Facing a Task Unfinished

This is a great post about the hymn entitled, “Facing a Task Unfinished.” It can be found here at the Gospel Coalition website.

“In Matthew 24, atop the Mount of Olives, Jesus told his disciples, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Almost 2,000 years later, we’re still here, which is all the proof we need to keep on preaching the gospel, especially in places it’s yet to be heard.

Yet the gospel message isn’t restricted to sermons or tracts or books. Think of how you first absorbed the good news. For many of us, I imagine it wasn’t through a sermon, but a song.

Keith and Kristyn Getty are convinced of the vital role music plays in Christian discipleship. This is why they’ve spent much of the past two decades writing new hymns and restoring old ones—to help Christians and churches continue “making melody to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).

I corresponded with Keith Getty about their re-introduction of what he dubs the “greatest hymn on missions ever written,” how God uses music to shape Christians, other missions hymns your church should start singing, and more.


What’s the story behind the song “Facing a Task Unfinished”? Who wrote it and why?

Frank Houghton, an Anglican bishop and missionary to China, wrote the hymn in the 1930s. Originally it was written with a request to bring 200 more missionaries to China, which was a horrific period in Chinese history.

Facing a Task Unfinished” was a hymn I grew up loving. So I began talks with OMF (China Inland Mission) about a new version around the time of TGC’s Missions Conference in 2013. OMF then approached me last year and asked if we would do something for their 150th anniversary in Singapore, where OMF director Patrick Fung planned to introduce a new challenge and revitalized vision for missions.

We were so excited for the hymn itself. I think it’s the greatest hymn on missions ever written. The vital importance of missions is present throughout the entire song. So we put an agreement together to create a new copyright.

The hymn has fallen out of widespread use over the past century. How’d you come across it?

It was still sung in the churches I grew up in, but I think the hymn lacked two or three things it needed for popular appeal in today’s churches. First, it’s a Great Commission hymn, but it doesn’t give a chance to respond. Second, it was typically sung as a strophic four-part hymn, and with each new word came a new note—this tends to give guitarists sore hands! Third, the hymn doesn’t have an amazing sense of contour or journey, so by writing a new chorus we shaped it into more of a ballad. As a result, we were able to reinvent the song, still allowing people to sing Houghton’s original lyrics but with Kristyn’s new chorus.

You’ve talked about the “power of a hymn to galvanize a community, even in the most difficult of circumstances.” When it was originally written, in what ways did it accomplish that?

The amazing story of the song is that 200 missionaries were able to go out to China. The wider story of China is perhaps the most incredible story of Christian growth in history. The church has grown from fewer than 750,000 Christians in the 1930s to more than 80 million today. My wife and I always comment that when we sing the hymn, it clears our minds of things that are, by comparison, irrelevant.

How do you hope its re-introduction will continue that tradition?

Houghton understood that what we sing affects what we think, how we feel, what we pray for, and, ultimately, every decision we make in life. It is my prayer that by singing this song Christians around the world will get more excited about both music and mission, but also about living the mission of God on our own doorsteps and in our own kitchens, as well as around the world.

I imagine few churches sing hymns about cross-cultural missions—not for lack of desire, but lack of worthy choices. Could you point our readers toward a few missions hymns that are underrated and under-sung?

When Don Carson asked us to do the music for TGC’s Missions Conference, we wrote a song called “Lift High the Name of Jesus.” Over the years, Stuart Townend and I have written hymns inspired by different key missional figures. Our love for Martin Luther’s hymns inspired “O Church Arise.” Our friendship with Operation Mobilization and its prayer book led to us write “Across the Lands.” We also wrote a song called “Hear the Call of the Kingdom.”

The missions hymns I sang growing up were mostly gospel songs from the 19th- and 20th-century worldwide missions movement, which weren’t exactly the most timeless hymns. “All Over the World,” “For My Sake and the Gospel’s, Go,” and “We Have a Story to Tell the Nations” are a few I grew up singing. Other traditional hymns I sang in more choral-based churches include “Who Is on the Lord’s Side” or, my favorite, a hymn called “Go Forth and Tell” (set to the English choral tune “Tell Out My Soul”).

Let’s say a pastor or music director wants his church to start singing this song in their corporate gatherings. What does he need to do next?

It’s simple. If they visit our website, we’ve got everything they’ll need: lead sheets, chord charts, orchestrations, as well as translations into other languages. In fact, this coming Sunday, February 21, we’re asking any church who’s interested to sing “Facing a Task Unfinished.” Our goal is over 10,000 churches across every continent!

A Harsh Gospel?

There is a troubling trend found more and more within the ranks of Christendom, particularly within the American version. I already know that there are those on both sides of these issues that will disagree with me, some may even do some vehemently. This post is not really an attempt to change everybody’s mind but written with the prayer that the rhetoric will be toned down and that more will realize that while true biblical doctrine divides, principles and practices should not.

There is a huge difference between the ministry of the Old Testament prophets and the work of the early New Testament Church. First and foremost, there should be a clear understanding that the Old Testament national Israel was not, is not, and never will be the same as the New Testament Church. They are two distinct entities and each of them have a special part in the sovereign purposes of God, but they are not the same.

Second, the Old Testament prophets were with very few exceptions sent to proclaim a specific message of judgment to the tribes of Israel. Those messages of judgment were not given to the New Testament Church. So, whether we are looking at Elijah, or Jonah, or Zephaniah, we must be careful that we look at each prophet in the context of their message and the people to who they were called.

OT-Prophet

Strangely, when we arrive at the New Testament era, we find a unique message and ministry started by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. While He called out the religious rabble with firm words and righteous anger, His approach to unbelievers brought a message of hope, faith, and love.  The hope was found in following the truth that Jesus Christ is God. The faith was that which the Holy Spirit gave ears to hear and that faith was subsequently placed solely on Jesus Christ for salvation. The love was shown ultimately in the way that Christ died on the Cross because God so loved the world. Yes, the sacrifice was given to appease the wrath of God the Father, but there was still love from Christ towards mankind. Even in one of His final sayings on the Cross, we hear Him saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Zacchaeus found himself in a tree straining to hear Jesus Christ. He was approached by the Messiah with a message of hope that saw the salvation of a hated tax collector.

On several occasions, even the Gentiles came to hear Jesus Christ. Some of them believed the words and placed their faith in the Messiah for their salvation.

While on a walk through the country of the hated Samaritans, Jesus Christ sat beside a well waiting for a woman to approach. In the conversation, there was conviction of sin, hope of being able to worship something that she did not presently have, and ultimately faith was placed in the Savior. This woman then left her pots and went to the city to share the truth that there was a Messiah who could save them.

We could give many more examples, but I use these few to point out a vast difference between the love, gentleness, and compassion found in the New Testament with what I am seeing transpire today.

This post is not written with the intention of trying to stop any ministries from taking place. If you are under the authority of a local church and believe that God has placed a particular burden on your heart, then by all means, fulfill that to the best of your ability. Being part of the local church should help each person to be accountable to the means whereby God has given gifts. Today, there are far too many Lone Rangers who refuse accountability. Their best answer to troubles or questions about their style is normally best answered by simply unfriending the offending individual on Facebook or writing comments in a vitriolic manner all the while spinning strawmen to cover their lack of Biblical principles and Scriptures in defense of what they are doing.

So, what am I referring to? Let me give a few examples.

First, I firmly believe that the Great Commission is the responsibility of every blood-bought child of God to share with others the wonder of who Jesus Christ is and the message of hope that brings no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. However, I do NOT believe that each person is given the same task of how they go about doing that. Some may knock on doors, while others will pass out tracts at every opportunity they are given. Still others will stand on street corners and proclaim the wonders of the Savior.

