GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Executive Board has granted $1 million from reserve funds to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and encouraged Southern Baptist churches in Texas to “embrace” 1,000 of the 3,800 unengaged people groups identified by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“We are a lean machine unencumbered by debt,” declared SBTC President Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Odessa, after the Executive Board’s Aug. 9 actions. “That makes a huge difference in our ability to do what we’re going to do.”
Calling the SBTC a convention “built by faith by men and women who refuse to accept little vision and well-worn paths,” McWilliams said, “We are unafraid to attempt the impossible.”
With over half of the world’s 7 billion people having very limited access to the Gospel, the IMB encourages local churches to begin with church-wide focused prayer.
The unanimous actions of the SBTC board came in response to the challenge of IMB President Tom Elliff at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix to “embrace” the ends of the earth. Concern over the reduction in missionary deployments due to shortages of funds led SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards to suggest sharing a portion of reserve funds.
Designating the million-dollar gift to the Lottie Moon Offering will help put more missionaries on the field and support those already deployed. SBTC’s board agreed to reduce operating reserves from six months to just under five months in order to provide the grant.
“This is a big decision,” acknowledged administrative committee chairman Gregg Simmons, pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine. “At the current rate of growth and level of giving, it’s going to take several years to rebuild those reserves, but I don’t share that with any sense of hesitation. We want to be part of a fresh vision from IMB, have considered this and feel it is a good decision.”
Board members will be updated on further discussions with Elliff regarding participation of Texas churches. While the SBTC’s Nov. 14-15 annual meeting will feature a session on the needs in India, Richards said the convention wants to facilitate Southern Baptist churches in Texas to go anywhere in the world where God calls them to embrace one of these groups.
At www.call2embrace.org, the IMB offers guidance on studying a people group’s location and culture and the development of a strategy to reach them with the Gospel. An interactive map identifies 3,800 people groups with no active church-planting strategy among them and less than a 2 percent evangelical presence.
One of four Embrace Equipping Conferences will be held in Cedar Hill southwest of Dallas on Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist Church. To register visit the call2embrace website or contact the IMB at 1-800-999-3113.
Criswell College President Jerry Johnson, in his report to the SBTC board, also told of the school’s commitment to embrace one of these unengaged people groups with plans for repeat visits by students to the region where a missions strategy will be developed.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas.