DORFWEIL, Germany (BP)–If Christian visions converge, won’t miracles multiply?
That was the hope as more than 130 key Baptist leaders from some 50 countries across Europe and the Middle East met with Southern Baptist International Mission Board leaders for an Accelerating World Evangelization conference.
The IMB’s top leadership came from Richmond, Va., to describe for the Baptist leaders how the board basically is reinventing itself around a global vision of bringing more of the world’s lost peoples to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
European and Middle Eastern leaders attending the April 1-5 meeting near Frankfurt, Germany, were quick to echo this vision and pledged to work with Southern Baptist missionaries in exploring new ways of working together.
The AWE conference was the third of six such meetings IMB leaders will hold around the world this year as they seek to enlist Baptist understanding and active participation for what they are generally calling “New Directions.”
Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations, told the gathering that New Directions began three years ago when he and other leaders saw they were not keeping up with God’s plans to reach the world. “Some of it was [because of] our own bureaucracy,” he said.
“As we began to look again at what God is saying to us, we saw there were some things we needed to come back to,” Willis said. “New Directions is a return to a biblical mandate.” Holding up a Bible, he told the conference, “This is what we want our missionary manual to be.”
Basic New Directions concepts that have emerged include:
— a strong emphasis on prayer support.
— focusing on people groups wherever they are instead of organizing by countries.
— missionaries who work in teams to plan comprehensive strategies for sharing the gospel with entire people groups.
— lay training programs that enable new believers to move quickly into church leadership roles.
— working in cooperation with “Great Commission Christian” missions partners.
— working and praying for God-led church planting movements to begin.
— a general “whatever it takes” approach to sharing the gospel, despite social, political, cultural or other barriers.
Some Baptists registered disapproval that the IMB had not consulted with them sooner. “I want to begin by apologizing for not communicating this to you sooner and not coming to explain what it’s about,” Willis told the conference.
Two Baptist leaders reminded IMB administrators that European Baptists also sponsor overseas missions work on several continents and that, on a per-capita basis, they sponsor twice as many such missionaries as do Southern Baptists. Rankin commended them for their missions commitment, acknowledging that Southern Baptists allot only 2.6 percent of their resources to missions.
Italian Baptist leader Martin Ibarra told IMB leaders in a closing session that Italian Baptists share the vision of proclaiming the gospel of salvation to every people in the world and that they would study how to encourage a church planting movement within Italy. Italian Baptists will look at training their people for a New Directions kind of focus, he predicted.
“The Holy Spirit has touched me personally,” said Lebanese Baptist pastor George Saba, “and I am going home with a new vision. I will share it with my convention.”
“We have 300,000 Muslims who live with us! We are a drop in the sea!” Saba declared. He invited the IMB to join them in a new partnership to train Arab Baptist missionaries to help evangelize the Middle East. Baptist leaders in Jordan also would support such a venture, Saba said.
Slovenian Baptist leader Martin Hlastan told the conference he arrived tired, sick and ready to resign as a pastor and evangelist.
“But the Lord has renewed me. He has changed completely my decision,” he told IMB leaders. “I will continue to evangelize wherever the Lord will send me. You have a wonderful vision; we have the same vision.”
Several Baptist leaders reported on work in their countries, from Scotland, which has seen Baptists decline from about 22,500 members after World War II to about 15,000 members today, to the Ukraine, which has seen explosive church growth in the past decade.
Church planting movements are cropping up from Cuba to Cambodia to China, the IMB’s Rankin told the conference.
“Folks, I want to tell you tonight, God does not need the International [Mission] Board. God does not need Southern Baptists. God doesn’t need you,” Rankin said. “His purpose is going to be fulfilled because God is sovereign.
“But how tragic, how utterly tragic, if we should forfeit being the ones God will use to share his purposes and share his message with a lost world!”