IMB’s Rankin speaks to The Pathway
on trustees, blogs, missions, Missouri
April 4, 2006
On March 15, about a week before the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) trustees were to meet in Tampa, Fla., Pathway Editor Don Hinkle interviewed IMB President Jerry Rankin. The interview took place at the IMB’s Missionary Learning Center just outside Richmond, Va.
Hinkle: Are you comfortable with the policy adopted by the trustees with regard to baptism and tongues?
Rankin: Well, I think the operative word there is are you “comfortable.” I’m not sure I would use that term. I would certainly want to say I understand the passion and conviction of our board that adopted these policies. It’s not my place to question them. We serve under their authority and will implement the policies adopted by our board. But, I’ve yet to see the compelling reason for these policies being implemented.
There has been some allusion to the fact we have doctrinal problems among missionaries on the field, that we were tolerant of charismatic practices generated by those who have a private prayer language. Well, I’ve been asking for evidence of that for the two years that these policies have been discussed and no one has pointed out any doctrinal problem – because we would deal with it otherwise.
We have a policy dealing with charismatic practices or even anyone advocating or teaching non-Baptist positions regarding charismatic gifts and there are no (such) situations out there on the field. Are there people that have a private prayer language? Possibly, but we don’t know because it’s private. Are they creating problems? Well (how could they be) if we don’t know who they are and there’s no evidence they’re creating problems. So, then it begs the question of why this was necessary and I think that has created a lot of the controversy because there hasn’t been satisfactory answers.
The other concern is that God is calling out more missionaries from our Southern Baptist churches. We have a thorough screening process. No one is going to come through the process that is not doctrinally sound, aligned with the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. So I feel like it’s unnecessarily restrictive when we’ve got a lost world that needs to hear the Gospel and come to faith in Jesus Christ. Why would we alienate churches, offend churches, restrict doctrinally sound good Southern Baptist God-called missionaries that want to go and witness to a lost world? So that creates a little discomfort with it. We just have to be confident that God is not going to allow it to be a detriment to fulfilling our mission task.
Hinkle: Are you satisfied with the IMB trustees’ decision to not dismiss Trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma?
Rankin: Yes. In fact, I think it was very unfortunate that the board took that precipitous action. I’m very gratified – with all the parties involved and our board leadership – that they have recognized this and realized we’ve got a better alternative and that we really should handle any differences internally. I’m very encouraged by that.
Hinkle: What you do think about blogs? Do you blog?
Rankin: No, but it’s intriguing. I’ve just, out of all of this for the first time, begun to understand what they are and to read them. I’m fascinated by the scope of communication and exchange of thoughts. I think this could be very healthy and stimulating. It’s really the next stage of the Internet. There was a time when we could primarily communicate only by a press release or “snail” mail. That was one dimension of communication and public relations. But once we got Internet, everything could be forwarded and disseminated instantaneously. It has become a whole new challenge because anybody could throw out anything. Suddenly, you’ve got a perception out there that you’ve got to deal with. Blogging is just another aspect that’s carrying it. For my generation, it’s a challenge to know how to deal with this sort of thing.
Hinkle: Are you pleased with the financial status of the IMB and its ability to accomplish its global mission?
Rankin: Well, we’re never satisfied as long as it’s a lost world and as long as there are unreached people groups that have never even had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. That just compels you to move forward, but it’s a blessing to be in a position that gets a global overview of what God is doing around the world. Of course, I get reports and information from the fields that cross my desk everyday. I get to travel and visit and interact with our missionaries.
God is at work in unprecedented and phenomenal ways. Last year alone 137 new people groups were engaged with the Gospel for the first time. For the last five years, we’ve been reporting over a 1,000 new believers a day being baptized. Church planting movements are growing and multiplying. God’s at work. Of course, we’re the largest missionary sending agency in the world and whatever our slice of the action is, it is very significant.
I’m very gratified at what God has chosen to do among Southern Baptists. We’re grateful for the faithful support of Southern Baptists. At this point, we’re able to make a projection of our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It’s not accurate enough because it’s just based on the pattern of funds coming in. We’re not ready to make an announcement, but at this point, it looks like it’s running ahead of last year. With all the hurricane relief and involvement, and tsunami relief that churches have given, for them to follow with an increase for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is just very encouraging. So, I’m pleased with the fact that Southern Baptists have a heart for missions and are faithful in their support of what we’re doing.
Hinkle: How many missionaries do we have in the field at the moment?
Rankin: Last count I read was 5,082. We had reached a peak of 5,500 three years ago when we did have the shortfall in our budget and had to defer some missionary appointments. We’ve removed the restrictions, but we had to be very cautious about not sending out more missionaries than we had finances to support. So we’re holding a little above 5,000 this year at this point.
Hinkle: Where would you like to see it go? What’s realistic?
Rankin: We have the capacity to send out a 1,000 new missionaries a year. We did that in 2001 and 2002. In fact, that’s why we got into a financial bind when we had such a shortfall the following year in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. But, three years ago we sent out almost 800 short-term missionaries for two or three years. Our priority, of course, is the long-term career missionaries. So in order to send out all of those that are coming through our process we have had to cut back on our short-term personnel and that has impacted our total missionary count considerably. This year we’ll only send about 400 short-term missionaries.
Hinkle: You have a lot going on today here at the Missionary Learning Center. You’re hosting the Finishing the Task conference, you’ve just heard reports from your regional directors around the world and you have new missionary candidates coming in. There seems to be a high level of excitement.
Rankin: Well, it really is, and it is exciting. I mean last week, we commissioned our orientation group – 144 new missionaries – and now they’re leaving for the field. This week, a stateside assignment conference comes in and there are 79 missionaries coming in on furlough. So we’re training and interacting with them. We have 37 here for our candidate conferences. These are candidates going through the appointment process. And yes, our regional leaders are here for their semi-annual meeting, discussing strategies of where we’re going and what God is doing. And then, the Finishing the Task Conference with over 100 people coming from churches that want to be involved in unreached people groups are here. So, all of this is going on simultaneously.
Hinkle: In late October at our state convention’s annual meeting in Cape Girardeau, you’ll be our guest and will lead a missionary commissioning service at one of the evening sessions. I’m sure there are a number of Missouri Baptists who have never seen an IMB commissioning service. What can they expect?
Rankin: Well, it really is a privilege to be able to have a missionary appointment service at a state convention. Several conventions have invited us to do that in recent years. It’s a real privilege for the Missouri Baptist Convention to provide this opportunity for us because, of course, it reveals the partnership we have; that this is what the Cooperative Program is all about. It’s about mobilizing churches for involvement in missions – and this commissioning service is the fruit of those efforts. It’s one of the most exciting things Southern Baptists do.
We’re looking forward to being in Cape Girardeau for the appointment service. We anticipate a large group of new missionaries being appointed. Incidentally, we’re working with the state convention to follow up with a mobilization conference (to be) in St. Charles following the state convention.
Hinkle: Is there anything in particular you would like to say to Missouri Southern Baptists?
Rankin: It’s such an encouragement to work with Missouri Baptists. So many times people just see the state convention’s work within their state, but I don’t know of a state convention that has been more actively involved in casting the vision for international missions, for North American missions, partnering with us to mobilize and enlist churches to become involved in partnerships overseas than the Missouri Baptist Convention. We’re just grateful for that. That’s a real encouragement. Many of the churches are becoming directly and personally involved.