None of these are wrong in and of themselves, but it is wrong for me or anybody else to declare that EVERY believer must do it JUST like me. There is NOT one example of the entire early New Testament Church all striving to exhibit their gifts in identical fashion on a Tuesday afternoon in the cities of Ephesus, Rome, or in the churches of Asia Minor. Paul makes it clear that we all have gifts differing one from another.

Second, in our messages, we are not the ones who are called to produce the judgment of God upon sinful creatures. We must be mindful that if it were not for the grace of God that we would each still be trapped in our sins. Ultimately, the only judgment that can be handed out will be from God. However, this does NOT mean we are to refrain from pointing out the COMING judgment to a lost and dying world.

Third, we are in error if we forget that the world is going to act exactly what it is – LOST. This means they will be willing to do, to live, to act, and to speak in every way that alienates them further from a holy and righteous God. Lost people do NOT act like believers. Lost people do NOT believe like Christians. Lost people do NOT care about God. Lost people do NOT care about the law of Jesus Christ.

Fourth, we must remember that our message must be one of compassion. I have seen many ministries through my own years of ministry that have stood on corners, pounded on doors, and screamed at places like abortion clinics for the wickedness that is found within. Sadly, all the yelling and lack of love will only make us look like nutjobs from Westboro Baptist Church holding their picket signs. The world mixes us together when our lives and our words do NOT reflect Jesus Christ.

gospelmessage

The unregenerate person will NEVER like the message we proclaim, but it should be the message they hate and hear that brings them to conviction through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now with these few thoughts in mind, let me be a little more pointed.

Jesus Christ did NOT stand at the bottom of the tree and scream at Zacchaeus, “You filthy tax collector! You collaborator with those nasty Romans!”

Jesus Christ did NOT sit at the well in Samaria and scream names and nastiness at the woman who came for water and left with living water. He never yelled, “Hey, you adulterer, you two-bit low life!”

Jesus Christ did NOT hang on the Cross and belittle either of the two thieves and murderers who hung on either side of Him with words like, “You two thieves are just the scum of the earth! You deserve to hang there and pay the penalty for your crimes.”

The apostle Paul did not launch a campaign to go and picket Mars Hill. He was invited by divine appointment to stand and share the truth of the gospel. When he was done, some wanted to hear him further, while others left mocking the message. Not once do we find Paul blogging on the Jerusalem net about all the ones who rejected the call to salvation. Paul did not picket the coliseum in any city, and neither are we given any record of anybody else in the early Church doing that. Paul did not offer to take Onesimus back to Colosse and stand on the street corner outside of Philemon’s house railing about the evils of slavery and how Philemon MUST repent or they would never be able to fellowship together.

No, no, and a further resounding NO!

As believers, we are called to share the message of salvation. We are called to love the Lord Jesus with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Further, we are then called to love our neighbor AS OURSELVES. There is no third law to love ourselves. We do a great job of doing that already because of our sinful nature.

However, the message we share must be given with love and compassion. If the best we can do is shout and call names at those who pass us by, we will never accomplish what we have been called to do. We are NOT Lone Rangers, but we are Ambassadors of the Most High. Therefore, we MUST conduct our business for the Master in a way that reflects such love and grace as has been shown to us.

In conclusion, I do not wish for anybody to misunderstand my words today. I am NOT calling on anybody to stop standing outside of abortion clinics. I am NOT calling on street preachers to desist. I am NOT calling on individuals to stop passing out gospel tracts. I am NOT calling on anybody to stop warning about the judgment to come.

What I am calling for is more grace, love, and compassion in the way we minister. You will never be able to witness to the Mormon or the JW or the liar or the adulterer or the woman who had her baby murdered or the drug addict or the drunkard or anybody else when you are not willing to love them for who they are right now. It is not up to us to change them in order for them to become a new believer in Christ. That job belongs to God ALONE.

PS — Remember that we each will give account to God for what we do for Him, not to each other, and certainly not to the faceless comments on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media. We can each fulfill our ministry by being the part of the body He has called us to be, but that does NOT mean we cannot still fellowship with others who are a different part and who have a different role.

1 Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”