Missions Force, Not Mission Field, Leaders Say

by Roger S. Oldham

Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council

Members of the Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council gather in Atlanta on March 27–28, 2014, for the Council's first meeting. Photo by Roger S. Oldham.

Leaders representing various language and ethnic groups told Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, they would like to be "incorporated" into the totality of Southern Baptist life, not merely "assimilated" as objects of ministry.

"We want to be a mission force more than a mission field," Lennox Zamore, pastor of Ebenezer Memorial Baptist Church, Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, said during introductions at the newly-appointed Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council. His comment drew numerous "Amens" from around the table and was restated by several other leaders representing African, Belarusian, Caribbean, Deaf, Ghanaian, Haitian, Intercultural, Jamaican, Messianic, Multi-Ethnic, Native American, Romanian, and Russian Baptist fellowships across the United States.

The Council, the fourth and final ethnic advisory council appointed to help the SBC Executive Committee, NAMB, and other SBC entity leaders more fully understand and appreciate the perspectives ethnic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching the nation and all nations with the Gospel, met in Atlanta on March 27–28.

In his opening remarks, Page pointed to a great mandate (the Great Commission), a great method (that ministry is most effective when we do it together), and a great message (the doctrine of God's amazing grace as revealed through the atonement of Jesus Christ) as three things upon which church leaders of every ethnicity, race, and language can and should agree.

"We don't have time to waste in this life," he said. "Our unity in diversity is not about 'looking good' culturally; it is about reaching every man and woman and boy and girl with the Gospel."

Speaking of his own conversion as a child, Page said, "I was not raised in a Christian home. . . . But, someone knocked on our door and invited me to church." Reaching other children and families such as his own is the common bond we have in Christ, he said.

Portique Wilburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship Church in San Pablo, California, agreed. "The SBC is at a crossroads of opportunity," he said. "The lostness of those men and women and boys and girls is the crossroad." People need to see the SBC's unity on this issue, he said.

In an open forum during the closing session, Council members weighed in on some of the more pressing needs they see in their communities. These included:

For example, with more than seven million Russian-speaking people in the US and Canada, Andrew Ryzhkov, pastor of Byelorussian Missions, Inc., in Cumming, Georgia, suggested using innovative resources, such as a popular Russian-language comic-book-style "Good and Evil Bible" that is making an impact among Russian Jews in Israel.

Ben Mishin, pastor of Life Way Baptist Church in Philadelphia, added that while providing Russian-language resources may not be financially practical if looking only at stateside demand, when the worldwide Russian-speaking population is taken into account, it makes distribution issues less daunting.

Aric Randolph, Deaf pastor at Brentwood (Tennessee) Baptist Church, summarized networking, training, and resources as the most pressing needs identified by all participants.

Reiterating the "missions force, not mission field," motif, Randolph urged Page to let Convention leaders know that ministries such as his deaf congregation want to be "empowered," not merely "enabled." Noting that most deaf people only read English at a fourth-grade level, he urged consideration of more deaf-centric education, including seminary training, that makes use of visual and video resources so that deaf people can "see it in their heart language."

Church planting at home and abroad dominated the last part of the meeting as leaders explored ways to link their ethnic church planting efforts in the United States with the current NAMB church planting strategy and internationally with IMB church planting efforts.

Page appointed Tim Chavis, pastor, Bear Swamp Baptist Church, Pembroke, North Carolina, as chairman of the Council. Other members participating included:

Members not in attendance were Jamal Bishara and Anatoly Moshkovshy.