The trustees’ first statement, which was adopted without discussion or dissent, affirms “the strategies and leadership” of the board and resolved “to review the concerns and the issues raised and take appropriate action to guarantee that the vision to lead Southern Baptists to reach the world for Christ is not compromised.”While, upon first glance, these statements might be interpreted as a rejection of the ideas proposed by Eitel, and an affirmation of Jerry Rankin and New Directions, it might also appear that “a bone was tossed” to those who may have been more sympathetic to Eitel’s concerns, by way of the vaguely defined commitment “to review the concerns and the issues raised and take appropriate action to guarantee that the vision to lead Southern Baptists to reach the world for Christ is not compromised.”
The second statement, also adopted unanimously, affirms an initiative by Jerry Rankin to arrange for a meeting of IMB staff and trustees with Eitel and Patterson “to resolve misunderstandings and perceptions communicated in Eitel’s assessment of the International Mission Board vision and strategy.”
Looking back at several policy changes in recent months, it would appear that perhaps some of the key ideas contained therein may be traced in some way to Eitel’s paper.
The new policies on “private prayer language” and acceptable baptism for new missionary candidates have already been amply discussed, both on this blog, as well as others.
In January 2005, two other significant policy changes were voted on and approved. The first of these, on Church Definition and Guidelines, was, in my opinion, a positive clarification of church planting expectations.
I personally have no problem with this definition of church and the corresponding guidelines, as worded. I would agree that in the midst of the new emphasis on “Church Planting Movements” and the many times self-induced pressure to produce results, which is common in practically any organization, some IMB workers were perhaps tempted to put the label “church” on an assortment of “Bible study groups”, “preaching points”, or “seeker groups”, that did not really meet the biblical qualifications of “church”. Not that these other groups are bad in and of themselves. Many times, they are a necessary step along the way to true, biblical “church”.
CHURCH DEFINITION AND GUIDELINES Approved by the Board of Trustees in January of 2005
The definition of a local church is given in the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message:
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
We believe that every local church is autonomous under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His inerrant word. This is as true overseas as it is in the United States. Some churches to which we relate overseas may make decisions in doctrine and practice which we would not choose. Nevertheless, we are accountable to God and to Southern Baptists for the foundation that we lay when we plant churches, for the teaching that we give when we train church leaders, and for the criteria that we use when we count churches. In our church planting and teaching ministries, we will seek to lay a foundation of beliefs and practices that are consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, although local churches overseas may express those beliefs and practices in different ways according to the needs of their cultural settings. Flowing from the definition of a church given above and from the Scriptures from which this definition is derived, we will observe the following guidelines in church planting, leadership training and statistical reporting.
1. A church is intentional about being a church. Members think of themselves as a church. They are committed to one another and to God (associated by covenant) in pursuing all that Scripture requires of a church.
2. A church has an identifiable membership of baptized believers in Jesus Christ.
3. A church practices the baptism of believers only by immersing them in water.
4. A church observes the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.
5. Under the authority of the local church and its leadership, members may be assigned to carry out the ordinances.
6. A church submits to the inerrant word of God as the ultimate authority for all that it believes and does.
7. A church meets regularly for worship, prayer, the study of God’s word, and fellowship. Members of the church minister to one another’s needs, hold each other accountable, and exercise church discipline as needed. Members encourage one another and build each other up in holiness, maturity in Christ, and love.
8. A church embraces its responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission, both locally and globally, from the beginning of its existence as a church.
9. A church is autonomous and self-governing under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word.
10. A church has identifiable leaders, who are scrutinized and set apart according to the qualifications set forth in Scripture. A church recognizes two Biblical offices of church leadership: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture
Another policy change that has not garnered near the attention as these, was the amendment to the policy on Volunteers passed in Jan. 2005. The relevant part of the new policy reads as follows…
What is unclear is whether IMB missionaries remain free to work with non-SBC volunteers who are not channeled through the Board’s Volunteer Program. In actuality, there are many such opportunities that often play a strategic role in on-field ministry. In Spain, for example, while we have worked, and will continue to work, with specifically SBC volunteers, we have also hosted volunteers from other parts of Spain, other countries, and other organizations. Many of these have been a great blessing, and have played a strategic role in helping us advance in our evangelistic and church planting objectives.
3. Only members of SBC churches will be enlisted for volunteer service by the board.
a. Exceptions may be made for members of other evangelical churches for projects with a purpose of entry into target populations, ministry to human needs, prayer, scripture distribution, and construction projects.
b. Projects for church planting, preaching and teaching, theological education, etc. must be filled only by members of SBC churches.
c. Any other exceptions must be approved by the executive vice president.
d. Only members of SBC churches may serve as team leaders for volunteer teams. All IMB field personnel have affirmed the BF&M and have agreed to work in accordance with it. All volunteers who go to work with our field personnel are expected to work within the parameters of the BF&M.
Even more significant, in my opinion, has been the change of language in policy related to relating to GCCs on the mission field. In 1998, the IMB released David Garrison’s booklet Something New Under the Sun, explaining the rationale behind “New Directions”, or “Strategic Directions for the 21st Century,” as it is now officially called. Especially relevant is Chapter 5, which, due to its crucial importance, I include here in its entirety…
I would ask you to remember that what you have just read is the original policy related to working with GCCs and New Directions. What now follows is the new policy passed in May 2005 in which some significant changes were made…
Since the strategic question (What's it going to take?) reveals our own limitations in terms of fulfilling the Great Commission, it's nice to know that there is a much greater pool of resources available to us. This greater resource pool consists of the millions of evangelicals from all over the world who also have yielded their lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
One missionary compared his awakening to this broader community of God's people to a fisherman who has been casting around in a small tidal pool and then begins to surf-cast in the sea itself. Our God is so great! he exclaimed. There is nothing He can't do. But first we have to open our eyes to His resources.
Gazing out over the ocean of Great Commission resources also can be overwhelming. More than one missionary has confessed to feeling a little seasick. How can we navigate in a sea without boundaries? they ask. Their question is reasonable. For some, a fear of drifting aimlessly on this boundless sea of potential has led them to reject the whole notion of sailing with other evangelicals. This needn't be the case. There are lessons we can learn from those who have gone before us. Let's take a look at some of these lessons as we address some of our missionaries' most frequently asked questions
FAQ #1: Surely you don't expect us to work with all so-called Christians? Many of these Christians are Christian in name only and have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
This is true. While researchers have identified more than two billion individuals in the world who claim Christianity as their religion, Baptists are right to point out that calling oneself a Christian doesn't mean it's so. As Jesus warned us, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven ... (Matt. 3:9).
Nominal Christians are an object of missions, not a resource for missions! However, within the great sea of Christianity there are many born-again believers--men and women--who have experienced a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ and look to God's Word as their authority for faith and practice. These evangelicals are scattered all over the world and are growing in number. Current global estimates put their number at up to 500 million. They are found in more than 20,000 denominations with over 1,000 foreign mission agencies worldwide. It is these fellow believers who offer us tremendous potential as co-laborers in fulfilling the Great Commission.
FAQ #2: Does this mean we're no longer planting Baptist churches?
As Southern Baptist missionaries, it always will be our heart's desire to plant and nurture indigenous Baptist churches. This is still the aim and focus of all our personnel. However, there are places where historic, political or legal factors impinge on the overt use of the name Baptist. In some places, the radical multiplication of new churches has simply exceeded the ability of local Baptists to assimilate them all.
In these instances, IMB missionaries still can work to see these churches become as baptistic as possible by nurturing in them Baptist ideals and core values. These ideals are shaped around a variety of questions: Do church members submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all matters? Are they committed to the authority of God's Word? Do they adhere to the sole competency of the believer to interpret Scripture? Does the church follow a New Testament model of polity? Do they practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper? Do they practice believers' baptism? These are some of the Baptist core values that we adhere to that lead to distinctly baptistic churches, even in those places where the name Baptist does not appear.
FAQ #3: Have we abandoned our relationships with overseas Baptist partners, conventions and unions?
Certainly not! However, the relationship is maturing to a new level. There may have been a time in the past when we were in a paternal relationship with these overseas colleagues. Today, more and more Baptist conventions around the world are coming into their own and challenging us to keep up! There is no greater joy than to share with a Baptist partner in the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. This may be the most significant implication of the new directions for our Baptist colleagues around the world. We are calling on them, counting on them, depending on them to share with us in this exciting ministry of taking the gospel to every person in the world. We cannot do it without their help. We need each other to get the job done.
FAQ #4: Is it true that I can now approach any church with funding needs for my mission projects?
In a word, no. As we said earlier, there are over 20,000 evangelical denominations in the world today. One of these denominations has covenanted to faithfully support you and your ministry. The condition is that we not undermine the Cooperative Program or Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by directly soliciting donations for our own ministry from Southern Baptist churches.
