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6/4/97 Rankin: No easy task to change status quo

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The last two months have taught Foreign Mission Board President Jerry Rankin the difficulty of changing the status quo — especially when the lives of more than 4,000 missionaries are involved.
Some have questioned his motives for initiating the personnel and strategy changes now sweeping the mission agency, he admits. Some suspect he and other top agency leaders are being manipulated. Some have accused the board of moving away from the cutting edge of missions — reaching unreached peoples — while others charge it is doing just the opposite: “selling out” to frontier missions and abandoning responsive harvest fields.
Many missionaries are simply struggling to deal with the impact new approaches will have on their ministries.
“I should have known it already, but it has been reinforced again — being a change agent is not a desirable role,” Rankin told Foreign Mission Board trustees in his report June 4. “It is much easier to just keep things going, remain in a maintenance role and enjoy the comfort of the status quo.”
Board trustees approved an associate vice president for strategy coordination and mobilization and a new team of regional leaders. The appointments, announced during the June 2-4 trustee meeting in Richmond, Va., grew out of the reconfiguration of the board’s overseas division from nine geographical areas and one non-geographical area to 14 new “regions” encompassing the world. Rankin launched the move four months ago, declaring the need for bold initiatives and methods to reach the world.
Adoption of the overall strategy at the board’s April trustee meeting unleashed a daily flood of e-mail from the field, rumors, pleas and speculation which Rankin has found overwhelming.
“I, along with many others, have experienced of necessity a revitalized prayer time with periods of fasting and pleading with God about what he has gotten us into,” he said.
“Many have said, ‘We don’t know where this will lead, but we trust you and are confident you are being led of God,’ while others have expressed distrust and suspicion as to our agenda. Some suspect we are being manipulated by trustees, but most recognize that God has brought us together in unity and with a common vision to apply the resources of Southern Baptists” more effectively in global evangelization.
Rankin expressed excitement about missionaries who have managed to “see beyond” their own particular regions or ministries to grasp the necessity of change in order to reach the whole world. He said he has been amazed to see the consensus that began to emerge among people with very different perspectives. But he didn’t minimize the difficulty involved.
One mission colleague wrote to Rankin expressing support for the changes, but admitting his grief over the fact that dividing his area into three new regions would move him away from deep relationships with missionaries and Baptists he had long worked with.
“Only those closest to us know the deep hurt we feel that is multiplied by the pain experienced by close colleagues being affected,” Rankin reflected. “No one can overstate the cost personally of providing firm leadership, to keep an organization pressing forward toward the vision and to fly in the face of all conventional wisdom out of the fear of God … to win a lost world.”
But paying the price is essential, he insisted. Developing a “global team that really makes a difference,” he said, demands leaders who:
— “will pour themselves out with a servant heart to identify with the missionaries they lead, unconcerned about status or compensation;”
— “will be compelled by a passionate vision that is never satisfied with past effectiveness;”
— “will recognize empowerment comes from trust and accountability toward those God has placed in authority;” and
— “is driven by a global vision that supersedes personal preferences and provincialism.”
The board’s overseas reorganization, Rankin stressed, “is not just a meaningless exercise to organize our work in a different way or a subterfuge for putting new leadership in place. It is designed to initiate a new mission culture, relationships and accountability, a revitalized freedom and empowerment to focus on the task and a new spirit of global cooperation and synergy so we can move at God’s pace to accelerate the harvest and reach all the peoples of the world as we move into the 21st century.”

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  • Erich Bridges