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State Baptist paper editors met for their annual meeting Feb. 14-16 in Ontario, Calif. and heard controversial issues addressed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and International Mission Board President David Platt. As the meeting was taking place Prestonwood Baptist Church, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced its decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support the Cooperative Program while it discusses concerns about the direction of the Convention.

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Steve Gaines

Gaines on Trump, ERLC, IMB
In a question-and-answer session Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, told editors he voted for Trump as president because of his pro-life stance.

Referencing Trump’s campaign slogan, Gaines noted that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.

Discussing the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s executive order on immigration, Gaines said, “At some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.

“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country,” Gaines said.

“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.

Concerning controversy involving Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore’s political comments during the election, Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the ERLC.

“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,” he said.

Regarding the amicus brief involving a New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board in controversy, Gaines said he believes IMB President David Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case.

“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.

Platt’s apology
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said when he met later with Baptist state paper editors.

“I can say with full confidence that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.

Gaines on CP, state conventions, revival
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical imperative for churches to tithe 10% of their receipts to CP, regardless of how good the SBC missions support program is. Churches today have a number of their own ministries for reaching their communities for Christ.

While Bellevue Baptist doesn’t give 10% through CP, Gaines his wife Donna are motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.

Gaines urged, “State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them [young pastors and leaders], cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”

Looking to the future of the nation, Gaines spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. “The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”

Prestonwood escrows CP
Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries was announced Feb. 16.

Mike Buster, executive pastor for the Plano, Texas, church, provided a statement to the Baptist Message explaining that the action had been taken because of “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention” and that it is a temporary move.

The decision impacts $1 million the 41,000-member congregation would otherwise contribute through the Cooperative Program.

But Graham subsequently explained to the Baptist Message that his congregation’s concerns are broader than just one personality.

Instead, he described an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”

“I’m not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people,” Graham said, “and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.

“This is a difficult decision for me, personally,” he added. “I love Southern Baptists, and still want to be a cooperating partner as we have been for many years.

“We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.”

Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”

– Reporting by Baptist Press, Georgia Christian Index, and Louisiana Baptist Message

The Reformation at 500

ib2newseditor —  January 30, 2017
70116rose-parade-jan-2

Rose Parade Jan. 2, 2017

When the Protestant Reformation gets its own float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, something big must be happening. Not that we needed the Pasadena tableau to underscore the upcoming event, but we must admit it was surprising to hear NBC’s Al Roker announce the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as three flower-covered church bells tolling “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” cruised by at 10 mph.

Would Martin Luther—ex-communicated, jailed, and persecuted for his pursuit of biblical faith—have been shocked to see his life’s work trussed in rose petals and paraded before cheering crowds?

I was.

There, following the surfing dogs, the Rose Queen, and the Salvation Army Band, was the Wittenberg Door, covered in black beans and poppy seeds, commemorating that All Hallow’s Eve in 1517 when the angry priest Luther nailed his complaints against the Catholic Church on the front door. Inscribed on the giant bells was “Faith Alone,” “Grace Alone,” and “Scripture Alone,” the three-sola distillation of Reformation theology.

Also at the front of the float was a man dressed as Jesus, waving to the crowd on one side of Colorado Boulevard and then the other. We can’t fault the sponsors, Lutheran Layman’s League, for their exuberance, for Luther himself redirected the attention of the faithful worldwide to the finished work of Christ as the only means of salvation. Not obeisance to saints or Mary, time served in purgatory, the purchase of “indulgences” for others or ourselves—only God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ can save us. So commonplace today, this must have sounded radical to Luther’s first audiences. Yet, here we stand, benefactors of his brave actions, celebrating his Halloween escapade and all that resulted from it.

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But five centuries after the fact, this anniversary is an opportune time for Southern Baptists to ask a few serious questions:

How Reformed are we? What was started by Luther was picked up, refined, and defined by John Calvin and others. The line from Calvin (and other Reformers) to Southern Baptists isn’t as obvious as is the line from John Knox to the Presbyterians or Luther to the Lutherans, but the Reformers have certainly informed our Baptist theology.

Some Southern Baptists fully embrace Calvin’s doctrines of grace, the sovereignty of God, and election, considering themselves “five-point Calvinists.” Others, who defined their position as “traditional” Southern Baptist in the 2012 debate at the New Orleans convention, accept some of Calvin’s points, but rely more on the verses about God’s desire that all would be saved. Some would say they live in the tension between Calvinism and Arminianism, between the sovereignty of God in bringing people to salvation and the free will of man to accept or reject God’s offer.

This anniversary is a good opportunity for churches to study the principles of Reformed theology and ask, How Reformed are we?

What is the appeal of Reformed theology? For people who have grown up in an era of slushy theology and postmodern uncertainty, Reformed theology offers clear, clean delineation of belief. It’s faith with handles on it. That might explain the appeal to Christians who were described as “young, restless, and reformed” in Collin Hansen’s seminal work by that name in 2008. Hansen capsulized a phenomenon that had been in development for two decades by the time he wrote the book, and must be credited in large part, in SBC life, to Albert Mohler. From his position as president of Southern Seminary starting in 1993, Mohler has schooled a generation of young pastors, theologians, and now seminary presidents.

What is the long-term impact of rising Reformed theology on the SBC? Not everyone is enamored by the growth of Calvinism in Southern Baptist ranks. Some leaders have expressed concern about the possible impact on missions and evangelism.

Certainly our theological debate has been invigorated in recent decades. A denomination given to pragmatic, applicable theology through the Baby Boom years has more recently turned to serious consideration of the nature of the gospel. Can committed Calvinists, “traditional” Southern Baptists focused on evangelism, and the “somewhat Reformed” all coexist in the SBC tent, with a shared purpose that unites us, despite differences over finer points of theology? Or is another schism coming?

What will happen to evangelism? Our denomination’s baptism numbers continue to decline. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, a “traditionalist,” continues to express concern that rising Calvinism will naturally cool the fires of evangelism.

International Mission Board President David Platt might demonstrate a new kind of Reformed pastor, for whom evangelistic work by God’s people has high priority in God’s sovereignty. Will Platt’s zeal prove characteristic of the younger generation who are following his charge: “For the nations!” Or will the soul-winning Calvinist prove to be an anomaly?

Now, 500 years after Luther struck the first blows for Reformation, these are a few of the issues Southern Baptists must address—before the parade passes by.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

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.

Taking the risk

ib2newseditor —  November 17, 2016

Serving Christ has always been dangerous. He said it would be. Now, even telling the stories of missionaries puts them in danger.

London | We can’t tell you their names. We can’t tell you where they live. We can’t really even tell you where they work. They are missionaries.

Times have changed. We all know social and cultural values have recently experienced massive upheavals in western nations. Religion has played a major role in these changes. Missions work is no longer tolerated in places it once was. Working to fulfill the Great Commission can no longer be done so openly.

We can’t tell you their names. We can’t tell you where they live. We can’t really even tell you where they work. They are missionaries.

Coinciding with these cultural shifts are changes within the Southern Baptist Convention’s largest missions sending agency. The International Mission Board (IMB) is adapting the way it does missions. When IMB President David Platt stepped into the role in 2014 he soon discovered the agency was facing a budget overspend of more than $200 million. Personnel costs would have to be greatly reduced with action being taken quickly. With a major and largely voluntary staff reduction in 2015, going from nearly 5,000 missionaries and staff to 3,800, IMB expects have a balanced budget in 2017.

The changes included cutting most of the communications team serving in Richmond, and replacing them with a small team of young communication specialists stationed at points all around the world. With them comes new strategies for engaging Southern Baptists with missionaries that take into account the risky business of gospel witness.

Not your mother’s mission magazine
You may have noticed the stories about IMB missionaries have changed. Remember Commission magazine, with its glossy photos and National Geographic style? Today’s mission stories are not written in a long, detailed format anymore. We don’t often see photographs of missionaries’ faces. The name of the countries where they serve may not be reported. There is a good reason for this. A very good reason.

horse-and-rider

SHADOW AND LIGHT – This photo from IMB’s
Instagram account shows their new communication strategy: show the missions concept, but protect the identity of the missionary. Posted with the photo is a brief message from the missionary: “Pray for God to provide me with a teammate willing to work in rough, remote places so we can reach the mountain shepherd people.”

Almost a dozen state Baptist convention newspaper editors met with members of the Board’s media network in London recently. The chief topic was security concerns.

“There’s spiritual warfare on the front lines,” a member of the media team shared. “A battle is going on against the spread of the gospel.”

For example, one missionary took all the necessary precautions. But when a photo that had been taken years earlier was found online it led to his undoing. Somehow a person in the country where the missionary was serving connected it with some other information online to learn the missionary’s true identity. It almost cost him his life.

He walked, unsuspecting, into a meeting and found the atmosphere was charged with anger. People once friendly were now menacing as they kept him there for hours shouting, “Is this you? Did you say this?” When he was finally allowed to leave, he gathered his family and they fled the country. His identity had been compromised and it was no longer safe for them to continue to spread the gospel message in that country.

