By / Mar 1

It is no secret that contemporary American society continues to be embroiled in conversations about race and interracial tensions. America has a blemished history as it pertains to historical racial injustices and that history’s reverberations continue to resound today. 

However, as I look at the complicated issues here in the United States as they relate to prejudice and the tendency to segregate, I find myself seeing these current issues through the lens of our experience having lived abroad in the Middle East. And the tensions we encountered there led me to a deeper sense of why it is so important for the church to lead the way in exhibiting a reconciliation between people who share in the same blood of Christ despite bearing different tones of skin.

On the mission field 

One of the problems we faced in our ministry in the Middle East was how best to help believers from a Muslim background enter into fellowship with those from a Christian background. As I sought outside counsel, I was told by a well-respected missionary strategist, “You should just start two different kinds of churches—one for Muslim background believers and one for Christian background believers. It will slow things down too much if these new believers have to work through all the historical and cultural baggage that comes from bringing former persecutors into the community they persecuted.”

To be honest, I was stunned by the answer. I asked him later in the day if I had heard him correctly when he said we should not encourage believers from a Muslim background to fellowship with those believers who grew up culturally as Christians. He confirmed that I had heard him correctly: start two different kinds of churches because there is too much baggage to hope for unity.

This was a man who had overseen some reportedly incredible movements of people to Christ in another context. He had been brought into our training as an expert missiologist. But his advice to avoid dealing with conflict within the fellowship of believers was grossly dissatisfying—both theologically and practically. 

The more I reflected on it, the more frustrated I got. The pragmatism reflected in this advice was being allowed to trump the beauty of the enemy-reconciling effect of the gospel. I mean, think about it: What would have been the result for the early church if in Acts 9 Ananias had refused to receive Saul because of the sociological tension that it would cause to fellowship with a former persecutor?

Back at home

These sentiments, however, aren’t exclusive to the mission field. I also had a disappointing experience in a classroom in the U.S. once when a Christian professor dismissed the discussion about multiethnic churches altogether. His comment was that this is just a fad that is responding to contemporary sensitivities and that churches would do better to stay culturally homogeneous. 

Is it true that bringing together different communities might require each community to begin to appreciate expressions and forms of worship that are not native to their subculture? Certainly. But is the potential for discomfort sufficient reason to not pursue fellowship with brothers and sisters who share a common faith and theology? Hardly. 

What is lost if segregation of churches remains a practice of convenience? We lose multiple opportunities to learn from one another as we seek to live out a shared faith in different circumstances. And we lose multiple opportunities to display to a watching world how compelling the fellowship of the gospel is.

Beautiful unity as an embodied apologetic

A few years after the disappointing advice from the missiologist, however, I got a taste of what could happen if we didn’t allow socially-defined distinctions to determine the composition of our fellowship. 

I had been given the privilege of getting to teach a church planting course in an underground Bible school. The 20-or-so students who composed the class came from various Christian upbringings, and some had come to faith in Jesus out of Muslim families. Some of those of a Muslim background were even connected to high-ranking government and military officials who would have been responsible for overseeing various waves of targeted persecution of Christians throughout their country.

Standing in front of the classroom and observing small groups of those diverse students huddled together and strategizing about how they might link arms and plant churches together was one of the most stunning displays of the unifying power of the gospel I have ever seen. Those who were formerly aligned with persecutors were collaborating with those whose families had encountered persecution. And the only thing that brought them together was a common gospel-given identity and goal. 

The pain and history they shared was not erased or forgotten. But the gospel was sufficient to call both parties to walk through the painful history toward repentance and forgiveness and to continue working together toward a shared vision of the future on the basis of a present understanding of the gospel they held in common.

As those communities began to work toward planting churches, their friendship, fellowship, and partnership displayed the healing power of the gospel. It was not unlikely that there would be conflict and tension along the way. Still, that they were drawn together by a common task and vision testifies to the reconciling power of a shared gospel identity. This unity is encouraging to those sharing in the fellowship, and it is compelling to those observing from the outside.

Applied theology

So how does all of this discussion relate to contemporary American churches and their approach to addressing ethnic tensions? From the outset, I hope it gives us a confidence in three things:

  1. We are all sin-stained and in need of reconciliation to God and then to one another as God’s people.
  2. The community of believers draws confidence in the work of reconciliation to one another that comes from a shared reconciliation to God.
  3. The secular world is attempting to manufacture human unity without a compelling reason to believe it is possible.

Yet as they observe the Church manifesting and enjoying a unity amidst diversity, they have to stop and marvel. It will take intentional work, but the result will be an embodied apologetic that supports the gospel claim to make one new humanity in Christ. The work and effort that it will take is worth it—both due to its theological foundation and its missiological impact. 

Adapted excerpt with permission from Hope for American Evangelicals by Matthew Bennett. Copyright 2023, B&H Publishing.

By / Oct 25

A little over a year ago, I plucked my family out of the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico) to return to the great state of Texas. I was having the time of my life as the pastor of a small, thriving church in the middle of nowhere, but as my dad’s health deteriorated, I reached out to a pastor in Texas and said, “Help me find me a church, any church in Dallas/Fort Worth.”

While some may only consider bigger or larger churches, I’ve always gone in the opposite direction, serving progressively smaller churches in almost 23 years of ministry. In a follow-up call, I remember saying, “Bro, there can be 10-20 people; just help me get to DFW.” His reply, however, caught me off guard: “How about DOM of Collin Baptist Association?” 

I was speechless for a moment but replied, “I’m 37 years old; I can’t be a DOM.” For those unaware, “DOM,” or “director of missions,” is now called an “associational mission strategist” and used to be called “associational missionary.” If you’re still scratching your head, this role leads the most local level of Southern Baptist Convention cooperation, usually in a county or a few neighboring counties. In fact, according to Ray Gentry, “Even before there was a Southern Baptist Convention, associations were the cornerstone of cooperation among Baptist churches in America.”

Anyway, I had a problem.

I knew of a few exceptions, but I’d only been in churches with older, retired pastors-turned-associational missionaries. They were always incredibly encouraging, but in my ignorance or personal experience, I only saw them as golf buddies, lunch partners, and pulpit suppliers. Well, I’m terrible at golf, and while I love to eat, I didn’t think my calling was to spend my days going from restaurant to restaurant. 

So, I said no, but my friend countered that my reluctance to replicate my personal experience, desire to network with churches for church planting, experience in church revitalization, and a heart for encouraging pastors was precisely what his association needed. I nevertheless agreed to pray about it, and he said he would, too.

Before I go on, allow me to provide a caveat. I have nothing against retired pastors serving as directors of missions or associational mission strategists. In fact, I think it’s a great thing! Many have a wealth of experience and wisdom they could provide young pastors starting out, churches going through pastoral transitions, and more. My experience, however, simply led me to my earlier response.

Suffice it to say the association received my resume, and I eventually landed an interview. In my questionnaire and subsequent interviews, I made my feelings pretty straightforward: I believe an association is at its best when it is focused on planting churches, strengthening churches, and encouraging pastors, not just serving as the one-stop spot for pulpit supply, golf outings, or endless meals. 

Don’t get me wrong, pulpit supply and fellowship are a part of it; I just didn’t believe they were the heart of it. Before I knew it, our association agreed and called me unanimously. We were on our way to lead the Collin Baptist Association, a network of Southern Baptist churches in Collin County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Understanding local associations

In the Southern Baptist Convention, you have local churches all over the country. Most of these fully autonomous churches choose to cooperate with local associations, state conventions, and the national convention. Some may be more or less involved on any level, but in a sense, these operate in concentric circles to ultimately fulfill the Great Commission.

Think about it this way, by way of an example:

  • A local church can go door-to-door to evangelize.
  • A local association can host revival services in which their churches participate.
  • A state convention offers evangelism training or conferences.
  • Our SBC entities offer curricula or programs to use.

In other words, the local church aims to advance the Kingdom in their city, the local association aims to help the local churches advance the Kingdom in their county, the state convention aims to help local associations and churches to advance the Kingdom in their state, and all cooperate as the Southern Baptist Convention to advance the Kingdom across the country and around the world.

While there’s more to it, it all comes down to cooperation. One local church can accomplish much for the Kingdom, for certain, but in cooperation with 120? 2000? 40,000? The impact on the Kingdom only grows! Thus, this article on the value of the most local level of Southern Baptist cooperation, the local association. I want to answer two questions:

  1. What is the value of the local association?
  2. How can you partner well with an association?

The value of the local association

I realize this may come across as self-serving since I’m an associational missionary trying to tell you there is value in a local association. Still, I truly believe there is significant value for you and your church. For example, when I was the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church, we gave generously to several missionaries and church plants. Even if we threw all our financial support behind one church planter or missionary, it would fall short of covering their financial needs. However, in cooperation with other churches in our association, we were able to fund these dear saints to advance the Kingdom fully.

In other words, one church can accomplish a lot, but many like-minded churches partnering together can accomplish much more. That’s true of the Cooperative Program, and it’s true for local associations. Our association in New Mexico had an ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry that reached scores of Spanish-speaking immigrants with the good news of Jesus. Where’d the volunteers come from? The local churches in our association. How was it funded? From the generosity of the churches in our association.

I could go on and on about how local churches can do more in their geographical areas by cooperating with like-minded churches in their association, whether through disaster relief, church planting, pregnancy centers, food banks, or evangelistic events, but I think you get the idea. One church can make a difference in the Kingdom, but dozens of churches working together can do so much more.

Additionally, for pastors, we know ministry is awesome, but it can be hard at times. It can be lonely. We can’t always open up about our struggles with one of our church members. One of the things virtually all local associations offer is the opportunity to get together to encourage and be encouraged by fellow pastors. Back in New Mexico, my best friend was the only other pastor we had in our association under 40. We sought and received much wisdom and insight from the pastors with much more experience than us––it was such a blessing.

From working with fellow churches in your area to meet needs and advance the Kingdom to finding mentors and confidants in fellow, like-minded pastors, the value of the local association comes in looking beyond what you can accomplish within and from the four walls of your church. Watch what happens when you link arms with fellow pastors and churches in your area to do more, together.

Partner well with an association

However, you won’t see the value of local associations unless you cooperate with them. My friend J. Allen Murray says, “Cooperation necessitates participation.” We all had those team projects in school where one or two didn’t pull their weight, and local associations can be the same. An association’s value is only as great as the level of participation from the churches in the association.

If you’re a pastor or church member, go to the meetings, go to the fellowships, and reach out to the associational missionary to ask how your church can be a part of what the association is trying to do. Don’t just use the association as the one-stop spot for pulpit supply; see what God is doing in and through your association, and find a way to be a part. If you don’t see anything happening, get involved and make it happen! 

Are you skilled at church constitutions and by-laws? Let the associational missionary know you’d love to help if a church wants to rework its governing docs. Are you a whiz with all things audio/video or live stream? Offer to help share your skills with those that need it. Do you have decades upon decades of experience in pastoral ministry? Offer to take the youngest pastor in your association out to eat and become his mentor. Again, I could go on and on, but to see more value in your local association, you need to get involved. 

Southern Baptists say we are better together often, and rightfully so. It’s in our DNA. We know it’s the foundation of the Cooperative Program, but it’s also the foundation of our local churches, local associations, state conventions, and the family of churches we call the Southern Baptist Convention. But remember, cooperation necessitates participation––give your local association a try, pour into it, and let it pour into you. If you do, I suspect you’ll join me as the world’s biggest fan of the most local, practical level of cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention.

By / Sep 15

As our families settle back into school rhythms this fall, we can kick off the new school year with an important tradition: Children’s Mission Day. Since 2008, Southern Baptist churches have celebrated Children’s Mission Day. Held on Sept. 17, the Women’s Mission Union (WMU) established this day to practically connect children to a world in need of the gospel by getting out into their local communities. 

Where the mission meets its role

This special day helps families live out God’s love in tangible ways (1 John 3:18). Here are three ways your family can participate in Children’s Mission Day this year.

  1. Host a pancake breakfast at your home.

Create flyers to pass out, and invite your neighborhood to your home for a pancake breakfast. Keep things as easy as possible, including using disposable plates and utensils. If neighbors offer to contribute, always say yes. With a simple offering of coffee, tea, pancakes, and syrup, you can springboard into building connections and chances to talk about your faith. 

Kids can help with the creation and distribution of the invitations as well as set-up and clean-up. Children also make excellent greeters! Create a basket of Christian books guests can take for free, including options for kids. Suggestions: Mere Christianity, ESV Illuminated Scripture Journal: Psalms, What is the Gospel? tract, Jack vs. the Tornado, and The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross.

Be sure to pray together for your neighborhood as you prepare, and continue to lift up your neighbors as you get to know them better.

  1. Arrange a visit to a senior center.

Connect with your local senior center about visiting with your family. Your children can prepare gift bags for the seniors and spend time interacting with the elderly during delivery. 

Check with the staff about what items would be appropriate, but some ideas include: sugar-free candy, large print Sudoku or crossword puzzle books, puzzles, flameless candles, unscented lotion, coffee/tea, lip balm, potted flowers, or blank note cards. 

Kids can assist with shopping and filling gift bags. Be sure to include a simple Scripture note card (or Bible verse) with a small note from your family. Pray for the seniors you’ll encounter during your visit.

  1. Combine picking up trash with a neighborhood prayer walk.

Help clean up your neighborhood while also praying for God to draw many to himself. Since the Bible is clear God wants all people to know him (1 Tim. 2:4) and we should lift up those outside of Christ (Rom. 10:1), we can pray for the Lord to work in the lives of those who don’t know Jesus in our community.

Prior to the prayer walk, write down Bible verses onto index cards that your family can pray over your neighborhood as you collect trash. Some verses to consider: Psalm 66:1; Psalm 117; 1 Chronicles 16:8; Ephesians 2:4–5; Romans 15:8–9; and Malachi 1:11.

As your family picks up trash, pray for pertinent community issues, residences you pass, businesses in the area, and local schools. Ask God to move in big, powerful ways in your community!

Gear up for a simple, but powerful way to show our kids the importance of living out our faith in the communities around us. As our families participate in Children’s Mission Day, we are a part of a larger community of churches doing the same—and our witness shines brightly to a lost world.

By / Jul 26

Tears of joy filled Stacy’s eyes, her elbows propped onto a desk in Central Asia. She couldn’t believe the email from an acquaintance. Women from her sending church wanted to throw her a virtual baby shower. Stacy was expecting her first child, but Central Asian culture didn’t involve hosting a party for the expecting mother, but instead the soon-to-be parents would hold a big feast for family, friends, and neighbors about a month after the child was born. 

Stacy hadn’t realized how much missing this American milestone would matter until she was halfway around the globe. But that detail hadn’t been overlooked by her sending church—including coordinating the delivery of gifts with one of the pastors when he would visit in the middle of her family’s first four-year term.

A church’s commitment and support for sent-ones is a key ingredient to seeing the gospel reach the ends of the earth and extends beyond prayer (although prayer is a non-negotiable component). The partnership between the local church and its missionaries is a work in progress and doesn’t transpire without intentionality.

Finding your role in missions

Cultivating an environment where church members value taking the gospel to nonbelievers around the globe and understand their part—through sending or going—is crucial. With feedback from pastors and missions leaders, here are five ways your church can participate in missions through sending out workers well.

1. Foster a missions-minded perspective within your church. Unless a church deeply cares about God’s heart for his glory among the nations, a fellowship will not be actively engaged in its global role. Elders should possess a vision for how to engage the lost worldwide and bring members along in this plan. One practical starting place: pray for countries around the world from the pulpit Sunday mornings.

Consider creating a monthly missions reading group to discuss books that equip those interested in missions (and members to grow in their understanding) that cover topics such as conflict resolution, crosscultural evangelism, global discipleship methodologies, missiology, and ecclesiology. 

2. Be on the lookout for potential missionaries and pathways to get them to the field.

Equip potential missionaries through involvement in the church life and ministry opportunities (evangelism, discipleship, service). Consider engaging your fellowship in local area ministries that soon-to-be goers can come alongside to learn, serve, and grow in outreach and relational skills. 

Many field workers leave their place of service due to team conflicts. Help future sent-ones cultivate conflict resolution skills while at your fellowship so they are better equipped to handle these interpersonal issues down the road. Additionally, ensure workers are aware of emotional needs and develop tools to utilize as personal issues are often magnified on the field due to the stress of a new culture, language, and team dynamics.

Church leaders should research organizations that align with the fellowship and its vision for reaching the lost and determine what it would look like to send a member through that group. for church that are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, that organization is the International Mission Board.  

3. Cultivate the missionaries’ church connections. Involve your congregation in developing a relationship with the goers (such as inviting them over for a meal) and allow them to be a part of a public commissioning service. The better a fellowship knows their sent-ones and the more they are involved in this process, the better they will engage on the field with them. 

Prior to the sent-one leaving, provide ample opportunities for the missionary to be seen and interact with your church. This can be accomplished through visiting small groups, interviewing the goer up front briefly on a Sunday morning, having the missionary visit the children’s ministry, and publicly praying for that sent-one. 

Create a support team for the field worker as they prepare to leave. These are folks who know the missionary well and commit to pray for and remind others to care well for the goer. 

Clear expectations about how the church intends to support the missionary while overseas (financial support, pastoral/church visit, corporate prayer support) should be communicated to the fellowship and goer. This reminds everyone of the partnership and the role each will strive to fulfill. 

4. Actively support the goer on the field. The first term of service can be extremely stressful as the goer encounters a new language, culture, and team. Provide regular outlets to listen to the missionary as they serve; this allows your fellowship to track with their ministry and health (spiritual, emotional, marital). The church should be ready to assist when necessary with professional counseling, physical needs, and additional training.

Be creative in reminding your congregation to pray for your supported worker. Consider a short video call during a members meeting, Sunday school class, or small group with an update from the missionary. Let kids learn about your sent-ones during Sunday classes and include updated prayer prompts. Provide books that give insight into ministering in places where your goer lives on your bookstall.

5. Extend stateside support when field workers return. Ask the missionary to share about her ministry with your congregation and encourage members to practice hospitality with her. Invite the worker’s input regarding missions at your fellowship.

The return to the U.S. after being away for years can be challenging. Instill a healthy understanding among your congregants that missionaries are to be commended for their faithful service, but not idolized. Provide space for conversations about what was and wasn’t working ministry and partnership-wise between the missionary and church leaders. Collaborate with other churches and organizations to grow in serving sent-ones and to leverage ministry reach.

No matter your fellowship size, every member can engage in global ministry through equipping, supporting, and praying for missionaries. As your church strives to be a light to the nations through the proclamation of Christ, may your hearts find joy in partnering with those sent out among you to the lost across the earth.

By / Jun 14

Baptists have, historically, partnered for the sake of mission and the Great Commission. They do so out of a zeal to see people reached for the gospel, recognizing that local churches can do more by cooperating together than any one church can do on its own. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is the fruit of a generations-long commitment on the part of Southern Baptists to reach North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ. As currently comprised, NAMB centers everything it does around the gospel through three primary strategic emphases: church planting, compassion ministry, and evangelism.

Send Network serves Southern Baptist churches by assisting them in the process of planting healthy, multiplying churches everywhere for everyone. Send Relief provides resources and creates mission opportunities for churches to meet tangible needs and see lives changed through the power of the gospel. Then, NAMB resources and provides evangelism training for churches and leaders as they share the gospel in their communities. As the endorsing agency for Southern Baptist chaplains, NAMB also trains, equips, and encourages chaplains who serve members of the Armed Services, in correctional facilities, and in other institutions.

Roots of NAMB

NAMB traces its historic roots back to 1845 and the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) after Baptists in the South sought to organize their own convention following disagreements with Northern Baptists over issues related to slavery. When Southern Baptists met in Augusta, Georgia, in 1845 to constitute the SBC, one of their first decisions was to establish two missions agencies: the Foreign Mission Board and the Board of Domestic Missions.

In its earliest days from its headquarters in Marion, Alabama, the new board struggled to craft a compelling vision and develop an effective strategy that encouraged Southern Baptists to fund and engage with the new board. Most preferred working through already established local associations and state conventions.

A lack of consistent, tenured leadership was initially a major hurdle before Russell Holman, the first pastor of First Baptist Church New Orleans, took the reins and focused the Board’s strategy. Leading up to the Civil War, the Board began directing most of its efforts to areas of ministry where Southern Baptists were weakest, serving Native American populations and ministering in cities and in newly settled regions on the continent. The strategy allowed the Board to become more financially and missionally stable.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, however, Southern Baptist mission efforts were severely disrupted with the conflict making it practically impossible to raise funds since attention had turned to the war. By the close of the war in 1865, the Domestic Mission Board was destitute.

Under the direction of Martin T. Sumner, who led the organization for 13 years, the Board continuously expanded and contracted its missionary force as it navigated the financial balancing act of funding missionaries and avoiding significant debt.

The Board adopted a new name in 1874, the Home Mission Board (HMB), which it retained for more than a century. By 1882, the SBC decided to move the HMB to a more well-known city, Atlanta, Georgia, in attempt to reenergize support for the entity. The move, along with the election of influential Southern Baptist Isaac Tichenor, generated significant momentum for the HMB. The number of missionaries increased rapidly over the course of the next decade.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a significant lay missionary movement spurred Southern Baptists’ missionary efforts. The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), led by Annie Armstrong, rallied churches to support mission work and collected the first offering for home missions in 1895. A similar men’s movement sought to galvanize more men into supporting and participating in missions work as well.

By the 1900s, cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention hit new levels of confidence, and the SBC initiated a significant fundraising campaign in 1919—the 75 Million Campaign—and several SBC entities drafted grand plans based on the incredible response from Southern Baptists. The HMB, authorized by the SBC to increase its programs, incurred debt in anticipation of the fundraising campaign.

Growth after the Depression 

But the funding boon was short-lived. Economic hardship in the South followed by the onset of the Great Depression forced the HMB to shift much of its focus toward paying off debt. Southern Baptists continued their support, however, and the HMB weathered the financial storm in large part due to the development of the SBC’s Cooperative Program in 1925 and the WMU’s collection of the home missions offering, which was named in honor of Annie Armstrong in 1934.

As the nation transitioned in the 1940s from a depressed economy to a booming one, Southern Baptists began to see rapidly increasing growth, and the HMB expanded its ministry efforts. While the predominant majority of Southern Baptists remained in the South, the SBC developed a nationwide presence, engaging in church planting, (what is now called) compassion ministry and chaplaincy. The HMB played a key role in each of those efforts.

The SBC also created new agencies over the next decade, launching the Radio Commission as an official entity of the SBC in 1946, and the men’s missionary movement became an official entity of the SBC, becoming the Brotherhood Commission of the SBC in 1950 with headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

In 1953, the first Canadian church affiliated with Southern Baptists, and the seeds were sown for what eventually became the Canadian National Baptist Convention as Baptists in Canada strove to share the gospel across their nation.

Over the next several decades, Southern Baptist mission work persisted as the HMB worked with various ethnic and other language groups, expanding its missionary force and enlarging its evangelism efforts. In the late 1960s, a grassroots effort fueled the creation of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, which grew into a national cooperative effort by the 1980s.

As the 20th century concluded, Southern Baptists determined to restructure and consolidate several existing entities by adopting the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. The move included bringing together the HMB, Brotherhood Commission and the Radio and Television Commission into a single Southern Baptist entity: the North American Mission Board. The transition was finalized in 1997.

Thirteen years later, messengers to the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Florida, asked NAMB to focus more of its efforts on church planting as one aspect of the Great Commission Resurgence, which was approved by a wide margin of messengers. That same year, trustees elected current president, Kevin Ezell.

Under Ezell’s leadership, NAMB developed its church planting arm, Send Network, and launched Send Relief, its compassion ministry arm in 2016. In 2020, NAMB joined the SBC’s International Mission Board to cooperate under the banner of Send Relief to provide a single organization for Southern Baptists to work through in their compassion ministry efforts both in North America and around the world.

The United States and Canada have, in recent decades, been undergoing significant demographic shifts, and the future of missions in North America requires Great Commission intentionality on the part of Southern Baptist churches. NAMB’s vision is to boost the efforts of local churches as they reach those who desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus.

Sources:

Arthur B. Rutledge and William G. Tanner. Mission to America: A History of Southern Baptist Home Missions. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1983.

Implementation Task Force: Covenant for a New Century. Baptist Press.

SBC messengers adopt GCR report by wide margin.” Baptist Press.

Big Changes for NAMB and State Conventions Under GCR Proposal.” Baptist Press.
Canadian National Baptist Convention TimeLine.” Canadian National Baptist Convention.

By / Jun 2

Life on the mission field is commendable work and, for many, a calling worth giving their lives to. The life and work of a missionary, though, is challenging for untold reasons, a fact the apostle Paul knew all too well. In describing his work, he wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8). From families whose missionary zeal wanes because of sickness to marital difficulties brought on by a seemingly unending workload to the discouragement experienced after years of no visible gospel fruit, not to mention exposure to deep depression, anxiety, and persecution, the challenges and potential afflictions for missionaries are many. And, too often, the result is a mission field vacated, left to lie fallow. 

These are some of the real examples being highlighted by studies indicating an alarming pattern of attrition in global missions. For example, a recent three-year study conducted by Missio Nexus showed that upward of two-thirds of missionaries left the field for potentially preventable reasons, equating financially to around 40 million dollars lost every three years. From a stewardship perspective, this is problematic. But, equally important, the stories behind these numbers are tragic. Years of potential gospel ministry are being squandered, oftentimes for reasons which better pre-field assessment, equipping, and care may have prevented.

So, how can our churches better prepare their missionaries to avoid these pitfalls, so many of which could be preventable? Below I discuss two biblical principles for minimizing missionary attrition. 

Two missionary principles

After Jesus commissioned his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18), a pattern began to develop as the message of the gospel advanced, a pattern that continues to this day. The Lord saves people from their sin and, upon being baptized into the Triune name of God, these new believers are joined to a local assembly—a church. It’s at the emergence of this pattern, after the establishment of the local church first encountered in the book of Acts, that we see in the church at Antioch the first Christian missionaries identified and sent:

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2).

We may ask: was this a random, purely reactive response by the church to send out missionaries simply because Barnabas and Saul felt “called” to go? Furthermore, beyond being prompted by the Holy Spirit, how did they know Barnabas and Saul were qualified and ready for this difficult work? These questions lead to the first principle.

  1. Take the time to have missionary candidates tested within the church

In Acts 11:26, we read that Barnabas, who had been sent by the church in Jerusalem to Antioch, sought out Saul, bringing him to Antioch where they labored together among the churches for at least a year before being sent out. If we fast-forward to Acts 16, where Scripture details Paul’s recruitment of Timothy, describing him as a man spoken highly of by “the brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium” (v. 2), we encounter a similar idea. In both stories, we are introduced to characters who had been vetted by the churches where they belonged and identified as men qualified for the work of missions. 

In other words, these were not quick assessments by the churches in Antioch, Lystra, or Iconium. These men were not qualified based on some sort of subjective whim, but were men from among the church who had proven themselves as qualified because of their time-tested faithfulness to the gospel. Thus, it is here, where we learn our most foundational missionary principle: the local church is the proving ground by which potential missionaries are assessed and equipped over time for the work of ministry abroad. Therefore, churches should take ample time to know their missionary candidates.

  1. Take the time and resources to care for those you send and partner with in missions

As Paul labored in his mission of proclaiming the gospel, establishing churches and elders, and encouraging the churches he helped plant, he himself was cared for by the church. In Philippians 4, Paul seems to view the financial partnership of the church as more than simply bankrolling the mission, but as a kindness to share (to have fellowship) in his trouble (Phil. 4:14). He highlights his need for the local church’s prayers, and he outlines the encouragement he draws from them (Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). And he writes of the importance of the church to remember his difficulties (Col. 4:18). 

Furthermore, we see the encouragement he receives in Timothy’s report that the church in Thessalonica remembers and longs for them, causing them to be comforted even in the difficulties of field life (1 Thess. 3:6-9). And after being stoned in Lystra, where does Paul go for a time of reprieve and encouragement, but to the church in Antioch (Acts 14:24-28)?

In reading the book of Acts and Paul’s letters in the New Testament, the principle of resourcing, caring for, and partnering with missionaries on the field is undeniable. And it is a principle rooted in the supernatural love found only in the people united to Christ in a local church, a love which transcends surface-level pleasantries and affects the soul. The local church, therefore, is the primary means by which biblical soul care and tangible care are given to its missionaries.

How we can get better at sending

So, how are we doing at sending? In our heart for missions, are we so eager to flood the fields with workers that we neglect our responsibility to prepare those we’re sending? Are we unknowingly sacrificing the sustainability of brothers and sisters in the field at the altar of convenience and speed? 

There are untold churches laboring well to assess, equip, and care for those in their congregations who desire to go to difficult places for the gospel. Yet there are many churches who desire this but who may not be well-equipped to provide adequate attention, time, and resources to faithfully steward this responsibility. Either way, our ultimate hope and assurance is founded in the fact that God will be glorified whether we do it well or not; it is his mission to complete. 

