Archives For IMB

A sunset in the rearview mirror of car as a races down the road

I recall researching an article a few years back on the actions messengers took at certain conventions. Some years were marked by insightful and course-altering votes; others had no discernable effect. With the advantage of hindsight, we ask, What actions from the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention will have lasting impact on our denomination and the effectiveness of our work in the world?

The vote on alt-right racism will be remembered; and the appointment of a task force on evangelism has the potential to change our direction. But there was one motion that could produce even greater, meaningful change—if it makes it past the Executive Committee. And there’s a second that I want to suggest.

Modest proposal 1: Shall we merge the mission boards?

A couple of years ago, a messenger moved that a merger of the North American and International Mission Boards be studied. When his motion was ruled out of order for parliamentary reasons, the messenger pleaded that exploration of the issue not be delayed because of procedural rules. He cited the emerging financial crisis of the IMB and cuts in missionaries on the field that had just been announced as motivating factors. At the time, it was clear that NAMB had plenty of reserves, and a merger could fix the money crunch. But rules are rules, and the motion was dead.

Until this year.

A similar motion was made at the 2017 meeting in Phoenix. Here’s how Baptist Press reported it, in a list of motions that were referred to the Executive Committee:

“A motion by Harvey Brown of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., requesting the president appoint a study committee to consider the feasibility of merging IMB and NAMB.”

There was no discussion this time around, or emotional pleading for the sake of missionaries on the field. And frankly, it seems some of steam has escaped on this topic.

IMB reported it is on firm financial footing. IMB President David Platt has weathered a couple of storms, and with the honeymoon over, he appears to be settling in for a long ministry focused on global missions. Platt still partners with NAMB, speaking at conferences about church planting in North America. But his heart beats for the peoples of the world.

And NAMB President Kevin Ezell has stopped making the offer, publically at least, for IMB to relocate from Richmond to Alpharetta. During Platt’s first year, Ezell said there was plenty of room at NAMB’s Georgia headquarters since his administrative staff had been radically downsized. Ezell still cheers for Platt’s presidency, but the pair aren’t making as many joint appearances. Maybe both have found their footing.

The question arises every decade or two: Is the distinction between “home” missions and “foreign” missions outdated (just as those terms are)? Should missions today be focused more on people groups and languages than geography—including in the United States? As the “nations” (translating ethnos as “nations” or “peoples”) have come to North America, should missionaries here share the gospel with them in the same ways they would back in their home countries?

And this: Should state conventions (again) lead church planting in their states, as the missions personnel most familiar with the nearby mission field and with the partner churches who can facilitate evangelistic church planting ministry?

Will one mission board focused on people groups, and state conventions focused on their own neighborhoods better achieve the evangelization of the world and the U.S.?

I can’t say for certain, but it’s a good time to explore the issue.

Modest proposal 2: Virtual messengers? In the next issue.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

David Platt

David Platt, president of the International Mission Board (IMB), speaks to 1,350 people who gathered at the IMB dinner to celebrate what God is doing and how attendees can partner with them. BP photo by Matt Jones

The hottest ticket of the night Monday was the International Mission Board’s (IMB) dinner for 1,350 people at the Phoenix Convention Center.

David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, spoke at the June 12 standing room only event.

Quoting Anne Judson: When a pastor feels impassioned for the heathen, their parishioners share that passion.

Drum band

Fushicho Daiko, a professional taiko group, performs at the IMB dinner June 12. BP photo by Matt Jones

Platt also shared:

We need to be impassioned for the lost as if their salvation depends on no one else than us.

Before you lay down your head on your pillow tonight, will you kneel and ask the Lord, do you want me to go to the nations?

We have been in decline for years in the sending of missionaries. We are set right now to turn that tide.

