"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Several Observations from Our Mission Trip

Rachelle and I have returned from overseas after spending a great deal of time with many of our Southern Baptist missionaries. I have been able to visit five of our eleven overseas IMB regional headquarters in the past two years, and have spoken personally to several hundred of our Southern Baptist missionaries during that same time. There is so much to be excited about and thankful for when it comes to Southern Baptist cooperative mission work. This most recent mission trip reinforced several things I already knew about our work and taught me several other things. In no particular order, the following are several observations from our most recent mission trip. The comment section is now open and unmoderated.

(1). Just as the sun never used to set on the British Empire, the sun never sets on the work of Southern Baptists. There is no region of the world where you will not find Southern Baptists, called by God and appointed by the IMB, reaching people with gospel of Jesus Christ.

(2). Though there over 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries appointed by the IMB, there are tens of thousands of other gospel missionaries serving on mission fields who have been appointed by various other sending agencies representing various evangelical churches and denominations.

(3). It is not always easy - nor necessary - to distinguish between those new church plants and conversions on the mission field that are the direct result of Southern Baptist mission work as compared to the work of other evangelical missionaries or indigenous believers. All evangelicals have a tendency to cooperate on the mission field for the cause of Christ and do not pay near as much attention to separation as people in the States do.

(4). One of the missionaries with whom we were most impressed in terms of her language abilities, vision to reach her city and hard work sincerely thanked me for representing her back in the States. She was appointed in 2004 after answering 'yes' when asked if she possessed a private prayer language. The new policies which forbid such appointments went into effect in 2005.

(5). Some of the best International Mission Board work in difficult places of the world occurs through doors opened via medical missions.

(6). The baptism and new church start statistics - reported by Southern Baptist Strategy Coordinators on the mission field and compiled in the annual ASR - are difficult to grasp. Over 25,000 new church starts on the mission field in 2006 represents five new church starts for every one Southern Baptist missionary. Even accounting for the fact that many new churches are often begun though indigenous believers planting those new churches, it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of 25,000 new church plants on the mission field associted with Southern Baptists. On the ground observation reveals the difficulty of even beginning one new church in dangerous parts of the world - the very frontier where Southern Baptists are putting most the emphasis.

(7). When Southern Baptist leaders spend more time on the mission field with our missionaries, I believe the emphasis on 'numbers' will diminish and our appreciation for steadfast faithfulness in terms of ministry will increase. William Carey spent nearly two decades on the mission field before he had ONE convert. I sometimes wonder if we Southern Baptists have lost perspective on what it takes to be a patient in building faithful ministries.

(8). If I were a Southern Baptist missionary on the field, supported by Southern Baptist Cooperative Program funds, and I lived in a city where there were Baptist churches started by Southern Baptists, I would attend that church instead of a larger non-denominational church.

(9). The one thing that keeps me a Southern Baptist pastor and my church a Southern Baptist congregation is the cooperative work we Southern Baptists do together in the area of missions; work that when closely observed is even better than imagined.

(10). The world is a lot smaller than it was even a decade ago. Through the internet, skype, emails and other forms of communication, it is possible to be overseas and keep up in real time with things going on back home - even if it is watching the disappointing loss of the Cowboys on a laptop.

In His Grace,



Anonymous said...

Wade -

And those are just a few instances at a few locations! Multiply that by all of our locations and see all the many glorious instances of the work of our Lord!

And the working together with other great commissions Christians is simply amazing!

This is why it is difficult for missionaries to read comments by the Peter's and the Volfan's of America when they "think" the have all the "clear teachings" of scripture "figured out".

They may have it "figured out" in their town and their relatively small little Christian circle of friends in America, but if they would get "out here", the opportunity they would have to see God work through many, many "other" Christians (who may not believe exactly like they do) would truly bless their hearts.

But I suspect that won't happen...and that's a shame.

We are all so thankful and grateful for all the support and we can't say it enough!

kevin said...

Very good observations, Wade. I especially like your comments regarding cooperating with other evangelicals. Denomination just isn't quite as big of an issue when you get to the mission field.

Anonymous said...

Careful now, the ASR is one of our sacred cows jealously defended by report and speech makers. Field missionaries often see a different reality, and most struggle on year after year praying for a spiritual awakening and multiplied church growth. William Carey is a good example of what God can do with steadfastness and patience despite the hardship.

Your suggestion that first hand acquaintance with the reality that field missionaries live with might make those in leadership a little more humble is fabulous. It also might help our SBC leaders (pastors and lay people) be willing to accept the actual pace of work in cultures opposed to the spread of the Gospel.

a field missionary

Louis said...

