Sunday, July 16, 2006

Should Missionaries Feel Pressure to Produce Converts?

I have several family members and church members on the mission field in several different continents of the world. I often hear from from them that there is sometimes pressure felt within, or from without, to produce an abundant amount of conversions on the field.

Not all missionaries are in this type of pressure environment to produce "results," and I am confident that within the IMB, the Richmond administrative leadership diligently works keep that kind of pressure out of the field, but because of our Southern Baptist culture in general, or maybe even our American desire for instant success, this post is intended as an encouragement to missionaries not to fall into the trap of desiring instant results and to not question your calling to missions if conversions are difficult in your region.

William Carey spent seven years on the field, faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ without even so much as a hint of ONE conversion. According to George Smith, the biographer of Carey, for seven years Carey had faithfully and daily preached Christ in Bengali without a convert. He had produced the first edition of the New Testament. He had reduced the language to literary form. He had laid the foundations in the darkness of the pit of Hindooism, while the Northamptonshire pastors, by prayer and self-sacrifice, held the ropes.

An even greater disappointment than seven unfruitful years of gospel teaching came on 25th November 1800, when "the first Hindoo" catechumen (one whom Carey had personally instructed in the faith with the use of a catechism), a man by the name Fakeer, offered himself for baptism, but returned to the distant home of his childhood prior to his baptism, only to never return, probably "detained by force."

However, on the last Sunday of that same year (1800) Krishna Pal was baptised in the Hoogli and his whole family soon followed him. He was thirty-five years of age. Not only was he the first native Christian of North India of whom we have a reliable account, but he became himself the first missionary to Calcutta and Assam, and the first Bengali hymn-writer.

Carey's first Hindoo convert, Krishna Pal, was three years younger than himself, or about thirty-six, at baptism. Born in the neighbouring French settlement of Chandernagore, had settled in the suburbs of Serampore, where he worked as a carpenter. Sore sickness and a sense of sin led him to join the Ghospara sect of Buddhism.

He recovered from sickness, but could not shake off the sense of the burden of sin, when this message came to him, and, to his surprise, through the Europeans--"Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners."

At the same time he happened to dislocate his right arm by falling down the slippery side of his tank when about to bathe. He sent two of the children to the Mission House for Thomas, Carey's aide, who immediately left the breakfast table at which the brethren had just sat down, and soon reduced the luxation, while the sufferer again heard the good news that Christ was waiting to heal his soul. Krishna Pal and his neighbour Gokool received a Bengali tract.

He himself thus told the story:--"In this paper I read that he who confesseth and forsaketh his sins, and trusteth in the righteousness of Christ, obtains salvation. The next morning Mr. Carey came to see me, and after inquiring how I was, told me to come to his house, that he would give me some medicine, by which, through the blessing of God, the pain in my arm would be removed. I went and obtained the medicine, and through the mercy of God my arm was cured. From this time I made a practice of calling at the mission house, where Mr. Ward and Mr. Felix Carey used to read and expound the Holy Bible to me. One day Dr. Thomas asked me whether I understood what I heard from Mr. Ward and Mr. Carey. I said I understood that the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life up for the salvation of sinners, and that I believed it, and so did my friend Gokool. Dr. T. said, 'Then I call you brother--come and let us eat together in love.' At this time the table was set for luncheon, and all the missionaries and their wives, and I and Gokool, sat down and ate together."

The servants spread the news, most horrible to the people, that the two Hindoos had "become Europeans," and they were assaulted on their way home. Just thirty years after, in Calcutta, the first public breach of caste by the young Brahman students of Duff raised a still greater commotion, and resulted in the first converts there.

Krishna Pal and his wife, his wife's sister and his four daughters; Gokool, his wife, and a widow of forty who lived beside them, formed the first group of Christian Hindoos of caste in India north of Madras. Two years after Krishna Pal sent to the Society this confession of his faith. Literally translated, it is a record of belief such as Paul himself might have written, illustrated by an apostolic life of twenty-two years. The carpenter's confession and dedication has, in the original, an exquisite tenderness, reflected also in the hymn11 which he wrote for family worship:--

"SERAMPORE, 12th Oct. 1802.

"To the brethren of the church of our Saviour Jesus Christ, our souls' beloved, my affectionately embracing representation. The love of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, was made known by holy brother Thomas. In that day our minds were filled with joy. Then judging, we understood that we were dwelling in darkness. Through the door of manifestation we came to know that, sin confessing, sin forsaking, Christ's righteousness embracing, salvation would be obtained. By light springing up in the heart, we knew that sinners becoming repentant, through the sufferings of Christ, obtain salvation. In this rejoicing, and in Christ's love believing, I obtained mercy. Now it is in my mind continually to dwell in the love of Christ: this is the desire of my soul. Do you, holy people, pour down love upon us, that as the chatookee we may be satisfied.12 I was the vilest of sinners: He hath saved me. Now this word I will tell to the world. Going forth, I will proclaim the love of Christ with rejoicing. To sinners I will say this word: Here sinner, brother! Without Christ there is no help. Christ, the world to save, gave his own soul! Such love was never heard: for enemies Christ gave his own soul! Such compassion, where shall we get? For the sake of saving sinners he forsook the happiness of heaven. I will constantly stay near him. Being awakened by this news, I will constantly dwell in the town of joy. In the Holy Spirit I will live: yet in Christ's sorrow I will be sorrowful. I will dwell along with happiness, continually meditating on this;--Christ will save the world! In Christ not taking refuge, there is no other way of life. I was indeed a sinner, praise not knowing.--This is the representation of Christ's servant,


Seven years. One convert.

But what a convert he was.

In His Grace,



Anonymous said...


I have been told by many of my friends in other regions that there is indeed pressure to "produce converts"; the more converts, the more churches, the better the stats, the more popularity, and supposedly more SBC churches will give.

However, in the region where I serve there is no pressure. Our leadership espouses a God-centered theology that understands God will save his children through the proclamation of the gospel for the glory of his name in his time, not ours. We are required to be faithful and our leadership holds us accountable, but it is not about "numbers, nickels, and noise." God’s glory is our passion, and b/c he has chosen to save people from all people groups, we are assured our mission will not fail. This is very freeing b/c we work in one of the most difficult areas trying to reach an unreached people group.

Wayne Smith said...


What a witness for the LORD. We need to hear Testimonies like this now and then, to remind us that GOD does all things in HIS TIME.
I will be praying for you and yours as you go to witness to all of our Brothers at the IMB meeting.
I pray they will see your GRACE and realize the TRUTH in all of our witness to the GLORY of GOD, in the BODY of CHRIST.

A Brother in CHRIST

Glen Alan Woods said...

This sort of thing is also happening throughout the world of children's ministry, of which I am a part. I was once required to project how many children I expected to lead to Christ in the coming year. While I am passionate about leading folks of all ages to faith in Christ, it becomes an uneasy dynamic when my ministry is evaluated based on the numbers I produce specifically in terms of confessions of faith. And I am a volunteer Children's Pastor! :) It gets worse for many full time workers I know. Their jobs often depend on the results they produce, conversions, baptisms, etc.

While we all should be soul winners, I think we have gone awry in some cases in how we measure success in ministry both domestically and abroad.


Glen Woods

Tim Patterson said...

I think the pressure you speak of is more self-induced. We hear about cpms, God moving in great ways and desire to see the same thing happen where we serve. But God is sovereign, He determines who, what, when, where and how. If we are faithful where He plants us, we will eventually see harvest and be part of His plan for that people. It won't look the same everywhere and methods will vary. Hopefully, it won't take seven years! But, however long it takes...

Anonymous said...


I think it is important to also note that 7 years was the same amount of time it took Adoniram Judson, the first American missionary, to see someone come to Christ. Praise the Lord for the testimonies of these two pioneers of Christian missions.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that this topic has come up. While missionaries should not feel pressure to "produce" converts, missionaries should feel a sense of accountability and responsibility to do the best that they can. Sometimes this requires that we make adjustments in what we do as opposed to getting stuck in the habit of doing things one way or the way we like to do things. I believe that the accountability to witness and to follow a church planting approach that is most likely to reproduce itself is good. I'm thankful for leaders that hold us accountable. I pray that this never becomes pressure to "produce" converts or churches. At the same time, it is good, not bad, for someone to help us examine what we are doing and the results it is producing. I pray for a great harvest and that it is to the glory of our Lord.

Christopher Redman said...

Great Post! William Carey was truly a hero of the faith and a giant among missionaries. I enjoyed reading this account.


Anonymous said...

Wade - thanks for the post!

I'm currently going through training with an organization that aims to join with Jesus in brining the gospel to 1/3 of the earth still cut-off from access to the gospel.

In these areas, pioneers (missionaries to the unreached areas) go to start self multiplicating churches of native believers. Converts are a step, but they are not the end in itself. Converts will eventually die (and be heaven bound, praise Jesus) but a self-multiplicating church will grow and eventually reach the nationals faster then we can.

Experience has shown that in order to grasp the language well enough to share in someone's heart language (like Jesus did with those around Him) it takes about 2 years.

Then you have to find a way to contextualize the gospel into the culture you are in and then wait for Jesus to move. 7 years is a very reasonable time frame. By God's grace we have seen people come in sooner, which will hopefully expedite a CPM.

Rex Ray said...

In the 18 trips I’ve made overseas of doing construction for the SBC, most of the missionaries I’ve met said their superiors were not happy with the reported results. One missionary said, “If we was to say we’ve had three times as many saved this year as any other year, they would say, “Oh, that’s nothing—so and so had many more saved.”

Yesterday, ten of us (five teenagers) got back from Mexico on a mission trip. A preacher from Canada said the missionaries there said they listened carefully what their superiors told them and then did what the Holy Spirit led them.
Rex Ray

Bryan Riley said...

The key is that God is glorified. You can't do more than that, and anything less is, well, according to Romans 3:23, sin. Any thing or any number or any statistic that becomes an end higher than the glory of God becomes an idol and something less than His glory. I was not aware of this potential issue in missionary "circles" but I appreciate the account of a great man of faith. Amazing that God gave him the strength to persevere those seven years. No man could do that. That makes it clear it was a "God thing," which brings God glory!!! Hallelujah!

David Rogers said...


Thanks for the support and encouragement.

Provided we can agree first that our goal is true, bona fide, disciples of Jesus, I believe we have warrant to be discriminating about our methods, and seek to be the best stewards possible of the resources the Lord entrusts into our hands.

What people need to realize though, is that the "foreign mission field" is not one big homogenous unit. The cultural context, and the factors determining what may or may not be good methodology, many times are as disparate between one part of the "foreign mission field" and another as they are between the US Bible Belt and the "foreign mission field." For this reason, I believe it is much more practical, rather than to compare results between our IMB people in one region of the world to another, to compare the results of other missions and missionary entities in the same part of the world to what we are doing. But, in order to do this, we can't be isolationist. We have to be in the mix, and aware of what is going on in the broader evangelical context.

Anonymous said...


I too am concerned about this pressure that many missionaries feel on the field.

I am a pastor of a local SBC church, but have taken many mission trips over the years, have SBC missionaries in my church, and have a brother who is an SBC missionary in a very difficult place to be a missionary.

My brother and his team have felt enormous preasure from their supriors to produce results. They have been working with another mission sending group to translate the Bible and then find a way to get it to people who are mostly iliterate.

They have been their about eight years and have had a number of converts, but have yet to start a local church.

Their supervisors say that if they don't have many more converts soon they will have to leave.

I find this abhorant. They are trying to reach a large people group who have never heard about Christ and who are very isolated. For this work to reach a large segement of the poplulation will most likely take years unless God blesses in a very special way. God certainly can and does, but often God blesses through years and years of faithful service.

There is another aspect to our IMB that is concerning me as well. It is related. That is, the missionaries I know are told that if they would just do their work the way someone else did it then they would have instant results because it worked this way somewhere else.

