Numbers Matter for the SBC

Their smiles, colorful outfits, upbeat music, movements and songs had the crowd captivated.  While the room was filled with likely 1500 guests, everyone’s attention as they filed toward their tables was on the children.  The IMB hosted dinner at the SBC annual meeting began with the beautiful Swahili children’s choir singing in their heart language.  We then saw the gospel in sign language and later prayed for soon appointed IMB missionaries.  All these special treats represented the importance of numbers for the SBC.    

IMB Dinner SBC 2019

Every year Southern Baptist churches compile internal stats in order to report for the Annual Church Profile (ACP).  Each church sends these numbers to their state convention—numbers which cover multiple categories like membership, worship attendance, small group attendance, baptisms, mission participation, etc.  These numbers intend to represent, for the most part, the health of the local church in a given year.  Numbers represent health ultimately because they represent people.  The SBC is ultimately about people—making disciples of all peoples (Matt 28:16-20).   

While numbers do not tell the whole story, they do reveal an important part of the life of the church.  To minimize numbers is to ignore the importance of numbers in the Bible.  After all, a whole book in the Bible is called Numbers in order to number the people of Israel after their wilderness wondering.  So, while we don’t place all our emphasis upon numbers, we dare not overlook the importance of numbers. 

In fact, the Bible speaks of a great multitude (of people) so large that no one could count the number.  John the revelator wrote in Revelation 7:9-10 of this “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

John’s words in the last book of the Bible remind us that numbers matter, massive numbers at that.  This great multitude gathers around the throne of God and the Lamb declaring that salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb. To be sure, these around the throne are around the throne because salvation brought them there, salvation from God through the Lamb.    

Our new IMB president, Paul Chitwood, reminded us so well this week at our annual SBC meeting why we exist as a denomination (Rev 7:9).  The work is still not complete.  John did not promise an incalculable number from some nations nor a few tribes, peoples and languages, but all!  Jesus will not be worshiped by some peoples of the world and praised by many languages on this planet.  He will be praised and prized by all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. 

We exist for this reason as the Southern Baptist Convention.  Under the “big tent” of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, though differences remain, our common doctrinal commitment allows us, rather compels us, to work together for Revelation 7:9. 

Let’s not forget that numbers matter.  Though not telling the whole story, numbers tell an important one.  We aim for a number so large that no one can count.  We long for people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  To this work we set our sights because numbers matter.

Partnerships to Help Churches

The KBC approaches mission partnerships with the goal of helping churches develop gospel partnerships.  Partnerships, in the past, were developed between the KBC and certain organizations/denominations.  For example, the KBC had a partnership with the Kenya Baptist Convention in Africa or the New England Baptist Convention in the northeast.  God used those, and we are grateful for those relationships. 

However, in recent years, we have shifted the focus of partnerships away from the KBC and placed the emphasis of the partnership between local church and local church . The KBC exists to help churches form gospel partnerships for Great Commission impact. 

Therefore, we desire to connect KBC churches to gospel partnerships in Kentucky, North America, and the nations.  We want to resource, train, and introduce KBC churches to missionaries, church planters, established churches, and ministries in order to develop relationships that will further the gospel around the world through the local church.

There is no better way to develop strong gospel partnerships than by spending time together. The church and/or missionary you are prayerfully considering partnering with is best begun with an initial visit. As your church explores possible partnerships with other local churches or missionaries seeking to plant churches, how should you approach your time of discerning if this connection will make a good partnership? Make the most of your short your time while on an initial visit to the church and area.  How might you do that?

  1. Be prayerful—With Paul, pray always.  Be in prayer as you travel from point A to point B. Pray as you walk and talk.  Pray as you hear from planters. Pray as you return to your room.  The point…pray!  Ask the Lord to lead you in how He would have you maximize your impact in this place.
  2. Be flexible—the time is short and filled with much to see and hear and experience.  Be prepared to spend long days with potentially shifting schedules.
  3. Be attentive—take careful notes both on paper and in your head of missionaries/planters, stories, and situations that stand out to you.  What might speak to you now might be forgotten if you do not write it down and make note of why it impacted you.  Be observant of the area you are in (what is the community like, the people, the needs, etc.).  Take whatever notes necessary, so that you can make a prayerfully discerning decision about partnerships later with your leadership team.
  4. Be interactive—this partnership is an experience, not a vacation.  When able, talk with the planters or your hosts about the city, the needs, ways to be involved, etc.  The point is to be engaged in the mission.
  5. Be willing—to partner as the Lord leads you.  As David Platt suggests, bring a blank check (of your life) to the table and ask the Lord to fill in the amount.

