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Rankin: Passion, more than ‘lostness’ or obedience, is missions motivation

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Christians are not motivated to serve in missions because of their awareness of people’s “lostness” or even because of Jesus’ Great Commission command to go, said Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

They are motivated because of their relationship with Jesus and the passion he has given them to glorify his name, Rankin said Feb. 15 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in a chapel service that concluded the seminary’s “God’s Heart for the Nations” global missions emphasis week.

“God is moving to fulfill his mission — that his name might be exalted among the nations,” said Rankin, referencing 1 Chronicles 16:24-25, where followers are instructed to tell of God’s glory among the nations and his wonderful deeds among all the peoples, “for great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.”

The Israelites mentioned in 1 Chronicles realized that it was not about them, Rankin explained. “It was about the nations declaring God’s glory among the nations.”

Inviting chapel attendees to reflect on their calling, he asked, “Why is it that God has called you into his kingdom? Why is it that God’s grace and favor has been manifested in your life?”

He answered, “It’s not about you. It’s about God’s purpose to be glorified and exalted among the nations. How long must God be deprived of the glory and honor he is due from the nations until we realize why we have been called as the people of God — to make him known?”

If Christians were motivated by “lostness,” they would be concerned about the 1.7 billion people isolated culturally and geographically from the gospel message, Rankin said. Or they would be motivated because of the 30,000 people from Bhuj-rudramata, India, who are now in hell after a devastating earthquake killed them, all because they had not heard about Jesus.

Why are believers not motivated by lostness? Rankin asked. “We basically have a self-centered, egotistic theology,” he said, illustrating the point by how most Christians answer why Jesus died on the cross: “To save me from my sin.”

Comparing that to Jesus’ explanation of his death, Rankin read Luke 24:47: “that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

If Christians are not motivated by lostness, Rankin said he presumed they would be motivated by the Great Commission’s command to go and make disciples. If that were true, then why do 95 percent not go? he asked. “Why do we dilute the Great Commission to make it mean anything and everything we do in ministry and witness when very clearly Jesus said, ‘Disciple the nations?'”

Rankin explained that he came to understand that ultimately “it’s only when we have come into a relationship with Jesus Christ that we have God’s heart … for the nations. It’s only that impulse of what Christ has done for us that will compel us to share him with others where we live and to the uttermost ends of the earth.”

Rankin shared that with the upcoming March appointment of 65 new missionaries, the International Mission Board will finally surpass 5,000 missionaries. That translates into one missionary for every 2.8 million people (or more correctly, counting husbands and wives together, one missionary unit for every 4 million people).

“The problem today is not that we need more missionaries,” said Randy Sprinkle, director of the IMB’s prayer strategy office, in a prior chapel service. “The problem in the American church today is that we need more followers of Christ.”

Suggesting a mock conversation that Christians may have with the Lord, Sprinkle pointed to Jesus’ own words, “Follow me!”

“What about the very successful religious ways — the models that are very attractive?” the Christian responds to Jesus. He answers, “No, follow me.”

“But Lord (with your grace, of course), I want to build a great church for you somewhere … in the suburbs, ideally.”

Instead, Jesus says, “Just follow me, would you? You can do nothing on your own.

“The first and always most important thing is to follow me,” Jesus emphasizes.

“Lord, I have heard from some famous people. What I need to be doing is dreaming big dreams for you and then go out there and make it happen.”

Jesus answered, “You may have heard that, but I didn’t say that. I said to you, ‘Follow me.’ Your culture says ‘seek self-fulfillment,’ but I say to you, ‘No, seek instead me and when you find me follow me.'”

Sprinkle summarized: “Jesus is saying to us, ‘Forget your big plans. Big plans are just a synonym for selfish ambitions.’ And if we’re honest about it, they’re not all about following the Christ of the Scriptures, but instead following the Jesus who is hand-fashioned into the image of our own desires.

“Instead, what he calls us to is to simply hearken back to the first words, the first day we heard his voice … ‘You just follow me,'” Sprinkle continued.

“Regardless of what we think, Jesus did not call us to preach. He did not call us to teach or to something else. He called us to himself,” Sprinkle said.

For those who are interested in international missions, NOBTS offers a master of divinity degree in international church planting (also known as the 2+2 track) which, in cooperation with the IMB’s International Service Corps department and other SBC seminaries, allows students to complete the last two years of their education while out on the mission field. The IMB also helps support certain first-time mission trips for NOBTS students.

NOBTS President Chuck Kelley stressed the importance of short-term missions to New Orleans’ students during the week. “We believe your education is incomplete if you have never been on the mission field,” he said. “We believe even if God is not calling you to missions, you need to be on the field so that you will know how to lead a Great Commission church.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PRAYING FOR PASSION.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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