SBC Life Articles

Leading Southern Baptists to a New North American Mission Field

Abdul, one of our Southern Baptist missionaries, has answered God's call on his life to point Muslims to the truth of Christ. As you can imagine, it is a very challenging and dangerous mission field. But with God's blessings, he has seen more than a dozen Muslims come to a saving knowledge of Christ in the last three years.

But in carrying out his ministry, Abdul has placed his safety and that of his children at risk. One morning they awoke to dead birds on their doorstep. The birds' throats had been slit — a threat that the same could happen to him if he continued sharing Christ. He has had to relocate his apartment several times after landlords discovered his ministry and told him to leave.

You probably would guess that Abdul serves on the international mission field in a Muslim nation, but he lives and ministers as a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary, right here in the United States in one of our major metropolitan areas.

Rich Heritage

In 1845 when Southern Baptists began the Domestic Mission Board (which a few years later became the Home Mission Board), they never would have guessed that missionaries serving in North America would face such obstacles or minister to a people so diverse. But the agency was created out of a conviction and urgency that everyone needed to hear the Gospel of Christ and those of other cultures (back then it was primarily Native Americans) must hear in a way that is culturally relevant to them. It's the same conviction and urgency that still courses through the veins of our missionaries today.

With help from the Woman's Missionary Union and later the Brotherhood Commission (first known as the Layman's Missionary Movement), home mission efforts became a priority for all Southern Baptists. State partnerships grew, and the creation of the Cooperative Program in 1925 brought funding to a new level and gave missionaries more freedom to focus solely on their ministries.

Hard times came during the Great Depression and the number of home missionaries dropped dramatically from 1,600 to 106. But even in those difficult days, Southern Baptists remained true to the call of missions and took the Gospel to the airwaves through the creation of the Radio Committee in 1931. Our denomination spread westward in the 1940's and the Home Mission Board mobilized young people by beginning a student summer missionary program.

The 1960s brought renewed emphasis on language and culture-group missions which accounted for the majority of the home missions budget and missionaries in that day. In the 1970's, Mission Service Corps missionaries were added, bringing a new breed of creativity and entrepreneurship to the mission field for Southern Baptists.

In the 1990s, with a renewed emphasis on Scriptural devotion and evangelistic outreach, Southern Baptists embarked on the most extensive restructuring of the Convention in decades. The Brotherhood Commission, Radio and Television Commission, and Home Mission Board came together in 1997 to form a new entity called the North American Mission Board. This new entity combined the home missionary force with a missions mobilization and media emphasis that are both key to reaching this unique continent for Christ.

From its beginnings, NAMB has placed a high priority on partnership, church planting, and the need to reach our cities — the great population centers of our day — for Christ. In addition to our calling to meet spiritual needs, NAMB is privileged to serve as the national coordinating arm of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts. At no time in our history have Southern Baptists mobilized so many volunteers and dedicated so many resources to helping people in their time of most dire need. And it all brings great opportunity for sharing the truth of Christ as we go.

Uniquely Qualified Leadership

Today, under the leadership of Geoff Hammond, NAMB is poised like no other time before to meet the needs of a fast-moving, quickly-changing North America. When the trustees were commissioned with the daunting task of finding God's man to lead this agency, there was no lack of opinion as to who that person should be and what he should look like. Many said he must be a leading pastor within our denomination. Others were of the opinion that what we needed was a great captain of industry who was experienced in leading a large corporation.

Yet within the din of voices in our great Southern Baptist Zion, God's voice spoke clearly and distinctly to our hearts, "I want a missionary to lead this mission organization," and that is who He gave us. When we began the search for a new president, I believe God spoke to us and said, "Get me a missionary." Born on the mission field and raised in a missionary home, God gave us a man who was called to be a missionary. Geoff has a heart centered squarely on the missions call and wants nothing more than to expand the numbers and influence of SBC missionaries in North America. He is the right man for the right job at the right time … a time such as this. (Esther 4:14)

He is also uniquely equipped to minister in a North America that is undergoing an ethnic and cultural transformation before our eyes. Geoff wasn't born in North America. He has lived, served, and ministered in other nations among other cultures. He sees North America for what it is today — a diverse coming together of many nationalities and cultures that share some common bonds, but also include distinctions that require unique ministry efforts.

Danny Sanchez, founding director of the Scarborough Institute at Southwestern Theological Seminary has said of Geoff, "There has not been a leader with such a strategic missionary mind since Dr. [Arthur B.] Rutledge of the HMB."

As we continue our emphasis on Sharing Christ, Starting Churches, and Sending Missionaries, Geoff is leading us to rediscover and find new ways of ministering to the people groups of North America. Like no other time in our history, God has literally brought the nations to our homeland. The Church — and Southern Baptists specifically — has an opportunity and a calling to be sure those who now call North America home will have the chance to hear the Gospel and respond to it.

