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Mobilization: multiplying gospel witness to a lost world

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–American society is fundamentally shifting from “representation to participation,” observes Leonard Sweet, church historian and futurist.
“The culture,” he contends, “will not tolerate representative leadership anymore.”
Translation: If Americans decide something is worth doing, they want to do it personally — not hire somebody else or watch from the sidelines.
That goes for public service, education, community projects and many other enterprises. Elective politics, for example, seems to draw a big yawn these days — especially from younger adults. Yet three out of four college freshmen in 1998 reported doing volunteer work during the previous year.
It also goes for the church.
The church of the future will have “no laity, only ministers,” Sweet predicts. “Sit-and-soak worship will no longer function as a way of experiencing God.”
Plenty of social research supports Sweet’s position, especially as it applies to baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y — essentially everyone born in the United States since World War II. Many now distrust or disregard representative institutions and want personal, eyewitness participation in anything they deem worthy of support.
Christians in these groups learn by doing, seeing, touching — and crave specific opportunities to experience missions in their community, nation and world.
“You need to experience it firsthand,” teen volunteer Rebekah Duke said last year after participating in an international mission project. “I have to do stuff with my hands.”
That’s why the Southern Baptist mission boards and related agencies are urging every Southern Baptist young person to spend at least a summer or semester in missions before college graduation. The tens of thousands of teens expected to attend Youthlink — the mammoth seven-city Southern Baptist youth teleconference ushering in the year 2000 — will be offered a chance to sign up for a specific mission project next year.
And missions participation isn’t the sole province of youth. Many older Americans are exploring early retirement or second careers to serve as local or international mission volunteers, International Service Corps missionaries, missionary associates or in the International Mission Board’s new Masters Program. Others are dedicating their lives to be prayer warriors at home.
More and more local churches are seizing the initiative to plan and carry out their own mission strategies — at home and abroad — through networking with missionaries and Christians around the world.
All this illustrates the overwhelming importance of missions mobilization. What is it? Not just a fancy word for recruiting or fund-raising. Mobilization is the highway that speeds local churches to their God-given task of global evangelization.
There are many definitions of missions mobilization. One of the best: “the awakening and equipping of the whole body of Christ to participate in the whole mission of God to reach the whole world with the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The IMB’s part of that colossal task appears in its vision statement: “We will lead Southern Baptists to be on mission with God to bring all the peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ.”
“It’s not our job to do missions on behalf of Southern Baptists,” board President Jerry Rankin stresses. “Our job is to mobilize them to do missions” — unleashing the enormous spiritual, personal and financial resources of thousands of churches.
Participation, not just representation.
There’s plenty of work to do on that front, despite the activist trend described above. Many church members — if they acknowledge missions at all — remain quite content to leave the work to career missionaries, the praying to Woman’s Missionary Union circles, the giving to somebody, anybody, else. Why? They have yet to see the world as God sees it.
“If all you’re looking for from the Bible is how you can get saved, you won’t see the dimension of the nations being saved, which happens to be the basic dimension,” explains missiologist Ralph Winter.
A tiny fraction of Southern Baptist church offerings currently reaches beyond our own borders. An even tinier fraction of Southern Baptists currently serve as missionaries.
Mobilization could multiply those totals geometrically. It’s happening in churches infected with God’s vision.
You will decide whether it happens in yours.

Want to be a Global Priority Church that mobilizes to reach the nations? Contact Bill Morgan at the International Mission Board, 1-800-999-2889, ext. 1509. To learn more about mobilization, contact Al Gilbert at 1-800-999-2889, ext. 1504.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges