By: Danny Akin & Nathan Akin
Imagine this scenario. An IMB family is stateside for an extended period due to some family matters. In the city where they live they find a community of people from the very people group the IMB has trained them to reach. So they continue to do the work of the Great Commission (seeking to disciple) among this group. They eat meals with them, live life alongside of them, meet their family and friends, and share the gospel with them. And because of the efforts of this IMB family, a new work begins among this particular people group where previously there was none. Why is this an easily-imagined scenario? Because the IMB family knows the language, the customs, the religious backgrounds of this people group; therefore, they are more equipped than others to engage and disciple these peoples. In fact, the IMB is well-prepared to equip church planters and evangelists for cross-linguistic and cross-cultural ministries, and its workers are well-equipped to do cross-cultural and cross-linguistic ministry.
The cry of the Great Commission Resurgence has been that “the ends of the earth” are void of gospel-witness and Christ is not glorified among the nations, as He ought to be. And so the need for a GCR among Southern Baptists, who claim to be a missions people, is evident. And yet we live in interesting times. The potential for reaching the world’s unreached peoples has never been more within our grasp than it is now. One of the exciting things taking place that demonstrates this change is that God in His grace and providence is bringing “the ends of the earth” into many of our own neighborhoods. It is estimated that over 500 of the Unreached People Groups have significant populations on U.S. soil. Tragically, most of our congregations remain mostly southern, mostly white, and mostly middle class. So not only are we not reaching the “ends of the earth” geographically, we are not reaching the peoples from the ends of the earth that have moved into our neighborhoods. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. Although our cities increasingly house countless people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” our Southern Baptist churches remain, for the most part, culturally monolithic. The GCRTF has proposed a bold initiative that might help us address this problem.
Component five of the Task Force’s Report asks “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention consider a revised ministry assignment for the International Mission Board that would remove any geographical limitation on its mission to reach unreached and underserved people groups wherever they are found.”
This recommendation shows much forward thinking. IMB personnel are better equipped and trained for this type of work. The IMB does international missions well. The IMB’s primary focus is reaching people of differing tongues and cultures. In many ways, this takes some very intentional and specific training, which the IMB already provides. In short, the IMB is better poised to equip others for this work. This is not to say that NAMB and State conventions cannot help in this work, but NAMB and State conventions are not as prepared to reach groups that are radically different culturally, especially groups that speak another language. Given the recognition of the changes in many of our U.S. cities, with such an influx of Unreached People Groups, this component should make us more effective in targeting and reaching these UPG’s.
Another added consequence of this component might be stronger international missions as well. As we engage, and hopefully disciple these target people groups, it should enhance our work among their peoples globally. This is potentially a major benefit for the IMB, especially in countries that are difficult to get into or in countries where there is great suspicion of westerners. As we empower their own people to reach them, it is more likely that a church planting movement in that country will take place.
Some fear that this component will create unnecessary overlap and duplication, which is one of the things the Task Force was tasked to amend. This is a legitimate concern. However, we do not believe this Component is about duplication at all. Instead, it is about cooperation and utilizing the special training and attention IMB personnel have to reach people groups they are more specifically trained to reach. The other entities that might overlap with the work of the IMB among these peoples are not necessarily trained or training people for this work. That does not mean that they do not have strategies and ideas for this work, but that the IMB is better equipped to reach those of radically different culture (i.e. language).
IMB and NAMB have the opportunity for a creative collaboration. This excites us. The IMB specially trains people culturally and linguistically to engage particular people groups and in so doing helps state conventions in their desire to reach these people groups as well. In addition, hopefully, this work will go hand in hand with local churches. This could strengthen relationships between the IMB and local churches, which is always a good thing. So there is much potential in this component as we imagine the possibilities it brings.
The scenario mentioned at the beginning is not imaginary. This is happening already in places without any specific mandate from the IMB. Imagine what would happen if we released IMB personnel trained in the language, culture, and religions of these people groups, in tandem with our local churches and church plants in Urban centers. We might cease to be so mostly white, mostly southern, mostly middle-class. Our congregations and our convention might begin to better reflect the scenario in Revelation 5 in which believers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation gather together to worship the risen Lord. Our convention might find itself being a witness to the fact that the gospel transcends socio-economic, national, cultural, and linguistic barriers. Imagine!