GCRTF VIEWPOINT: First draft has wineskins but not wine
The goal of the GCR process was resurgence. Consider: What in the report (as it now stands) will so thrill church members and leaders that they will rise up with hearts set aflame for world evangelization?
Will the following thrill key laymen or pastors when they read....
"We are moving stewardship promotion from the Executive Committee to the states."
"We are revising cooperative agreements between states and NAMB."
Such issues should be addressed. We must have new wineskins if the denomination is about to do new things. But the first draft of recommendations is missing the wine -- something that touches the heart and the passions.
In July, three professors of student ministry, three SBC entity student ministry leaders and seven state convention student ministry leaders sent a recommendation to the GCR. If it had made it into the first draft, it might have looked like this:
"Component #7: We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will challenge every Southern Baptist student to go the front lines of missions soon after high school for a few months to a year. To make this challenge part of the DNA of our denomination, we challenge parents, pastors, and age-group ministers (both local-church and denominational) to plant this call in the hearts of preschoolers, children, youth, and collegians. In addition, we call on parents to open saving accounts, upon the birth of a child, that later will completely fund that individual's extended mission experience after high school."
By God's grace, pastors respond well when I speak to them. But the only time they stand and clap is when I ask, "Do you men think we ought to call out every one of our sons and daughters to go to the front lines while they are young?" There is passion in this theme.
When virtually every SBC church has one or dozens of their high school graduates on the front lines, missions always will be on their radar. And moms and dads suddenly will be very focused on missions in a way that could not happen before their own children came along.
Even after you cut out seniors so spiritually weak that they are not ready to go, you still are talking about mobilizing a young mission force that parallels the waves of students who went out following the Haystack Prayer Meeting in 1806 and the Student Volunteer Movement in the late 1880s. Why not in our day?
If a loss of passion for missions is the primary crisis in the SBC, then our students leaving the church around college time is the second greatest crisis. But if we send out students on the greatest (and hardest) challenge of their lives -- and they see Christ at work with their own eyes -- and they rub shoulders with great Christian missionaries and leaders, do we think we will still lose them when they get home? Not likely.
Family funding of students to do full-time missions should measurably increase giving to the missions offerings and the Cooperative Program. Parents who experience the thrill of their own children serving alongside missionaries always will have more interest in the financial support of those ministries. Also, the students themselves who have seen God at work in North American and international missions will have a lifetime bond with those movements.
Almost all SBC students may step forward for extended trips when they have discussed their growing savings account with their parents since they were young, when they have watched with pride as older siblings have departed, when students leaving and returning has become a regular part of church life, and when preparation for the trip has been a strong focus of their final years in high school.
Though students need leaders to guide them in strategy, they can be effective in evangelism and church planting. They often are effective in relational evangelism as well as broad sowing. In almost every region of the world, youth are fascinated with American students and are motivated to talk with them. Even adults find youth far less intimidating than adult evangelists. The proliferation of students in evangelism in the U.S. and worldwide should result in immediate and lasting increases in baptisms.
What would it be like to hand the new presidents of our mission boards thousands of trained and fully funded young missionaries in the years to come? What new dreams will that allow them to dream related to desperately lost cities in the U.S. and the last people groups around the world? Those of us with hearts for the young and hearts for the nations invite the GCR to add another recommendation.
Richard Ross is professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.