In a darkened convention center hall filled with Southern Baptist messengers, individual pinpoints of light illuminated the darkness. Moments earlier, in passionate pleas, IMB President David Platt and NAMB President Kevin Ezell urged Southern Baptist messengers not to be cold toward the vast lostness in the world, but to join in God’s global mission as church planters, missionaries, and sending churches to take the light of the Gospel to a dark world.
IMB and NAMB partnered together in a Church and Mission Sending Celebration to recognize fifty-nine missionaries and their sending churches during the final day of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 17, in Columbus, Ohio.
“The stakes are too high, the Gospel is too good for us to settle for incremental increases in Southern Baptist church planters and missionaries,” Platt said in his message. “We need to open the door for tens of thousands more people to engage the nations with the Gospel.
“Wouldn’t you want that to be our legacy?” Platt asked. “Don’t we cry out for God to bring a Moravian-type missions movement among us so that our legacy might be a Convention of churches who send thousands, tens of thousands of God-exalting, Christ-following, Spirit-led, biblically-faithful, people-loving, high-quality missionaries and church planters across North America and the nations for the sake of God’s fame?”
Light of the World
The Sending Celebration symbolically celebrated commissioning the new missionaries and church planters to share Jesus as the Light of the World (John 8:12). Christian band Shane & Shane led the audience in worship.
Of the fifty-nine missionaries and church planters highlighted, twenty-seven will serve in North America in the Northeast, South, Midwest, West, and Canada, while thirty-two will serve overseas in East, Central, and South Asia; North Africa and the Middle East; Europe; Sub-Saharan Africa; and the Americas.
Stationed throughout the crowd, missionary families and representatives of their sending churches stood with an open lighted “book” illuminating their faces, while information about the missionaries and their work was displayed.
The Sending Church
Ezell said although the service was focused on missionaries, they also wanted to celebrate the sending churches. “Churches plant churches,” he said.
On stage, Ezell interviewed Chuck Herring, pastor of First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tennessee, about being a sending church pastor. Herring has led the church to adopt an Unengaged, Unreached People Group in South Asia and send a family to plant a church in Toronto.
“It’s good for our church to have ‘ownership’ of a church plant in an unreached part of North America,” Herring said.
Being a sending church does not require a large congregation or a lot of money, Ezell said. “It’s about having a big heart and compassion and a passion to reach people here and around the world.”
In light of the vast darkness, Platt emphasized five truths.
1. The stakes are high. Darkness is a real destiny for billions of people who are headed to hell, he said. “We don’t have time to waste our lives and lead our churches in casual, cold, comfortable, cultural Christianity.”
2. The Gospel is good. “The divine Savior has defeated the deceptive snake,” Platt said. “The sovereign King has conquered sin and suffering and death forever. This is the greatest news in all the world.”
3. The church is central. It is God’s chosen agent for the eventual accomplishment of the Great Commission. That truth drives both IMB and NAMB, Platt said. “We want to say to forty-six thousand Southern Baptist churches, ‘You exist for mission, we exist to help you accomplish it.’”
4. The opportunities are limitless. Missionaries and church planters can be sent through new pathways, such as students, professionals, and retirees taking advantage of God-given opportunities to live and work around the world.
“Are we going to let our minds broaden and in our churches begin to say to people, ‘Global missions is not a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few people who are called to that; the glory of God among the nations is actually the reason you have breath on the planet’?” Platt said.
5. The time is now. Our lives are simply a mist (James 4:14), Platt stressed. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, so Southern Baptists should make their lives count now.
“As IMB, NAMB, as every entity and every local church across the SBC, let’s unite together around this good Gospel, in view of these high stakes, and in light of limitless opportunities God’s given us to send and shepherd church planters and missionaries around the world,” Platt said. “May the urgency of this mission mark us. May our light shine amidst the darkness, and may our mist count while we’ve still got time.”
After Platt’s challenge, the missionaries, church planters, and their sending churches again stood with their faces aglow from their lighted books. Platt and Ezell led in prayer for them as messengers gathered around to lay hands on them in prayer.
SBC President Ronnie Floyd closed the celebration, urging pastors and church leaders to fill out commitment cards to pray passionately, give generously, and intentionally disciple people to be sent out nationally and internationally.
“Think about the big vision of asking God for an awakening so we can reach the world with the Gospel of Christ,” Floyd said. “All of it goes together, a mighty move of the Lord and His people mobilized to reach the world.”
Laura Fielding is a writer with the International Mission Board.