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Southern Baptists prepare to vote on revised ministry assignments for Lifeway, NAMB

Lifeway President Ben Mandrell addresses SBC Executive Committee members at their February meeting. BP file photo

NASHVILLE (BP) – Messengers to the upcoming SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville will vote on proposed changes to the mission and ministry statements of Lifeway that, in turn, will affect the North American Mission Board.

At the February SBC Executive Committee meeting, the Committee on Convention Missions and Ministry brought forward a motion to amend the missions and ministry assignment of Lifeway Christian Resources. Within those revisions, which were approved by Lifeway trustees in January, the entity would move away from collegiate ministry responsibilities to focus more on Vacation Bible School and camps as well as Bible and book publishing.

EC members responded by voting to forward the recommended changes for approval by messengers to the annual meeting at the Music City Center in downtown Nashville June 15-16.

Earlier this month, NAMB trustees voted unanimously on a resolution formally requesting ownership of the collegiate ministry assignment as Southern Baptists’ domestic missions agency. Those involved say the development would not have been possible without significant collaboration among SBC Executive Committee staff, NAMB leadership and leadership from the Baptist Collegiate State Directors. The changes were approved by the Executive Committee May 11 and now await final approval by messengers at the annual meeting.

In January, Lifeway President Ben Mandrell explained reasons for the change.

“The majority of Lifeway’s ministry assignments were assigned to us in 1995,” he said. “Since then, the digital revolution, changing church practices and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have all contributed to significant shifts in Lifeway’s business model and how we minister to our church customers. The internet has touched almost every facet of our daily lives – from how we consume media, how we connect socially, how we shop, how we work, even how we connect with our local church.

“The current generation of church leaders are feeling the tremendous effects of these changes. And the current pandemic has only compounded the pressures church leaders are feeling. These sea changes have reinforced the need to update our ministry assignments as Lifeway adapts to meet the needs of churches today and tomorrow.”

The changes will also shore up Lifeway’s efforts to provide churches with statistical and research information. According to a recent Lifeway Research study, for example, 66 percent of American young adults who attended a Protestant church as a teenager dropped church attendance altogether between the ages of 18-22. The main reason given was moving to go to college.

The proposed addition to NAMB’s ministry assignments approved by NAMB trustees reads: “Assisting churches in reaching and mobilizing college and university students in the United States and Canada. Promote the advancement of college and university ministry efforts in evangelism, discipleship, churchmanship, leadership development, and missions mobilization through collaborative partnerships.”

Shane Pruitt, NAMB’s director of Next Gen evangelism, said today’s college campus essentially serves as a preview of America’s tomorrow.

“It is literally where our future is being formed to be sent out as influencers,” he said. “Therefore, if we want to see a spiritual awakening that will impact the culture for many years to come, we must focus on having a Gospel influence on the college campuses immediately.”

Pruitt further indicated that, pending messengers’ approval, NAMB’s role on college campuses can help spur a pipeline of future missionaries.

“College campuses, universities and collegiate ministries can be strategic launching pads to send out missionaries all over the world to know Jesus and to make Jesus known,” he said. “Reaching college students with the Gospel and mobilizing them with the Gospel is a calling and conviction for us. It is a nonnegotiable focus for [NAMB National Collegiate Evangelism Director] Paul [Worcester] and me. We are so excited about the potential of locking arms with BCM directors, local church college pastors and collegiate church plants to see a Gospel impact on college campuses across the nation.”