The missionary life can require living in countries where it’s dangerous to be a Christian. But it can also be risky living in “safe” countries among those same people groups that are hostile to Christians. There are parts of Africa and Asia that have always been high risk and high security for missionaries. With the increased mobilization of people, now it’s not just there, it’s everywhere.

“There’s spiritual warfare on the front lines. A battle is going on against the spread of the gospel.”

In other cases, the country may feel it is already a Christian nation and therefore does not need to admit anyone into the country for the express purpose of doing mission work. In those places, missionaries enter as workers who are in the country to do charity work or other vocations.

Tell the old, old story—differently
If you visit the International Mission Board’s website, IMB.org, you can read its mission statement, “Our mission is evangelizing, discipling, and planting reproducing churches among all peoples in fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

In today’s world, technological advance has produced security issues, so can the missions stories be told to the people back home in the pews? It’s becoming more and more challenging. Things aren’t as simple as when Lottie Moon would write about her work in China and send the letter to Annie Armstrong to be copied (and recopied) by hand or typewriter, and distributed across the United States.

For years the National Woman’s Missionary Union’s prayer calendar in Missions Mosaic magazine has contained a birthday prayer calendar for missionaries. It listed their names and the countries where they served. In recent years, fewer real names or locations can be shared. Quite often a pseudonym will be used along with a region of the world, “South Asia,” for instance.

While the IMB remains committed to telling the story back home, they are having to become more and more creative in doing so. Lengthy articles are now less common and story vignettes are better vehicles not only due to safety concerns, but also for ever shrinking attention spans.

“The missionary life, missions sending, it’s always changing.”

This has caused the IMB to shift the way it creates the content of a story, looking more at the concept that describes the missions work. As a member of the media team said, “There are avenues of telling the story without focusing on people in specific locations. We’ve had to shift the way we’re doing content altogether.”

The use of social media including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter is proving to be a good way for Southern Baptists to stay informed about missions. It connects with younger generations who need also to learn the importance of giving to missions through the Cooperative Program.

The IMB website has undergone a complete retooling and now sports a fresh look that supports this challenging new media world.

Another change is in the reporting on the safety of missionaries after breaking news events. Southern Baptists often express interest in how an event affects missions efforts in those areas. According to their website, “Due to security considerations for IMB personnel and the national believers with whom they work, we usually don’t discuss their locations. However, with any breaking news event, we are in contact with anyone who might be affected, due to travel or other reasons, to confirm their safety and security.”

A media team member summed it up: “The missionary life, missions sending, it’s always changing. There are always new security challenges necessitating a new way of telling their stories. Most of our missionaries, we can’t print their names.”

Lisa Misner Sergent will focus on London, a world city with many people groups, in her next report.

Proud moment

ib2newseditor —  September 1, 2016

Sandy Wisdom-Martin elected to lead National WMU

Sandy_Wisdom-MartinThe news spread quickly among Illinois Southern Baptists that one of their own was named to serve as executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union.

Sandy Wisdom-Martin, an Illinois native who grew up near the small town of Marissa, was unanimously elected by the WMU executive board at a special-called meeting July 29-30 in Birmingham, Ala. She directed women’s missions and ministries for IBSA from 2001 until 2010, when she moved south to serve as executive director of WMU of Texas.

“Many of us here in Illinois are ‘busting our buttons’ with pride and gratitude for Sandy’s selection, because we consider her one of our own,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

The Illinois Baptist paper is not large enough for me to list the ways or the people who have impacted my life. I take with me to Birmingham a priceless heritage passed down to me by faithful Christ-followers.

“People eagerly hear her, respond to her, and follow her because of her personal integrity and character, and because she clearly follows the Lord’s leadership in her own life.”

Wisdom-Martin was highly involved in Illinois WMU as a student, serving on the state Acteens panel and several Acteens Activator mission teams. She also was the first recipient of the Darla Lovell Scholarship from Illinois WMU while studying at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

While at IBSA, she served as president of Mississippi River Ministries and led the first international WMU Habitat for Humanity team, which traveled to Ghana to build houses.

“I am thrilled beyond words in Sandy’s selection as Executive Director of WMU,” said Evelyn Tully, who directed Illinois WMU prior to Wisdom-Martin. “Her missions commitment, her ministry lifestyle, and her exemplary relationships have uniquely prepared her for this tremendous responsibility.

“I know Illinois missions-minded women will be her strong prayer supporters.”

The Illinois Baptist interviewed Wisdom-Martin via e-mail shortly after her election:

Illinois Baptist: Congratulations! We’re so excited one of our own is on her way to Birmingham!

Sandy Wisdom-Martin: Thank you. That means a great deal to me.

IB: Let’s start with the name and role of your organization. What does “woman’s” and “auxiliary” mean in the 21st century?

SWM: Our leaders have all said in different ways, “We are not a women’s organization, we are a missions organization.” My first full-time ministry supervisor, Julia Ketner at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, said, “We shout missions and whisper WMU.”

We are not about perpetuating an organization. We are about making Christ known in the world. If we focus on who we are, we will fail. If we focus on Christ and the mission he has given us, we cannot fail.

IB: What will you take from your Illinois/IBSA experience to Birmingham?

SWM: I am a product of Illinois Southern Baptists. The daughter of a coal miner and foundry worker. The first Illinois Southern Baptists I knew were my Christian parents who worked hard and served well. I learned lessons too numerous to mention. The members of Clarmin Baptist Church poured their lives into mine giving me every advantage possible as a young Christ-follower.

A new pastor’s wife introduced our church to Acteens and I discovered what God was doing in the world. State missions camps and events, as well as Acteens Activator teams, sealed my heart for missions. Then came the opportunity to rub shoulders with heroes of the faith who served with the Illinois Baptist State Association. In college, the Nine Mile Baptist Associational WMU council invited me to join their team. They let me teach conferences. I was awful. They loved me anyway. Baptist Student Union at SIU-Carbondale became one of the most important discipling influences of my life.

And that’s only the beginning. The Illinois Baptist paper is not large enough for me to list the ways or the people who have impacted my life. I take with me to Birmingham a priceless heritage passed down to me by faithful Christ-followers.

IB: How will you make WMU relevant for a new generation of women?

SWM: We have challenges to be sure. The future will demand higher visibility and more options. I find that when people understand what we really do, they value us.

As WMU, we have these six objectives: pray for missions, engage in mission action and personal witnessing, learn about missions, support missions, develop spiritually toward a missions lifestyle, and participate in the work of the church and denomination. While we want people engaged in all six objectives, ministries seem to be the way to capture people’s heart for missions initially.

So, in Texas, we began doing things like building houses in partnership with local associations. We converted an old bus to a rolling WorldCrafts store and have sold more than $100,000 in WorldCrafts products while teaching shoppers about fair trade and missionaries who work with artisans. We have a truck and generator being converted into a “Suds of Love” laundry unit.

Once we get people involved initially, we invite them to go deeper in missional living. We strive to engage missional disciples for life.

IB: It seems like a lot of churches have moved away from missions education programs like Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors. Do you think people need to be reminded (or taught for the first time) why missions education is important?

SWM: I think the experience of 2015 should be enough to remind people of the importance of missions education. Between 600-800 international missionaries were brought home (because of budgetary shortfalls at the International Mission Board). When people know about the needs of the field, they respond by praying and by giving. When they don’t know, the reverse happens.

I think we have moved away from missions education because we have moved away from the Great Commission. We are failing at the one thing Jesus told us to do which is “make disciples.” Making disciples is a lifelong process.

I am who at I am today because Illinois Southern Baptists began pouring their lives into mine and discipling me through local church missions education, missions education camps, associational missions, campus ministry and statewide missions activities. I grew up passionate about the Cooperative Program because that was what I was taught. We lived and breathed missions in my small country church. It was not an option. It was part of the DNA of our congregation.

IB: People today are awfully busy. How can WMU leaders find time on the church schedule for missions education?

SWM: We live in a wonderful age where resources are readily available and creativity abounds. There are countless ways to engage in missions education and involvement.

WMU provides premier missions resources. I think the problem is not with church schedules or other issues. I think the primary problem is that we have forgotten our “why.”

Our identity is with Christ. We believe Christ gave his all for us. We follow his teachings and his example. We do it all for the sake of Christ. We believe we are people made in the image of God with infinite worth because we are his creation. We know we are broken people in need of restoration and healing. Through Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace, our lives are being made new. We are passionate about telling his story and how it has changed us. We want every culture to know his story and be changed by it as well. We give our lives to that pursuit. That is why we do what we do.

IB: What does partnering with the International Mission Board look like now, with a new leadership team and reduced missionary force from funding challenges?