Yet, this is exactly the reason and fuel for why we must continue to press in and wisely steward the roles he has given us as members and participants within his flock. Our love and desire for God’s glory among the nations must not drive us to neglect the means by which he accomplishes this, which is the local church. The clear pattern in Scripture is that the local church assesses, equips, and cares for his flock, even as it sends its members to ends of the Earth. 

So, what are some practical ways the church can more fully embrace this responsibility of assessment, equipping, and care of those desiring to go and those sent?

  • Slow down the assessment process to ensure that missionary candidates are qualified to go. 
  • Prayerfully consider ways you can encourage and care for those that you send. Some ideas include pastoral trips, offering biblical soul care, sending teams to serve the staff in tangible ways, and equipping members of your church to care for those you send.
  • Grow a zeal for missions as you teach your congregation about missions and their role in caring for missionaries as it comes up in Scripture, and by praying corporately for brothers and sisters around the world.

Though we do have an enemy, and much opposition and difficulty in this world (Acts 14:22), let us not grow weary in our pursuit of sending spiritually mature missionaries and caring biblically for them on and off the field. And let us do this so that these precious missionaries and the nations whom they serve might more clearly see the glory of the one true and living God. 

By / Jun 1

In 1792, British Baptist William Carey published An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In the short tract, Carey set forth the thesis—controversial at the time—that most of the known world was without Christ and that it was the scriptural duty of ordinary Christians to reach them with the gospel. Carey and his friends, sympathetic ministers like Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe, Samuel Pearce, and John Ryland Jr., understood that the task before them would require organization and strenuous effort, and they responded to Carey’s plea by forming the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS).

The Baptist Missionary Society and funding

Upon organizing the BMS, Carey and his friends faced many challenges, but their most persistent struggle came from their efforts to secure funding for the mission. Carey’s Inquiry already anticipated the difficulty of raising funds for such an endeavor. In the tract he encouraged congregations to set aside even one penny per week for the propagation of the gospel. He noted how many British families had boycotted sugar from West India over “the iniquitous manner in which it is obtained,” and recommended that they devote the savings from this boycott to missions. No cause was greater than that of the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, Carey argued, as he pleaded with readers to invest in eternal reward.

Carey is appropriately known today as the “father of modern missions.” His missional vision and plodding work ethic helped launch a movement that reverberates to this day. But Carey did not labor alone; he depended on his friends and financial contributions from local churches. As Fuller later recollected, “Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down if you will hold the rope.’ But before he went down, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit to this effect, that while we lived we should never let go of the rope. You understand me. There was great responsibility attached to us who began the business.” 

A large part of Fuller’s “rope-holding” involved a lifetime commitment to raising money to fund Carey and the other missionaries sent out by the BMS. This task took extraordinary effort, for the need for funding never relented. Fuller worked so hard in his fundraising and other administrative duties for the BMS that his widow believed it led to his death at the age of 61.

Mission endeavors like the BMS—the kind of works that require partnership across local congregations—have long struggled with fundraising. In the free church tradition where each congregation operates autonomously, larger cooperative ministries have often been overlooked, sometimes by necessity, as local congregations struggle to sustain their own ministries.

The SBC and the Cooperative Program 

Nearly a century after the formation of the BMS, Lottie Moon, an American missionary to China who had been sent out by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, was still laboring to secure funding for missions. In 1887, she lamented the shortage of financial contributions for the vital work to which Christ had called his church, writing, “Why this strange indifference to missions? Why these scant contributions? Why does money fail to be forthcoming when approved men and women are asking to be sent to proclaim the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to the heathen?”

Moon, like so many others, sought creative ways to raise money for missions and eventually suggested the Christmas season when Christians celebrated the greatest gift ever given as a natural time to consecrate money for the cause. The first Lottie Moon-inspired Christmas offering was taken in 1888, and that offering has raised over $5 billion for world missions to date.

The 1920s were a difficult decade in America. World War I had just ended, the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 had killed 675,000 Americans, and the “forgotten depression” of 1920-1921 hit farmers and other working-class Americans especially hard. As a result, the Southern Baptist Convention, which was made up mostly of rural churches, was having trouble funding its various ministries. In 1924, facing a debt of nearly $1 million, the Foreign Mission Board was forced to turn down the applications of 95 prospective missionaries.

In addition to the difficulty of financial shortfall, constant fundraising efforts were disrupting local church ministry. The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention were committed to funding home missions, foreign missions, and multiple seminaries, to name just a few, and the prevailing fundraising method prior to 1925 was for each of these entities to send representatives to local churches to plead for help. A representative would show up at a local church on a Sunday morning, preach a message about the need, and take up an offering to fund their ministry. The continual appeals for money exhausted local churches and kept local pastors out of their pulpits multiple weeks per year. The Southern Baptist Convention needed an alternative solution.

At the 1924 annual convention in Atlanta, Louisiana pastor M.E. Dodd, chairman of the Committee on Future Program, recommended a revolutionary solution to the funding dilemma. Dodd’s plan—known today as the “Cooperative Program”—asked the individual churches of the convention to commit a percentage of their total receipts each year to their state conventions. The state conventions would then designate a portion of the money to state-level ministries before forwarding the remainder to the SBC. Dodd’s plan was adopted at the 1925 convention in Memphis and continues to fund the cooperative gospel efforts of the SBC to this day. Last week was the anniversary of this adoption. 

How successful has the Cooperative Program been? Many of its benefits will never be measured. Dodd’s plan has freed countless gospel laborers from the tedious and time-consuming work of raising money and has kept pastors in their own pulpits on Sunday mornings. Missionaries have been freed to continue their labor on the field uninterrupted, freed from the heavy burden of fundraising. The Cooperative Program today funds six top-level seminaries that provide theological education for more than 13,500 students annually—more than any other denomination in the United States. Additionally, through the CP, Southern Baptists support over 3,500 on-the-field international missionaries through the International Mission Board and over 4,400 church plants through the North American Mission Board. This money also funds Lifeway Resources, the SBC’s publishing entity, Guidestone, which helps ministers with financial planning, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which advocates for religious liberty and Christian ethics in the broader cultural arena.