In the end, the Great Commission is about the local church partnering with others for the advancement of the gospel.

“I’m Not Worthy!”

As pastor Wayne and his translator walked toward the homeless man in the street, the make-shift tents and people were everywhere.  This is the part of town most people avoid because of crime, drug use and homelessness.  No doubt for this KBC vision team to Brazil, the surroundings were a bit intimidating.  Yet, the team was determined to forego their comfort and share the love of Jesus with those whom society had already abandoned. 

The words out of Wayne’s mouth through the translator were simple, “We have come 3,000 miles from the United States to tell you that God loves you.”  The homeless man stood still and began to weep. He then spoke to the translator in Portuguese.  Shocked by the man’s response, Wayne asked for clarification with his translator.  “What’s wrong?” Wayne asked.

As the translator began to explain, Wayne knew that the Lord was at work.  “You see,” clarified the translator, “the man said, ‘I’m not worthy.’”  By God’s grace, Wayne shared with this man abandoned by society and enslaved to sinful devices that God sent His Son in order to take our sin and bare our shame. 

Indeed, Jesus is our substitute for sin as Isaiah the prophet foretold he would be, some 700 years before the Messiah is ever born.  “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening of our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed…. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:4-6). 

The truth is, none of us are worthy.  Our unworthiness is why Jesus came.  He is worthy and only a perfect sacrifice for sinners would “justify the many” because “He will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).  After hearing about Jesus’ love for sinners and that He alone is worthy and could be the sacrifice for our sins (no matter what we have done), the man in that Brazilian street of the largest city in South America, with tears streaming down his face, trusted in the One who bore his griefs, sorrows, and sins.   

Men and women all over Brazil, Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, Kentucky and everywhere in between need to hear of the only One worthy who was the sacrifice for sinners.  People in high rises and low rises, addicted to drugs and addicted to money, on the “right side” of the tracks and the “wrong side” of the tracks all need to know that “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.” 

Kentucky Baptists, we know that we are not worthy.  That’s why Jesus came.  But countless others have no idea that He came, let alone of what He did.  By God’s grace, let’s lead our churches across the street and across the sea to say, “We have come to tell you that God loves you.” Perhaps we, too, will see tears stream down as the unworthy are made new.     

Evangelize the Unreached

Acts is a book about the advancement of the gospel (through the birthing of churches) as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the lives of Jesus followers. In fact, the Holy Spirit takes would-be cowards and transforms them into lion-hearted witnesses for Jesus. For example, Peter preaches his second sermon at the temple area in Acts 3.  Chapter 4 describes Peter and John being arrested for preaching the gospel.  Peter and John make it clear to the religious leaders who had arrested them that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus (Acts 4:12).  In the midst of hostility, Peter and John demonstrate gospel boldness.

The religious leaders are surprised by the confidence of Peter and John because they were uneducated men.  They further recognize that these two men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).  In order to squelch the boldness of Peter and John, the religious leaders threaten them to speak no more about Jesus (Acts 4:17).  You can imagine them being told that if they continue with their message, then they will do to them what was done to Jesus.  

Instead of cowering to the threat, Peter and John reply that they cannot help but speak about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).  In other words, we cannot keep silent; we must not keep silent.  They are threatened again and released.

Peter and John gather back with the church and report all that had happened (Acts 4:23).  Peter’s and John’s gospel boldness comes through their confidence in a sovereign God (Acts 4:27-28).  Just as God was in sovereign control over the death of Jesus, He is also in charge of their lives.  Thus, gospel boldness is rooted not in ourselves, but in someone else.   

They pray, not for deliverance per say, but for boldness to proclaim the gospel more (Acts 4:29).  While we might think that their prayer would revolve around asking for a way out, they actually pray for boldness in the midst of hostility.  The gospel spreads from Jerusalem and beyond as the church prays, the Spirit fills, and the believers are emboldened. 

Why such a change from chapter 1 where the disciples are locked up in an upper room?  Well, it’s really quite simple.  Jesus was dead, but now He is alive . . . and they knew it.  Jesus left them in order that He might send another Comforter who would fill them with power (John 14; Acts 1:8).  Still yet, the disciples really believed that Jesus is the only way to be saved.  That means any other way besides through Jesus alone is no way at all.  They were gripped by this truth!  They lived, breathed, slept and ate this truth.  Men and women, boys and girls are eternally lost without Jesus.  Whether as an individual in a remote tribe in Indonesia who mixes animism with Islam or a cultural Christian in suburban Kentucky or a postmodern living in a mega city, all are lost who do not forsake their sin and trust in Jesus alone for salvation.

