Essentials of World Missions - Lesson 4

History of the Church's Expansion into the World

In this second part of the course, Dr. Tennent explores the history of the church’s expansion into the world. He focuses primarily on the modern period and looks at what makes the modern missionary period unfold in the way that it does.

Timothy Tennent
Essentials of World Missions
Lesson 4
Watching Now
History of the Church's Expansion into the World

Historical Section

I. The Modern Period

A. First Era of Missions: Beachhead Missions (1792–1910)

B. Second Era of Missions: Frontier Missions (1865–1974)

C. Third Era of Missions: Unreached Peoples Missions (1934–2004)

D. Fourth Era of Missions: Indigenous-initiated Missions (1989–Today)

II. Summary

  • Dr. Tennent begins this summary course on World Missions with a definition of the terms “mission” and “missions,” and gives us an understanding of the mission of God, that missions begins with God and his missionary heart.

  • We now walk through the Great Commission in each of the Four Gospels, highlighting their unifying themes and the distinct message that each Gospel writer highlights.

  • Dr. Tennent address several objections that people have to the uniqueness of Christ and the exclusive nature of the Gospel message. He also defines for us what actually qualifies as "missions."

  • In this second part of the course, Dr. Tennent explores the history of the church’s expansion into the world. He focuses primarily on the modern period and looks at what makes the modern missionary period unfold in the way that it does.

  • We begin the practical section of the course with a look at the full circle of missions strategy, which is based in several passages of Scripture. Dr. Tennent uses Acts 11 as an example of this four-step process.

  • At this point in the lessons Dr. Tennent turns to examining some modern missiological techniques, the kinds of things that churches are using and understanding to be better equipped to serve missionaries. He also lists five different categories of missionaries.

  • In this lesson, Dr. Tennent recommends six tasks that every local church should consider in order to be more effective in their overseas missions work.

  • Dr. Tennent explores several trends, both positive and negative, in modern-day missions, along with a quick look at the importance of understanding world religions.

  • Dr. Tennent dispels the top ten myths about missions, so that we can be better equipped to think appropriately about the great missionary cause.

  • Finally, we conclude the practical section and the course with a discussion of the top ten things the church should know about missions.

Beginning with a Biblical foundation, the course examines key Scriptural passages in both the Old and New Testaments that relate to the mission of the church. The second part of the course addresses key theological and cultural challenges that the church faces in proclaiming the gospel and establishing culturally relevant and viable churches. The third portion of the course exposes the student to key concepts in 21st century mission thinking, including mission strategy, the role of forging global partnerships, and the need to focus on church planting. Throughout the course, the emphasis is on practical ways the church can be more effective in ministering cross-culturally and fulfilling the Great Commission.

There is a 15 hour version of this course in which Dr. Tennent covers these topics in more detail. The title of the course is World Mission of the Church and you can find it at https://www.biblicaltraining.org/world-mission-church/timothy-tennent

Recommended Books

Essentials of World Missions - Student Guide

Essentials of World Missions - Student Guide

The purpose of this course is to provide a broad introduction to the worldwide mission of the church of Jesus Christ. Beginning with a Biblical foundation, the course...

Essentials of World Missions - Student Guide

Dr. Timothy Tennent
Essentials of World Missions
History of the Church's Expansion into the World
Lesson Transcript


Welcome to the second part of these summary lectures which summarizes the World Missions of the Church course through biblicaltraining.org. This part of the course is an historical section of the course, which seeks to explore the history of the church’s expansion into the world. We focus primarily on the modern period and want to explore what is it that makes the modern missionary period unfold in the way that it does. 

Missions is associated very much with William Carey – the modern period is – and we often will hear William Carey referred to as the Father of the modern missionary movement. So the purpose of this period of the course is to explore the rise of historic missionary activity in the modern period and beginning with William Carey.

The Modern Period

What we actually do is divide the modern period into four eras, or periods. The first we call “Beachhead Missions,” which goes from 1792 to 1910, and we will explore in a moment what that means. The second era is called “Frontier Missions,” and this goes from 1865 to 1974. The third era of missions is called “Unreached Peoples Missions,” and goes from 1934 to (I am predicting) 2004, and then the final, fourth era of missions is called the “Indigenous-Initiated Missions” and begins in 1989 and continues on into some distant period of the future.

Now, first you’ll notice a couple of things. We’re giving each of these eras a particular title – “Beachhead Missions,” “Frontier Missions,” “Unreached Peoples Missions,” “Indigenous-Initiated Missions” – each of these four designations has these titles to give you the general summary of what each of these periods means, and I will briefly exposit those in a moment. 

