David Platt of the International Mission Board and Kevin Ezell of the North American Mission Board addressed during a panel discussion the future of Southern Baptist missions and the two organizations’ efforts to work more closely together.
The two mission board presidents spoke for twenty minutes on the Cooperative Program stage in the exhibit area of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Other CP Panel sessions in the exhibit hall included discussions on collegiate ministries and church planting (see below).
Platt and Ezell spoke on a panel moderated by Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. The session was one of ten that took place over three days as part of ancillary activities to the SBC’s annual meeting.
“We’re trying to use good common sense,” Ezell said. “We’d be very foolish to not use the expertise of the IMB to engage [immigrants]”.
In some cases, nations don’t permit entry to IMB missionaries, but businesspeople from North American churches are welcomed. Training provided by the IMB can multiply the effectiveness of the “marketplace missionary.”
In other situations, immigrants from around the world converge on US cities for economic stability or physical safety, among other reasons. The IMB can provide expertise to help a NAMB-funded church planter or pastor reach those immigrants with the Gospel.
“We want to come under every Southern Baptist church and say, ‘You exist to do missions. How can we help you?’ I really want churches to own the sending process,” Platt said.
Platt said he was drawn to his position at IMB because of the two billion people who haven’t heard the name of Jesus. Ezell said he was drawn to his position at NAMB because of the need he saw for better stewardship of the entity to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Brian Frye, national collegiate strategist for NAMB, led the discussion of four collegiate leaders: Max Barnett of Colorado; Robbie Nutter and Bob Anderson, both of Kansas; and Brad Waggoner, executive vice president for LifeWay Christian Resources.
Anderson started collegiate ministry at Kansas State University in 1972 with a goal of six students serious about Bible study. By the end of the school year he had three men and three women. Today about seven hundred are involved at some level in collegiate ministry at Kansas State, which they call Christian Challenge.
“There has been an ongoing pattern of people investing in others,” said Waggoner, who was discipled when he was a student at the university. He passed on the mentoring concept during his years in Wyoming, he said.
Nutter said, “If we want to reach the world, we’ve got to reach college students.”
Frye, who moderated the discussion, noted, “Every church giving to [missions through] the Cooperative Program has a part in collegiate ministry.”
Ministry through Baptist Collegiate Ministries “is not just a program,” Anderson said. “It prepares students for the rest of their lives.”
Four church planters—Dean Fulks of Columbus, Ohio; Travis Kerns of Salt Lake City, Utah; Noah Oldham of Saint Louis, Missouri; and Whitney Clayton of Phoenix, Arizona—talked for twenty minutes about the challenges inherent in planting a church. Micah Fries of LifeWay Christian Resources led the panel discussion.
“What we lack is background,” Fulks said. “The people we’re reaching out to don’t know Bible stories. They also lack the baggage [that comes from having heard]. It’s fresh and new, so people buy in at a Gospel level, not an intellectual level.”
Oldham said people in Saint Louis have heard the stories and have become almost inoculated against the Gospel. “For us it’s deconstructing old knowledge,” he said.
In Phoenix, seven of every ten people are not from the area, Clayton said. “They’re all pursuing something or running from something. . . . Over time their flashy veneer wears off and they’re left with, ‘This isn’t enough.’
“We take a long-term approach, consistently sharing the Gospel,” the Phoenix church planter said. “It’s a long, consistent, faithful commitment to your community and to your people that makes the difference.”
In Salt Lake City, people are interested in talking about religion, Kerns said. The difficulty is that they often don’t want to do more than talk, and talk on their own terms.
Compounding the difficulty of establishing genuine relationships with people is the sense of isolation church planters feel, Kerns said.
“It’s a huge thing in Salt Lake City to get a card from someone in the South,” he said.
Clayton said, “We feel isolated. If you will just commit to pray for us, and let us know you’re praying, that will see us past the sense of being alone.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a writer based in Mapleton, Utah. Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This article first appeared in Baptist Press.