SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)–God is moving in unprecedented ways around the world and Southern Baptists face the challenge of joining their missionaries in “whatever it takes” to make disciples of all peoples, International Mission Board trustees were told during their Nov. 6-7 meeting in Springfield, Ill.
Eighty-two new missionaries were appointed to overseas service in a ceremony held in conjunction with the 100th annual meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Southern Baptists were challenged to make the same kind of sacrificial commitment the new workers are making -– laying aside careers, families and lifestyles to take the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to those who might never hear otherwise.
“We can look around the world and see God is doing something unprecedented in the history of the International Mission Board and its work,” Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for overseas operations, told the trustees. “God is planting His church among peoples and in places never thought possible. Your missionaries are out there in hard places with their national Baptist partners and they are seeing multitudes of people coming into the Kingdom and the church being planted for the first time in the history of many peoples.”
Fort, Scott Holste, associate vice president for research, and a team of trustees and overseas leaders delivered the board’s annual statistical report -– an array of numbers detailing advances in overseas work during the previous year that IMB President Jerry Rankin said is surprising even for an era in which great advances already have been made.
“I have been saying for a long time that there was more advance in fulfilling the Great Commission in the last decade of the 20th century than in 200 years of the modern missionary movement,” Rankin told the trustees. “But as you listen to these reports, you will realize that there has been more advance in global evangelization since we entered the 21st century than in any of our lifetimes.”
The report, covering calendar year 2006, showed that Southern Baptist overseas missionaries and their national Baptist partners:
-– witnessed the number of reported baptisms top 600,000 for the first time.
-– saw 25,497 churches planted, increasing the number of congregations worldwide to 157,890.
-– implemented church-planting strategies among 1,134 people groups, including 100 people groups newly engaged with the Gospel.
-– engaged 567,413 new believers and 1.2 million church members in discipleship training.
-– enrolled a total of 222,604 church leaders in residential and nonresidential pastoral training programs.
“If you put 600,000 baptisms in the context of our daily lives, that means more than 1,640 people are being baptized each day -– 68 every hour, more than one baptism every minute of every day, every day of the year,” said Chuck McAlister, chairman of the trustees’ overseas committee. “Our missionaries and their national Baptist partners started more than 68 churches per day. Isn’t that exciting? God is moving!”
In spite of great advances, however, 6,512 people groups -– more than 3.3 billion souls -– still have not heard the Gospel. IMB leaders have challenged Southern Baptists to add almost 2,700 more missionaries to the current total of about 5,300 to address that need. But it will require serious sacrifice –- and a movement of the Holy Spirit, said A.C. Halsell, chairman of the trustees’ finance committee.
“There is an overarching assumption on the budget that we Baptists will continue to give through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” Halsell said. “The flip side to that, however, is that this budget is limited by parameters that are nothing more than historical trends of giving.
“We all realize this budget is not big enough to support 8,000 missionaries. As we give, you and I, we must pray the Holy Spirit will work in our hearts so we give in a way that busts through this artificial ceiling. If we don’t, it’s going to take us years to put 8,000 missionaries on the field.
“It doesn’t need to take that long. The money is there. It’s a matter of us responding to the Holy Spirit in our lives.”
2008 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS
David Steverson, the board’s treasurer, presented trustees with the 2008 IMB budget, which projects, among other things:
-– a total budget of $304.8 million, an increase of $15.9 million (5.5 percent) over 2007.
-– an $11 million increase (5.4 percent) in support of field personnel, which provides for a net addition of 80 new missionaries.
-– an additional $1.48 million to foster church-planting movements worldwide.
The plan anticipates receiving $106 million from Southern Baptist mission giving through the Cooperative Program, an increase of almost 3.8 percent. More than 54 percent of the budget -– $165 million -– will depend on giving to this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Remaining receipts are anticipated from investments, hunger and relief giving (which is spent exclusively for those ministries) and other income.
Also included are an increase of almost $2.6 million for missionary salaries and additional funds to help missionaries in areas where dramatically falling dollar values have severely hurt their ability to provide for their families. IMB finance officials project Southern Baptists will need to meet their $165 million goal for the 2007 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering just to sustain ministry budgets funded by last year’s record $150 million offering.
Projected U.S. expenditures, at $47 million, represent about 15.4 percent of the 2008 budget.
‘GIVE LIKE MISSIONARIES GIVE’
Trustee Charles Fowler told trustees about his family’s visit this past year with missionaries in an area of the world where great sacrifices must be made to serve.
“One of the most challenging aspects of that visit was when the missionaries gave their Lottie Moon Christmas Offering -– and gave more than $23,000,” Fowler said. “I was absolutely overwhelmed. At the time, I was serving as interim pastor of a church that averaged almost 200 people a week more than was gathered in that room, and that church’s Lottie Moon offering was $9,000.
“I went back and told those folks that my family was going to sacrifice for the offering that year, and that the church needed to give like our personnel on the field were giving. They moved their offering goal from $9,000 to about $20,000.”
In other matters, the trustees also:
-– voted in executive session to censure trustee Wade Burleson for violating the trustee code of conduct. The vote also suspended his participation in board business for the next four meetings, at which time the suspension will be reviewed (a separate story on this action was released by Baptist Press Nov. 7).
-– adopted a five-point statement of principles for contextualizing the Gospel in other cultural settings. The statement affirms the use of “bridges” from elements of host cultures to communicate Gospel truth and encouraged missionary vigilance that unbiblical concepts in a culture do not compromise “the whole unvarnished truth of the Gospel.”
-– approved a $2 million expenditure from capital reserves to upgrade the board’s capabilities in digital video production to HDTV format.
-– heard a report that between Aug. 16 and Sept. 30, the board released more than $1.14 million for 34 human needs projects. One project undertaken in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in southern Asia ministered to 8,550 people.
-– were informed about the launch of a new Internet site, CommissionStories.com, which represents an important step toward making board-created multimedia resources available to churches and mission partners.
-– voted to ask for a fresh study of compensation for missionaries who serve through the International Service Corps program.
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn.