RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Southern Baptists need to increase their overseas missionary force by at least one-half to even begin engaging all the lost in the world, according to leaders of International Mission Board work in 15 regions of the world.
The regional leaders and senior IMB administrators reached that conclusion during an Aug. 4-8 "Global Strategy Summit" at the board's Missionary Learning Center near Richmond, Va.
"We realize this is a tremendous challenge," IMB President Jerry Rankin said. "We have in recent months had to slow down the flow of missionaries going overseas so we can stay within the financial support provided by the churches. But our hearts are burdened by the overwhelming lostness of our world."
The slowdown in missionary appointments means attrition will take a higher toll than usual on the number of missionaries working overseas. While that number stands at a record 5,607, board leaders say retirements, resignations and the steady stream of short-term workers completing their assignments will push the total below 5,000 by the end of 2004.
On top of that, one-fourth of the world's population -- 1.5 billion people -- have little or no prospect of hearing the good news of God's love unless someone comes and tells them.
WORLD STILL LOST
"This is not a time when Southern Baptists should be sending fewer missionaries," Rankin said. "The lostness of our world is undiminished. Christ's mandate is still for us to make disciples of all peoples. And our mission of making Jesus Christ known among all peoples will not change.
"The challenge we face is how to best use limited resources and remain focused on our vision of leading Southern Baptists to be on mission with God to bring all the peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ."
Southern Baptist churches are giving larger amounts each year through the Cooperative Program unified budget and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, but the number of church members coming forward for missionary service has been growing even faster. To stay within the support provided by the churches, the board is delaying 100 long-term missionary candidates and reducing the number of short-term workers this year by 30 percent.
The regional leaders decided to convene the summit to evaluate the impact of budget reductions and personnel limitations on the board's global strategy. Their purpose was to develop priorities that, in light of the urgency of the missions task, would guide board decisions in the immediate future.
"We want to express our sincere appreciation for our missionary colleagues, home office staff, trustees and others who have prayed for this summit," said Rodney Hammer, who leads work in the board's Central and Eastern Europe region. "Throughout our discussions and prayer times, we experienced a deep sense of unity.
"We came to this meeting not knowing what the Lord was going to do among us. We depart in one accord, knowing that the Lord has refocused our vision and guided us to specific decisions that we pray will honor Him."
The need for at least 8,500 missionaries to seriously engage the lost of urban centers and unreached peoples groups was one of the conclusions the group reached. The number was based on research conducted in each region prior to the meeting.
The group also decided to recommend that any funds above budgeted income that might become available in 2003 or 2004 be applied to sending more workers. Two-thirds of those funds would be directed toward sending long-term personnel (career, associate, apprentice), while one-third would be appropriated for sending short-term workers (International Service Corps, journeymen, masters).
The regional leaders also agreed on how the limited number of positions for new workers available in 2004 will be divided among the 15 regions and discussed ways to ensure that new personnel are placed in the most strategic field assignments.
"Our decisions were shaped by our shared vision, values and view of the future," said Phil Templin, who leads work in the board's Middle America region. "While economics precipitated the discussions, it did not determine our decisions. Our primary focus is establishing reproducing churches among unreached peoples and unreached megacities. Our emphasis is on the catalytic function of training and coordinating to foster church-planting movements in the greatest concentrations of lostness.
"As missionaries, our passion to take the Gospel to all peoples supercedes our personal roles and regional identities," Templin said. "We are focused on the goal of impacting lostness and are committed to organizing our work in the most effective way to accomplish that goal."
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MORE WITNESSES NEEDED.
-- Pray for and/or an unengaged people group: http://www.imb.org/CompassionNet/UnengagedPeople.asp
-- Learn more about some unreached people groups: http://www.tconline.org/news/lastfrontier/tukulor.html