Ultimately, to be unreached is to not know Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Peter and John were gripped by the truth that Jesus alone saves.  They lived their lives seeking to make Him know, even if it cost them theirs.  May we, too, be gripped by the truth that Jesus alone saves and pray for gospel boldness to reach the unreached.        

“Wait” Before We Go

When it comes to the Great Commission, the lostness of the world is second to the global glory of God.  God’s greatest concern is His great glory among the nations.  Only when our passion for God’s glory blazes will our endeavors to make Him famous among the nations shine bright. 

photo by IMB

Ironically, instead of blazing a trail for God’s glory in Jerusalem and abroad, the early disciples were first told to wait.  Wait?  The strategy for which the Lord gave the apostles began with waiting.  That seems quite odd for a movement that was intended to take the world by storm.  But if you think about it, where does this unquenchable passion for God’s glory among the nations come from? 

Jesus knew that what the early disciples needed most was power from on high, not power from within.  Passion for God is ultimately God-given passion.  Therefore, Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for what the Father had promised, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5).  Both the power and passion for accomplishing the Great Commission comes from above; it comes from outside of ourselves.  The Holy Spirit would ignite a passion and provide the power to go into all the world preaching the gospel (Acts 1:6-8).

Interestingly, after Jesus’ departure, we find the disciples locked up in an upper room . . . waiting.  That is, waiting and praying (Acts 1:12-14).  Great Commission advancement always invovles waiting and praying.  A survey through Acts demonstrates that gospel boldness is closely connected and often follows the fervant prayers of God’s people (e.g., Acts 2:42; 3:1; 4:23-31; 6:6-7; 10:9; 13:1-3).

As we examine the book of Acts it’s no wonder why we see such incredible gospel advancement.  The early church bathed the advancement of the gospel in prayer.  Yet, prayer seems to be an afterthought in so many churches today when it comes to Great Commission faithfulness.  “The gospel must be on the go,” we say.  “We don’t have time to pray when lostness is all around us,” we chide.  Yet, the underlying truth that the early church understood, that we would do well to understand, is that the gospel advances supernaturally through the prayers of the people of God.  In other words, the battle against lostness is first fought on our knees.

photo by IMB

We need churches and associations entering the battlefield on their knees before going to their feet.  Yes, “beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Rom 10:15).  Yet, as we see from Acts, the beauty of our feet comes from calloused knees.  Great Commission faithfulness must begin with empowerment thru prayer.  Strategies void of prayer will be strategies void of power.  Only when God’s people cry out to Him, who alone can take a message offensive and foolish to the world and turn it into a beautiful embrace of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, will that message advance powerfully.  Let us be faithful to advance the Great Commission, but let us wait upon calloused knees for God to give us His power and passion.

Is Risk Right in Missions?*

“Is it safe?” This question echoes across church fellowship halls and Sunday School rooms as short-term informational meetings take place throughout the year in churches of all shapes and sizes. The call goes out in the church for a short-term team to go to ____ and do ____. A meeting is scheduled for those interested in this mission opportunity. Inevitably, pressing upon the inner thoughts of those interested or those who love those who are interested is the question of safety. “Will I or my loved one be safe?”

Forming our theology of risk is vital to an overall strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission. The purpose of a theology of risk allows individuals and groups to think through the reality that any mission endeavor (long-, mid- or short-term) involves risk. New Testament missionaries faced risk (e.g., Acts 9:15-16), and it is only appropriate to understand that today’s missionaries may also face risks or crises while serving God during mission efforts. In the face of such crises, a clear understanding of Scripture, as related to risk, should prepare mission team members to honor God despite difficult circumstances.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is the foundation of all the church does in the name of Christ. Like Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts, we are called upon to “risk” our lives for the cause of Christ (Acts 15:26).

Missions can involve high levels of risk—criminal, political, health, or even natural catastrophe.  Understanding God’s call on our lives is essential (Luke 9:23; 2 Timothy 2:1-4).  The biblical legacy of risk is evident in Scripture.  Paul was ready to be bound and even die, if necessary (Acts 21:13).  Some early believers could have escaped but chose not to (Hebrews 11:32-38).

No single response to danger is given in Scripture. Both fleeing and facing danger is given. There is freedom in either case; therefore, we must be careful not to develop hard-and-fast “rules” for risk. For example, Stephen faced risk in Acts 7-8, and the early believers fled in conjunction to his death (Acts 8:1-4). Neither are viewed as superior or less-than in these circumstances. In fact, God uses both facing and fleeing for His glory (Acts 11:19-26).

