With over 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant body in the US and the largest Baptist denomination in the world. Connected with the SBC is the International Mission Board (IMB), which, similar to its parent organization, is one of the largest missionary organization in the world. I mention all of this because I think it good to pay attention to what they do as it effects a large portion of the population.
Below these comments is a video report of the IMB’s president, David Platt (pastor and author), given a few days ago at the SBC General Conference. In watching the video, two things stood out to me.
1) The number of full time missionaries sent out by the IMB is steady dropping
This decline in missionaries is due, account to Platt, mainly to the lack of funds. However rather than trying to get the SBC member churches to give more money, Platt announced that the IMB is changing the way they think about mission work. As it currently stands, the IMB has a narrow view of who constitutes a missionary (i.e. fully supported, full time missionary living overseas) – meaning that they have had to reject large number of people over the years who have not fit that narrow definition.
Platt’s answer to this is to change the definition of a “missionary” to include college students, workers, or retirees living/studying overseas. As these new missionaries will be self-supporting, IMB would not have a huge increase in expenses – instead they would channel money normally used to house, feed and support a missionary into areas like resources, training and emotional/spiritual support. It is also worth noting that these new missionaries would have to meet the same requirements as a traditional IMB missionary and would be teamed with a traditional missionary in the same region. This would help provide stability and emotional/spiritual support for all the missionaries as they seek to start new churches.
2) No tongues speaking
While I’ve always know that the SBC was more of a cessationist group, I didn’t expect Platt to come out as hard as he did against speaking in tongues. I know his hard line was a political move due to some news articles saying that the IMB had removed their ban against speaking in tongues, but wow…he sure had an axe to grind! This venom sadness me on many fronts as I thought we as a Christian family had moved passed such petty fights. However it seems that there is still some underling pain and hurt within the family despite the advances we have made as a family group over the past few decades. Hopefully the Spirit of God will work with us all to heal the pain and let us work together. By which, to be clear, is not to say that the SBC/IMB should start promoting tongues, but rather that they can set boundaries for their workers without speaking negatively against Christian family members who disagree with their practices/beliefs.
To be transparent, I have to mention that this issue also brought back memories as I was rejected by a mission agency (not the IMB) years ago because I spoke in tongues. The crazy part (to me at least) was that the agency rejected my compromise to restrict myself to only speaking in tongues in the privacy of my house and not in public. This rejection (fear perhaps?) of anyone who spoke in tongues, even if they weren’t promoting it, sadden me then and now… I know people/groups have different interpretation of what the Scriptures say… but really, do we have to draw such hard lines and speak with venom against those in the family of Christ with whom we disagree? Sigh… I guess we all have some growing left to do… =/