Monday, October 16, 2006

Outsiders Can Be Encouragers of the Insiders

(Please note: The following represents my personal views and do not necessarily reflect the official position of any board, agency or other leader of the SBC).

There is a tendency in any movement, including true evangelical movements of God, for there to be an overemphasis on one area of Christian ministry to the neglect of other important areas of ministry.

One could argue that the Reformation began with an emphasis on justification by faith, but the corresponding lack of emphasis on Christian unity, as evidenced by the wars between the Reformers and the Catholics, and the eventual break in fellowship between like-minded Reformers over interpretations regarding Communion (Luther and Melancthon), give illustration to the fact that sometimes we end up 'throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater' when we try to correct a Christian doctrinal or behavioral problem.

The Church Planting Movement within the International Mission Board has brought some appropriate correction to IMB strategy in reaching the world with the gospel. The desire to reach the nations for Christ is in the forefront of our minds, and reaching out to unreached people groups through CPM is working.

But I would issue a caution that we don't unilaterally neglect established work in countries where the IMB has had a presence for years. While maintaining an emphasis on missions and evangelism we must remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who have established Christian churches in their native homelands, many of which were begun by the efforts of our former FMB missionaries.

For instance, in Japan our IMB missionaries are considered to be 'gaikokujin', which means 'outsiders.'

No matter how deeply immersed in Japanese culture the American missionaries are, they will always be considered 'gaikokujin.'

There are, however, tens of thousands of Japanese Christians among the 127 million Japanes who are 'insiders.' Granted, the work by Japanese nationalists has not been near as evangelistic and mission minded as it could have been over the last several decades, but that doesn't mean it can't change.

The Great Commission of our Lord includes the words 'make disciples' and our IMB missionaries on the field would be serving the kingdom well by making disciples of those national Christians who have already come to faith and are working in established churches.

New churches are great. Apostolic missionaries from the IMB are needed. But it would not be a waste of SBC time or resources for our missionaries to be pastors, teachers, instructors, and helpers to those nationals who are in Baptist churches already.

I realize that you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins, but I think we might could be more patient with the some of the old wine until it matures instead of throwing it out. (Maybe this is not such a good analogy in SBC circles :) ).

The old proverb that says if you catch a fish you can feed a man for a day, but if you teach a man to fish you feed his family for a lifetime applies. I think we must think long and hard before we turn our backs on established Christian work among nationals in the countries in which we have a presence. Some of our brothers in Christ among the nationals could use our encouragement, our support, and our love.

As I try to place myself in the shoes of our missionaries, I believe we must be careful that we don't turn them into a factory machines that churn out numbers of new converts and new works so that the powers that be are satisfied, but instead allow the Spirit of God to work in and through our missionaries to support both the established works of the countries in which they serve, and also be used of God to establish and new works.

These are just my thoughts and they are given for dialogue purposes only.

In His Grace,


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