Churches are not required to give, but that has rarely been a problem. To date, Southern Baptist churches have given over $20 billion. The SBC’s annual budget is nearing $200 million. While these numbers are impressive, there’s no way to adequately assess the impact of M.E. Dodd’s idea. Spiritual fruit cannot be measured with data charts and pie graphs. Only God knows the full impact of the last century of Southern Baptists’ cumulative financial sacrifices. Here’s to many more years of faithful giving to the Cooperative Program.

By / Apr 15

Each year, churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) give generously to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO). The AAEO is the primary way the SBC, through the North American Missions Board (NAMB), supports mission efforts in North America. One hundred percent of gifts given to AAEO are used to support more than 2,200 missionary families serving across the United States and Canada.

Here are five facts you should know about Annie Armstrong and the Easter Offering she started. 

1. Annie Walker Armstrong was born in 1850 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father died when she was 2, leaving her and her four siblings to be raised by her Christian mother. Although raised in a Baptist church, Armstrong did not become a believer until she was 19. In a Sunday service during the Civil War, Armstrong’s pastor told his Baptist congregation, “The religion of Jesus Christ gives peace in the midst of trouble.” Wanting this peace for herself, Armstrong put her faith in Jesus that day. 

2. Shortly after she became a Christian, Armstrong joined 100 other members of her congregation in planting Eutaw Place Church. She remained a member of that church for nearly 70 years, until her death in 1938. At Eutaw she taught the Infant Class (i.e., children under the age of 12) for almost half a century. She also, as Shannon Baker says, “maintained an interest in ministering to mothers, immigrants, the underprivileged, the sick, African Americans, Indians, and later in her life, her Jewish neighbors.” It was at Eutaw that Armstrong also developed a passion for missions. 

3. Armstrong became the founder and president of the Ladies’ Bay View Mission, an organization that cared for the poor, located on the site where Johns Hopkins Bayview

Medical Center now stands. In 1880, at the age of 30, she served as the first president of the Woman’s Baptist Home Mission Society of Maryland, which involved women in supporting the SBC’s Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board). The society’s first priority locally was forming a school for Native Americans in what is now Oklahoma and ministering to Chinese immigrants and impoverished mountain people. Armstrong later became the corresponding secretary (equivalent to an executive director) of the Maryland Mission Rooms, later called the Mission Literature Department, SBC. Initially, this department served as a missions library and reading room, but later became a publisher and distributor of missions literature. 

4. At the age of 38, Armstrong led in framing the constitution of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), an auxiliary to the SBC. She served as corresponding secretary until 1906. During this time she refused a salary for her work because she would never give to the Lord “that which costs me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). While at WMU, Armstrong and missionary Lottie Moon proposed a Christmas Offering to raise money to send single women to China to work with Moon. The offering, which raised enough for three missionaries, became the precursor to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions — so named at Armstrong’s recommendation — which has raised billions from SBC churches and members for foreign missions. 

5. Armstrong proposed the first WMU self-denial offering for Home Missions. In 1934, it was named in honor of Armstrong. To date, more than $2 billion has been donated by Southern Baptist churches and individuals to the AAEO, which supports thousands of missionaries in church planting and compassion ministries. While 35% of NAMB’s budget is provided by the Cooperative Program, 50% is provided by the AAEO. As NAMB notes, “Because of this sacrificial giving, millions of lives have been and continue to be transformed by the power of the gospel.”

By / Mar 29

A few years ago, I read the SBC president at the time was considering different gavels for presiding at the SBC Annual Meeting. One of the options under consideration was the Armstrong gavel. I sent him an email with this message:

This weekend I did a bit of reading on Annie Armstrong and was inspired anew. Attached, please find 50 reasons why I’m advocating for an Annie Armstrong gavel. Annie was tireless in her efforts on behalf of Southern Baptists. We all enjoy the fruits from the toil of her labor. 

Word count will not permit me to recount all 50 reasons in this article, but I want to share a few things I learned from Bobbie Sorrill’s Annie Armstrong, Dreamer in Action. Honoring Armstrong’s life means honoring the missions heritage of Southern Baptists and the contributions of Southern Baptist women. The offering which bears her name had brought in more than $2 billion for Southern Baptist missions efforts in North America at that time. In addition, at that time, the offering for international missions, begun under her leadership, had brought in nearly $5 billion for the international missions efforts of Southern Baptists. 

Annie Armstrong and the creation of the WMU

As a young adult, Armstrong helped Southern Baptists open and sustain foreign missions fields. No doubt, participating in the dedication services sending Lottie Moon’s sister, Edmonia, to China and William and Anne Bagby as the first missionaries to Brazil had a profound impact on her life. She developed a lifelong friendship with Anne. With encouragement from Lottie Moon, Armstrong helped Southern Baptists continue to channel their energies toward missions with the launch of the Woman’s Missionary Union on May 14, 1888. At the meeting, Armstrong’s sister Alice read a paper titled, “Special Obligations of Woman to Spread the Gospel.”

Armstrong was elected as the first corresponding secretary of the Woman’s Missionary Union and would fill the role (unsalaried) for 18 years. During her first year, Annie personally wrote 637 letters and 182 postcards. She doubled the letters written the second year, and in the third she sent 2,737. In 1894, she wrote 17,718 letters. Her writing hand was damaged permanently by this effort and never regained its strength. All money collected by the organization would go to the mission boards. The first offering was at the request of the Home Mission Board to build a church and enlarge a cemetery in Cuba. The second WMU offering was to raise money for two female missionaries to help Lottie Moon in China. WMU members gave enough to send three women to China.

Annie Armstrong and domestic missions

When Armstrong heard of the plight of destitute ministers on the frontier home missions fields, she organized an effort to send frontier boxes. And she led the women to build chapels on the frontier and home mission fields. Because of Armstrong’s efforts, Lula Whilden was appointed in 1887 to work with Chinese in Baltimore and Marie Buhlmaier was appointed to work with German immigrants. In addition, she petitioned the Home Mission Board to send a missionary to work with Italian immigrants. Armstrong advocated for the appointment and financial support of the first black female missionaries by the Home Mission Board and worked to help Native American women organize for missions. She welcomed the first two Native American women as delegates to the WMU, SBC, Annual Meeting in 1896.

In 1894, both the Home Mission Board and the Foreign Mission Board were in debt. Armstrong rallied WMU to join with the SBC to wipe out the Foreign Mission Board’s debt, raising even more than asked. For years, she even wished Southern Baptists would make provision in their wills for the work of the mission boards. And in 1899, Armstrong worked out a proposal encouraging legacies to the boards. Likewise, she worked with the boards to establish an annuity for their missionaries.

Ever the encourager, Armstrong made a 4,000 mile, 40-day trip to Oklahoma (via train, carriage and horseback) in 1900 with the hope of doing unifying work in the territory. Many people in her day used the word indefatigable to describe her. She had seemingly unlimited energy and a deep inspiration to work. She was untiring, resourceful, and persevering. Her spirit was indomitable. 

Annie Armstrong had a profound and unprecedented impact on SBC missions — both in North America and around the world — that continues to resonate today in our collective Southern Baptist work and life. As you give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, remember the legacy of this indomitable leader whose influence is still being felt today.  

By / Feb 17

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Woman’s Missionary Union began 133 years ago in the hearts of visionary leaders to pray and systematically raise money for missions. The WMU’s focus is to make disciples of Jesus who live on mission and has enabled women to share the good news of Jesus and serve others in his name. Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director/treasurer, talks below about how the organization has evolved over the years, making it one of the most diverse boards in SBC life. In addition, several other WMU state leaders discuss the influence WMU has had on their lives. 

Elizabeth Bristow: Can you explain to our audience who the WMU is and what your organization exists to do? 

Sandy Wisdom-Martin: Woman’s Missionary Union is an auxiliary — or helper — to the Southern Baptist Convention. WMU offers missions discipleship for all ages, from preschoolers to adults, leadership development opportunities, and compassion ministries such as WorldCrafts and Christian Women’s and Men’s Job Corps. Everything we do is for one purpose — to make disciples of Jesus who live on mission.

EB: In your presentation at the Executive Committee meeting, you mentioned that the WMU is one of the most diverse boards in SBC life. How has the diversity of your board played a role in your mission and in the flourishing of your organization? 

SWM: It is such a blessing to have an ethnically diverse board, as representation from various countries and cultures enriches our experiences and keeps us mindful of God’s love for all peoples of all nations. We are also grateful our current board represents several generations; collectively, their valuable input helps us to effectively advance our mission’s focus without perpetuating a generational divide. This diversity reflects that missions involvement in WMU is for everyone, and as emerging leaders seek opportunities to serve, they are able to “see” a place of service for themselves in WMU.

EB: Tell me more about your board and how these women came to join your mission in making disciples of Jesus who live on mission. 

SWM: WMU is very much a grassroots movement. Unlike SBC agencies that have appointed trustees or board members, WMU’s executive board is comprised of women who serve as WMU president in their state or multistate territory. Each state WMU president is a woman from the church with a passion for missions who has been elected by the WMU members in her state to represent them. This model provides for geographic diversity, since they collectively represent the entire U.S., and ensures executive board members are actively serving in WMU and are highly invested in missions.

EB: What message would you send to a female leader who is desiring to serve her local church? 

SWM: I would encourage her to prayerfully consider where God is calling her to serve and follow in obedience. God has gifted and equipped each person to carry out the work of his kingdom. In every role in life, there are elements of leadership. We should be on a lifelong quest and always lean into learning, growing, and developing as leaders.

EB: Why is serving with WMU important to you? 

Angela Jones, president, Alaska WMU: Serving with WMU is important to me because it gives me purpose, direction, and meaning. I believe in the mission and the ministry of WMU. I appreciate the opportunity to serve in my home, church, and community and know that I am adding value. They provide all the tools needed to be a successful leader as I serve others. WMU helps reveal the potential of the individual, helping the entire family grow into a better person. I enjoy learning from others and working in sync with other women by praying, giving of myself, and giving to the cause. Missionaries are called and sent out with prayers, funds, and opportunity to spread the Word of God and to give hope and insight to others around the world.

Melody Knox, executive director, Maryland/Delaware WMU: I believe that serving with WMU keeps me in contact with how to pray and support missionaries on the field. I am also able to share this information with the churches to encourage them to make missions a part of their everyday life. I feel like I am a bigger part of the work that God is doing through missions/missionaries.

EB: How have you grown as a leader through WMU?  

AJ: I have grown through WMU by hearing the Word of God and by sharing with others the things I have learned. I have been afforded the opportunity to teach different age-level groups from Mission Friends to adult women. I have witnessed the work and cohesiveness of women from all over. Again, tools are provided to encourage and equip us to lead. I have been taught and mentored to be the leader that I am today and will be in the future. I, too, will pay it forward.

MK: I have learned that missionaries depend on the leadership that is extended to them through WMU. It warms my heart to know how much they appreciate the WMU ladies who sincerely care about them and their families on an everyday basis. My love for missions and missionaries has grown immensely through my leadership in WMU in my convention.

EB: Why should women be involved in WMU?  

AJ: WMU offers something for the entire family, which will help women help their loved ones grow in Christ. It offers opportunities for women to have a meaning and purpose and [teaches them] how to take on the challenges of everyday living. It helps women love the Lord, themselves, their family members, and those who have lost all hope. I know of no other organization that has [such] a diverse group of women from all cultures, colors, and races that can come together in one accord but offering different gifts and talents. 

When we come together, we leave a better woman because we pour into each other and bonds are being made. We pray together and share with one another, and we support and encourage each other. We are women on a mission united together to change the world with the help of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

MK: Women need to know the blessing that comes through supporting and praying for those who have gone to the nations. They really need to be aware of how their money is spent through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I did not realize until I became involved with WMU how much our donation as a family helps those who are called to go.