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IMB trustees affirm agency’s vision, organization for 2001

DALLAS (BP)–On their knees in prayer surrounding 14 new overseas regional leaders, trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board signaled unanimous support for the final stage of an overseas operations revitalization begun earlier this year.
In the hours preceding the prayer session, the new regional leaders described their vision to take the gospel to the entire world and not just portions of it. They also reviewed their plans to implement creative ministries and approaches on every continent.
Following their Sept. 4-5 meeting in Dallas, International Mission Board trustees participated in a Sunday evening service at the venerable First Baptist Church in which 58 new missionaries were appointed for overseas service. The group ran the gamut of ethnic and professional backgrounds.
The board’s new regional leaders recounted spending hours, even days, praying with personnel in their regions for God’s leadership in the new directions.
The board’s reorganization expands the number of overseas administrative units from 10 to 14, covering every population group outside North America. In many places — particularly in areas where Cooperative Services International, the former relief and development arm of the board, and former geographic areas overlapped — personnel who have never worked together are being combined into new team configurations.
Avery Willis, the board’s senior vice president for overseas operations, described the regional leaders’ presentation to trustees as “historic.” He said it marked the beginning of a major new advance in Southern Baptist international missions.
The presentation reflected the agency’s shift from focusing on 194 countries to targeting 12,862 people groups in the world. “Countries” describes geopolitical entities; “people groups” describes clusters of people bound together by language, culture and socioeconomic ties. One country can contain hundreds of people groups. The board’s shift in focus from countries to people groups helps it more effectively reach previously unevangelized people groups.
International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said he envisions a day when Southern Baptists are reaching every people group overseas, bolstered by the work of 15,000 full-time missionaries — more than three times the current 4,200 workers. And he challenged current paradigms that focus most Southern Baptist ministry and outreach effort in this country.
“Is it consistent with God’s eternal purpose for only 4,200 missionaries to proclaim the message of salvation to 95 percent of the world’s population, while more than 100,000 pastors, church staff and denominational workers minister among the 5 percent at home, and most of 15.6 million Southern Baptists never consider missions as an option?” Rankin asked. “Are most born-again believers exempt from the call to go or does God’s mandate apply to everyone? What is the role and responsibility of the International Mission Board in mobilizing personnel for the task?”
Rankin said Southern Baptists are “at a strategic point in our global task as we move toward the end of the 20th century. The harvest is accelerating, and more doors of opportunity are open than ever before.
“We have initiated significant structural changes in our overseas organization and leadership in order to be prepared for future growth,” he said. “Resignations and attrition remain stable at just under 4 percent, as they have for the past 20 years. Retirements have peaked, and we will see a 30 percent decline from the average of the last 10 years. An unprecedented number of candidates are in the appointment process.”
God has opened doors worldwide, and Southern Baptists would be remiss if they “fail to have a thousand missionaries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, a thousand missionaries in China and India, and a thousand missionaries assigned to other unreached people groups in the next five years without diminishing our deployment to other areas of the world,” Rankin said.
He said the IMB is preparing for such growth, believing it will come.
“We are preparing our field organization and administration to assimilate this increase in personnel,” he said. “We need to be sure our missionary orientation, leadership training and other effective training programs are in place. We must become involved in the enlistment process earlier to assure that the education, experience and preparation of candidates are focused to expedite appointment. And we must continue to review staff and board processes to assure that we will expedite what God is seeking to do rather than create bureaucratic delays and bottlenecks.”
Rankin said he is calling this new level of mobilization “Vision 2001.”
“From 1954 to 1964, the number of missionaries under appointment with the FMB actually tripled in 10 years,” he said. “I believe we can do it again in the next 10 years if we will take seriously the task of mobilization and are truly committed to being on mission with God.”

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  • Louis Moore