The second thing you should notice is that the time frames I gave you do not run end-to-end. For example, the first period is 1792-1910. The second period does not pick up in 1911 and go on down, but it actually begins back earlier in 1865. This is important because what we see is that the first era of missions – as with each of the succeeding eras – continues for some time even as new paradigms of missions arise. And so generally speaking, as is true today, you have new initiatives in missions that are really changing the face of how missions is done, but it’s happening alongside of the way missions has been done the last 50 or 60 years. These epochs or periods do not run in nice, neat succession, but actually run in a period where there is often great overlap between the periods. So that’s actually intentionally done to try to be accurate to the historical development of these periods.

First Era of Missions: Beachhead Missions (1792–1910)

The first period is called “Beachhead Missions.” Why do we call it “Beachhead missions?” It’s called “Beachhead Missions” because this is a term borrowed from the military, which describes how people took possession of a new territory, such as invading a country and so forth. They have what they call “establishing a beachhead.” 

And so in the early period of missions, this is how missions was done. You would try to go to a new country and establish a missionary base in that new country, much the same way as an invading force would seek to invade by putting a small group of special forces, perhaps, onto a certain location to get your foothold so that you can bring equipment and troops and the larger occupation forces. 

In the same vein, this has been applied to the church’s expansion in the world. The church would find a country – in the case of William Carey it was India – where there were very, very few Christians, where there was not sufficient preaching of the gospel there, so Carey goes to a part of India that has virtually no Christians. He established a small work there and it gradually expands into the larger work that he’s done. And this is repeated by many people throughout that early period, and we call this “Beachhead Missions.”

The key themes of beachhead missions is that it emphasizes planting the church in a new country, so it’s much more of a country, geographic focus than a people-group focus. Very rarely do you hear them talking about people-groups, more about countries. Even to this day, when someone meets a missionary, they very rarely ask them the question, “To what people, to whom, are you ministering?” But usually, “Where are you a missionary?” That is the question that is often asked us. 

People say, “I am a missionary in India.” “I am a missionary in China.” “I am a missionary in Nigeria.” So this is a really a hangover from the first era of missions, where the emphasis was on bringing the gospel to a new country. 

This period, as with the expression “Beachhead Missions,” typically emphasized work along the coastlines. Particularly in Asia and Africa, you have a great emphasis on establishing a church on the coast, because going into interior parts of countries was extremely dangerous, primarily because of the malaria that was carried by mosquitoes. It was much safer to live on the coast and many Western colonial powers had begun to develop trade relationships, which gave them treaty ports which allowed them to dock ships in certain port cities and it gave ex-patriots the possibility of living there near those port cities. So there was some safety and logistical wisdom in living on the coast, because of the threat of malaria and other uncertainties of the early period. 

Thirdly, this period emphasizes long-term resident missionaries. These are missionaries who go there and never come back. William Carey went to India and he never returned, and he is buried in India.

I give several examples of these pioneers of beachhead missions in the full course, and I explore in some detail the work of William Carey. We do an extended exposition of William Carey’s famous 87-page tract entitled, “An Enquiry into Obligations of Christians to use Means to Reach the Heathen.” It’s one of the most remarkable documents in the history of missionary enterprise. It’s in five sections and I explore each of those five sections and talk about the tremendous contributions that William Carey has made, and why he’s called the father of modern missions. 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about William Carey is that he was, despite his notable achievements, a man of great humility. I have stood at his grave, which is found just north of Calcutta in Serampore, and on his grave he does not mention that he is the father of the modern missionary movement. He doesn’t mention that he founded the first Christian college in all of Asia. He doesn’t mention the dozens and dozens of languages that he learned and put the New Testament or the entire Bible in, and on and on and on. It simply says these words, “A wretched, poor, and helpless worm am I. On Thy kind arms I fall.” Oh, the great humility of this great saint William Carey.

In the extended lectures I also go into great detail to exposit the life of Adoniram Judson, one of the first American missionaries to go into a foreign field. He is often called the father of American missions and we explain why that’s true in the course.

Second Era of Missions: Frontier Missions (1865–1974)

The second era of missions is known as “Frontier Missions” and it begins in 1865. This is a different emphasis because here you begin to find an emphasis not just on the coastlands, but on the frontiers or on the interior parts of the country. You have a great rise of faith missions, where people raise their own support rather than relying upon supporting churches or missions agencies. 

You have a whole other brand of missionary that emerges in this stage, new missionaries that were not ordained in the traditional sense; they were often less educated than the previous generation of missionaries; they were often recruited directly from college campuses and were students, and were not connected with in the traditional ways. A much greater emphasis on the autonomy in the field, where you have field-based directors, and a much more serious engagement with thinking about better strategies to contextualize the gospels. All of this is expanded on and expounded upon in more detail in the full course. 

The best example I would like to give to illustrate the second era of missions is the life and work of Hudson Taylor. Hudson Taylor goes into the interior part of China. He’s not content to be on the outside borders, the coastlands of China. He founds a new mission organization called the China Inland Mission, which relies upon faith missions, where they raise their own support, and he begins to raise up students to join him in this effort. And I emphasize in these part of the lectures the work of Hudson Taylor.