It is vitally important for pastors and laymen back the states to know as much as possible about what is happening on the mission field. And it is important for the missionaries to know the true state of things in the states.

A few years ago during the early years of the CR, my father and mother in law (who were on the field for the SBC for 30 years) were whipped up into a frenzy and real concern about the CR. At that time some of the staff at the Foreign Mission Board were the ones getting them all concerned, especially about Adrian Rogers, who had been elected President of the SBC.

As the years passed, they came to see that much of what they heard was innuendo, rumor and unfounded concern. That especially became the case when they retired and lived in the states for a few months. They felt like they had gotten a warped view of what was happening.

Good communication in both directions and direct contact between missionaries and the folks back home can keep things in perspective and can prevent minor spats from seeming to be big things.

Rick said...

That is the most accurate respresentation of current field work that I have ever seen from a BoT member who has recently visited the field.

I am so glad that you visited where you did and saw the things you saw. I whole-heartedly agree with your point no. 7.

I praise the Lord for Board Members like yourself and pray that the Lord will restore you in the BoT.

I'm very happy for you and Rachelle to be able to have this opportunity.

CB Scott said...


I have reposted the comment I made on your post THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOUNDATIONS AND CORNERS dated January 15.

Thank you for letting me post it. I tried twice to post the comment but it did not go up. I was sure it was a technical problem as you have never refused to post my comments when we did disagree as certainly as did you post my comments when we did agree.

Thank you for the fair game on the "playing field" of GRACE AND TRUTH TO YOU.


Alan Stoddard said...

SBC missions is THE reason to be a Southern Baptist. It's amazing how the most diverse denomination is at times the most racial at home.

This is a great post on the "real life" facts of mission work. Our missionairies need our support to keep pushing the gospel to "all nations."

CB Scott said...


Is the issue of race really germane to this good post?

Is not the substance of this post relevant and applicable to all Baptist regardless of ethnic background?

Would it not be a grand thing that on "this particular day" we could say I long to see the day when all Southern Baptists are judged by the character of their ministry rather than the color of their skin or background?

All Baptists of all backgrounds need to be proactive in the effort to advance the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth and cease to even venture to examine the race, color , or socioeconomic background of the workers in the Kingdom's Enterprise.

Think about it, Alan, is all I ask.


Belief Matters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Pastor Wade,

I wrote my appreciation for your trip in an earlier post, saying that I wish every BoT member and even every SBC pastor would visit the mission field, not hiding behind finances, for once. I think a new respect for the world wide work being done would emerge with a renewal of efforts to do more than lip service to supporting our efforts.

Agreeing with a field missionary above, and you, the ASR is a true work of someone's extraordinarily fertile imagination. 25,000 new church starts in one year, with 5,000 missionaries has yet to happen. Especially when you factor in the fact that at any one time one fourth (at least) of our field force is on STAS (formerly called furlough), and over one third of those on the field are NOT church planters, but are support personnel, how could the remaining 2,000 (new math)plant 25,000 churches (approximately 12 church plants in a year for each IMB missionary, Career, Associate, Apprentice, Journeyman, Masters, ISC...Is there a credibility issue here, and who is inflating the numbers?

A 10-40 Window Missionary

Anonymous said...

Brother Wade, Welcome home and thank you for all the info/

Brother Scott said:

I long to see the day when all Southern Baptists are judged by the character of their ministry rather than the color of their skin or background



Rex Ray said...

Your post would be an eye-opener to many if they could see, hear, and feel the pressure that some missionaries are under.

I’ve been in a part of the world where missionaries asked us to ‘shade’ the windows so those on the inside could not be seen from the outside.
Before we got there, a small church was surrounded by 300 Muslims and everyone, including children, was beaten.

Your post would also apply to some missionaries I’ve met. Without persecution, they demanded to live in conditions they were accustomed. In short, they’re no different than some people everywhere when they don’t get their way.

On my first trip in 1994, I was shocked to see two missionaries having a long argument where a house was being built for a missionary couple.
“I’m in charge of planning and my wife wants blinds and drapes on the windows!”
“No. I’m in charge of finance and you have to chose one. You can’t have both!”

I don’t know how it ended because I went elsewhere.

My first day there I went with one of these men to a lumber yard. He pulled in front of a car causing its driver to slam on the brakes and the missionary got the finger where upon he returned the greeting.

My astonishment must have shown because he said, “They pull in front of us, but they don’t want us to pull in front of them!”

I was thinking how are we going to win the world with the finger?

About the 25,000 new churches in 2006; I agree with the 10-40 Window Missionary saying, “The ASR [Annual Statistical Report] is a true work of someone’s extraordinarily fertile imagination.”

The missionary did not mention the number of missionaries in language schools or those that are pastors of ‘large’ churches.

