COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP) — Southern Baptists lost a powerful force in their global missions effort when Mike Barnett died suddenly of an unexpected health-related issue Aug. 10, friends and colleagues said.
Barnett, 62, served the past 11 years at Columbia (S.C.) International University, where he was professor of intercultural and historical studies. His missions impact, however, stretched around the world and into the lives of both fellow missionaries and people groups with no access to the good news of God’s love in Christ Jesus.
“The untimely passing of Mike Barnett is a deep loss to our family,” said Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, who welcomed Barnett in 1987 to the staff of Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. “Mike had a deep heart for missions, a brilliant mind of inquiry, and a love for our Lord that was contagious. Our prayers go out to his wife, Cindy, and their two children. Heaven is a richer place today.”
Though Barnett started out in business, leading a company that made oil pipeline fittings, he was deeply touched by God in his late 20s and became a passionate advocate for radical obedience to God’s mission mandate.
“Mike Barnett believed with all his heart that every believer had a specific role in God’s mission,” said Danise Stokeld, a former missionary who worked with Barnett in CIU’s intercultural studies program. “He understood the giftings God had given him and used them full throttle and impacted the globe.”
Over the course of a 25-year relationship with the International Mission Board, Barnett was a catalyst for major advance in taking the Gospel to people groups that had not heard it, said John Brady, International Mission Board vice president of global engagement.
“Mike loved the truth, but he also loved people. That was what made him the catalyst he was,” Brady said. “He could move almost any situation forward, whether it was a business situation, or if you were stuck in your strategic thinking — even down to interpersonal relationships.”
Barnett had a knack for asking the perfect uncomfortable question, said Mike Edens, a former missionary co-worker who now serves as a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Mike was a big, quiet, intense guy, and when he walked into a room it was like the presence of God walked in,” Edens said. “He was so effective in asking, ‘What does God want you to do? Why not do it now? What does the manual say?’ For Mike it was all about the Bible.”
Barnett’s insistent pressure for “whatever it takes” helped multiply sixfold the number of people groups in North Africa and the Middle East hearing the Gospel, Edens said. Not only did he influence countless students and missionaries, but he also played a pivotal role in developing a video series that makes the biblical story of salvation accessible to more than 800 million people.
A major piece of Barnett’s legacy is the 640-page “Discovering the Mission of God” textbook designed to help a person understand their call to missions in the context of the Bible, Christian history and best practices in contemporary missions, said Robin Martin, a missionary colleague and associate editor on that project.
“The book is now in its fourth printing, and I’m grateful we have that part of Mike down in ink,” Martin said. “It captures the great scope of his thought process. Any one of the sections would have been a book all by itself, but Mike felt all of it was a priority and needed to be all under one cover.”
Barnett was a pioneer in mission strategy whose drive played a key role in developing IMB initiatives in creative access and marketplace missions, said Abby Wallace, who serves on IMB’s Marketplace Advance Team. Barnett also was a founding board member of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist humanitarian organization, and filled an important role in developing the Consortium for Global Education partnership.
“With Mike on the leadership team, planning meetings were feisty, hard-hitting, determined and focused. He was brilliant, fearless, focused and loyal,” Wallace said. “He was dead serious about God’s work. Because of his tenacious spirit, he’s left a tremendous legacy to all of us — and to the nations — for the glory of God.”
Barnett was a visionary who was “way ahead of the game” in missions strategy, said Nik Ripken, a longtime missionary co-worker.
“He understood the tent-making approach would be necessary long before it became an accepted conversation in the heart of Christian mission,” Ripken said. “He understood we would have to go [on mission] as businessmen, doctors and lawyers.”
Yet as invested as Barnett was in missions, he also was a dedicated family man, Ripken added.
“As tough as Mike could be, when he would talk about his family, he just became a teddy bear,” Ripken said. “His whole voice and demeanor would change. It was seldom that I talked to Mike that we didn’t end up sharing tears as we prayed for our children.”
Barnett is survived by his wife Cindy and two adult children, Cole Barnett and Michelle Morris.
A memorial service is scheduled for Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. in Shortess Chapel at Columbia International University, 7435 Monticello Road, Columbia, S.C. Funeral plans include a 5 p.m. visitation and 6 p.m. funeral service Aug. 15 in Sagemont Church Chapel, 11300 South Sam Houston Pkwy. E, Houston, Texas. Burial will be in Bryan (Texas) City Cemetery.