Third Era of Missions: Unreached Peoples Missions (1934–2004)

The third era of missions is called “Unreached Peoples Missions.” This era actually focuses on the remaining unreached people groups that do not currently have access to the gospel. This is really illustrated by the work of William Cameron Townsend, the founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. He profoundly understood that missions was much more than just going to places, but actually identifying the individual peoples that needed to hear the gospel, that were behind cultural, social, and often in the case of Wycliffe, behind linguistic barriers. 

One of the most remarkable experiences that William Cameron Townsend had was when he had a conversation with an Indian to whom he was seeking to sell a Spanish Bible. In the midst of this conversation he asked the Indian if he wanted the Spanish Bible and the Indian asked him in broken trade Spanish if he had a Bible in his own language, which was the Cakchiquel language. 

Townsend said, No, he only had a Spanish Bible, to which the Indian responded, “Well, if your God is so great, why doesn’t he speak my language?” And this became the question which burned into the heart of William Cameron Townsend, and led him to found the Wycliffe Bible Translators, which has helped us to understand the true diversity – linguistically, socially, and culturally – of the world. 

So, this third era of missions emphasizes unreached people groups. It emphasizes that missions is about peoples, not places. And it emphasizes a much wider range of strategies and partnerships with national churches and so forth that become a critical part of missions today.

Fourth Era of Missions: Indigenous-Initiated Missions (1989–Today)

I believe that we are also experiencing a dramatic development of something new about missions, that deserves to be called a fourth era of missions. I actually have this missions era starting in 1989 with the Global Consultation on World Evangelization in Singapore, and also the Lausanne Conference in Manila in July of 1989. I think ’89 is a good starting point for this emphasis on indigenous-initiated missions. Both those conferences highlighted the work of the non-Western church and their role in bringing the gospel to the ends of the Earth. 

One of the distinctives of this era is who is bringing the gospel. In the first three eras—in the era of beachhead missions, as well as frontier missions, as well as unreached peoples missions—you still have an emphasis on Western missionaries bringing the gospel to the non-Western world. 

In the first era it’s Western missionaries bringing the gospel to new countries in the non-Western world. In the second era you have Western missionaries bringing the gospel to the interior parts of countries in the non-Western world. In the third era of missions you have Western peoples bringing the gospel to all the unreached people groups that are located in the non-Western world. 

So, there’s a huge problem there. We simply cannot ignore the fact that today we are seeing an explosion of not only the places we’re going to or the peoples we’re going to—that growth—but also, more importantly, the people themselves who are going. These are peoples who belong to the non-Western church and this deserves a special focus, and I call this the Indigenous-initiated Mission, and the reason I have 2004 as the end of Unreached Peoples Missions is because I’m looking forward to the wonderful conference in Lausanne in 2004—the third Lausanne Conference held in Thailand—which I believe will be a great emphasis on the non-Western church.

So here you have in this era of missions a strong emphasis on church planting movements, this being initiated by the non-Western church. I explore in the extended lectures some of the work of Korea, working around the world there are over twelve thousand missionaries now coming from Korea. You have missionaries from Brazil who are working with Muslims from the Middle East. You have Russian Christians who are now penetrating the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, with the gospel. It is a tremendous global effort. 

Myself, I work in a ministry that trains south Indians to bring the gospel to unreached peoples in north India. There is a tremendous effort of indigenous-initiated missions, and I work with an organization that trains and equips Indians to bring the gospel cross-culturally to other people groups in India. And that becomes a tremendous blessing. 

And I believe this quick summary of modern missions history will help you to see the development of the modern period, some of the great emphases that have accompanied each of the periods, and how we can understand and interpret what’s happening today in missions and be a part of it through our church’s life and actions. We have to be able to appreciate the great new merging paradigms of missions which are present today.


Just to briefly summarize the reason I give the dates that I give in the various eras and periods: I count the first era as starting in 1792 because that’s when William Carey published his “Enquiry,” and that lasts all the way through to 1910, which I count important because of the World Missionary conference which was held in Edinburgh. 

The second period starts with Hudson Taylor’s founding of the China Inland Mission in 1865 and concludes with the great question that Indian asked William Cameron Townsend in 1934. I have the other period—1974 is the Lausanne Conference—2004 is the Lausanne III conference. I mentioned 1989 refers to the ICOWE and Lausanne II which emphasized the non-Western church. So those explain some of the dates that I give in the extended lectures and why I believe those dates represent some of the turning points in missions today.

But I hope that each person who hears these tapes will appreciate that we are living in the most exciting period of missions today, fulfilling one of those great hopes that was stated at Lausanne years ago, the first missionary conference that really brought together vast numbers of non-Western Christians; where they made that great declaration that the whole Christ should be brought by the whole church into the whole world. And this is what we’re seeing today in missions.

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