I think of my son and his wife’s work consisting of 1 year learning Hebrew, 1 year director of the ‘Baptist Village’ (youth camp), 1 year learning Arabic, 3 years living with Muslims, and 1 year State Side Assignment, and not one church or one convert was reported in 7 years to the ASR.

I believe they left in disappointment thinking the IMB looked upon them as failures. I’ll say this for them, of the many many reports they gave, their reports were honest.

Wade Burleson said...


Correct your typos and email me your identity to prove you are who you say you are and I will let your comment stand.

Bob Cleveland said...

It seems to me that the folks who do the reports don't feel that the people back home will be impressed with what missionaries ARE doing, unless it's converted into numbers.

Impressive ones.

Since God said HE would build the church, and tells us that HE added to the numbers daily such as were being saved, I figure He's already got a handle on numbers. It'd be more important, to me, to know how many cups of cold water were given in His name.

On the other hand, perhaps it is, that folks here at home aren't impressed other than by numbers. That'd be equally tragic, if true.

I've talked to plenty of missionaries, and they always talk about persons. Not numbers. and they usually decry the folks back in the offices who seem to know better than the guy in the field, what it takes to reach the lost out there.

volfan007 said...


why dont you tell us your name? i mean, if you're gonna disrespect people publicly, you ought to at least tell us who you are.

but, you said,"This is why it is difficult for missionaries to read comments by the Peter's and the Volfan's of America when they "think" the have all the "clear teachings" of scripture "figured out"."

first of all, i've been on mission trips to honduras twice. i've been to israel once, and i've stood in the sanctuary in nazareth of a baptist church started by sb's.
also, my daughter has gone on mission trips to romania twice, russia once, and to guatemala once.

i've also been to many "home" mission trips...michigan, wyoming, california, the gulf coast of ms after katrina, new york city, and iowa. some might consider new york city and california a "foreign mission trip." :)

so, i've not just stayed in my little shell in the hills and hollers of tn. i've gotten out a little bit. and, guess what? i still feel very strongly about churches that sb start being distinctively baptist. and, all of my mission trips have not caused me to think that churches that sb's are starting should not hold to the clear teachings of scripture. i expect the churches that are started by sb's to be doctrinally sound. dont you?

secondly, there are clear teachings of the bible that we all should hold to...without apology. and, there are many gray areas in the bible that we can disagree on all day and still worship and serve the Lord together.

anonymous....my name is david worley. what's yours?

Chris Johnson said...

(I put this in the wrong blog earlier, sorry)

Excellent word....

"When Southern Baptist leaders spend more time on the mission field with our missionaries, I believe the emphasis on 'numbers' will diminish and our appreciation for steadfast faithfulness in terms of ministry will increase."

This blog reminds me of the sufficiency of Gods Word and the faithfulness of a Heavenly Father. God is going about the earth adopting His children to worship and glorify Him. That is a wonderful picture....and He is bringing it to pass!


Josh in FL said...

Good to hear you had an enlightening experience.

Much love to all our missionaries in the field.

Wade, if you need a hug because of the Cowboys loss just know I'm here for you =P

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your continuing support of IMB missionaries. Almost all of the missionaries I have spoken with know of your stand and commend it. Why are we not more vocal? One reason is that the work God has ordained for us takes a great deal of time and energy. I feel fortunate if I have time to read blogs, so I am rather particular in the ones I read. Also, many of us have opinions, but remembering what happened to the librarian at Southern, choose to remain silent.

As to your point number 5...why has the IMB gotten out of the health care field if health care has had such an impact on the cause of Christ?

A 10-40 Window Missionary

J. K. Jones said...

Thanks for the post.

I'll link to it.

formerly of the field said...

First, thanks for your desire to visit with field missionaries. I served as a career missionary for almost 15 years. During that time, I never saw even one trustee on the field and never had a substantive conversation during STAS (unless I initiated it).

Second, your comments will lead you far from the current party line, if you are not careful. The emphasis on CPM had some fundamental flaws from the very beginning. Prior to New Directions, missionaries had the ability to venture out into uncharted territory for the purpose of the advance of the gospel. Philosophy was global (evangelism that results in churches); methodology was local and culture specific. CPM brought a one dimensional approach...and that dimension is FAST.

Another result of New Directions was the abandonment of our former relationships with our Baptist "partners". IMB moved into extreme paternalism. We implied that the directions and desires of our partners were unimportant unless their plans advanced CPM...yet we happily report their church starts and baptisms as part of the ASR.

