 million people and growing by 7,394 every day.

The most sobering of these facts is this: more people will die without Christ tomorrow than those who die without Christ today.

The most sobering of these facts is this: more people will die without Christ tomorrow than those who die without Christ today. Why? Simply put, global gospel sharing isn’t keeping up with global population growth. We have a responsibility to change that.

God’s Word to us is clear: “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12).

We do know. And we must act.

Because the IMB’s priority is addressing the world’s greatest problem, we are a church planting organization. The numbers make it clear that the addition of churches started by a relative few missionaries will not be sufficient to give everyone an opportunity to respond to the gospel.

Local indigenous churches started by people such as Sandeep and Lalita are needed to help reach those staggering toward eternal separation from Christ.

Multiplying healthy churches and leaders—the view of multiplication modeled by Jesus with the twelve Apostles—is vital for sustained disciple making and Kingdom growth.

The urgency of this work cannot be overstated. We must send more Southern Baptist missionaries to the nations to train and mobilize more national believers. The question is, who will go? But that isn’t the only question. We must also ask, who will send? We must search our hearts for how we can undergird the work of getting more missionaries to the nations. Calling out the called, praying earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Luke 10:2), and committing ourselves to faithful financial support are all essential tasks for this work.

There is much harvesting yet to do. Like Shanti, may those who die, as much as it depends on you and your work and your witness, die in Christ.

*A People Group = an ethno-linguistic group with a common self-identity.
*Unreached People Group = fewer than 2% of the population are evangelical Christians.
*Unengaged Unreached People Groups = groups with no missionary presence and likely no gospel access. No one is engaging them.

Colorado Baptist General Convention has been given permission to repost this article from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Blog.

Paul Chitwood is the President of the International Mission Board