IMB unlikely to appoint missionaries in North America, president says
By JONI B. HANNIGAN, Florida Baptist Witness
NASHVILLE (FBW)-A recommendation by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to remove geographical barriers preventing the International Mission Board from working with unreached people groups “on American soil” will not likely result in missionaries being assigned stateside, nor will it result in churches planted by IMB personnel.
IMB president Jerry Rankin told Florida Baptist Witness he supports Component #3 of the “progress report” the GCRTF made to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee Feb. 22 which asks “Southern Baptists to entrust to the International Mission Board the ministry to reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations.”
Rankin said, however, there should not be an expectation that the IMB will place missionaries throughout the United States because “it’s a matter of proportion” and indigenous strategies. Instead, Rankin said he envisions IMB’s primary role will be to mobilize, train, equip and mentor local churches, associations, state conventions and the North American Mission Board.
“It will be a partnership,” Rankin said. “It’s not an exclusive role that the IMB is going to do for Southern Baptists in this assignment. Our role is to facilitate, enable all Southern Baptists to fulfill the Great Commission and so that’s how I would anticipate our approaching this aspect of the Great Commission task in America.”
Although the “progress report” indicates the GCRTF is “unleashing the International Mission Board upon American soil,” Rankin does not see this as “very radical,” but said NAMB and others have encouraged IMB to help them reach ethnic and other peoples in the states.
“I don’t see this really as very radical. I don’t see it as conflicting and overlapping of turf with North American Mission Board, a potential conflict as some had conjectured,” Rankin said. He noted IMB and NAMB administrators and boards already meet twice a year to collaborate on some efforts.
UNENGAGED AND UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS
Rankin said the “top priority” for IMB are the Unengaged Unreached People Groups (UUPG) of which there are 41 with a population of more than a million and 469 with a population of more than 100,000. These groups have no churches, no Christians, no Scripture or Christian resources in their native language or culture –and no mission agency.
An Unreached People Group (UPG) Rankin said, is one in which less than 2 percent of the population are born again and there is no active church planting movement or witness making the Gospel accessible to the remaining 98 percent of the population. Of 11,000 people groups throughout the world, over 4,000 are considered unreached.
With hundreds of unengaged unreached people groups around the world who have no access to the Gospel, and over 4,000 unreached people groups who have had only very limited exposure to the Gospel, Rankin said he is positive about the proposed new strategy.
Rankin, who has served as IMB president 17 years, announced his plans for retirement last fall, to be effective July 31.
Citing prolific work among immigrant groups in the U.S. such as Vietnamese, Hispanics, Slavics and Haitians, Rankin said the state conventions “don’t have the capacity, the focus” to reach other people groups that are less populous. “They really don’t have the training or the expertise in those cultural worldviews that we would have,” he said.
Rankin noted a “Great Commission Initiative” he said grew out of a group of urban Baptist directors of missions, several from Texas, who traveled to London several years ago to participate in a lab sponsored by the IMB. The GCI website says the training is possible because of CP and “Associational Missions Gifts” and lists IMB and others who provide “intensive training and networking opportunities designed to equip highly motivated Christians to identify, engage, evangelize and disciple unreached people groups.”
Cecil Seagle, director of the missions division of the Florida Baptist Convention, told the Witness the challenge of reaching the lost is significant and he would welcome a partnership with the IMB to evangelize the unreached in Florida.
“I do not know of any serious missiologist that would not take seriously the expertise and the calling of a competent International Mission Board missionary who is spending his or her life in reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus,” Seagle said.
Because NAMB and IMB ministry statements limit involvement with state conventions, Seagle said the Florida Baptist Convention “has not been able to tap” the IMB successfully in ministry to a number of UPGs in Florida, but he hopes that will change.
The “progress report” does not appear to provide a framework for how the broadened assignment may work, Seagle said.
“My greatest hope for the sake of the Kingdom would be the revisiting of charters, documents, agreements, between IMB and the NAMB to take place—and whatever those barriers and barricades and obstacles are, that put us either in competition or disallows cooperation, they could be removed so that we can adequately and successfully cooperate for the Gospel’s sake,” Seagle said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Whether these partnerships will acknowledge the experience of local missiologists who will look at unreached people groups in Florida as compared to those in international settings “is the most serious question we could ask,” Seagle said.