The problem for the church today is often not the decision of whether to face or flee danger, but whether we should even consider danger as an option. We assume that Jesus wants us to be safe and secure, so why would we go to other places where there are risks?  Jesus does not call us to safety; He calls us to be satisfied (in Him).

Facing or fleeing danger seemed to be assessed most often in Scripture based upon the need for the gospel in a particular place.  In Corinth, Paul, who was apparently fearful, was assured by God that he would be safe while he remained in Corinth preaching the gospel (Acts 18:9-11).  He understood that his calling was one of testifying to the gospel of the grace of God in places where it had not been heard (Acts 20:22-24).  He knew danger awaited him. 

There is a sense of urgency in Scripture for gospel advancement. This urgency means that, at times, Jesus calls us to face danger, and at other times, He calls us to flee from danger.  May God give us the wisdom and grace to do both. *(Portions adapted from Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions Policy and Procedure Manual)

Short-term Missions and Security

The world today is much different than it was 10 or 20 years ago.  While global traveling is much easier, it is also more difficult.  Preparing our teams for traveling and serving in strange places (whether in the US or abroad) is essential.

For the protection of the team, missionaries and national partners, here are some security guidelines that will benefit the short-term team.

  1. Never identify people overseas by name. Sharing personal information of partners overseas while you are overseas can jeopardize the work.  Do not share personal information in conversation or through social media.
  2. Avoid using Christian and mission terminology. Instead of using terms like “pray, missions, Bible, church, evangelism,” etc., one can say “talk with Dad, the family, the book, the work,” etc.
  3. Never identify yourself with a church, denomination or the IMB. Avoid clothing and hats that connect you with any of these groups.
  4. Do not leave written or printed information in your room that could identify local church or mission leaders. Places you go like hotels, restaurants, and airplanes have “ears.”  Workers in these places may share information they overhear or see with government officials.
  5. Consider that all communication is being heard or read by others. Speak by phone as if you are not in a private conversation.  Letters, emails, texts, etc. are very public.  If names are used, only use first names and never first and last names.
  6. Never give the impression of being critical of local governments or religions. As an American, you will likely be viewed with suspicion in many of the places you travel to, so do not say anything negative about governments or religions that will hinder your witness.
  7. Avoid visiting with other Christians or missionaries while on your trip. Unless requested by the IMB staff or local partners, contact with other believers in security-sensitive areas should be guarded.
  8. Refuse to be photographed or interviewed by news media. Common sense must be used in these cases.  You have no control how videos and pictures will be used by others to potentially harm the work of Christ.
  9. Always follow the leading of your host missionary and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. As a new person in a new place that is security-sensitive, listen and follow the directions of your host.  Their directions for the team are not meant to hinder ministry, but to enhance long-term ministry.  Further, as the Holy Spirit opens opportunities for gospel conversations, but sensitive to your situation and surrounding and tell others about the good news of Jesus. 

Being security sensitive is not for the purpose of stifling gospel work, but to ensure that it continues long after your short-term team is gone.  The goal in short-term missions is coming alongside long-term partners in order to advance the gospel intentionally and/or exponentially that would not occur otherwise.

Short-term Mission Team Timeline

They say time is of the essence.  No time like the present, others say.  Planning your short-term mission takes preparation; it takes time.  While there may be occasions when a mission effort can be pulled together quickly, most often the preparation requires many months. No rigid timeline exists for short-term missions, but there are some general steps that allow a team to prepare well in advance in order to maximize the impact of the team with the strategy of the host missionary.  Here is a suggested timeline that can be used as a guide:

  1. 10 to 12 months prior—determine assignment
  2. 9 months prior—determine team leader(s)
  3. 9 months prior—publicize mission effort
  4. 6 to 9 months prior—recruit team/receive volunteers, deposit due
  5. 6 to 9 months prior—contact travel agent to begin searching ticket prices
  6. 6 to 9 months prior—schedule initial info meeting, collect bi-monthly or quarterly payments
  7. 6 months prior—apply for passport and check requirement for visas
  8. 6 months prior—plan team meetings and meet monthly to discuss general mission prep
  9. 3 to 4 months prior—purchase plane tickets
  10. 3 to 4 months prior—get immunizations (shots!) if necessary
  11. 3 to 4 months prior—team meetings should become more specialized according to what the team will be doing on the field
  12. 2 months prior—develop prayer team
  13. 4 weeks prior—plan commissioning service for team
  14. 1 week prior—hold commission service
  15. 1 week or month after—plan celebration time with team and/or church

Preparing well allows us to go with a plan and then once there to go with the flow.  We trust that God uses our planning, but we also go knowing that the Lord will direct our steps and guide our ways for gospel advancement.

