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Prof advocates ‘trailblazing,’ over trodding well-worn paths

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The paths to the Bible Belt are wide and too well-traveled, declared Ron Rogers in an address to seminary students who will soon be charting their course for ministry. The associate professor of missions urged a Jan. 23 Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel audience to consider unchartered territory to the north and around the world.

Rogers described the paths into America’s missionary heartland as pig trails appealing only to “gospel trailblazers.” The Alabama native and former Southern Baptist missionary to Brazil directed students to Paul’s letter to the Philippian church for a model of a trailblazing messenger of God.

The goal of seminary students should be to clear a trail for the next generation of gospel trailblazers “so that those who come behind us can move on and take the gospel to the next generation and the rest of the world,” Rogers said. He referred them to Paul’s record of Philippians 1:12-18 as a type of missions handbook which emphasizes the “progress of the gospel” as all-important.

When Paul spoke of “the greater progress of the gospel,” Rogers interpreted the military metaphor for the advancement of an army as a type of “trailblazing.”

Trailblazers are needed today to mark paths into unevangelized areas, he insisted, just as trailblazers like Luther, Calvin and Zwingli served as “great trailblazers of church history.” He pointed even further back in time, asking, “What about the ones who blazed little paths before them so that they could walk and blaze a larger trail — men like Wycliffe and Hus? What about William Carey, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice who spent their lives blazing trails for the modern missionary movement which we know so well today?

“What trailblazers had the foresight to cut down underbrush and trees and all kinds of barriers so this seminary could be here so we could take fire to the prairies?”

Rogers challenged the chapel audience to identify their own gospel trailblazers — “this seminary, a mom, a dad, a close friend, other ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He asked students if they were going to be content to follow “already well-traveled, beaten-down paths where all you have to do is pluck a weed here and there,” referring to “the trails that lead back South and the Southwest.”

Instead, he encouraged them to consider places where trails have yet to be established among people lacking access to the gospel such as the “World A” belt encompassing the Middle East and much of India, China and the former Soviet Union, or areas where a stateside evangelical witness is too weak to impact the majority walking in darkness, such as the surrounding regions of Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, the Dakotas and Iowa.

“Or are you going to go to Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee or Mississippi and walk trails that have already been blazed?”

Some of those trails may be blazed while still in school, Rogers said, so long as students take Paul’s attitude that confinement can provide access to ministry. Rogers noted Paul referred to his circumstance of being under house arrest giving him access to the Praetorian guard. “God delights in using us in our circumstances to advance the gospel … blaze a trail.”

Students were further challenged to consider the swath they cut, observing Paul’s missionary efforts went beyond his immediate vicinity. “Paul blazed a path for the armies of Christians who came after him.”

Believing students did not come to seminary for a degree, but rather “to get your knives sharpened,” he prayed they might be thrilled by the possibility God has them where he wants them. He asked God might sharpen them as instruments to start “a pig trail that will turn into a footpath that will turn into a dirt road, then a two-lane highway and then a superhighway taking the gospel light of Jesus Christ to so many who as of yet have no trail to their heart.”

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  • Kelly Dunn