In the midst of an economic recession in which many Americans are downsizing their Christmas gift list, Southern Baptists need to remember our missionaries still need our support as they share the Gospel with a lost world. Indeed, giving to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in support of Southern Baptist international missions is even more urgent during difficult economic times.
The “unfinished task,” as the International Mission Board calls it, of reaching the entire world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ is breathtaking in its scope. Consider these staggering statistics from the IMB:
Only about 10 percent of the world’s population—680 million—can be considered to be evangelical, Bible-believing Christians.
•Almost one-quarter of the world’s population—1.6 billion—have no access to the Gospel today.
•Another 43 percent of the world’s population—2.9 billion—has some access to the Gospel but are non-Christians.
•Cultural Christianity—persons who belong to a Christian church by family tradition or other means, but who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—makes up 23 percent of the world, 1.6 billion persons.
•Total number of lost persons in the world today: 6 billion.
•The current estimate of unreached and unengaged people groups—those without access to the Gospel—is 11,372, with 632 of the people groups each numbering at least 100,000 persons.
In light of these challenging facts, the task of taking the Gospel to the world is as much of an obligation for Christians today as when Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples in the first century (Matt. 28:19-20).
This missionary mandate was central to the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, and it must remain true for modern day Southern Baptists if we are to have a future, according to Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board.
In September, I had the privilege of attending a briefing for Baptist newspaper editors at the IMB headquarters in Richmond, Va., in which Rankin shared his passion for the future of Southern Baptist missions through the IMB. In a nearly two-hour presentation, Rankin talked about the “radical” restructuring the IMB is undertaking to better position itself to fulfill the “unfinished task.”
Although the IMB boasts the largest missionary force in the world—more than 5,000 missionaries across the globe—and by most measures would be considered healthy and successful, Rankin said the early stirrings for change within the IMB started about two years ago as missionaries shared their frustration that they were too often bogged down in ancillary things diverting their time and efforts away from the main thing—reaching the lost with the Gospel.
The restructuring—which centers on maximizing missionary personnel and minimizing administrative obstruction in the field—picked up speed in April during a week-long strategy retreat with the IMB’s field leaders. By June, the IMB trustees created a task force to study the matter, resulting in action by the board of trustees in September to endorse the wide-ranging reorganization.
“I’ve never sensed such an anointing and sense of God’s leadership for our board to enthusiastically go as far as they have,” Rankin said of the unanimous endorsement by the trustees of the restructuring.
Although they could not have known it when the process began, the current economic crisis our nation faces illustrates the need for the IMB’s restructuring, which will be completed by next July.
With stagnant Cooperative Program giving and the devaluation of the dollar overseas, which made the $150 million given last year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering only worth about $132 million in buying power, Rankin said the financial picture requires the IMB to consider the trends, be realistic about the funding that will be available, while continuing to do all it can to fulfill the Great Commission.
“So do we shrug, throw up our hands and say, ‘Well, we can’t fulfill our Great Commission task because we don’t have enough missionaries’? No, you change who you are and how you do missions,” Rankin said.
For Southern Baptist pastors and churches who may be tempted to pull-back from their commitment to international missions in favor of local mission needs in the midst of the current economic slowdown, Rankin noted Jesus’ taught his disciples in Acts 1:8 they were to be his missionaries in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth—all at the same time.
Rankin had a warning for churches that abandon the call to international missions: “You better start with the ends of the earth. Because those churches that are involved in international missions are those that God is blessing in their local outreach and ministry. The only way you’re going to reach your Jerusalem is to have a missions heart or that dries up as well.”
Let’s never forget, the Revelation to the Apostle John includes “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number” praising God in Heaven (Rev. 7:9, HCSB). It is our “unfinished task” to get the Gospel to all the peoples of the world.
This Christmas when you’re making your gift list and you’re trying to decide who can go without this year, remember that the missionary task continues, even during a recession. Please give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
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