SBC Life Articles

Will Southern Baptists Rise to the Challenge?



One billion is a big number. It would take you thirty-seven years to count to one billion at one number a second. Seven billion is an even larger and more significant number. That is the number of people currently inhabiting the globe. In 1804, the world reached its first billion in population. Now, we are adding about one billion to our population every twelve years.

Jesus wants us to lift up our eyes and see—7 billion people, 330 million in the US and 6.67 billion outside our borders. More than half of the world’s population has only a slight chance to hear the Gospel. In fact, 1.7 billion people are likely to die without hearing the Name of Jesus!

Two people die each second. The equivalent of a city of 150,600 people disappears into eternity every twenty-four hours. Without Christ they will enter Hell, forever lost. This is why Jesus said ". . . the fields . . . they are white unto harvest . . . " (John 4:35, KJV).

The simple facts above are why I am so deeply concerned about our Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) for world missions. Last year’s LMCO was the fourth highest in history, yet the decline in CP giving eclipsed that gain, resulting in a net loss.

Is this how Southern Baptists will be remembered? Will it be said of us that at the hour of greatest need for the Gospel we did not rise to the challenge? Will it be said that as people groups become increasingly closed to the Gospel and countries became more difficult to enter, we just turned aside to our own interests? Have we really concluded that we can accomplish more by ourselves than we can together?

IMB seeks to provide the best screening, training, sending, and supporting available anywhere in the evangelical world. Yet, IMB does not determine the number of missionaries we deploy. Southern Baptists make that decision each time they give. Churches and state conventions make that decision each time they approve their budgets.

Does anyone in the darkest corners of this broken world have a legitimate reason to believe that, if they can hold on just a little longer, we will get there with a message of hope and salvation? This is the question with which each Southern Baptist individual, church, and state convention must grapple. I shared this recently while standing before a group of missionaries who had returned from the field for a brief time of respite, training and connecting with churches and families.

People are eager to go to the ends of the earth! Each year I am privileged to speak to multiplied thousands of college students. They respond with passion, dedication, and sacrifice . . . eager to go out with the Good News. In record numbers, young couples, many with families, seminary training and experience, tell us of their call to missions. Maturing adults, having enjoyed success and now wanting to exchange mere success for Kingdom impact, are asking if we have a way to train and deploy them to the ends of the earth.

IMB’s assignment to “assist the churches” through a great missionary enterprise means that we are inviting all to the Great Commission table. Through Embrace, churches and entities are being mobilized to reach unengaged, unreached people groups. Through Global Strategic Mobilization, business professionals are discovering how to join forces with us in venues all over the world. Ready Reserves will now strategically mobilize former IMB personnel in key areas when and where specialized skills and experience are needed. We are now training others around the world in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. Soon, our School of Prayer for All Nations will generate a “blast furnace” of constant prayer. (See above for a description of these four initiatives.)

But the question remains: How will we answer the Lord, the lost, and those eager to share Jesus with them? Let’s make it personal. Does anyone in the darkest corners of this broken world have a legitimate reason to believe that because you care someone will soon be there with the Gospel?

Tom Elliff, president of the SBC International Mission Board, is a member of Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Be Involved

At the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, IMB President Tom Elliff challenged Southern Baptists churches to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG). UUPGs are people groups with limited or no access to the Gospel—those with less than a 2 percent evangelical presence and no church-planting strategy in action among them. Currently, the UUPG total stands at 3,142. Embracing a UUPG goes beyond “adopting” or committing to pray for a people group—it takes involvement a step further by making a long-term commitment to develop an evangelism/discipleship/church planting strategy to reach a people group with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The first step to embracing is praying for God’s guidance. Next, churches can learn more about people groups by visiting gettingthere.imbresources.org, which contains information about a people group’s location, culture, language, religion(s) and challenges or barriers to reaching them with the Gospel. After prayerfully choosing a people group, churches can register their commitment at call2embrace.org or gettingthere.imbresources.org. Churches that are exploring people groups, have already made a commitment, or are simply considering Embrace can learn more about how to get started by attending a one-day Embrace Equipping Conference. The next conference is scheduled for February 8 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. (To register for the event, go to call2embrace.org.)

Global Strategic Mobilization
Scott Tye’s small office in the mountains of Ecuador is more than just an extension of his Texas-based business. It is a way of using his expertise in the global marketplace to advance the Gospel throughout the world, much the same way the first-century church spread it into their known world. Tye recently hired a young Ecuadorian couple to manage the office. Their goal is to eventually serve as missionaries in another country. By hiring them, he is helping support their efforts, as well as expanding his business in other countries—all for the sake of Kingdom work.

A new office at IMB called Global Strategic Mobilization (GSM) is assisting Tye and others who work in the global marketplace. GSM focuses on identifying, connecting, and equipping Southern Baptists for greater involvement in fulfilling the Great Commission through their work across the globe. For more information, go to imbgsm.com, a website to help Southern Baptists learn how to connect their vocations more deeply with God’s global purposes. Resources will be posted regularly on the website. More immediate information is available on Twitter: @imbgsm. Training materials currently are in development to help Southern Baptist churches equip their members as Kingdom workers around the world.

Ready Reserves
A partnership between IMB and former field personnel, Ready Reserves is designed to bolster Southern Baptists’ global missions efforts by drawing from the Convention’s pool of retired and returned missionaries, capitalizing on previous field experience, language, and cultural skills to meet specific, strategic needs.

Ready Reservists will serve as volunteers, using their talents and passion for missions to help mobilize, train, and equip Southern Baptist churches, advocate on behalf of unreached people groups, and advance missions strategies on the field and inside the US. In some cases, Ready Reservists also may be asked to serve overseas for short-term projects or to fill urgent personnel needs. Anticipating a wave of potential Ready Reservists, Elliff explained that once the program’s details are finalized, IMB’s personnel office will directly communicate involvement opportunities with retired and returned missionaries.

School of Prayer for All Nations
Referencing Matthew 9:35-38, Elliff said Jesus gave His disciples a key command for missions—pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers—an element that can often be overlooked in trying to accomplish the task itself. In response, IMB is establishing a School of Prayer for All Nations, to be headquartered at IMB’s International Learning Center (ILC) in Richmond, Virginia.

Elliff said he envisions Southern Baptists flocking to the ILC to learn about the kind of fervent, effective, Great Commission-directed prayer that can change entire countries for the sake of the Gospel. He added that the “school of prayer for all nations” will be a “great complement” to existing prayer emphases provided by both the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and state convention prayer leaders.


    About the Author

  • Tom Elliff