For the Propagation of the Gospel – Southern Baptist Missions

Bart Barber has posted two installments of his excellent series, “For the Propagation of the Gospel,” about the work of the Southern Baptist Convention. Part 1. Part 2. He graciously asked if I might like to participate, and I offer this as a third installment in the series. 

They say that confession is good for the soul, so here is mine. There was a time when I was flirting with leaving Southern Baptists and finding another denominational home. My years at Dallas Seminary had made me aware that though I was a lifelong Southern Baptist there was a great big evangelical world out there for me to consider. A friend of mine, a youth evangelist, extolled the virtues of the Evangelical Free denomination. The independent Bible churches had some appeal as well. I’d known a few Conservative Baptists. There were options.

It was the mid 1980s and the SBC was pretty messed up. It was the era of the shooting war in the Conservative Resurgence and things were tense. I’m sick to death of the Calvinism squabbles of today, but they pale in comparison to the intensity of the early 80s conflicts. Those were not good times. And I just wasn’t sure that I wanted to serve the rest of my life among Southern Baptists. Actually, my dad, a Southern Baptist pastor and missionary, counseled me to get out while I was young.

But as I pondered this, there was one thought that overwhelmed all the others.

As a Southern Baptist, I am part of perhaps the most extensive world missions program in the history of the church.

In spite of all the negatives, this positive shined brightest to me. Even when I was not thrilled with the leadership of the SBC, I was happy to support the Foreign Mission Board, now the International Mission Board. Through the years, with the ups and the downs, the frustrations and the conflicts, I have never wavered in my belief that being a Southern Baptist is worth it because of our international missions program. There have been few earthly organizations that have been as effective “for the propagation of the gospel” than the missionary arm of the SBC.

According to the IMB website, there are currently 4867 IMB missions personnel, 4206 of those being career missionaries. That is down considerably from the days before the recession and the recent financial issues, but it is still a stunning fact. The old phrase, “we can do more together than we can do separately” is not a cliche. It is a fact.

By pooling our resources as a convention, we are able to support nearly 5000 missionaries around the world. 

Can you match that on your own?

My church gives somewhere around $45,000 through the Cooperative Program on an annual basis (12% of a 425k budget, with a tendency to fall slightly short of budget). It is possible that if we did it ourselves, we could support one full time missionary on our own, or give significant support to a dozen or so missionaries. Those megachurches with megabudgets can obviously do much more than we can. But no church can do on its own anything that rivals what the SBC can do cooperatively.

As Southern Baptists, we can have a part in the ministries of missionaries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North, Central, and South America, Australia, and in the Middle East. We are in Catholic areas, Muslim areas, Buddhist areas, Hindu areas, even serving in atheist regimes and secularist countries. Wherever there are lost people or unreached people groups, we are making an effort to penetrate the darkness with the light. When the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean, IMB missionaries were there to help and to minister in the name of Christ. We have effective (if limited) hunger ministries and disaster ministries in nations around the world. When terrorists killed my friend Bill Hyde in Davao City, Philippines in 2003, missionaries were undeterred. Even his own wife went back to serve in the country after his death. When Haiti was devastated, Southern Baptists were there to shine the light. Through our career missionaries’ hospitality, we have the ability to send mission teams around the world, giving a guy like me a chance to participate in worldwide missions personally. In places where missionary work is viewed with hostility, we have people serving silently, anonymously, but effectively.

If we only supported these missionaries, it would be worth investing in the SBC just to be a part of this work around the world. And of course, through our Cooperative Program, we support 5000+ NAMB personnel, and they are doing some good work – a fact even NAMB critics would likely have to admit. We have six seminaries that are educating 13,000 students. We have an ERLC and great leadership with Dr. Frank Page. But discounting all of that, if all we had was the IMB, our CP gifts would be eternally significant. I consider it a privilege to be able to be a small part of a great work.

Let me be a little more specific about what I appreciate about our IMB.

1) The IMB has been strategically responsive in recent years.

There have been some changes in missiological philosophy since my childhood as a missionary’s kid in Taiwan. Mission work today is different than it was in the 70s. Our missionaries have adjusted well, though the process has been, at times, difficult on them.

