Reduction in force: Missionaries return, churches to step up

Lisa Misner Sergent —  January 1, 2016
Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Missionaries-squareBy Meredith Flynn | The tone was set at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention: If we’re going to continue sending missionaries to people groups who haven’t heard the gospel, the missions paradigm has to change.

“Churches almost unknowingly begin to farm out missions to missions organizations,” International Mission Board President David Platt said during the missionary commissioning service that coincided with the Convention.

“But this is not how God designed it.”

Instead, said the leader of the world’s largest evangelical missions organization, local churches must play a greater role in sending missionaries to the ends of the earth, like the first-century church at Antioch did.

Two months later, Platt announced 600-800 missionaries and staff would end their service with the IMB through a voluntary retirement incentive and subsequent hand-raising opportunity. And the local church was still central to the conversation.

IMB released a list of ways churches can support returning missions personnel. Many, including Illinois pastor Doug Munton, publicly encouraged local congregations to consider hiring returning missionaries to fill vacant staff positions.

At their September meeting, the SBC Executive Committee adopting a resolution encouraging churches to give to the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ main method of funding missions—“more than ever before” in light of the IMB cuts.

Since Platt was named president in 2014, he has prioritized the responsibility of local churches and everyday Christians to leverage what they have so that more people around the world might hear and respond to the gospel. And not just through monetary gifts.

“Even if our income from churches were to double over the next year…we would still have a cap on our ability to send a certain number of full-time, fully supported church planters,” Platt said when he announced the personnel plan in August. The solution: “Consider all of the different avenues that God created in His sovereign grace for multitudes more people to go.”

What it means for churches: Those avenues may find business people, college students and retirees in your church leaving their lives in the U.S. to take the gospel to people who have never heard it. Local congregations have an opportunity to expand the ways they think about missions, and encourage “regular” people in the pews to do the same.

Lisa Misner Sergent

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she moved to Illinois 22 years ago and arrived at IBSA a few years later.