response to long’s piece on ‘2 major challenges southern baptists face in getting churches to engage the unreached’By
For some time I have followed the writings and blurbs put out by Justin Long with Mission to Unreached Peoples at his blog–The Long View. I would encourage those interested in mission to unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPG) to follow Justin on the Twitters or add his site to your RSS feed. One recent piece of his is, in my opinion, worth special attention due to the weight and timing of the topic and the swarm theory applied to the SBC he put into his piece entitled “2 major challenges Southern Baptists face in getting churches to engage the unreached.” Before reading any further here, go read his piece. If that’s all you get out of this post, then still it was probably worth your time. Seeing the Southern Baptist Convention as a swarmish entity is uber helpful especially in light of the daunting task of making massive change in default behavior. (Again, let me encourage you to read Long’s piece before going any further here.)
To restate Long’s two cautions in the referenced piece:
- Can Southern Baptists change the default of SB churches as it relates to international missions?
- Will Southern Baptists cooperate with others outside of the convention in the efforts to embrace UUPGs?
The first caution is a good question that I will not pretend to answer, but I will share that the desired change in default is, I believe, highly substantive and positive. It is encouraging to see that the language and expectations imb is holding out to SB churches is changing. Over the past several years I have seen imb be more open to the idea of the church functioning as a missionary–which I would credit my friends and cohorts at The Upstream Collective to a great extent for promoting and holding out this idea of the Sending Church. In the past I have seen imb consider sending churches as those that would do non-strategic or non-critical work to free up company personnel to do the strategic roles such as engaging new peoples and areas. Now, however, with the vision that Dr. Tom Elliff–the recently elected imb president–is conveying, it is a call for all to participate. All are to play critical, strategic roles in taking the gospel to the nations. Churches are being asked to partner with imb to embrace the unengaged. To be clear here, embracing a people is for the intended purpose of leading to engagement. To do this among one people is significant and challenging. To seek to do it among 3800 at one time is one of the more lofty and complex challenges undertaken historically in missions. It must be of God if it is to succeed at any level and the activity must be scalable and largely driven by a vast number of smaller swarms (as Long points out).
Exactly what the minimum default expectation and activity looks like is being ironed out as different leaders pose and grapple with this issue. These expectations should be public soon.
On the second caution, I strongly agree that the SB swarm is more likely to be effective in the end goal of engaging the UUPGs if the effort is not exclusive. It seems helpful to remember that this commitment to reaching UPGs and ultimately UUPGs was birthed 11 years ag0 at table 71. As part of a larger group of like-minded Great Commission Christian organizations, imb accepted the challenge to take the gospel to those that do not have access to it.
If one holds to the theology that once an individual from every nation, tribe, people and language has made Christ their Lord, then Christ will return, then it would be best to admit that mission is really about the existing followers of Christ rather than those that have not heard. In other words, if evangelicals can get one person from every people to pray a prayer of salvation, then those that believe can finally get out of here sooner. Were this to be a correct eschatological view, which I question strongly, then the task is not about reaching peoples, but reaching a person from each of the peoples. However, this view does not seem consistent with the whole of Scripture for a number of reasons including that we read of Christ’s guts churning when He beheld the masses that were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus consistently was concerned about individuals and masses. He spent his ministry years continuing to share primarily with one people group. His passion was about seeing people become followers of the Most High God. Regarding Revelation 7:9 and eschatology, Elliff states that this is not a cause and effect relationship. Instead of a causal situation, this can be viewed as coincidental in nature. Our responsibility is obedience to take the gospel to the nations. The timing of Christ’s return is known only by God the Father.
If this is about the peoples of each people group and not about a person from each group being compelled by the Savior, then it seems that partnershipping is of increased value and importance (please allow the word for extra emphasis). SB churches, entities and imb must be in partnership for this to work to fulfill the imb vision. Even further, partnership with other like-minded churches and agencies is essential to reach the peoples among the unengaged and unreached peoples. Elliff’s responsibility and station is to seek to influence the swarm that is SB. It is my hope that through the language that he uses and the messages–both overt and meta–imb sends this week and in the coming months that other swarms beyond the SB affiliated will be influenced and encouraged to see churches, agencies and networks be about reaching both UUPGs and UPGs.
Finally on this point, I want to reiterate Long’s point that others will believe because of the unity of the believers in Christ. While the instruction is simple yet often difficult for us to live, “they will know we are Christians by our love for one another.” Partnership is essential. And based on what I am hearing, it is welcomed by imb leadership.
In addition to Long’s concerns, I will offer two aspects that I believe will be critical for the Embrace effort to be successful. One of these is timeless in missions and the second a bit more specific to this vision.
First, churches must prayerfully seek to answer the question: “To whom are we sent?” The Embrace conversation may influence this significantly, but ultimately a people should go only as the Lord directs. Whether to a UUPG, a UPG, Dearborn, MI or even a town in the U.S. Bible belt, both the individual and the church would do well to go those to whom she is sent.
Second, Embrace is a commitment to see the effort through. If the church is going to those people that the Lord has sent them to, then the Embrace effort will not be contingent on the presence of the initiating pastor or other church leader. I envision a future question for staff hires including the senior pastor to be whether or not he senses that God is leading him to be sent to the people that the church has already embraced. This is a commitment to see the task through to fulfillment. At this point, the church would do well to calibrate expectations in terms of a decade or more rather than think in years. The call to Embrace is not a call for the preservation or development of imb or for the enrichment or ease of the church. This is a call to obedience. A call to be about the Great Commission. Embrace is ultimately a call to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
*These ramblings are my own and are not the official position of any person, agency or church. Where the arguments are lucid and helpful, there is a good chance that these points are influenced by other persons. Where they are unclear or unhelpful, there is a good chance that is mine.