I really like the way we do Southern Baptist missions. A recent return from the mission field with our MBC partnership nation of Italy was a fresh reminder of “why” we do cooperative missions. Every believer is commissioned to live on mission. Every local church is to be engaged in missions cooperatively and directly. Biblically and practically, working together is a no brainer.
On more than one occasion, our team met and interviewed U.S. missionaries who are diligently working to make disciples and plant churches. Although these biblically-based evangelicals are networking with personnel from the SBC’s International Mission Board, they are not employees of the IMB. They are Kingdom workers in a vast unreached demographic.
During several of these interviews, I discovered that these missionaries experienced unnecessary struggles in the process of developing sustainable mission work. This was due, at least in part, to failure of societal missions to provide for the care of the missionaries and their families. No doubt, these diligent mission workers sensed a call from God. But what happens when the perils of missional isolationism fills a lonely heart?
On too many occasions, I heard the testimony from these non-IMB missionaries that the wheels came off the wagon of their work because of cultural factors, unfulfilled expectations or stateside broken promises. This grieves my heart. There are ways for these experiences to be curtailed through the kind of vetting, coaching and support our SBC personnel receive from thousands of churches networked together through the IMB.
It is hard enough on this side of the pond to assist difficult ministries. What happens when a young missionary family parachutes into an unevangelized, unreached context, and missionary vision loses its romantic/adventuresome edge? What happens when a family member becomes severely ill? Where are the support personnel when there is government coup and the new regime is overtly hostile toward followers of Jesus? What happens when the ministry you told your supporters about blows up because of the moral failure of a leader you were developing? What happens when you find yourself alone in a city where there is no network of other evangelical believers?
This accentuates the perils of isolation. Isolation is not good for missions. The gospel advance was meant to occur hand in hand with other people, prayer warriors and a team of support. Southern Baptists modeled such a biblical strategy for decades, through Cooperative Program giving, to become the envy of the missional world.
The life issues missionaries face are very real. Sometimes in our busy-ness we forget how important it is for us to care for the people on the frontlines of service. With rare exception, sustainable gospel work among unreached people groups needs emotionally healthy, financially stable and godly people on the ground. Even with its challenges, our IMB does a phenomenal work for our churches by vetting, networking, coaching and supporting IMB personnel.
And we must not mess it up.
Those of us on the stateside must hold the rope for those who serve internationally, or on college campuses, or in the dark urban centers of some of our nation’s great cities. The allure of direct local church support of mission work is well-meaning and gives a sense of accomplishment. However, when we shave off a few percentage points of our church’s CP giving to do well-intentioned ministry, we may be short-sighted about the actual cost of ministry support that is more effectively accomplished through the comprehensive nature of the SBC cooperative plan.
After this most recent visit to the field, I am more convinced than ever that, as a whole, Southern Baptists have it right. Cooperative missions giving is the best way to pierce the darkness with multi-generational, multi-demographic, comprehensive ministries.
This means we need to constantly mature in our personal stewardship, which shows itself in giving to our local church. This also means that our local Southern Baptist churches need to move forward, incrementally expanding our Cooperative Program support and avoiding the temptation to decrease CP giving in exchange for direct support of well-intentioned non-SBC ministries.
Would you personally join me in prayer for our IMB personnel? Not only do they need our financial support; they also desperately need our intercession, and your direct involvement. Contact Dr. Rick Hedger for conversations about opportunities for you, your church, and possibly your association. You may reach Rick at rhedger@MoBaptist.org.