I have heard Baptists who ought to know better talk about how many Southern Baptist churches there are in other countries. In general, the answer is none. The SBC has sent missionaries to help establish churches and conventions in countries around the world. But they were not Southern Baptist churches. They were Honduran Baptist churches, Chinese Baptist churches, Ukrainian Baptist churches. Those conventions may partner with the SBC in some ways, but they are autonomous conventions.

While SBC missionaries were instrumental in establishing these conventions, they intentionally turned over authority and control to local pastors and Christian leaders. The missionaries did not try to maintain any kind of bishopric over the local work. IMB missionaries do not control conventions in other nations.

Instead, the IMB has been focusing its mission more and more on unreached people groups. As the national conventions and churches matured, they could handle ministry in those more established areas. Our missionaries went to work to try to find and reach those who have not heard the gospel.

The IMB has worked diligently to react to changes in global missions opportunities. When the doors in formerly closed countries opened a crack, we sent people through. The IMB is not hidebound to the missions philosophies and strategies of my father’s times. The world has changed and our missionaries have adapted with those changes.

2) The IMB is theologically grounded.

No Southern Baptist need worry about whether our missionaries believe the Bible or proclaim the biblical gospel. In this day of theological compromise and spiritual decline, it is comforting and encouraging to know that our missionaries are theologically grounded and solid. Of course, most of them are not theologians, and would likely be disinterested in some of the theological squabbles in which we engage. But they are BF&M supporters who proclaim Christ around the world. Rest assured of that.

3) The IMB supports its missionaries.

No one is going to get rich from serving as an IMB missionary, but neither are they going to starve.  Because of the genius of the Cooperative Program, our missionaries do not have to go from church to church raising funding. If they pass the rigorous application process and get commissioned as IMB missionaries, they will have housing, food, transportation and some level of financial security.

I wish we could double our missionaries’ salaries, but I am glad that we as Baptists do not have to be ashamed of how we pay our missionaries.

4) IMB missions personnel are impressive!

I’ve spent time in Tanzania, working with a missionary (David Whitson) who had planted churches and made disciples throughout the Bukoba region there. I worked with missionaries like Tom Canady, Steve Ballio, and Martina Menzies in Honduras and was amazed at their effectiveness, faithfulness and insight there. In 2010 and 2012 I went to Taiwan and worked with Dan Robinson at Morrison Academy. We were friends in high school at Morrison. After all the trouble we got into there, it is hard for me to imagine that they made him principle there, but they did. His heart for the Lord, for ministry and for the kingdom was evident in all he did.

We have a missions banquet every year here and feature an IMB missionary. We had a missionary from the Banda Aceh area the year after the tsunami’s devastation. We’ve had missionaries from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. All over the world. Some were boisterous, others were quiet. One guy had real difficulty speaking publicly, he was so shy. But every one of them was an effective servant of God doing amazing work in challenging conditions.

There’s probably a stinker or two among the 4867 missionaries we support, but the ones I’ve met leave me with the impression that when we are supporting their work, we are doing something good.

5) IMB missionaries serve Christ in dangerous places.

When Bill Hyde was killed in the Philippines by a terrorist’s bomb, I was privileged to participate in his funeral with Dr. Jerry Rankin. We talked by phone in advance of that funeral and he told me something that I’ve never forgotten. When I was an MK in Taiwan, it was way safer than living in the USA. Taiwan is still one of the safer places that our missionaries serve. But I asked Dr. Rankin just how much danger our mission force was in around the world.

He told me that most of our missionaries are in some physical danger ever day, mostly as a result of Islamic extremism. The greater surprise is not that a few have been martyred like Bill was, but that it has happened to so few. We send out 5000 people, plus missions volunteers, to places where Christianity is despised and the gospel is illegal. And still they go.

I knew this about Bill Hyde. He knew the possibilities and the dangers. He was not in the Philippines as a tourist or on vacation. Had he known it would cost him his life, he likely would have gone anyway. He was about the Kingdom of God, not about his own life.

Around the world today there are many people serving in dangerous areas, making Christ and the way of salvation known to people living in darkness. They have not chosen the safe road or the easy road. I live in Sioux City. It’s pretty safe here. Anything can happen anywhere, but it usually doesn’t happen in this sleepy Iowa city. But I am a part of the lives of men and women who serve Christ at great personal risk and sacrifice, all over the world.

This is one reason – perhaps the main one – why I consider it to be a great privilege to be Southern Baptist!

Conclusion

The IMB is not a perfect institution. It is not perfectly administrated. Its missionaries are uniformly imperfect. In fact, in the early days of Baptist blogging, the IMB was the swirling vortex of controversy at the time. Some of those issues still need resolution in my opinion. But the SBC was formed “for the propagation of the gospel” and if one looks at the work of the FMB and subsequently the IMB through the decades, the conclusion has to be that we have been well served. The gospel has certainly gone forward through the work of missionaries laboring for Christ and supported by Southern Baptists.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    “We are in Catholic areas, Muslim areas, Buddhist areas, Hindu areas, even serving in atheist regimes and secularist countries.”

    evangelicals are very welcomed in Catholic areas of the world . . . when Pope John Paul II was still the Cardinal in Poland, he invited Billy Graham to preach in the main cathedral there . . . strangely, Rev. Graham did arrive and did preach in the cathedral, but at the very moment he was preaching, Cardinal Wojtyla had been called to conclave in Rome and was being chosen as Pope John Paul II. Billy Graham and John Paul were friends, and did finally meet and also communicated with each other until John Paul’s death.

    In Argentina, Cardinal Bergolio was good friends with some evanglicals and used to drink tea with them, discuss sacred Scripture, and pray with them . . . he LIKED them. He is now Pope Francis, and he doesn’t show signs of changing his ways at all.

    • Dave Miller says

      Despite your protestations, the spread of the biblical gospel in Catholic-dominated areas has often been resisted by local Catholic priests.

      • Christiane says

        Hi DAVID,

        as far as I know, the Holy Gospels of Our Lord are not ‘resisted’ by my Church . . . I do believe you, but I am left wondering how ‘the biblical gospel’ differs from the Apostolic Gospel . . .

        if someone comes preaching ‘Jesus Christ crucified and risen’, I can’t see them in opposition to the Holy Gospels . . . Billy Graham preached Christ crucified, and so did John Paul II

        is the ‘biblical gospel’ being presented in some way differently than it was preached by Billy Graham?

        if so, what is the difference?

        Catholics are very accepting of others who are different from us, DAVID. As long as they are people of good will who come doing no harm to others. As far as I know, my mother’s cousin who was a Protestant missionary in South American for MANY years spoke kindly of his Catholic friends, some of whom were priests. But he preached Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, and he was a person of great good will towards others, so much so that he stayed on duty as a missionary and did not return to the States for proper medical care when it was needed. He was not a Southern Baptist missionary, though. (different gospel?)

        • Frank L. says

          “””as far as I know, the Holy Gospels of Our Lord are not ‘resisted’ by my Church””””

          Not “resisted” perhaps, but definitely “twisted.”

          Therein lies the problem with Catholicism or any false religion. Error is always bad–gospel error is eternally bad.

      • Christiane says

        don’t give up on this, DAVID:

        ” Jesus is not the key to truth. He is truth. Jesus doesn’t show us the way. He is the way. Jesus does not give us principles by which we can live a better life. He is the resurrection and the life. The gospel only changes us because it brings us into contact with the life-changing, soul-transforming power of Jesus. The gospel is the story. Jesus is the one whom the story is about.”

        http://sbcvoices.com/i-have-a-gospel-problem/

        • Dave Miller says

          I am not forgetting anything. You know that, since you read my comments and my posts. You know very well that “the gospel” is not the same as “The Gospels” – it would be good if you would not feign that confusion again.

          The gospel is the story of Christ’s death which paid the price for our sins – satisfying God’s wrath against human sins – and his resurrection as Lord of all. The Risen Lord offers righteousness, forgiveness and eternal life to all who repent and trust in him. That is the gospel – the biblical gospel.

          We are saved by putting our faith in Jesus – that is the biblical gospel. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That has not changed and does not change.