Short-term missions and team devotions

Short-term missions is strategic for making disciples not only globally, but locally within of our own congregations.  Using short-term mission efforts for disciple-making among our own church members is one slice of the disciple-making pie.

No need to reinvent the wheel here.  Ample resources are available for mission teams to use for team devotions.  Teams might select a book of the Bible or a portion of Scripture to work through prior to departure as well as while on the mission field.  Questions related to the passage can be developed that generate team discussions when meeting together before and during the mission effort.

Teams might also select short, but pertinent books on specific topics to read prior to departure and to discuss while on the field.  Suggested topics include:

  • Evangelism
  • Missions
  • Church Membership
  • Theology (a specific doctrine or a summary of multiple doctrines—e.g. BF&M 2000)
  • Biographies of missionaries or Christian leaders
  • Selected sermons (manuscripts that can be read as well as listened to)
  • Spiritual disciplines (Christian growth)
  • Church health/revitalization
  • Church planting

If using a book study, prepare some questions related to each chapter or section of the book you plan to discuss.  Use mornings or evenings with the team to not only review the upcoming day or debrief the day, but to discuss the topic for intentional discipleship time.

The point in team devotions is to maximize the concentrated time with the team for Jesus’ model of Mark 3:14—being with and sending out.  Mark gives us the reason for Jesus choosing the twelve (apostles).  He spent time with them and sent them out to share the good news.  Jesus is modeling what it looks like to make disciples—it’s time together and it’s time serving.  In fact, Matthew gives us a similar paradigm for discipleship.  Jesus mentored (taught) (Matthew 5-7); modeled (served with) (Matthew 8-9); and multiplied (sent them out) (Matthew 10).

Short-term missions allows churches to build disciples in a similar way that Jesus and Paul modeled it for us.  We can mentor, model, and multiply our church members in a concentrated way unlike at other times throughout the year.  Capitalizing on your time with the team for teaching and serving is invaluable and will often transform the way they engage the church and others once back home.

 

Enlisting Short-term Mission Teams

Jesus’s command to makes disciples of all nations is for all believers (Matt 28:19).  While we want every Christian to be a disciple-maker, not everyone in the local church will necessarily leave their home for gospel mission (Acts 13:1-3).  Some go; the rest send.  Some go long-term; others can go short-term.  Short-term mission teams can be a valuable asset to assist those making disciples in far places.  Enlisting proper short-term team members is an essential part of ensuring we have an effective and faithful long-term mission impact.  Here are some suggestions for enlisting your short-term mission team.

  • Communicate clearly to the church the mission. Pastors play a key role in communicating and giving “stage time” to the mission that the church will engage in.  Use as many (creative) communication platforms as necessary to inform the church of the upcoming mission opportunity.
  • Work closely with the pastor(s) in the process of recruiting or approving team members. As the shepherds of the church, pastors need to be involved in the decision process of those who participate in the mission effort.
  • Plan an informational meeting. Those who express interest need to know key details (as much as possible) in finalizing their decision. Schedule an informational group meeting with interested persons. Cover such details as:
    1. Location
    2. Purpose of the mission (as it aligns with the strategy of the host missionaries)
    3. Cost (travel, food, lodging, ministry expenses, travel insurance)
    4. Accommodations (lodging, travel, food, etc.)
    5. Expectations of team members (health abilities, type of work, behavior, etc.)
    6. Q&A time
  • Schedule interviews and/or an application process. Whether through an interview with those interested or by filling out an application, this step is important in making sure that those desiring to go are a right fit for the mission effort.  Issues covered in the interview and/or application include:
    1. Personal conversion story.
    2. Description of personal growth (e.g., prayer, Bible reading, church involvement, personal witnessing).
    3. Explanation of why the individual desires to go on this mission effort.
    4. Look for team players. There are no lone rangers in missions.
    5. Gain a feel for the personality of the person and ability to relate well with others.
    6. Willingness to be flexible and serve as needed.
    7. Physical and emotional stability.
  • Inform each interested person of the decision. In many cases, the answer for an interested mission team member will be “yes, welcome to the team.”  On occasion, the team leader, pastors and other decision makers will have to inform interested persons that the answer is “wait”.

Short-term teams provide valuable help to long-term missionaries when those teams are carefully selected and properly trained.  While not every Christian will be called to live far from “home,” every Christian is called to make disciples of all nations.  One way to faithfully live out this disciple-making call is by being part of carefully selected short-term mission teams.