Monday, October 18, 2010

Would declining IMB baptisms be a good sign?

If Southern Baptists are obedient to the Great Commission, if our leaders are genuinely concerned about lost souls, if our priorities are such that we feel compelled to put resources in places where Christian witness is unknown or seldom heard, are we prepared to endure some years of decreasing baptisms and church plants reported by our International Mission Board?

I’m not sure we are. I’m not sure that IMB trustees are. I’m not sure that IMB administrators are. But it seems to me that we should be so prepared. Our beloved flagship entity has been criticized in the past for fuzzy (dare I say ‘inflated’) statistics on baptisms and church plants. The official word is that the half-million 2009 baptisms and 200,000 overseas churches is inclusive of those groups with whom we work. Reporting such stats is problematic, IMO, since we don’t have SBC churches overseas nor does it seem proper to merely report those whom our personnel directly baptize. I leave it to the IMB folks to decide how to report to us but wish they would be consistent about it.

By whatever method and policies that the baptism and church figures are derived and compiled it seems to me that if one looks at the unreached, unengaged people groups (check the IMB’s Global Research page), the people and places that have the highest priority for our resources and workers, I think you can conclude that these are difficult places to serve. Many are places where laws prevent Christian churches from meeting openly, where conversions are illegal, and where baptisms are, at least for now, few. I admit to being a neophyte in missiology. If I am wrong, some expert may correct me.

I heard a prediction recently that whomever our new IMB leader is, he will have two eyes, two ears, and a brain (a fairly safe assumption, though there are SBC leaders who have demonstrated a lack of the latter) and will surely lead so as to put personnel where they are most critical, ie, where the “UU” groups are.

Sounds like the proper policy to me. On a recent summer mission trip to Central America I gave a prediction to a layman that we would run into other church mission groups at the airport. Sure enough, we were just one of several arriving in the country to do mission work. It makes little sense to me to pour resources in countries with abundant Christian witness.

So, if our IMB has prioritized their work so that we put less people in such countries and more people in “UU” countries, are we prepared to offer resolute and growing support even if the statistics that we all love trend downward?

I hope so but we Southern Baptists are nothing if not numbers driven. On this matter I hope that we can look past the statistics and recognize reality.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had written something wonderfully profound. But, when I hit "Preview," I ran into an error. When I tried to back up to the previous page, all of my meaningful comment was gone. :(