Thursday, March 02, 2006

There Are No Southern Baptist Churches on the Mission Field

This post is in honor of my aunt and uncle, Dr. Frank and Betty Coy, retired IMB missionaries, and longtime servants of Christ to the Chilean people in Santiago, Chile.

Uncle Frank and Betty were assigned in 1960 as Field Evangelists (now called Strategy Coordinators or SC's for short) with the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Frank pastored several churches in Chile, including new church starts, and in 1969 he became a professor at The Santiago Theological Seminary where he taught Ethics, New Testament, Christian Education, and Biblical Counseling.

Santiago Seminary had been founded by missionaries with the Foreign Mission Board, and in 1978, Frank became the President of the seminary. He served as President of SBTS for eleven years. Uncle Frank told me over the phone yesterday that his job at SBTS was to work himself out of a job. He discipled and trained Chilean nationals to become the professors, pastors and leaders of the Chilean Baptist Convention, now called The Baptist Union of Chile, and he trained those same leaders to take over the seminary.

In 1989 Dr. Frank Coy had the privilege of handing over the reigns of Santiago Theological Seminary to a Chilean national named Dr. Guillermo Catalan. This transition of authority marked the end of the Southern Baptist Convention's work in Santiago Theological Seminary, for soon all professors, administrators, and, of course, the President himself, were native Chileans.

This causes my uncle to smile for joy. The SBC missionaries in Chile had succeeded in establishing a theological institution that is currently completely self-funded, with no monies from the the SBC flowing into the coffers. Uncle Frank worked himself out of a job.

As mentioned, during Frank's service as President at SBTS, he also pastored Chilean churches. I can remember him coming home on furlough and speaking of the work in establishing these churches in Chile.

He would ask the listeners at the Missionary Conferences in the States, "Do you know how many Southern Baptist Churches we have in Chile?"


That's right, none. Over 400 churches have been started in Chile through the efforts of missionaries from the Southern Baptist Convention, but these churches are Chilean Baptist Churches. They are fraternally connected to the SBC, but they are NOT Southern Baptist Churches.

Uncle Frank says that until Southern Baptists understand the dynamics of starting churches on the mission field, we will be making many mistakes in the area of control. It's a little like a mom and dad who gives birth to children, but rather than realizing that kids are not carbon copies of their parents, as the kids grow older, they control, manipulate, and in general, refuse to respects the boundaries of their children in an attempt to get the "kids" to look just like "the parents."

We must be careful that we don't try to control how churches in the mission field look. It deserves repeating, there are "NO" Southern Baptist churches on the mission field. A church in Afghanistan will look different than a Southern Baptist church in America. A Southern Baptist church in California will look different than a church in Chile. A church in Pakistan will look different than a Southern Baptist Church in Pennsylvania.

An understanding of this should help us in two areas:

(1). At the IMB we better be prepared to realize what may work in one culture of the world may not be the best in another culture. House churches are needed in persecuted areas of Muslim influence, but sometimes buildings are needed in Portugal and South America where people associate "church" with buildings. To train missionaries the same, for all regions of the world, is ignoring reality.

(2). To attempt to reproduce our Southern Baptist Churches in America on the mission field is impossible, and even detrimental to our mission work. Sure, we provide a doctrinal framework for new church starts, but we better be very, very clear on the doctrinal essentials and not get our cultural biases confused with the clear mandates and commands of the Word of God.

Anyway, I hope that we as Southern Baptists can come to the realization that what we are striving for in our mission efforts around the world is the evangelization and discipleship of people in need of a Savior.

Jesus Christ and Him crucified is what we proclaim. The ekklesia (called out ones) in different cultures will "do church" differently than us.

So be it.

Thanks Uncle Frank and Betty for your service to the IMB.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

P.S. My son is attempting to lead his basketball team into the 6A State Tournament. I will be posting again early Monday morning. Everyone have a great weekend and celebrate Christ and fellowship with others who enjoy Him as well this Sunday.


Kevin Bussey said...

Great post! Hope you have a victory in B-ball and on Sunday!

Anonymous said...

Well said and said well.


Alan Cross said...

Thanks Wade, for your leadership and courage. You are an example to each one of us. I agree with you wholeheartedly and am reminded of Roland Allen's thesis in The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. How much damage have we done to others and ourselves by trying to export Southern American Baptist Christianity. It hasn't even done us that much good - just ask African Americans in Alabama in the 1950's.

On one other note, in studying you 5 Themes for Greensboro, I am concerned that none of them seem to address the two policies that were adopted by the IMB. I think that those policies are key and should not be forgotten in the midst of the denominational emphasis. I pray that we do not forget what motivated you to begin with. Those two policies are worth striking down and are what is motivating me to attend my first ever convention.

Grace and Peace,
Young SBC Leader said...


The convention cannot set policy, change policy, or strike down policy of the IMB. The convention can only pass resolutions.

The IMB must change the policy within the Board. I will continue to work toward that end.

Carly said...

Last Sunday I picked up a copy of Arkansas Baptist News at my church. I read the article "IMB may reverse action on Burleson." I was so upset. I read your blog months ago. It really made me want to find out what was happening in the SBC and IMB and all those other Baptist initials. I loved it. I go to a great big church, you see. I'm not very good with people. I don't have friends in the church. When I need Christian companionship (encouragement), I type the words "Baptist" and "blog" into a search engine. I feel more "in touch" with other Baptist bloggers than I do with the people I go to church with. I don't stop going to church. God doesn't want me to do that. It would send a bad message to my nieces and nephews, for one. But, I'm so bad with people that I can't really go to Sunday School or any other kind of class. The dynamics of small groups make them places I just can't function. The 'net is so welcome and anonymous and unthreatening.

Anyway, the idea that the IMB would have even considered taking action against you because of the decidedly inoffensive blog that I read, again, made me really upset. If you get in trouble for blogging, will that make everybody else reluctant to blog. The thing that turned me on to blogging in the first place was a Christian Single magazine article from Lifeway.

Tonite, I came back to your blog, though. I searched for "Wade Burleson," not really looking for this blog at all, looking for other people who might be discussing the IMB's action. I really wanted to rattle some cages. I've been sitting here reading through your site for some time. I'm calmed down. I am a discontent. I'm not proud of that. I've got a lot of work to do taking the log out of my eye before I worry too much about the Southern Baptist Convention. Please don't stop blogging, though.

Alan Cross said...

Thanks for the clarification, Wade. I was confused! But, it seems pretty scary that an agency of the SBC could create policy that goes beyond the BF&M and the Convention cannot veto it. That seems to give the BOT way too much power - if they are truly trustees of the larger convention. From my understanding, similar policies exist at NAMB as well.

As always, thanks for helping us think through this. God is using you!

Bob Cleveland said...

Very perceptive, and apparently cognizant of a principle that I've advocated for years. Denominations, to me, are tools God uses to reach people of all kinds. Whatever someone's preferences are, as to expressions of faith, as long as they are biblical, they can find a denomination they can identify with. I'm well familiar with the Baptist Union of Jamaica churches and most Americans might be uncomfortable there. I'm not, and the Jamaicans aren't, either.

If people can realize this, perhaps they will understand why the same condition exists, and is appropriate, here. Now, if we can just get the IMB to see that, real progress will have been made.

Thanks for your continued efforts.

Bob Cleveland
Pelham, Alabama

Anonymous said...

Hi Wade,

Yes, there are no Southern Baptist Churches on the mission field. But here's a quick idea to throw out - why is there a "California Southern Baptist Convention." California is as much of a foreign country as Chile! But we still have "Southern" Baptists in California??? Hmm. Sorry for the off topic remark, but something I've wondered about for years.

art rogers said...

When will we stop allowing our loyalty to our Convention - to which I am very loyal - outweigh our loyalty to our Supreme Lord?

It is not important that we reproduce ourselves. It is important that God uses us to reproduce Himself in others.

Can I get an "Amen" on this or what?

Anonymous said...

As an IMBer in CEE, I appreciate your words. Missionary work cannot and should not be "cookie cutter". Do all SB churches look alike in the US? Why do we try to do just that in the "foreign" mission field?

Anonymous said...

I just read Andrea's comments. I wonder what she is talking about when she says "I wonder why that work philosphy has not carried over to the rest of the IMB? We already know that Asia is going great guns with their way of spreading the gospel."
Is she trying to equate the work in other parts of the world to look like Asia? You cannot compare apples and oranges. Also, what works in one place may not (will not?) work somewhere else.

Kiki Cherry said...

Amen. : )

Anonymous said...

"Amen" to Art Rogers! And "Praise God" for Leith Anderson of MN! Two church starts a year is wonderful! I would say that this pastor has "let go" of traditions in the church that have kept Christians from doing the Great Commission. If most Baptist Pastors would "let go" of the desire to control their people, and allow God to control them, there's no telling what could happen in our country. Bless you, Wade!

Anonymous said...

