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What Does it Mean to be a Missions-Minded Southern Baptist Church?

What does it mean to be a missions-minded Southern Baptist pastor or church? I think this is an important question, and several events over the past six months or so have set me to pondering this issue. First has been the renewed emphasis on global missions at Southeastern, where our mission statement claims that "Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission." Our unofficial motto has become "every classroom a Great Commission classroom." A zeal for the nations is evident among our students, faculty, and staff, even those who do not feel a specific calling to be career or long-term missionaries. I doubt we are the only SBC seminary characterized by a passion for the Great Commission. So what do/will the churches led by these students and attended by these faculty and staff look like?

Another reason I have been pondering this question is because of the ever-increasing emphasis on being "Great Commission churches." This emphasis comes in many forms. The International Mission Board has a variety of programs that allow individual churches to partner with specific missionaries or "adopt" an unreached people group. The missional movement, both within the SBC and in other forms, has strongly emphasized the need for cross-cultural missions, both internationally and in North America. In those circles where John Piper has influence, he modeled one way of being an American pastor with a heart for the nations, particularly through his popular book Let the Nations Be Glad! And, of course, churches of many shapes, sizes, and theological convictions are not participating in short-term mission trips to other countries.

A third reason I wonder about this is because I sense the definition is changing from what it has historically meant to be a missions-minded SBC church. To put it bluntly, it seems no longer enough to simply pray for missionaries and give generously to the Cooperative Program. But that is exactly what it meant to be a missions-minded SBC church even a generation ago. Two examples will suffice.

Example one: In John Burton's biography of long-time FBC Dallas pastor George W. Truett, the final chapter is titled "The Preacher and Missions." The chapter is a thirteen page recounting of all the ways Truett led his church to give money for missionary causes, particularly the Seventy-Five Million Campaign and the Cooperative Program. It ends by talking about the role Truett played in building the denomination. In a chapter about missions. For the author, denomination-building and being missions-minded were two sides of the same coin. It is no coincidence that Burton wrote the biography in 1946, when the SBC was just entering into a fifteen-year period where programming, efficiency, and financial support replaced doctrinal convictions as the heart of Southern Baptist identity. [See Joe W. Burton, Prince of the Pulpit: A Pen Picture of George W. Truett at Work (Zondervan, 1946), pp. 69-82.]

Example two: Back in the spring I gave a talk at FBC Durham on the history of mission involvement at our church. I spent some time poking around in the church archives, and I came to several conclusions. First, for FBC Durham, until about 30 years ago the primary way we participated in missions was through giving to the Cooperative Program. Second, the primary way we connected with missions was through the teaching and prayer emphasis of the church's Woman's Missionary Union (WMU). Third, with the exception of a handful of church members who became career missionaries, from 1845 to 1977 our church had almost no experience with the actual practice of missions. Finally, that began to change in 1977 when our church called a former missionary to be pastor. He led the church to engage in short-term trips, initially to the Caribbean. In the last thirty years, two of our church's four pastors had international missionary experience prior to assuming the pastorate (including our current pastor, Andy Davis) and the church has participated in literally dozens of mission trips, including seven or eight this year. What it means to be a missions-minded SBC church has changed for FBC Durham; though we still give liberally to the CP and to other mission endeavors, that is no longer considered enough. We actually do missions now. I suspect other churches share this testimony.

So back to my initial question: what does it mean in 2007 for a Southern Baptist church or pastor to be missions-minded? What is the best way to measure a church's commitment to taking the gospel to the nations? Is it still financial giving, either through the denomination or through other means? Is it still having programs like WMU? Is it still through praying regularly for missionaries? Is it critical–perhaps even mandatory–to actually participate in short-term mission trips? What about identifying and cultivating potential career or long-term missionaries from within the body? How do we know our churches are doing all that they can to facilitate the spreading of the gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation?

And here's the money question: how much of our missions-mindedness ought to be tied to denominational programs?

I am itching to hear your thoughts.