ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–There are some moments in life that stay with you. One of those moments for me was when I was praying through the call to come to the North American Mission Board and accept the role as president. God made it clear to me that he wanted me to help lead Southern Baptists to see North America as what it truly is: a mission field. And the phrase that kept rolling through my mind and heart was, “Live with Urgency.” You’ve probably heard me say this time and time again. But as I’ve traveled from one end of this continent to the other, I see that Southern Baptists are truly realizing that the time is short and that “night is coming when no man can work.”
I believe this is why, at the time of writing this article, more than 2,400 people have signed Johnny Hunt’s call for a return to the Great Commission. The North American Mission Board joins with our SBC president in this focus and takes this call seriously. I believe Southern Baptists truly do want to live with urgency and seize this divine moment … a moment when because of economic strife, political turmoil and national and international terrorism, a lost and dying world is looking, even begging, for answers. I agree with my whole heart that we need to humble ourselves before the Lord, commit ourselves as never before to knowing His inerrant Word and submitting ourselves to obey all of it, as well as work to strengthen the local church and serve in it.
I also think a Great Commission Refocus would ask more of us and our churches. It would:
— Result in a mobilization of God’s people for missions engagement. “Go therefore” or “As you go” means the already impressive mobilization of Southern Baptists would take on new dimensions and even greater missions engagement.
— Bring new awareness to the mission fields and people groups of the world. The mission field is now worldwide. Where North America was once the primary sender of missionaries to the world, it is now a continent in even greater need of a missions force and is home to most of the people groups of the world.
— Invite the North American church to a new level of missionary involvement. The local church is central to God’s plan for reaching the world. It is time for the local church to recommit to growing and discipling a new generation of missionaries for North America and the world.
— Elevate the calling of missionaries to a new level. Just as the rest of the world desperately needs missionaries, the growing ethnic and cultural diversity of North America also requires missionaries and missionary strategies.
As I recently looked across a church filled with worshippers in Clinton, Miss., while 89 North American missionaries waited to be commissioned and sent to their mission field, I realized the vital role that your North American Mission Board plays in our Southern Baptist Convention. Thousands of churches, associations and State Conventions were represented in this one sanctuary of Morrison Heights Baptist Church. Partners that all look to a missions entity that is laser-focused on being a strategic missions partner helping Southern Baptists reach North America for Christ. It brought to mind the quote from a missions leader from a generation past. J.B. Gambrell, a Southern Baptist leader who served three terms as SBC president in the early 1900s, said, “One of the most unifying agencies among Southern Baptists has been the Home Board. It has woven our missionary life into one web.”
As Gambrell observed and Southern Baptists have decided, the North American Mission Board is called and is in the unique position to mobilize this great convention in a Great Commission Refocus. The saying may be old, but it still has merit: We are only as strong abroad as we are at home. North America is still the training ground for a mission force that ministers and serves around the world.
For these reasons, I am asking one of my senior associates, Steve Reid, to convene and co-facilitate a specially called North American Great Commission Task Force that will seriously study the actions and activities that will impact this continent for Christ in more effective ways. Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, has agreed to co-facilitate this group. Together they will be meeting with representatives from the different and diverse partners in Southern Baptist life, including local churches, associations, state conventions and entities representing constituencies from all across our denomination.
They will begin their study at the 2009 convention in Louisville and have regular meetings throughout the next year. I will be actively connected to this group and plan to announce the task force’s findings at the convention in 2010. I have shared this with Johnny Hunt and thanked him for his leadership. He has enthusiastically affirmed this idea as we respond to his Great Commission call.
I believe our most recent past SBC President Frank Page sounded the clarion call at the SBC in 2006 with his call for a national evangelism initiative. NAMB responded with the Great Commission tool we now know as “GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing.” This tool will be used by thousands of churches, associations, and state conventions to the glory of God and glorious harvest of souls.
Johnny Hunt has again sounded the call for a focus on the Great Commission. Let’s not delay. Let’s live with urgency. There’s no better time than now for a Great Commission Refocus … and may it start with me.
Geoff Hammond is president of the North American Mission Board.