My brother tells me that if they did it the way their supervisor says to do it then they would loose all of their work because it would completely turn off those with whom they work.

This seems to me to loose completely the idea of the Holy Spirit working with our missionaries and reduces their work to a formula that might work somewhere else. God, through the Holy Spirit, works in different ways in different places.



Ray said...

Very interesting post. I love William Carrey and the work that the Lord did through him. I think Maiden hit it on the head. Many people will not support something that does not seem to be producing results. But the missionary's job is to spread the seed of the Gospel. God in time will make it grow.

E. Goodman said...

I'd say that for us, the pressure comes from not from local leadership, but from the IMB's strategy in general. The "rapidly reproducing" and "whatever it takes to get the job done" mentality can really rush us to change our approach to church planting if it isn't "working," and quick.

I believe that it is wrong to count numbers, or to measure our success by counting what only God can produce in His timing. But besides numbers, how can we measure our performance and obedience in a way that allows for accountability and evaluation?

Thanks for your post, Wade.

Anonymous said...

As one who has followed statistics on the mission field for years, I believe a more balanced approach would be helpful. Yes, leadership in all organizations whether it be the local church, association, convention or on the mission field are concerned about understanding the impact they are having on the folks they are "responsible" to reach. Each one of us wants to do a better job of reaching and teaching all peoples to follow Christ and planting new churches.

I am concerned about the inference which indicates that missionaries are "pressured" to report statistics and numbers which do not exist. The inference is that leadership is requiring folks to report numbers which are not accurate and are, in fact, misleading. I find such a view reflects badly on those who have given their lives to the spread of the Gospel. I cannot agree with that point of view.

Wayne Smith said...

The Mindset of so called leadership positions in the IMB.
Not all leaders lead like JESUS lead.
If one is not satisfied with what is happening in the field, then one must go and lead the way to help the missionaries produce the results that is expected.

GOD CAME DOWN to show the WAY

A Brother in CHRIST

Anonymous said...

The title of the post illustrates a basic problem in our evangelism and mission understanding. We don't produce anything!

Okay, I admit that the Calvinism is coming out in me but to think that I have something to do in "producing" someone's salvation shows that I don't understand who is in charge. All that we can and must do is to share the Gospel (Acts 1:8) and allow God to work in the heart and mind of the individual.

For example, I witnessed to a dear friend of mine for almost two years. I shared Jesus with him at every opportunity. His past life experiences made it difficult for him to hear the message of Jesus' grace and love; but I still shared the truth with him. He died and unless he had a "death bed experience," he never received Jesus as Savior. Did I fail because I failed to "produce" him? No, I did all that I could which is all that I am commanded to do.

Let's stop worrying about "producing" and focus in on the task of "seed planting." We might discover a lot more souls for the kingdom if we keep our job focused on evangelism/mission and allowed God to gather the increase.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a great book. I would recommend it! It's called [u]Church Without Walls[u] by Jim Petersen. It has brought home to me how much cultural baggage we've brought into our Western style churches. I see it even more after having lived overseas for eight years.

The forms and functions of a Western church are not necessarily bad, but they're not necessarily Biblical either and will not necessarily be those of a "non-American" church. Yet, at times it does feel like a "one size fits all" approach in how we're taught to do ministry overseas. On the one hand, we're told that the Bible is our source for how life should be lived and our people need to constantly be pointed back to the Scriptures and need to be taught to measure everything against scripture. On the other hand, we're told "it needs to be done like this".

Is there pressure? Whether or not there truly is pressure, I know that MANY perceive it to be true.

I know that we listen to what we're told, study our Scriptures, and then do what God tells us to do. He is the only one who can cause things to happen in people. If we're on the same page as God, then we needn't fear man or his pressures upon us for numbers. (I say this to myself as well, because we're often reminding ourselves of this.)

Thanks for speaking to this Wade.

Anonymous said...

"Plant" like Paul. "Water" like Apollos . . . However, lest we forget, the harvest is and always has been God's, as He is the One who "causes the growth" (See 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

In His Grace and Peace,


Anonymous said...

That was beautiful.