SWM: I’m looking forward to discussions with both IMB and NAMB (North American Mission Board) when I get settled, but believe our partnership will focus on reaching the nations for Christ as it always has. WMU actively promotes the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Week of Prayer for International Missions, encourages members to pray for missionaries daily through the missionary prayer calendar, coordinates stateside housing, provides water filters through Pure Water, Pure Love, and so much more.

IB: What is WMU’s main point of connection with NAMB, given its church planting focus?

SWM: Through our partnership with NAMB, we help participants live out the six objectives we discussed earlier. We count it a joy to be able to tell the stories of all our missionaries, as well as support their work through extensive promotion of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer. We also support NAMB missionaries through Christmas in August, scholarships for MKs (missionary kids), and more. When it is possible, we continue to invest our lives in their ministries through hands-on involvement.

IB: How do you make missions cool in a world without borders? What is the compulsion to “Go…” when “all the world” seems so close these days?

SWM: For more than 125 years, the name of our organization has been said incorrectly in many venues. We are named Woman’s Missionary Union because it is the individual woman who understands and responds to God’s call on her life.

That is how we make missions cool. We help each individual understand their own giftedness and God’s call on their life to make disciples. It’s not about what you do. It’s about who you are in Christ. You were created in the image of God for His purpose and glory. We are here to help nurture that call.

TentI often find myself at denominational functions looking around the room and wondering, “What is it that really brings us together here?” Is our unity based simply on an expressed common desire to reach the lost? Or do we gladly join together in mission because we have deeply shared doctrinal convictions?

I’ve found some guidelines in a couple of the smallest books in the Bible, 2 and 3 John. One way to read these short letters (which combine for a total of just 28 verses) is to put them side-by-side as two crucial lessons in cooperation.

First, here is some background to both books: a church planting movement is taking root in the Roman world furthered by traveling missionaries who depend upon support from other Christians, primarily in the form of food and lodging.

In 2 John the tone and feel is one of caution: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.” “Watch yourselves.” The emphasis is on getting the gospel right. Specifically, some of these traveling missionaries “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh,” what has been referred to as the “Gnostic heresy.” John speaks soberly of remaining in Christ’s teaching and not going beyond it. He then directs genuine believers: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home… for the one who says, ‘Welcome’ to him shares in his evil works.” In other words, don’t cooperate with everyone!

The tenor is different in 3 John. Here John is commending a “dear friend” for his generosity to certain missionaries. The emphasis in this mini-epistle is on getting the gospel out. “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.” These missionaries “set out for the sake of the Name” and trusted God to provide through his people. “Therefore, we ought to support such men,” says John. He even calls out a guy named Diotrephes for his independent spirit. “He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so.” Don’t be like Diotrephes. Don’t cooperate with no one!

2 John teaches us not to make our tent too big. 3 John encourages us not to draw our circle too small. We need both messages.

Notice the disproportionate amount of times the words truth and love occur in these two short letters. We absolutely cannot disconnect them. There are people who have great drive, but do not have good doctrine. We have to be discerning about who we partner with. On the other hand, there are Christians who are cranky and overly separatist. We must be large-hearted and kingdom-minded.

Because of 2 John I know that the Apostle John would applaud the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC. Is it not amazing that we have six top-notch seminaries that are committed to robust and orthodox theological training?

At the same time, based on 3 John, I am pretty certain that the Apostle would thoroughly endorse the concept of the Cooperative Program and be thrilled with our North American and International Mission Boards. It is wonderful that we have state and local associations. And is it not telling that we have Directors of Mission and not District Superintendents? We are the people who come up with campaigns like “Million More in ’54.” And I love that I live in what was once a Strategic Focus City, now a SEND City.

However, we have not always gotten this balance right. At times I have seen people approved for work in the SBC based on their passion without an examination of their doctrine. And at other times I have seen people who were well qualified turned away because of a technicality.

In all of our missional zeal, may we never fudge on doctrinal clarity. And in making sure we are all on the same page about what the gospel is, may we make sure we are doing whatever it takes to get the gospel out. If we are truly faithful to Scripture, we will heed the lessons of both 2 and 3 John. But there just might be something to the fact that 2 John comes before 3 John.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist in the University District of Chicago.

Reported IMB baptisms drop sharply; lowest since 1969
The Louisiana Baptist Message reports overseas baptisms by the International Mission Board 2015 dropped to 54,762 from the 190,957 reported for 2014, according to information submitted by the International Mission Board in response to a request by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Likewise, the number of new churches fell from 13,824 to 3,842 over the same one-year period.

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Sources: Louisiana Baptist Message, Baptist Press, Christian Post, One News Now, Religion News Service