COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)— Southern Baptist Convention messengers affirmed a report from the International Mission Board’s president—including recently policy changes that lifted some prohibitions on missionary appointment.
IMB President David Platt’s report noted the trustees’ recent policy changes are focused on opening the funnel of missionary sending so more Southern Baptists called by God can make disciples and multiply churches among those who never have heard the name of Jesus.
“And we’re praying for limitless men and women from Southern Baptist churches to say, ‘yes’ to that invitation until the day when the concept of unreached peoples is completely eradicated,” Platt said.
Last year alone, more than 4,700 IMB missionaries proclaimed the gospel to nearly 2 million people in nearly 1,000 people groups, Platt reported. They saw about 200,000 people baptized and more than 13,000 churches started, in addition to training their pastors to start churches.
Southern Baptists have enabled those positive results, Platt said, with more than $94 million given to IMB through the Cooperative Program last year, and more than $153 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the second-largest offering.
“But we have a problem,” he said. In 2009, the IMB employed a record 5,600 missionaries overseas. That number has dropped to 4,700 and is fast on its way to 4,200, primarily because the board is not financially able to support its missionary force. Last year, IMB expenses exceeded income by nearly $21 million.
The decreasing number of missionaries is “not tolerable when 2 billion people still haven’t heard the name of Jesus,” Platt said. “Consequently, we are evaluating all of our structures and systems in order to discern how we can more efficiently and effectively use the resources Southern Baptists churches have entrusted to us.”
As long as the board only sends missionaries it fully supports financially—even if the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering both increase dramatically—“we will keep a cap” on Southern Baptists’ missions involvement, Platt said.
‘Blow open that funnel’
“I want to lead the IMB to blow open that funnel to create as many pathways as possible for Southern Baptists to get the gospel to unreached people,” Platt said.
God is divinely opening the doors to take the gospel around the world, not just through traditional missionary routes, but also through nontraditional roles, including the globalization of the marketplace, he said.
Platt challenged messengers to imagine a team led by a traditional missionary and surrounded by students, professionals and retirees—potentially supporting themselves financially—working alongside him or her, all focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached.
IMB trustees evaluated the entity’s policies to make such “limitless” teams possible, Platt said.
In May, trustees voted on a statement of qualifications that must mark every IMB missionary—a vibrant disciple of Jesus who is making disciples; called by God and affirmed by church leaders and the IMB; committed to the vision, mission, values and beliefs of the IMB; and a baptized Southern Baptist church member “with a clear conviction of truth” as expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message confessional statement.
The board took these steps to “tether ourselves in the tightest possible way to the confessional statement that unites Southern Baptists,” Platt said.
“To be crystal clear, IMB missionaries do not and will not in any way promote speaking in tongues or private prayer language,” Platt said. He noted he and the board have deep concerns about this issue, which is why the IMB has an intentional appointment, training and supervisory process.
Additionally, the new policy on divorce means if individuals have divorce in their past, they are not automatically disqualified from playing a part in spreading the gospel overseas, he added.
“This action by our trustees is intended to shout to every member of every Southern Baptist church, ‘If you have been baptized by immersion as a symbol of your salvation, if you are committed to the Baptist Faith & Message, if you are a healthy disciple whom God is calling to make disciples and multiply churches among men, women, boys and girls—who aren’t talking about tongues because they’ve never heard the name of Jesus in their own language—Southern Baptists who want to change that, the door is open at IMB to do that,’” Platt said.