“If an unreached people group person has been in the United States or North America for any length of time then the Americanization of that individual is a serious challenge and by that I mean their culture, their ethnicity, perhaps their language group, their religious persuasions—wherever they came from—is a vital issue and is a challenging issue in terms of sharing the Good News of Jesus,” Seagle said.
Additionally, Seagle said, he is not interested in what he calls, “unilateralism,” or an attitude he says “refuses to recognize the calling and the giftedness of the body of Christ and … it may assume an attitude of superiority that is neither biblical nor does it enhance the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“If the IMB is interested in reaching the whole world and that includes America, then I am also interested in reaching the whole world and there is a ‘C’ word that we need to remember,” Seagle said. “That’s that word of cooperation. … If we can learn to cooperate and we can learn to coordinate effectively and if we can learn to collaborate effectively, I think that would be the best of all worlds.
Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., affirmed Component #3 in a March 12 blog analyzing the “progress report.”
Calling the current limits an “irrational policy,” Ascol said most Southern Baptists “would blow a gasket” if they learned the IMB was not permitted to work in the US, noting he “found it hard to believe” when he first learned of the policy a few years ago.
“So I rejoice at component #3 of the report,” he added.
Ascol’s church is preparing to send a member later this summer to the Indonesian Island of Sumatra where of 60 people groups, 52 are considered unreached by the Gospel.
Seagle said in working among UPGs, differences in methods of church planting between NAMB and the IMB—and state conventions—may add layers in accomplishing the task.
Holding to what he called an “old-fashioned,” but New Testament view based on Acts 1:8, Seagle said in the time of Jesus, there was a great harvest and thousands came to know Christ.
“The Body of Christ was dispersed all over the known world and out of that great harvest came congregationalizing,” Seagle said. “Now we’ve turned church planting into a program to be implemented instead of the harvest to be engaged.
“If we are going to invade the deep, steep, lostness of Florida, we’ve got to go back to that biblical pattern,” he continued. “Engage the harvest, share the Good News and as people come to Christ, we congregationalize them.”
CP INCREASE PROPOSED
Speaking to Component #6 of the “progress report,” a proposed increase of CP funds for the IMB that raises its allocation of total CP funds in 2011-12 to 51 percent, Rankin said he is appreciative of the increase, described by the GCRTF as “symbolic and substantial.”
Rankin admitted, however, the additional one percent of “diminishing” Cooperative Program receipts – about $2 million – is not going to make a lot of difference to a $283 million budget or “open up a flow of missionaries to the field.”
Less than half of the IMB’s funding comes from CP. The remaining budget comes from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and other sources. The task force’s final component suggests the increase at the same time it asks for a reduction of 1 percent in funding for the Facilitating Ministries of the SBC within the Executive Committee budget.
Tangibly, the increase in resources could mean 20 more couples on the field, Rankin said. Still, he said, it’s not enough.
“Is it enough for what? Enough for reaching a lost world? Not hardly. That’s how we gauge everything. The remaining lostness, what does it take?” Rankin asked “So, no, 1 percent is not enough.”
Rankin said the way CP funds are divided “will never work” and will always be a “win, lose.”
“I think it can be a win, win,” he said.
In addition to providing “adequate” funding for each entity, determining just how much each ministry needs to carry out its ministry assignment, Rankin said, could be part of thinking creatively and differently in order to adapt to new paradigms of doing missions.
Another way to adjust would be the GCRTF’s proposal related to the category of Great Commission Giving, Rankin said.
“The whole idea of Great Commission Giving is that anything a church designates to a recipient of CP funds, should count as CP funding, not as a separate category,” Rankin said is his understanding of how it should work.
Ultimately, Rankin said both of the Components are positive—and the increase in funding—even 1 percent, represents movement, something he said could have taken place when the SBC went through a restructuring in 1997.
“I think this is significant that once that 50 percent barrier is broken, it does create that flexibility to make adjustments in what our allocations are,” Rankin said.