About 5 years ago (in an open session), a motion was made by an IMB trustee that the board assess church plants on the field by conducting spot checks of some churches. This motion was defeated; one argument made was that once churches are established, they are autonomous and not under the authority of the SBC or IMB. A similar motion was brought to the floor again in 2004 and passed. Thus explains the reference to prior board action in the following. According to the public record (minutes of the Sept 04 BOT meeting) a report was made to the board of the results of an Aug 04 meeting of representatives of the IMB staff and trustees and seminary presidents and missions profs. The trustee representatives presented 10 recommendations to the board (not for a vote but to be referred to committee for study). The following is an excerpt of several of those recommendations:

"Michael Barrett brought recommendations from the four representatives of the trustees, Tom Hatley, chairman; Michael Barrett, vice chairman; John Floyd, chairman of the Mission Personnel Committee; and Bob Pearle, chairman of Overseas Committee.
The following recommendations are from the four trustee representatives in consultation with staff, seminary presidents and seminary professors coming from the August 13 meeting:
...THAT we refer to the Overseas Committee the action to implement an accurate annual audit of beliefs on the field as previously adopted by this Board, and that this audit is to be reported to the full board. (This is to insure that Baptist churches are being planted on the field.)
....THAT the Overseas Committee or appropriate sub-committee revisit the definition of boundaries and level of cooperation with G.C.C. groups, with the purpose of bringing clarification to the board, staff, and especially to our leadership on the field.
....THAT the Overseas Committee and appropriate sub-committee continue to study and evaluate the teachings and curriculum at M.L.C. and training on the field as especially regards ecclesiology and the role of women in ministry.
....THAT the proper Overseas Sub-committee revisit and clarify for all the definition of a local church.
....THAT the Overseas Committee review the role of women on the field and work with staff to improve our communication in this area.
Tom Hatley referred these recommendations to the appropriate committees."

As far as can be acertained from subsequent minutes, the definition of a church has been addressed as has the issue of levels of cooperation with other groups. It will be interesting to see, in light of the discussion on this post, what will be the criteria for the belief "audits" and what will be the definition of "Baptist" church. It may behoove those interested to also be alert to the issue of the "proper role" of women on the field and whether that too will exceed the parameters of the BFM.

Tim Sweatman said...


If you are correct when you say, "The convention cannot set policy, change policy, or strike down policy of the IMB. The convention can only pass resolutions," (and from what I have read and seen that is correct), then it is really a joke to say that the trustees are accountable to the SBC. How can anyone claim that the trustees of an entity are accountable to the SBC when the SBC has no authority over what that entity does? I feel like a fool for asserting over the past several weeks that the trustees are accountable to the convention. It sounds like the boards of trustees are completely autonomous, even though they are not self-perpetuating boards and even though the SBC is the sole member of each entity (which apparently is a meaningless term in any sort of practical way). Sorry if I sound bitter, but if the SBC has no authority over any of the trustee boards then what can be accomplished at Greensboro? (BTW, I am definitely still planning on being there if circumstances allow, but now I feel like it will be the same waste of time that Indianapolis and Nashville were.) Since there is no real accountability, it is really true to say that the SBC is a top-down organization, despite everyone's claims to the contrary.

Tim Sweatman said...

Anonymous #4,

While I cannot speak for Andrea, I didn't take her comment to mean that the IMB should take the Asian model and copy it everywhere else. I understood her to be saying that we should not try to impose a U.S. type model everywhere but instead should use methods and plant the kinds of churches that fit the culture of where the work is being done. I think her reference to Asia was simply to point out that the gospel is spreading rapidly in Asia because the methods being used and the churches being planted fit in with Asian culture.

Anonymous said...

It is great to find someone in the ranks that understands missions. As a grown MK, former IMB missionary, former DOEM, and current missionary thru an SBC missions organization known as the Pioneer Mission Foundation, I have watched "New Directions" in the Caribbean, destroy relationships with nationals and totally take away the spirit of working as co-laborer with our national brethren. However, two issues resulted. The authority of Christ in the local churches in the Dominican Republic has been declared void by the actions of the IMB missionaries. It has also left most IMB missionaries void of direction, leadership, and accountability. I presently live in a city with two SBC missionaries who either do not know what they are doing and do nothing at all or are shooting in the dark from lack of experience and no leadership. Both are depressed and have ostracized the Dominican brethren. These missinaries feel like failures because of the lack of a local strategy that wouled allow them to be co-laborers amongst the nationals.

Much more can be said and may be with time, but suffice to say if our strategy impedes our being a co-laborer with the nationals, where we are accountable to them since they lead the authority of Christ (the church) in this country, then our efforts may be good and pretty, but they will not further the Kingdom of God. I work with many SBC church mission teams a year that understand missions much better than many of the local SBC missionaries. These SBC missionaries have confronted these groups. The leaders of the groups feel some missionaries have forgotten they are sent out by their churches and do not remember who they work for or represent.

It is a great time to serve the Lord in the DR because the Dominican brethren have discovered it is their task to reach their country for the Lord. I am just here to help train, cheer, motivate, assist in church planting, etc. I pray for the day when the many SBC missionaries here, would join the team effort.

Pioneering in the DR for Christ,

Barry S. Burnett

Anonymous said...

In response to the brand new missionary...get used to programs from "above." In my recent years on the field, if something works in Africa, all regions then push that program, irregardless of how it will be received in Moldova...Sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot. If missionaries were freer to plan strategies relavent to the culture where they serve, maybe we might actually see a CPM.

Anonymous said...

"It is a great time to serve the Lord in the DR because the Dominican brethren have discovered it is their task to reach their country for the Lord. I am just here to help train, cheer, motivate, assist in church planting, etc. I pray for the day when the many SBC missionaries here, would join the team effort."

Speaking as someone who has recently gone through "Field Personnel Orientation" with the IMB, this is exactly what we are trained to do. I can't comment on your particular situation, but we are trained to be flexible, adapt to the culture, & train nationals to take our place as quickly as possible so that we may get on with bringing the Gospel to those who have no witness. One issue might be that if nationals are already taking the leadership role, it may be time for foreigners to get out of the way & keep up with periodic trips, etc.

Anonymous said...

Barry Burnett,

I read with interest your post, but what do you mean when you say,

"The authority of Christ in the local churches in the Dominican Republic has been declared void by the actions of the IMB missionaries." ????

What actions by missionaries have voided the authority of Christ?

You also state...

"It has also left most IMB missionaries void of direction, leadership, and accountability. I presently live in a city with two SBC missionaries who either do not know what they are doing and do nothing at all or are shooting in the dark from lack of experience and no leadership."

As an IMB missionary I do not find that statement to be true at all. Yes, some of us may struggle with how to best go about doing the work. I think one of the anon M above brings out some of their frustrations with this very issue. But that is not the same thing as saying we do not have direction, accountability, or leadership!

I do think we could do better at communicating the issues. I am certainly for more open dialogue about how to best get the job done and talking more amongst ourselves (like we are doing right now on this blog!)

Wes Kenney said...

This post should ease Tim's heartburn a bit...

Tim Sweatman said...


Yes, your post did restore a sense of confidence about what we've been doing. It's a long shot, but at least there is a shot, if it comes down to that. Now that I'm thinking more clearly, I'm confident that there are some things we can do in Greensboro to effect change. I don't know what exactly they are, but since so many people I trust (and who are more familiar with the process than I am) are saying that we can make a difference then I will believe them.

I mentioned this elsewhere, but for the sake of those here I'll say it again: part of the pessimism and bitterness in my previous post was the result of some personal issues. I can usually separate such personal issues from the discussion of other matters, but I did not do so in my last post. That being said, I still believe that the SBC as a whole should have more direct authority over its entities.

Anonymous said...

To art rogers who said,
“It is not important that we reproduce ourselves. It is important that
God uses us to reproduce Himself in others.”
Thanks Art, your words will preach.

To Wade who said,
“The convention cannot set policy, change policy, or strike down
policy of the IMB. The convention can only pass resolutions.”
My Baptist preacher father always said, “Can’t never did
anything!” Wade, if the IMB could not fire you...only the SBC,
how about the SBC fire the IMB and hire a IMB that would change
their Pharisee rules?
Rex Ray

Anonymous said...

To Justamode who said,
“Is there even a "New Testament church" in the New Testament?”
The Trail of Blood points to such a church you search far. It
practiced Paul’s command that he repeated twice: (Galatians 1:8-9)
“If anyone even an angel from heaven preaches any other way to be
saved than the one we told you, let him forever be cursed.” I
believe the church that Carroll points to was one of many small
churches that obeyed Paul’s words of salvation as a gift and
understood (Ephesians 2:15) “...he died to annul the whole system
of Jewish laws.” These churches got in the same trouble as Wade
did with the IMB. They became as Scott Goodson said in a post to
Wade: “When you signed on to be a trustee the assumption was/is
that you will say things that keep the wheels turning without a
squeak.” These small churches were squeaking. They were
bombarded with preachers with long letters of recommendation
(from the mother church?) to obey the Jewish laws.(2 Corinthians
I believe Carroll’s Trail of Blood got rejected by the powers that be for breaking with tradition as he wrote, page 11, “The Apostle John, according to history, was boiled in a great cauldron of oil” and page 12: “These great churches...began to assume authority not
given to them in the New Testament. They began to claim
authority over other and smaller churches. They, with their many
elders, began to lord it over God’s heritage (3 John 9). Here was the beginning of an error which has what is practiced now by others as well as Catholics.”
Yes, Carroll opened up a can of worms just as Wade has with the
Rex Ray

Anonymous said...

Wade, you should rightly be proud of you aunt and uncle Frank and Betty Coy. I too would love to hear their comments on the church planting or CPM strategy in place today at the IMB and what effect if any it has had on relationships with the churches they helped plant in Chile. I would also like to say that the role of field evangelist and the role of SC are very, very different.