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Baptists enhance missions learning options

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Missions learning is the foundation of missions sending. That’s the conviction of the North American Mission Board in helping churches create missions-learning opportunities for their members.

“People don’t typically respond to what they don’t know about,” said Jim Burton, leader of NAMB’s missions education team. “We believe the missions challenge is as compelling as ever.”

Fresh off the celebration of 100 years of missions heritage through the ministry of Royal Ambassadors, mission education is expanding at NAMB. One of NAMB’s nine major ministry assignments, mission education is exploring and developing new avenues for missions learning in Southern Baptist churches. Whether through online delivery of drop-in mission education (DIME) or creation of state convention customized Kids4Christ Around the World, NAMB mission education is pushing back the boundaries of traditional missions learning.

The result? Southern Baptists have more options than ever to create diverse missions-learning environments.

“BackPack” and “SnackPack” lessons are used each Wednesday, for example, at the “God’s Kids” mission club at First Baptist Church in Ceredo, W.Va.

“In the summer, we had a camp each Wednesday night. The BackPack lessons were just perfect — short and to the point,” said Amy Robinson, children’s ministry volunteer leader at the church. “The children couldn’t wait to see what was in our BackPack each week.” Likewise, the SnackPack lessons are “invaluable,” Robinson said.

BackPack Missions, 10- to 15-minute studies for children containing object lessons that teach both missions and the Bible, debuted in 2006. The lessons can be used even in children’s sermons and as sermon illustrations.

In 2007, NAMB began producing SnackPack Missions, 15-to 20-minute children’s lessons on missions that can be dropped into any learning environment. Currently, 36 new lessons are available for teachers to choose from.

In the past two years more than 2,000 people have completed the free registration for BackPack Missions and SnackPack Missions.

“[O]ne size doesn’t fit all when it comes to Southern Baptist churches,” Burton said. “Because of that, we’re now producing resources that meet the diverse mission-learning needs of Southern Baptist churches. We want to see all of our churches make missions learning a priority. These new resources will help churches do just that.”

For most of the last century, missions learning for males in Southern Baptist churches has occurred through weekly or monthly ministries like Royal Ambassadors, Challengers and Baptist Men On Mission. NAMB inherited these ministries from the former Brotherhood Commission during the implementation of the Covenant for a New Century restructuring of the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-1990s.

In the past two decades, many Southern Baptist churches have moved away from midweek events on the church campus. Some churches also have turned to nondenominational educational ministries that don’t include missions learning. While traditional missions-learning ministries have gained a new vibrancy in recent years, NAMB has begun exploring other opportunities as well.

The diverse new line of resources coincide with a new vision for mission education at NAMB: “… to develop Acts 1:8 Christians by establishing in every Southern Baptist church missions learning that equips Southern Baptists for mission action.” To help every Southern Baptist church have missions-learning opportunities, NAMB created resources designed to fit into existing learning environments, such as small groups and Sunday School classes.

Next to debut will be a Spanish version of SnackPack Missions to be released next August.

“This will be the first time that we’ve originated a missions-learning resource in Spanish,” Burton said. “Because it’s not just a translation, these materials should be more contextually relevant to the end user.”

Recognizing yet another need in small churches and church starts, in August 2008 NAMB launched monthly customizable missions-learning lessons for children. These lessons, called Kids4Christ Around the World, contain a Bible study, mission study, games and other activities. State conventions can choose whether to customize the material and include their own missions emphases.

Starting in January, NAMB will launch a weekly missions e-newsletter called BMEN Online to engage Baptist men in missions. Each edition will contain missions news, urgent mission needs, missionary prayer requests and missions Bible studies.

“This is another missions-learning environment that is truly new ground for us,” Burton said. “To our knowledge, a weekly men’s missions resource has never been developed for Baptist men, much less delivered. We are excited about the resource and what it can mean for Baptist men.”

Currently, the Southern Baptist Annual Church Profile reports that only about 50 percent of churches report being intentional about teaching missions.

“Between the traditional and new resources from NAMB and the outstanding resources from Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, we believe that the remaining 50 percent of Southern Baptist churches can find missions-learning helps that will work for them,” Burton said.

The focus on new ways to engage Southern Baptists in missions learning won’t detract from the traditional missions-learning ministries resourced by NAMB — Royal Ambassadors, Challengers and Baptist Men On Mission. In fact, Burton said, NAMB is currently working on a revised Personal Growth Plan for Royal Ambassadors and a complete revision of Challengers.

“We believe wholeheartedly in the ministries of RAs, Challengers and Baptist Men,” Burton said. “For each of these we’ve been adding new dimensions starting with new or revised program designs to keep them vital and relevant.”
Tobin Perry is editor of Crusader magazine at the North American Mission Board. More information about mission-learning resources is available at www.sbcmissioneducation.com and www.wmu.com.

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  • Tobin Perry