My criticism of where we've gone missiologically is sharp; my disagreement deep. That said, we would still be on the field as IMB missionaries had the Lord not closed the door on our ministry. That said, the church I now lead has increased its support for Lottie Moon and Cooperative Program significantly since I've been here. The strength of who we are as Southern Baptists is the ability to disagree on details of ministry, yet continue to support the goal of ministry.

pastorleap said...

Glad you are back safely. Thanks for the report from the field. I am grateful that you did not let the "censure" keep you from visiting our missionaries.

Just one question...in point #6, you make a comment about the ASR stats being difficult to grasp, but do not elaborate on whether or not you think they are valid. Is it your informed contention that this number is unreasonable? Or is this number speculative based on the CPM projections?

I for one, agree with Bob above (as well as with your point #7) that I don't necessarily need big numbers to convince me to support the IMB. Numbers don't always tell the whole story of our missionaries' commitment.

I am not asking to be contentious or to try to put you on the spot. I think this is a big issue that needs to be discussed further among SBs. Does it appear that we really did plant 25,000 churches last year, or not? If so, how are we defining these "churches?" These and many other questions are important to ordinary pastors who rely on these stats to report to their people.

Again, please don't misunderstand my tone, I am genuinely interested in your perspective as a trustee. If you would rather not make a public statement, I fully respect that as well.

Thanks again,

Wade Burleson said...


I think there is no reason to be more specific than what I have been. Until I can get further information it is best to refrain from the kind of speculation you ask me to make.



pastorleap said...

That is fair enough for me. Thanks for your genuine desire to make our IMB the best organization it can be.

This question is one that I have given great thought to and have spent much time reading on and discussing in doctoral seminars at SBTS. I have read Garrison's works as well as the JEM (Mid America's Journal of Evangelism and Missions, 2007) responses and research and I feel that as a denomination, this issue gives us more reason than ever before to pray for our board leadership as well as our missionaries on the field. The decisions and policies that our board make, whether administrative, strategic, or doctrinal, have great bearing on the Kingdom work that we are able to accomplish as a denomination. I will pray for our IMB leadership tonight.

I will continue to pray for you in your labors. Please continue to be diligent as a trustee to keep all of us "little guys" in the know about our IMB :-)


an IMB missy said...

Wade, Terry, et. al.,
A couple of thoughts on Southern Baptists and numbers:
1. We host a lot of volunteer teams down here and one of the first things I noticed when we began this 7 years ago is how much they like to count. # of visits, # of conversions, # of re-dedications. They love to count 'em up, keep a running total of the trip, and present it back home. So, if the IMB leadership is big on counting, they come by it honestly.
2. My understanding of the ASR is that we count "churches in existence that would not be in existence if we were not on the field." That's not an official IMB ruling, but my own interpretation of the idea behind the numbers. So, we count things like churches planted by pastors trained by us, churches planted with help from our volunteer teams, churches started and grown with our mentorship of the pastor, etc. We don't count, but I'll bet most high-growth regions do, count churches started by planters trained by planters that we have trained and churches started by planters who were trained by trainers who were trained by trainers who were trained by us, and so forth. So, you can see how this can really add up when you're counting multiple generations of trainings/trainers/planters.
Anyway, if you're uncomfortable with the numbers don't use 'em. Use stories. This is easier nowadays than ever, with so many missionaries having blogs, websites and prayerletters. [Hint: ministry stories will be on a man's blog, family stories will be on his wife's].
Stories will also be much more interesting to your congregation.
Hope this helps.

K. Michael Crowder said...

"William Carey spent nearly two decades on the mission field before he had ONE convert. I sometimes wonder if we Southern Baptists have lost perspective on what it takes to be a patient in building faithful ministries."

William Carey knew that in order to reach a people with the Word of God, they needed to be able to read the Word of God, therefore he spend years translating the Bible into Bengali. Carey was in no hurry, for he knew that God was in control of the timing and that Carey himself was not called to take the Gospel to the world "right now." He was called to make disciples of those whom he came in contact and in doing so, leaving them the entire Word of God so that the mission of Christ would be carried on long after he was gone. You see I do not believe Carey was a story teller. I believe he preached the Word of God. He was so committed to the task of translating that he buried 2 wives in the process. His commitment was to Christ and His Word, not putting notches in a coup stick. "...and then the end will come" is a dangerous motto for mission work. We are in no hurry. We will reach precisely those whom the Holy Spirit desires us to reach. May we as Southern Baptists be diligent in our task, true to God's Word, and not be in such a rush. Carey is an excellent example of what a God called missionary should be.

Pray that the church growth movement has not spread into our mission work as well.


othoniel a valdes sr said...

If I met an SBC Missionary overseas
atending a non SBC church I would confront him and then report him
I hope you would do the same if he is feeding himself/herself & his/her family with SBC dollars he or she needs to support the work.