I’ve often said that the kind of ministry Jeanni and I provide is simply not sexy. It’s more exciting to give hard earned funds to the ’10/40 window’, church planting movements, rescuing children from the sex trade, etc. Who wants to acknowledge that cross-cultural workers (pedastalized Christian leaders) actually struggle in life and ministry? After-all, haven’t they somehow arrived to the hight of spiritual maturity? Doubtful.
The following article comes as a sobering wake up call that what we do is not the only non-sexy expression of mission. And while I may be preaching to the choir, this is something we all need to ponder share with our fellow Christians.
To read this article in it’s original Facebook context, you can also click the link: “Satan Wins Big“
The only reason for this massive recall of missionaries from around the world is that Southern Baptist individuals and churches would rather spend the massive resources God has entrusted to them on other things than the most effective proven means of taking the Good News of Jesus to the nations.
Satan Wins Big
Aug. 27 marks the date of a huge setback to God’s kingdom. It is not another judicial attack on morality nor the sad state of American politics. This has nothing to do with the actions of military enemies, although it is related to the action of another kind of enemy. This massive defeat is due solely to the neglect of believing American Christians. Yesterday the International Mission Board announced that it is asking between 600-800 veteran missionaries to end their mission service within a few months. Although the number of missionaries today is already 1000 fewer than just 7 years ago, hundreds more must come home now. This will represent a 30% decline in our cooperative mission force in just 8 years. Although the “goal” is to cut down to 4000 missionaries, unless Southern Baptists wake from their sleep and illusion the slide will continue.
The only reason for this massive recall of missionaries from around the world is that Southern Baptist individuals and churches would rather spend the massive resources God has entrusted to them on other things than the most effective proven means of taking the Good News of Jesus to the nations. A high percentage of these 800 missionaries will be those with the most experience, relationships, language, cultural knowledge, and ministry expertise. This will likely be the greatest loss of mission social capital in such a short time since the beginning of the Protestant mission movement in 1792. Since it takes 7-10 years for a missionary to reach their full effectiveness potential this represents a loss from which Southern Baptist missions will likely never recover. When histories are eventually written, this will likely be a major milestone in the demise of a denomination. The only positive result that I can think of is that perhaps we will stop bragging about the biggest and richest mission program in the world.
The truth is that missionaries are simply not “sexy” enough for today’s church. Our culture favors style over substance, and we all know missionaries can rarely keep up with styles back home. Over the past 25 years churches are less and less likely to ask missionaries to speak, except to very small groups of friends. Most members of the average church do not know a missionary, while the average missionary on stateside assignment sits quietly in the back with a deep desire to share about the challenge they face in reaching their people group. Churches go millions of dollars into debt to construct a building for their enjoyment at home, while giving a diminishing portion to build the church among the nations as Jesus commanded.
I believe that a lot of Southern Baptists have fallen for a typical Satanic half-lie – “Everyone is a missionary.” It is true that every believer is a witness, either good or bad. But everyone is not a missionary in terms of calling, gifting, or training. Everyone can contribute to missions, but everyone is not called to go long-term and share the gospel in another culture and people. Neither the Bible, mission history, nor present experience supports this half-lie that everyone is a missionary. A famous mission historian said that when everyone is considered a missionary, it is not long before no one is. Sounds rather prophetic right now. The power in half-truths is that they sound so good! It does not matter whether the missionary is sent by an agency, a church, or is a tent-maker. What matters is a life calling, long-term commitment, and focused training to plant reproducing churches. Although these are possible through multiple channels, my observation of hundreds of missionaries is that a much higher percentage of those sent by a good agency reach their ministry potential. This IMB announcement represents a tragic slide toward the amateurization of missions. I cannot imagine why some Southern Baptist leaders naively believe that short-term amateurs are as valuable as veteran missionaries in such a complex task as sharing the gospel cross-culturally and raising up indigenous reproducing churches. The Great Commission demands our best, sacrificial efforts. George Barna has pointed out that contemporary American culture values personal involvement more than effectiveness. As long as we feel good about it, it does not matter to us whether we are using the best method. This value is applied to missions and not to brain surgery, although it would have fewer eternal consequences applied the other way around.
Today I heard from numerous friends who were shocked by the announcement. Somehow the IMB has failed to communicate to the churches the desperate position it has been in for the past 7 years. I have told several pastors in recent weeks that this was coming and they have looked at me in disbelief. This is partly due to our inability to accept and communicate reality. We must maintain a semblance of positivity. So, the IMB has sent mixed messages in the midst of desperate crisis. Churches that might have stepped up their giving if they had understood the situation will not have that opportunity on behalf of the 800 coming home soon.
When Southern Baptists decided a number of years ago to engage the unreached peoples of the earth, we did so with spiritual naivete. Satan tried to thwart us with the murder of missionaries, but God sustained the mission force. The 800 who will come home have made commitments to simplicity. They have sweated over learning language for months and months. They have faced loneliness, serious illnesses, separation from loved ones, and daily cultural stresses. Some have faced dangers and many have stood with persecuted local partners. Many will have labored for years to make the initial breakthrough among their adopted people while others have already seen miraculous movements to Christ. Hundreds will now retire much earlier than they desired; many will be at the height of their productivity. Missionaries have braved the attacks Satan threw at them on the field, not knowing Satan would win by lulling their supporters to sleep.
One Baptist Press article states that David Platt says this recall of missionaries will not result in any drawdown of gospel witness. I honestly cannot understand what he meant if that is not a misquote. This recall will result in an unexpected exit from engaging multiple people groups. It will result in the loss of needed expertise and leadership for dozens, if not hundreds, of mission teams. It will simply mean the end of hundreds of kingdom extending ministries. Tens of thousands will not hear the gospel nor be discipled because of the loss of these workers. Countless churches will not be planted nor leaders trained due to this gross neglect. If cruise missiles cannot replace the ground troops needed in Syria, then why don’t we acknowledge the strategic setback that this loss of so many experienced troops means to the battle against the real enemy?
Pray for these warriors who now face a painful personal decision. Their field leaders cannot even talk to them about this tragedy. Their life is about to change and their opportunity to follow their calling may be coming to an end, but they must face even this challenge largely alone. Oh, my heart cries out to Him to bless each of them and sustain them in this most painful time.