SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Jerry Rankin and R. Albert Mohler Jr. believe Southern Baptists must learn to better embrace change and work together in order to fulfill the Great Commission.
The pair spoke separately at the 45th annual meeting and 300th anniversary celebration of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions, preceding the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 12-13 meeting in San Antonio.
“We’ve not passed this way before,” Rankin told a gathering of 100-plus DOMs on June 11, exhorting them to “embrace accelerating change” or be doomed to irrelevancy.
Quoting Joshua 3, the International Mission Board president compared the challenges DOMs face in ding their associations to that of Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.
“Our world, our denomination, is changing – are you changing to keep pace with it?” Rankin asked.
Greater numbers of Baptists are turning to new church models and communication methods, he said, while other churches are being infiltrated by postmodern, pluralistic ideologies -– sometimes at the expense of sound theology and doctrine.
“We’re moving into new territory in working with our churches…. As you seek to hold them to the traditions of what it means to be Baptist, you’ll find more and more churches are affiliating with Southern Baptists, but they’re not identifying with Southern Baptists,” Rankin lamented.
“Churches aren’t asking, ‘How can we do more together?’ They’re asking, ‘What’s in it for me?'”
Anticipating and preparing for change, Rankin said, is especially critical in order to effectively capitalize on the host of “unprecedented opportunities” God is providing for the advancement of the Gospel around the world.
“I used to say that the last decade of the 20th century represented the greatest advance in global evangelization than in the 200 years of modern missions since William Carey went to India,” Rankin said. “But folks … these years of the 21st century have seen more advance than in my entire lifetime.”
After the fall of the Soviet Union, IMB leaders identified Islam as the last remaining formidable barrier to global evangelization. Rankin said many missionaries now sense that God is “shaking that last formidable barrier” as more and more Muslims express disillusionment with the Islamic faith and turn to Jesus Christ.
In order to best take advantage of that opening door, Rankin recalled the IMB’s 1997 strategy shift called “New Directions.”
“We made some radical changes in our organization, in our strategy … not because we were not effective, not because we were not having results -– we realized God was moving, our world was changing,” he explained.
But Rankin warned there will be obstacles as Southern Baptists work toward change.
“I’ve told our missionaries as we send them out that I wish the only spiritual warfare we had to encounter were terrorists or government restrictions…. But the opposition we face is doubts that destroy the vision, that erode our faith. Discouragement when results are not forthcoming. Dissension and conflict among personnel -– distractions. And how effective Satan is in bringing the opposition into our lives and our ministry.”
Just like Joshua urged the Israelites, Rankin urged Southern Baptists to consecrate themselves, seeking God above all else.
“This is not a time for discouragement and dismay, just because your programs and way of doing it in the past aren’t working,” he said.
“God knows exactly how he’s going to get the job done. … Stay focused on God’s calling; discipline your walk with the Lord to consecrate yourselves that God might do wonders among you.”
Mohler, preaching from Romans 10 at a worship service for DOMs June 10, said associations must help churches cooperate in Great Commission work because it is impossible for one church to fulfill the Scripture’s commission alone.
“Our witness requires that we work together,” said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., “because even though congregations are sovereign in their own sphere and each can be complete in an entire New Testament sense, we cannot complete the New Testament calling alone. And that is why we desperately need each other.”
Churches and associations should never stop witnessing to even the most hardened sinner because some people may respond to the Gospel when it is least expected, Mohler said.
“The Lord has not given us a diagnostic organ so that we know who will and who will not respond to the Gospel,” Mohler said. “And woe unto the preacher, woe unto the evangelist who thinks he knows who’s going to respond.”
One way associations can help fulfill the Great Commission is by bringing a love for theology to their churches, he said, noting that Paul’s deeply theological presentation of God’s sovereignty in salvation in Romans 8-9 led to a passionate call for evangelism in Romans 10.
“One of the most important things you can do to lead to a renaissance among Southern Baptists is to reclaim the theological vocation of the Baptist association,” Mohler said. “If we could get back to the day when associations were known first and foremost for what they believe and what they believe together as an association of churches, we would find a completely changed complexion and landscape of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
A desire to spread the Gospel reflects a denomination’s health, and associations can play an important role in making the SBC healthier, Mohler said.
“Inwardness is not a sign of theological health,” he said.