Missions effectiveness examined by SBC leaders
ST. LOUIS (BP) -- Entity leaders discussed ways to be more effective in global missions during one of 18 Cooperative Program panel discussions held June 13-15 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in St. Louis.
Responding to his questions were Frank S. Page, president of the SBC's Executive Committee; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and David Platt, president of the International Mission Board.
Moderator Jon Akin opened the discussion by asking Page about a report on the decline in attendance, members and baptisms in Southern Baptist churches. Does this indicate America is going to become like Europe -- post-Christian, unchurched?
"I believe if we lose the base we lose the battle," Page responded. "The base of Christianity in America is so important. I'm not saying other places in the world cannot send; they are. They cannot reach; they do.
"I believe we must sense the seriousness of this," Page noted. "We must see what's happening and redouble, retriple our efforts at seeing people coming to Christ, at revitalizing churches, at planting evangelistically strong churches here and around the world. So I'm deeply burdened. I am."
Page was in Germany recently, he said, at a conference attended by perhaps 1,300 preachers, and 75 percent of them were under 30 years of age.
"So I saw hope," Page said. "I said, 'Well, maybe God's not done with Europe and maybe God's not done with us.'"
When the moderator asked Mohler to analyze the issues leading to the declines, the seminary president referred to a mid-century chorus, "Deep and Wide."
"Now it's deep or wide in the sense that where you find Christianity you're increasingly in the secularized West," Mohler responded. "You either find it deep, where you find deep gospel commitment, deep commitment to truth, deep ecclesiology or it's merely wide, and the wide is what's disappearing.
"Cultural nominal Christianity is what's disappearing," Mohler said. "But where it's found deep, there we have the real opportunity to preach the Gospel. We've got to have healthy churches. We've got to have churches deeply committed to Christ, deeply committed to the Gospel, deeply committed to the Great Commission, deeply committed to ecclesiology, deeply committed to doctrine and the inerrancy of scripture, and that's our only hope.
"So one of the things Southern Baptists have got to get used to is, we've found a certain pride in wide, and all along we should have been a little more concerned -- and that's an understatement -- for deep. And so we have to be really, really clear now that we're not going to try for wide at the expense of deep. We're going to try for wide that emerges from the deep. Those are two different things."
Some people suggest the SBC should shore up the home base before going to the mission field, Jon Akin said. He asked Platt to comment.
"I don't think it agrees with Scripture," Platt said. "I think we're fooling ourselves to think we're going to go deep if we turn a deaf ear to the need of the nations to hear the Gospel. That's part of depth. We're fooling ourselves if we think, 'Oh, we'll be healthy if we just focus on ourselves.' That's totally antithetical to everything that's in the New Testament."
Seminary president Akin said, "The issue is access to the Gospel."
"At least, that's part of the equation," he noted. "We have access to the Gospel here. There are wide portions of the world that have no access to the Gospel." If Southern Baptists stay home, he said, multiple millions, billions of people will live, die and go to hell without ever having the opportunity to respond to the Gospel.
"That's absolutely unacceptable," Akin said. "If we go authentically deep, we'll also go broad-wide, because the Gospel demands we respond in that way."
Moderator Akin asked Mohler, "Was Jesus giving us a program in Acts 1:8 or was something else going on there?" Akin was referring to Christians being Jesus' witness locally, regionally and globally, all at the same time.
"I don't want to say Jesus was giving a program," Mohler responded. "Jesus was commanding His people. Those are two different things. Programs come and go. The commands of Christ are in place, in force, by Christ's own Kingly authority, until He comes to claim His church.
"It's not a matter of strategy in the first place; it's a matter of obedience," Mohler said. "In the Cooperative Program and in our mission efforts, we're not trying to be faithful to a program," he said. "We're trying to be faithful to Christ and what Christ gave His church was a command."
What steps can a pastor take when he goes to a church that does not have a comprehensive missions strategy, Jon Akin asked the panel.
"I've done this many times as a pastor for 34 years," Page responded. "You begin to evaluate the DNA of the church. You begin looking at what they've been doing, and you begin to evaluate: Why do you do what you do, and is it effective? Is it efficient?
"And I've seen some of those church trips that are nothing more than glorified vacations," Page said. "It's doing no good for anyone. So I begin challenging and changing some of those strategies ... actually helping form reproducible missions strategies that are helping to bring about true missions commitment."
Pastors should shepherd people, Platt said, "taking them from where they are, lovingly, patiently, carefully, walking them through the process."
Danny Akin said pastors should "keep hammering" the Great Commission and Great Commandment to their congregation until "eventually it will work into the DNA of the church."
Jon Akin then asked how churches can be the most effective in their global outreach.
"Any short-term mission -- in order to be wise, faithful, effective -- needs to be connected to a long-term, disciple-making process on the ground with people who know the language, culture, setting, context," Platt said. "That's one of the valuable things about having IMB in all these places that churches can connect with."
Churches in the United States, Platt said, should connect with someone overseas who has an intentional, long-term, disciple-making process and who is seeing churches planted there in healthy ways.
"As local church pastors, you say, 'How can we best be a part of that process? Apart from that relationship and that strategy, oftentimes short-term missions is going to prove to be harmful," Platt said. "If we're really approaching short-term missions right, it's going to fuel long-term, disciple-making there -- it's going to be better as a result of our time there -- and in our churches here.
"It's going to be huge for people's growth in Christ that will affect the way they live here," Platt said. "That's short-term missions done right."
Each SBC entity has specific responsibilities that together fuel local churches' Kingdom advancement, the panel agreed. "We cannot do our job if we are not in constant cooperation with one another," Mohler said.