NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Burdened that the eternal destiny of countless millions — worldwide and in North America — remains at stake, Southern Baptist Convention agencies have embarked on initiatives to mobilize more workers as well as sharpen their evangelistic resources.
International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin has called for a day when Southern Baptists, bolstered by the work of 15,000 full-time missionaries, are reaching every people group overseas.
Preparing for that growth — which would equal more than three times the current 4,500-plus workers — the IMB has made various changes in the structure and leadership of its overseas organization. To help it more effectively reach previously unevangelized people groups, for example, the number of overseas administrative units was expanded several years ago to cover every population group outside North America.
Rankin additionally has outlined plans to “mobilize the resources, channel the involvement and enable every church and denominational entity to be obedient to the Great Commission” — through “spiritual motivation rather than program promotion; personalized involvement rather than generic support; facilitating partnership rather than exclusive control.”
A new wave of Southern Baptist missionaries and volunteers from Generation X is responding to the call to reach unreached peoples, IMB officials have noted, with hundreds of workers being assigned to what is known as the Last Frontier — often the most hostile areas of the world where most unreached people live.
At the North American Mission Board, five key priorities are central to its work in tandem with SBC churches: impacting major cities in the United States, growing ethnic congregations, evangelizing students, mobilizing volunteers for missions, and reaching Canada with the gospel.
“God is stirring the hearts of Southern Baptists to be personally involved in missions by giving of their time and considerable talents, as well as their prayers and financial gifts,” NAMB President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord has said. “We will focus the resources of the North American Mission Board, through our partnerships with the states, Baptist associations and local churches, to mobilize a powerful army of on-mission Christians and churches to reach the lost of this continent.”
Reccord challenged Southern Baptists to mobilize more than 100,000 World Changers volunteers and dramatically increase the thousands of other North America missions volunteers within the next five years.
Meanwhile, disaster relief volunteers coordinated by NAMB nationally continue to amaze victims of natural disasters with the rapid provision of food and supplies needed to cope in a crisis, regularly sharing a witness for Christ in the process.
Southern Baptists have the second-largest disaster relief force in North America, behind only the American Red Cross. Armond Mascelli, American Red Cross senior director for disaster services, called the SBC “a good partner,” noting, “The Red Cross and the Baptists have a very effective relationship. We rely heavily on the Baptists to churn out major quantities of meals during major disasters.” Last year, in 30 disaster relief situations, 16,000 volunteers from state Baptist conventions served more than 2 million meals.
LifeWay Christian Resources increasingly is expanding its role in evangelization — adapting, for example, many of its materials for use among non-English speaking people groups, such as “Experiencing God” and “The Mind of Christ.”
Four LifeWay employees have been named international consultants serving as IMB-appointed missionaries. “Their provision of these personnel to our missions task enables us to avoid needless duplication in trying to fill roles for which LifeWay staff is so well equipped,” stated the IMB’s Rankin.
The consultants will work with churches and missionaries to identify and prioritize needs and opportunities in church development and discipleship, adapting principles to the cultural contexts of the regions in which they serve.
All of this falls within the context of LifeWay’s newly adopted vision statement to “help people and churches know Jesus Christ and seek his Kingdom by providing biblical solutions that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.” In presenting the new vision, LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. said, “It raises the bar as we commit ourselves to being agents of transformation in the world of the 21st century.”
Draper said every aspect of LifeWay’s work will be evaluated, asking, “Where, how and when will this effort introduce persons to the knowledge of the Living God?”
LifeWay is introducing major redesigns to many of its materials, such as preschool and children’s music curriculum, providing the first overhaul in 30 years. LifeWay also offers resources to a fast-growing number of Christian school and home school students and teachers. Less than a year after officially receiving a ministry assignment from the SBC to assist churches with Christian schools, LifeWay released 11 new books to develop character in students, offer professional development for teachers and provide literature from a Christian perspective.
Other SBC entities are stretching beyond their assigned ministries to dream new dreams. Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins, for example, stated upon his election in 1997 that he hopes to use the board presidency to mobilize as many as 1,000 retired pastors in missions yearly. Hawkins said he hopes to help retired ministers “retool” for service the way hundreds of laypeople are doing in both North American and international missions.
The Christian Women’s Job Corps developed by Woman’s Missionary Union has received praise for helping women living in poverty to move toward self-sufficiency. CWJC provides a Christian context in which women in need are equipped for life and employment, while unapologetically promoting the tents of the Christian faith.
Training events are offered for potential site coordinators, so that the missions context of women helping women remains strong. Ministries are locally organized and managed, involving local churches and associations.
WMU also supports CWJC through printed resources, while some financial grants have been made available through the WMU Foundation.
Art Toalston, Linda Lawson, Mark Kelly, Erich Bridges, Thomas E. Miller Jr. & Martin King contributed to this article.