Platt looks ahead to mission challenges
EDITOR'S NOTE: Two upcoming articles will feature Platt's views on additional mission issues.
RICHMOND, Va. -- After a whirlwind week, what's next for newly elected IMB President David Platt?
First, he will give a loving goodbye to the church he has led for eight years. That will be followed by a time of meeting and listening to Southern Baptist missionaries at a major strategy gathering in Asia. After that, he anticipates "100 percent focus" on the task ahead.
"My head's still kind of spinning," admitted Platt, 36, in a wide-ranging interview the morning after his Aug. 27 election by IMB trustees to succeed Tom Elliff as leader of Southern Baptists' global mission enterprise. "It's good, though."
One of his favorite moments came minutes after his election, when news of the event started spreading around the venue near Richmond, Va., where the trustee meeting was held. An excited group of new missionaries -- all 20-somethings -- surrounded Platt in a lobby area to congratulate him and express their support. Several said God had led them toward international missions while they read Platt's bestselling book, "Radical," or heard him speak about taking the Gospel to the darkest places on earth.
"I think they were encouraged to see there's somebody else who's a bit younger who sees the value [of what they're doing with their lives]," said Platt, the youngest leader in the history of the 169-year-old mission organization.
"It's encouraging that some of the folks I was talking to yesterday said that things I had written or my preaching ministry had an influence on them coming to that point. Any gifts that God has given me, any gifts in preaching or writing or teaching, I just want that to fuel and mobilize more people who see their lives in the context of global mission."
Platt asked for prayer as he returns to his congregation, The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., for several weeks. He hopes to "love and lead and leave The Church at Brook Hills well," he said. "This is a people that I've had the joy of shepherding for the last eight years on mission."
After that he heads for Asia, where he will attend an already-scheduled meeting of IMB missionaries and leaders studying the most effective models for reaching the lost.
"That's when my focus will really shift 100 percent to all that lies ahead at the IMB," Platt said. "I know I've got a lot to learn. I look forward to listening in the days ahead to missionaries on the field, listening to pastors and getting a picture of how we can best mobilize churches here for missions. I want to ask that people pray for discernment as I'm listening. I need wisdom from God to see what He sees as He looks at the IMB now and the potential for what the IMB can become."
As he looks ahead, Platt offered his perspective on a variety of mission-related topics, including:
Mission structures, mission movements
Some younger evangelicals have questioned the ongoing relevance of traditional Christian institutions, including missionary-sending agencies beyond the local church. Platt, in contrast, sees great value in institutions -- if they help nurture Spirit-led movements.
"There is so much value in institutions sustaining movements," he said.
"That's the beauty in what God has created, even in the Southern Baptist Convention on a large scale -- 40,000-plus churches working together, and the IMB keeping that coalition focused on reaching unreached peoples with the Gospel. The key is [building] strategies and structures and systems that help fuel a movement, that don't inhibit the movement or cause churches to abdicate their responsibility in mission. ... How can I, from a leadership position, make sure there are systems and structures in place that are helping fuel that groundswell of disciples being made, churches being planted and missionaries being sent, all to the end that the mission is being accomplished?"
"There are many great mission organizations doing many great things, but there's nothing like the IMB when it comes to connecting and fueling local churches in [a mission] movement," Platt said.
"That's one of the things that's most exciting for me stepping into this role. Not only do I believe in the role of institutions in sustaining a movement, I believe in this institution sustaining a movement of local churches planting churches around the world. The potential is just massive; it's overwhelming. If we're really engaged in partnering with churches around the world, we can be a part of seeing every unreached people group reached with the Gospel."
Platt recalled meeting with a group of evangelical mission leaders to talk about mobilizing local churches for reaching the nations. They expressed amazement at how Southern Baptists -- whether they belong to tiny rural congregations or huge mega-churches -- still come together to do missions.
"This force of 40,000 churches working together on mission is evident in many ways, but particularly in the way we can cooperate together in giving," he said. "When I think about what happens in the Cooperative Program, what happens in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, I see different churches from all over North America give, and the result is that missionaries are able to go. If this giving wasn't happening, we'd have missionaries doing what politicians do: spending all their time raising money just to stay where they are. That works worse in the Great Commission than it does in Washington, and that's saying something.
"It's not cooperation for the sake of cooperation; the goal is seeing more people reached with the Gospel. The goal is seeing disciples made and churches multiplied. When you give to Lottie Moon, you're giving to an offering that is fueling and sustaining a movement for all eternity. That's worth giving to."
Erich Bridges is IMB correspondent. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).