LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The task facing Southern Baptist missionaries around the world is similar to having only one person responsible for reaching the entire state of Mississippi, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 28.
Rankin, a native Mississippian, was on campus as part of Global Missions Day. The day’s events highlighted the importance of international missions and gave students the opportunity to meet and have informal discussions with missionaries and IMB representatives.
Rankin said that while the IMB will likely have a record number of missionaries on the field this year — including a record number of appointments for the seventh consecutive year — many more laborers are needed.
“We’ll probably reach 5,000 missionaries this year, and when we do we’ll have one missionary for every 2.8 million people,” Rankin said. “I come from Mississippi; there’s not 2.8 million people in Mississippi. What if we had only one pastor [or] only one evangelist with the responsibility of reaching that whole state with the gospel? And yet that’s what we expect our missionaries to do, while 95 percent of Southern Baptists called and committed to serve our Lord in Christian service choose to do it in the comfort and security of America where churches are all about us.”
Rankin said that during a recent IMB meeting, he and his fellow IMB representatives prayed for missionaries to West Africa. It has been more than a year since a missionary has been appointed to that region.
“We’re told there are 200 people groups that are untouched by the gospel [in Africa], but not one missionary [has been sent to them],” he said.
Worldwide, more than 900 personnel requests have not been filled due to a lack of missionaries, Rankin said. He challenged the students to be open to God’s calling to the mission field.
Prayer is essential to international missions, Rankin said. He quoted Psalm 2:8, which says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”
“Isn’t Satan clever?” he said. “He knows if we ever start praying for the nations, the strongholds will crumble and the doors will open to the God of Jesus Christ, so he [Satan] gets us to center our praying [on] ourselves.
“We never lift up the nations and the peoples of the world, and God said, ‘I’ll give them to you if you’ll just pray and intercede.'”
Christians should also pray for laborers, Rankin said.
“Do you know why we don’t pray for the laborers into the harvest?” he asked. “Because when we start praying it’s not unlikely we’ll be the laborer he calls.”
Satan’s goal is to keep Christians complacent, Rankin said.
“Let me tell you his most effective strategy of all — to convince Christians that missions is optional or just for a select few,” he said.
Rankin pointed to the former Soviet Union and its allies as an example of what can happen when Christians pray.
“Satan’s intent is to keep God from being glorified among the nations,” he said. “He thought he could keep countries closed to a missionary witness [and] that they would never hear the gospel — Christ would never be exalted across the communist world, in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But those barriers crumbled and missionary witnesses have been flooded into every nation, and Satan’s strategy is not working.”
In order for Christians to have a passion for the world’s lost, Rankin said they must develop a deep desire to see God glorified throughout the world.
“The greatest tragedy is not just the lostness of a world without Christ,” he said. “It’s not even the fact that many don’t even have an opportunity to hear of our Lord. The greatest tragedy is that he alone who is worthy of all worship and honor and praise and glory is being deprived of the worship and praise of the people he loved and died to save. What is it that will motivate us to go to the nations [and] to proclaim and exalt our Savior that the nations might worship him?”
Christians must avoid what Rankin called an ethnocentric theology.
“You know why we aren’t stirred by the need, by the lostness of people without Christ?” he asked. “Because we basically have an ethnocentric theology. If I were to ask you why did Jesus die on the cross, you know how most of you and other Christians would respond? ‘To save me from my sins.'”
But Rankin said Jesus rejected an ethnocentric theology when he said in John 24:46-47, “… The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
“That’s why he died on the cross,” Rankin said. “It wasn’t just about you and me. It wasn’t just that we might be saved from our sins. It was about reaching the nations — that that message of repentance would extend to the nations.”