Timely Strategy

With that in mind, NAMB recently embarked on an unprecedented study with LifeWay Research to discover the people group pockets throughout North America and gauge their receptivity to the Gospel. This study will be used to develop more effective ministries, resources, and missionary training as we take the Gospel to everyone in North America.

And we are fully focused on the new denomination-wide evangelism initiative, God's Plan for Sharing (GPS). Although it begins in earnest in 2010 and goes through 2020, NAMB has been working with its state and local partners for more than two years to develop the program. Associations in five states — Texas, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, California, and Georgia — have already begun piloting the effort as we hone our resources and strategies. These pilots include media resources and have NAMB's financial backing.

Our GPS goal is nothing less than Every Believer Sharing, Every Person Hearing in North America by 2020. That's not a task NAMB can complete on its own. It's not even a task Southern Baptists can all accomplish together. It's a task that will only be completed if God chooses to move on our continent in a supernatural way that will bring men, women, boys, and girls to a new understanding of His glory and their need for salvation. We've been praying for that kind of spiritual awakening at NAMB for several years already, and I hope you will join us in that prayer.

Much has changed in our culture since the last Southern Baptist evangelism initiative. If we are to truly be effective in reaching our mission field for Jesus, we had better do so in a way that is effective and broad enough to minister to the diverse populations to which we have been called. So GPS is different. It needs to be. It must have funding, and fund it we will. When all the details and strategies are worked out, I believe Southern Baptists will find that there is laser-point focus and superb funding behind it. As trustees, we have committed to making GPS a success, and in order to make that a reality we will place in the hands of our leaders and staff all the resources that God provides us through the generous hearts and hands of Southern Baptists. This we must do. This we will do.

GPS is about much more than increasing baptism numbers or the membership rolls at our churches. It is about each believer, each local church being obedient to the Great Commission command of our Savior. NAMB will help play a part in that process, but only individuals and local churches can make GPS happen in a way that will truly bring spiritual transformation to our denomination and our land.

Extraordinary Message

It's the kind of transformation that one of our church planting missionaries, Ben Barfield, was able to see first hand in the life of Danny McDermott. Ben was at the beginning stages of starting a church in a Tucson, Arizona, suburb, and Danny, an atheist, began attending a Bible study at his wife's behest.

"The church thing was always a negative for me," he said. "They're not normal people," was his impression of Christians.

When Ben asked Danny what it would take for him to believe in God, Danny said he wanted to see a miracle. Not long after, Danny's wife Danielle discovered she was pregnant, but an early ultrasound revealed serious health problems with the baby. Doctors told the couple the baby would not live after birth. Danny lashed out at Danielle and her God.

But then Ben and members of the young church started supporting the couple. They held yard sales and bake sales to help offset medical bills. A few months later, Danielle gave birth to a daughter, Bobbi. Despite doctors' predictions, she survived long enough to come home. And a few days after his daughter's birth, Danny McDermott was re-born spiritually.

"I remember Ben walking up to me and saying, 'So … have you seen any miracles?'" McDermott remembers. He prayed to receive Christ with Ben that day.

Bobbi survived eighteen miraculous months before leaving this earth, but Danny's faith remains intact and he's sharing it with others. Ben says Danny is one of the most evangelistic members of his church.

That's the kind of impact your North American Mission Board missionaries are having everyday throughout our homeland. And that's the kind of spiritual transformation God wants to bring to all of our communities.

We know the Gospel is still and always will be relevant. But to continue connecting with the culture around us, we have to be willing to change. So the North American Mission Board will continue to stand on the strong shoulders of those who came before us. We remember the early missionaries with the pioneer spirit who overcame financial and geographic barriers to take the message of Christ to our neighbors. But we will also be willing to change what we're doing and how we do it in order to find the most effective ways of ministering in twenty-first century North America.

The financial crisis and uncertainty all around us today also provides Christians with a great opportunity to point friends and neighbors toward the One who will never let them down. We must be careful not to allow times of economic recession to lead us to an evangelistic recession. I thank God that in the midst of economic decline and doubt about the future, Southern Baptists are a people who will remain committed to making the kind of investments — spiritual, eternal investments — that will pay big dividends for our continent and each individual in this life and the next.



NAMB Fast Facts

• NAMB assists Southern Baptists in their task of fulfilling the Great Commission in the United States, Canada, and their territories through a national strategy for sharing Christ, starting churches, and sending missionaries, in cooperation with Acts 1:8 Partners.

• More than 5,500 missionaries, 2,600 chaplains, and hundreds of thousands of mission volunteers are seeking to reach the estimated 251 million unbelievers in the United States, Canada, and their territories.

• Southern Baptists have a goal of starting more than 2,000 churches each year.

    About the Author

  • Tim Patterson