-Mark Emerson from Phoenix

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London | I went to Borough Market on a bright, sunny Friday in late September. The market, which has been in existence in one form or another for about 1,000 years, was filled with people going about their business. Vendor stalls were piled high with fresh fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheeses, fish, and just about anything else you might want to eat. Surrounding the market stalls, the streets were lined with cake shops, restaurants, and pubs. People were enjoying delicious food, celebrating special occasions, and simply having a good time.

I’m sure the scene was much the same that warm Saturday night in early June as people dined in the restaurants and pubs. The vendor stalls would have been closed for the evening, but there was still plenty of food to enjoy and fun to be had. At least until three terrorists plowed a van into people walking on nearby London Bridge, then jumped out of the van, running to the market area, and into the restaurants where they began stabbing people with knives intent on killing them. As they did this, eyewitnesses reported one of the terrorists cried, “This is for Allah!” The terrorists killed seven and injured 48.

London prides itself on being a multicultural city — 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. At least 45% of the population has no religious affiliation. Many Brits view Christianity as “been there, done that.”

The June 3 attacks on London Bridge and in Borough Market, the May 23 Manchester suicide bomber, and the March 22 Westminster bridge attack highlight the need for Christ, not only in London, but the rest of England. The International Mission Board is building missional communities in London using the 280 Tube (underground subway) stops as hubs to organize these communities around.

Still others are working in immigrant communities with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. These communities isolate themselves keeping their customs and religions. There is a very real danger for those missionaries and those who convert to Christ.

Pray for the English people, that as a nation they will turn back to Christ, reviving their strong Christian heritage. Pray also that immigrants, first, second, and third generations — will find true freedom in Christ. The deception and oppression they endured in their home countries has traveled with them and is spreading. The only way to stop it is the through the Truth of Christ.

Last fall, Lisa Misner Sergent visited London to learn about the International Mission Board’s new strategies.

Steve GainesIt seems a fair question, especially following the loquacious and public presidency of Ronnie Floyd. Steve Gaines, by comparison, is almost invisible. This is not a criticism of Gaines, that he would have a different style as Southern Baptist Convention president. That is to be expected. Each president makes his own way and leads from his own strengths. But Gaines’s style, working in a less public way that his immediate predecessors, leaves us wondering: What is Steve Gaines doing?

And we find ourselves hoping that he’s focusing on issues that we just haven’t heard about yet.

Floyd wrote. Floyd spoke. A lot. Almost every week Floyd published on his blog and in Baptist Press his thoughts on righting the denomination and meeting the culture conflict head on. He quickly assumed a statesman position for his two years in office, urging support for missions and the Cooperative Program. We in the local Baptist news media came to rely on his thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of current events.

Gaines, on the other hand, has spoken for publication rarely. He offered a few comments in the election season and after the January inauguration, mostly encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for the Trump Administration. And in February he addressed Baptist newspaper editors and state convention executive directors in Los Angeles. Gaines spoke on Trump’s election, appointments, and early actions as president. And he urged prayer for revival in America. Gaines has themed the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting “Pray: For Such a Time as This,” following Floyd and his predecessor, Fred Luter, in bringing Southern Baptists to our knees for spiritual awakening.

But it’s his comment on the complaints about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its president Russell Moore that, we hope, gives a glimpse at Gaines’s work behind the curtain.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” Gaines said in Los Angeles. His comment came almost simultaneously with the announcement by Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham that his megachurch, Prestonwood Baptist, would be holding in escrow its $1-million offering through the Cooperative Program. Graham expressed concerns about the direction of the SBC and the ERLC, in particular, after an election cycle marked by anti-Trump tweets, Moore’s ongoing concern for refugees, and the “friend of the court” support of a freedom of religion case, in which both the ERLC and the International Mission Board (IMB) opposed onerous government regulations placed on a New Jersey mosque.

Southern Baptists do not need another era of suspicion, doubt, and sometime demagoguery. Our mission cause is too important to withhold funding over ancillary anxieties. The reconciliation that Gaines spoke about requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy and skillful mediation. That’s what we might hope Gaines is doing, even if we never hear about it publicly.

-Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

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We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.

Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”

On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:

  • Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
  • Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
  • Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
  • And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.

What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.

Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”

A new missions paradigm

After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.

“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.

“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”

But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.

The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.

Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.

A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.

If I had a hammer

We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1

‘Why we do what we do’

ib2newseditor —  December 8, 2016

Week of Prayer missionaries take gospel light to dark places

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Rodney and Helen Cregg’s work in a large city helps rescue women from prostitution.

The Indian bride wore blue silk, trimmed with gold. Rich fabrics in brilliant hues are traditional for wedding saris in this megacity.

But the guest list was anything but typical. Among those celebrating this day were 20 prostitutes—women who were like family to Shanti.* She knew them from the years she shared their heartbreaking lifestyle as a prostitute. That was before the ministry of a Christian activity center rescued Shanti from her former life. She is now a believer and has a good job to support herself. And on this day, she even married a Christian man.

International Mission Board missionaries Rodney and Helen Cregg* have partnered in establishing the activity center that offers prostitutes a place to learn basic skills in the middle of a notorious red-light district.

The Creggs are supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, an annual offering facilitated by the International Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union in partnership with Baptist state conventions. Many churches will mark the Week of Prayer Dec. 4-11.

“This is why we do what we do, to see these ladies—and other people in [this city]—realize the hope in the gospel and then find victory in freedom,” Rodney says.

Another woman at the center agrees: “Being involved at the center, I am finding the love I didn’t get from my family from people who know the Lord. Through Jesus I am experiencing love. I am blessed.”

lmco-prayer-circle

Young men in Southeast Asia meet to study the Bible.

Finding home again
Missionary Layla Murphy* was shopping in a vegetable market in Southeast Asia when she heard phrases she understood. Two women were speaking the language of the Buddhist country from which she had just been expelled, after laboring for years to share the gospel.

Soon Layla learned that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and refugees from her former country lived in this sprawling urban center. God’s providence had set her right in the middle of the gospel-hungry people that she’d felt called to serve. Then, a national pastor asked her to stay right there to teach, train, and disciple new believers from the country that she can’t live in but calls “home.”

On the first day of class, she planned for 15 students but 50 showed up. “God had put hunger for his Word deep in their hearts and this was the first time that they’d ever had the chance to learn [the Bible].” Though she would rather serve in the country she loves, “this deepened my trust in God.” Her students tease her that she is also a refugee—the American refugee, Layla says.

“That sort of binds our hearts together.”

For more Lottie Moon and Week of Prayer resources, go to IMB.org/lottie-moon-christmas-offering.

*Names changed.

– From IMB.org

New IMB strategy targets cities and self-funded volunteers

london-table

This model of London fills a room at the New London Architecture Museum. The areas marked by white circles are near Underground (subway) stations. They are the focal points of church planting, making participation in worship and Bible study groups easily accessible to the city’s highly mobile population.

(Editor’s Note: The Week of Prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and International Missions is Dec. 4-11.) Tourists from around the world flock to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The Tower Bridge, and other iconic English landmarks. Getting around via the Tube, red doubledecker buses, or those famous London black cabs is simple, and very British. It’s very easy to lose oneself in the surroundings. But the world is moving to London, and sharing its culture with it.

Across the street from the Royal London Hospital are rows of shops featuring Middle Eastern goods including halal meats, and just a few blocks away is the largest mosque in London. Other parts of the city are home to large Indian populations and curry has become a staple of the British diet.

Some 300 languages are spoken by its 8.3 million people within its 607 square miles. According to the International Mission Board, 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. Forbes magazine named it “#1 City of Influence.”

London by the numbers

300 languages spoken

37% of population from outside the UK

¼ population arrived within the last 5 years

50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000+

34 average age in London

44.7% profess no religion, “nones”

20 average church attendance

This diversity is why London was chosen as one of five cities the International Mission Board (IMB) has selected to be part of its Global Cities Initiative (GCI). In previous centuries most of the world’s population lived in rural areas. In this century, 54% of world’s population lives in urban areas and the Southern Baptist Convention’s missions sending agency has taken notice. The cities represent life-altering, world-changing, gospel-planting opportunities that can’t be missed.

The four other GCI cities are Dubai, where 80% of the population is foreign-born with more than 2 million residents from more than 200 nationalities; Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, home to 8 million people with 62% following Islam and 20% Buddhism; Shanghai, the largest city in China with a population of more than 24 million people, most of whom claim to be nonreligious or atheist; and an unnamed Southeast Asian city that’s home to nearly 17 million people with large populations of Hindus and Muslims and very few Christians.

“Every people group is represented in London. This is what heaven will look like,” said James Roberts, the IMB London city manager.

He described the economic conditions of the people living in the city, “There’s a wide gap financially, the poorest of the poor and the super wealthy, very little middle class. We’re trying to work together more across affinity groups.”

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Exit signs in the London subway system read “Way Out.” For Southern Baptists sharing Christ in this bustling multi-cultural melting pot, the phrase speaks of opportunity the gospel offers for more than half of Londoners who claim a non-Christian religion or no religion at all.

Where do you even begin to start in such a large city?

Victoria. Paddington. White Chapel. They’re all stations in the London Underground subway system where up to 4.8 million passenger journeys take place each day, according to Transport for London. There are 280 stations along the 11 lines of the Tube, as it’s commonly called. The stations are the key to IMB’s outreach here.

“The goal is to have a missional community in each area,” Roberts said, describing a map-driven analysis of the entire city. “A missional community is a group that discerns how God is moving and tries to gather to share community—mom’s groups, small groups, men’s groups.”

The team in London knows it won’t be easy. “It’s a lot of networking, coffee, work, limitless streams of people coming in,” Roberts said. “We try to connect, catch people as they come with the goal of starting new groups and church work. It takes a village to pull this thing off and courage to pull this together.”

Shane Mikeska is a student mobilizer on the London team. Before coming to England, he and his family lived in Asia, but illness forced a move from the tropics. “Western Europe is the hardest place to engage the population. In Asia it’s easier to have a spirited conversation. Here in this context most (people) are apathetic.”

On campuses, he said, “the students most open to new things are internationals. There are opportunities to connect to hold worship and Bible study.” Reaching them is a focal point in the cities initiative. “They can go home and go into their culture and share boldly.”

About 50,000 Americans study abroad each year and many are Christians. “We want them to come and plug into the local church and ministry, not just travel and experience things.”

You are here
The Global Cities Initiative allows people who feel called to go—but not in the traditional career-missionary way.

D. Ray Davis is part of the IMB mobilization team. “We used to say God is calling and people aren’t listening. Now we’re saying God is calling and more people are listening than we can send.”

IMB President David Platt uses the word “limitless” to describe his vision for reaching the world: limitless numbers of missionaries utilizing “multiple pathways” to the mission field. GCI is one of those pathways to “send limitless missionaries to engage lostness all over the world,” Roberts said. “Business professionals, students, retirees—a GCI person raises their own support.” Groups and individuals are also invited to come serve on short-term projects. “There’s no language barrier to overcome,” Roberts said of his London mission field.

After getting to know the city, Mikeska has grown to love London and thinks others will too. “Now, I look at this vast city and wail over it and cry over it, like in the Bible. God’s done a transformational work in my heart,” the young missionary said. Even as he weeps for the lost, Mikeska concludes, “We’re excited about the future, being part of this team.”

To learn more, visit IMB.org. All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from the International Mission Board.

– Lisa Sergent recently traveled to London to meet with members of the International Mission Board’s communications team. With staffing changes abroad and at the Richmond, Virginia headquarters, IMB is implementing new mission strategies. The goal is to multiply the number of missionaries on the field, especially short-term and volunteer workers who will practice their professions and their faith among the world’s lost people. Targeting huge cities in five regions of the world is one of those strategies.