          The Bible presents a Jesus who is love, but also one who rides out of heaven to strike down the sinful nations and set up his kingdom on earth. He is the Savior of sinners, but he is also the Judge of the living and the dead, and the Lord of all.

          There is no one besides him. He is the one to whom each of us must answer. He is the watershed of both life and eternity. Those who have the son, have life, but those who do not have the Son do not have life, and are under condemnation.

          He is not some nebulous, touch-feely, new age creation. He is the living Lord, the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by faith in him.

          There is no hope of salvation in religion – not yours, not mine, none. There is no salvation in our own good works, our acts of (attempted) righteousness, or our humility, kindness or anything else. Sinners cannot self-correct enough to achieve God’s pleasure.

          The only hope for any hell-deserving sinner (which you and I both are) is to repent of our wicked sins and place our faith in Jesus Christ and him alone. There is no eternal hope without him.

          So, please do not twist my expression of the biblical gospel to try to make it into some kind of denial of the biblical gospel.

          Christiane, would you please answer the following questions clearly and without equivocation?

          1) Do you believe that people (before they come to Christ) are sinners who are deserving of hell and under condemnation?

          2) Do you believe that someone must repent of their sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ to be forgiven of sin and saved from it?

          3) Do you believe that people who try to be good, who are humble and nice, are going to heaven even if they do not repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ?

          4) Do you believe that human good works (for instance, humility) play a part in our eternal salvation?

          You are constantly asking questions here, so now I am asking you plainly and forthrightly to declare your beliefs. I’m hoping you will do so.

          • Debbie Kaufman says

            David: I don’t get you on this comment. What in the world has Christiane said in this comment that you could possibly disagree with. I know in the Baptist world Roman Catholic is evil, but that is simply not true. Sad that Christiane is spoken to like this. I sound like a broken record but so is the treatment of Christiane. 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 13. I will say this once again and not repeat it every time. I am sick and tired of how Christiane is treated on this blog. Half the time, she makes more sense than most Southern Baptists. On her statement above, she is absolutely correct.

          • Frank L. says

            “””Roman Catholic is evil,”””

            If truth matters, and matters eternally, then error is evil because it is eternal.

            I have yet to see Christiane’s answers to the simple questions of the gospel. I wonder why that is? I can easily give biblical answers to the questions.

            Seems like something else may be going on. Again, if truth matters, then Romanism is evil–eternally damning evil. That should concern anybody–Protestant or Catholic.

            If, universalism is true and truth doesn’t really matter, then we are all just wasting our time anyway.

  2. Bart Barber says

    I’m thankful that Dave has agreed to write this, the core post of the series of posts that we have been presenting. Here is the heart of our efforts toward the propagation of the gospel.

  3. Jess Alford says

    Dave,

    Thank you for posting this, I too wish the missionaries salaries could be doubled.

    Dave, if you were a Five- pointer, a lot of this nonsense wouldn’t bother
    you so much. God bless the IMB.

  4. Roger Simpson says

    At least in the past decade the epicenter of the problems at the IMB were warring factions on the IMB Board of Trustees over 2nd level (in fact I’d say 3rd level) issues — such as “Private Prayer Language”. I was concerned that the IMB was being used as a vehicle so various contingents would have a sounding board to promote their own viewpoints on these narrow issues.

    Thankfully, this era is largely behind us. I’d say this positive thurst is due to two events.

    (1) The tenure of Dr. Paul Chitwood as chaiman of the BoT. [He is now the state exec in Kentucky].

    (2) The appointment of my former pastor, Dr. Tom Eliff as IBM president.

    I agree that something needs to happen to “shake up” the SBC so that more missionaries can be mobilized. Although the recent resolution coming out of the BoT of IMB was a little vague, I still support it. I’m waiting to see what, if anything, the Exec Committee does to respond to the resolution.

    Also, I think the exec committee is going to say something about the real or imagined “traditionalist” vs. “Calvinist” issue in Houston. I have my ear on the rail to see what happens. I thought the conference that Dr. Chitwood put together about six months ago regarding reformed theology was pretty good. Dr. Dockery traced the historical trajectory of the Sandy Creek and Charleston traditions to the present time. The SBC has always been able to “share” different views of soterology and still cooperate for the proclamation of the Gospel.