I’ve written in the past about the need for churches to raise up the next generation of leaders from within, avoiding the tendency to poach the best and the brightest from other ministries and organizations. If you have some time to kill and want to see a bit of a philosophical approach to the subject, go here.
This is essentially the same topic, but with a slightly different approach. Neither philosophy nor food for thought; instead, we’ll be looking at a purely logical perspective. Well, it will be as purely logical as I am capable of making it.
I’ll lay out some statistics briefly (so as not to bore anyone), then we’ll examine the implications. One caveat: my stats come from the IMB, from Lifeway research, and other sources. There might be a few variations, but we’re looking for patterns and trends, not precise statistical deviations and calculations. If your numbers are better or more recent than mine, then do the same analysis I am doing and you’ll get nearly the same results.
SBC churches at the end of 2012: 45,764
Local Associations in 2012: 1,200
Total IMB Missionaries on 1/1/2013: 4,211
What jumps out and grabs you?
I’ll tell you what I see: it takes 10.8 SBC churches to send and support a single missionary, one adult. One local association can send 3.5 missionaries. I am sure some of you could find more stats, but I’ll stop here.
When I say, “…send and support…” I’m not just talking about finances. Sending and supporting a missionary is so much more than cash. It takes:
Pastors who preach missions.
Church leaders who train potential ministers from among the members.
Deacons who guide people to seek His will.
Opportunities to grow as a servant or teacher.
Friends who celebrate new missionary’s appointment.
Congregations that send cards and letters and care packages to the field.
Mission groups that gather volunteers and send working teams.
Groups that pray for and encourage missionaries.
I’m not asking for more of anything. No one is accusing any church of being derelict. I think SBC churches do a fabulous job of sending and supporting. If anyone wants to go off on the ”why aren’t our churches doing more?” tangeant in the comment stream, have fun; I’m not interested in your discussion, but in the nicest possible way.
However, I am asking for something else: the next time you want to hire a really great minister to fill a need at your church, don’t call an IMB missionary. At least not right away. Please. Don’t throw your deep pockets at 10.8 churches’ missionary.
Tell you what….name 11 SBC churches other than your own. Now, imagine calling each church and telling them that you’re planning to hire their missionary, the one they’ve supported with or without realizing it. You need a music director, and that church planter in Botswana seems to be perfect for the job. Have a nice day.
Oh, and if your targeted guy is married, you’ll need to call 22 churches.
I know you want the best person for the job. I know some missionary came to your church last year and really knocked people’s socks off. I know the church down the street hired an IMB guy as pastor and their church is booming now. I know he’s got a degree and experience and a great family. Do you know how he got that way? Do you know how he was able to dislodge your footwear? The IMB has this mentoring program, you see. You’ve heard of those things, I would imagine. The IMB also has a program (called ICEL) that offers books and courses and credits for missionaries. Personal development is pursued and wanted and achieved. Missionaries are allowed and encouraged to take seminary classes. Why? So that as leaders resign and retired, we’ll have a core of developing leaders ready to step in and fill the gaps.
You know your pastor will leave someday, right? So start training young (and not-so-young) men now to preach. Ask the congregation’s patience as these proteges stumble through a few bad sermons. Teach folks to prep for teaching and to teach well. Mentor them in church administration. Grab that guy with the guitar and get him involved in music production and Christmas performances. Show him how to deal with choirs and egos and agendas. Ask college students to apprentice as youth directors. Show them how to be wise, how to protect themselves and their kids. Deliberately, intentionally, voluntarily prepare your church for the day that your leaders leave, retire, die.
But don’t sit back and wait for others - IMB, NAMB, etc - to train the next generation for you.
Now maybe – possibly – I’m being a little unreasonable here. We’ve all got to obey His call. If there’s an IMB guy out there waiting for the chance to follow His leading back to the US, then someone has to offer a job. I get that. As well, I know there are IMB folks who return to the US and take on missions-oriented positions. They’re doing the same job in a different location. That’s great, really.
But to some of my colleagues and I, it seems as though a disproportionate number of churches seem to pursue IMB workers immediately and exclusively. Folks come back from Christmas vacation at Grandma’s and submit a resignation letter. “Sorry, man. They made me an offer I could not turn down. Besides, I’ll still be involved in missions.” And so one church hires away the efforts of 10 or 20 others.
I guess what I’m trying to say is to hire the person who can do the job, but realize that you don’t always have to fish in Lake IMB. You can create that person in your churches, someone precisely suited to know your community and members…without leaving a hole in some other part of the kingdom.