This week’s Send North America Conference, the joint North American Mission Board and International Mission Board event in Nashville that was designed to help participants find their place in everyday missions, had, as SBC events always do, a means for folks to respond.
Of the 13,607 registered attendees, Baptist Press reports that about 1,100 had registered some formal, individual response as of the day after the conference had closed, and, get this, most did so by means of the Send Conference app. Your humble, plodding, Luddite blogger is defiantly app-less and carries a dumb phone. Not so the vast multitudes.
I’ve attended a good number of denominational mission events over the years and have heard quite a few of our overseas and North America missionaries share testimonies of being called or of confirming or committing to a call at a specific denominational event.
Ideally and properly, every local church should provide the environment where members have preaching, teaching, and education on evangelism and service, on lostness and global needs, and on opportunities for service. There is no substitute for the local church being the primary ground for mission service. But I’m grateful that our loose collection of almost 50,000 churches has the resources to expand the ministry of my church.
Anecdotally I observe that,
1. The old SBC channels and catalysts for mission service have diminished. Call this a function of expanding technology, a trend of lower popularity of the retreat events, and less exposure to individuals (actual folks who serve overseas or out of the south).
2. We do much less missions education in our churches and one consequence is that less of our members are exposed to the broad picture of global needs. We do more in direct missions but such is narrowly focused and highly limited. Other programs have supplanted the old Mission Friends, RAs, GAs, and Acteens mission education programs. These are not as focused on missions and often point to independent missions organizations.
3. The role of the WMU has been set aside or has been deemphasized in many SBC churches in favor of general women’s ministries that feature good teaching and solid events but much less focus on missions.
4. Most Southern Baptists, even pastors, have only a limited awareness of the considerable array of opportunities available to them and their members for missions service beyond their local church.
My impression of the Send Conference is that NAMB and IMB are doing their best to help the local church and pastor in doing missions in whatever context that church, pastor, and member feels called and compelled to do. No one knows what will come of the 1,100 “next steps” responses by the Send app. God willing, and I believe He is willing, many of these will engage in life-changing missions – some locally, some in another part of our country, some overseas.
It is the job of NAMB and IMB to do that. Some among us are lightly anti-denominational. I sometimes ruminate on exactly what almost 50,000 independent, autonomous churches would look like on mission if we did not cooperate and if we did not pool resources for education and the mission agencies. I speculate that we would flood Central America and the Caribbean with sincere workers, thousands of them, and pay little attention to the 10/40 window or to any more remote place where it is expensive and difficult to do mission work.
I thank God for our common work and for the fresh ways we are seeking to engage people on mission for the Lord.