It is appropriate for you to submit project-funding proposals to your IMB regional leadership team for their consideration. They may then either fund the project from existing budgets or submit the project to the IMB Development Office. Once the Development Office has received it, the project is regarded as an IMB Priority Needs Project. At that point, a local church or group of concerned believers may fund it directly, but not as a result of missionary solicitation. It is offered to the potential donors in response to their request for personal projects that they can adopt.
A sure and safe guideline for any missionary navigating these uncertain waters is to direct any and all Southern Baptist churches to support the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Then, if the church chooses a course of more personalized involvement, it can be directed to the IMB-approved Priority Needs List of projects.
FAQ #5: How do I get a handle on working with Great Commission Christians?
The key to understanding how best to partner with non-Baptists is first to define your goals and then identify the different partners who might contribute to these. Partnerships are not all the same. Some are fleeting in nature, barely even relationships. Others are much deeper and have eternal consequences. So it is with missions. The International Mission Board has identified five levels of relationships between IMB personnel and non-IMB entities. Let's look at them more closely.
Level One: This is the most superficial level of partnering, but it does serve a valuable purpose. Its aim is to gain initial access to a people group or population segment. Its governing principle is acceptability to people you're trying to reach. At this level, a missionary is trying to make inroads into what may be a hostile situation. Creativity and flexibility on the part of the missionary are essential.
Over the past year, many IMB missionaries have reported incidents of high government officials opening the doors to their cities or countries to teams of mission volunteers by hosting cultural festivals, educational programs or business fairs. These creative partnerships generally aren't even with believers, but they achieve the purpose of providing initial access to the people group. Level-one relationships often are with government departments, which serve as gatekeepers to the society as a whole. Once these gates are opened, the way is clear for deeper levels of relationships to follow.
Level Two: At this level, the missionary has taken his ministry to the next strategic step. The aim may be prayer for the people group or for ministry to its physical needs. The governing principle is suitability to the needs of the people being considered. The partnership may include anyone who wishes to help address these physical needs or to pray for these spiritual needs. Thus, the net of potential co-laborers is still cast far and wide.
When prayer is the aim, missionaries at this level haven't hesitated to invite any Christian believer to pray for the spiritual needs of their people group. In addition to specific and well-known prayer networks, missionaries have submitted prayer-profile requests directly to Internet prayer sites. The result is that thousands of unknown partners are able to engage in the ministry of prayer at level two.
For ministry, missionaries at level-two relationships often have partnered with secular agencies such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or the International Red Cross. While our ultimate agenda differs from theirs, partnering with them at this level allows us access and a redemptive touch in Jesus' name.
Level Three: Level three takes the ministry beyond prayer and physical ministry to the point of gospel presentation. For this reason, the governing principle of who we will partner with is a mutual commitment to New Testament evangelism. Accordingly, the net of potential co-laborers has been greatly reduced. One would not look to the United Nations or Red Cross for this type of partnership. Instead, the missionary calls on those evangelical colleagues who are able to present the good news of Jesus Christ in a clear and relevant manner.
Increasingly, missionaries are reporting many examples of level-three partnerships as they engage in evangelism projects with such agencies as TransWorld Radio, Campus Crusade for Christ, Operation Mobilization, Youth With A Mission and many, many others. Often these evangelism partnerships involve local bodies of believers including our Baptist brothers and sisters. Likewise, a growing pool of co-laborers is coming from agencies and independent Bible churches that have sprung-up in non-Western countries. The result of these level-three partnerships has been a manifold increase in the evangelization of lost peoples around the world. This increase in evangelization has set the stage for the next level of partnering.
Level Four: At level four, the aim is church planting. Here the principle governing who we work with is the New Testament model for a church. For us, this is synonymous with a Baptist or baptistic church model . At this level, the scope of potential partners is further reduced. Christian agencies and individuals that support evangelism without regard for church starting are less helpful at this level. Likewise, many Protestant denominations, if they don't advocate believer's baptism, would be unacceptable, because they wouldn't have a New Testament church model in mind. Baptist missionaries also hesitate to partner with fellow evangelicals if they conclude that their teaching distorts the gospel by emphasizing one aspect of the church at the expense of the whole. This still leaves an ample pool of colleagues with whom to co-labor around the world.
Level Five: At level five, the missionary's aim is to create ongoing structures and institutions that will shape the future of Christianity among a people. These ongoing structures address such matters as theological education and missionary-sending structures. Because the aim of level-five relationships has implications that would carry on even after the missionary is gone, the governing principle must be narrowly focused. Nothing less than an uncompromising commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy is acceptable. Thus, the scope of potential partners defines itself.
Even though the governing principle is tight, missionaries around the world have reported a wide-array of resources from which to draw. I look for resources that are solidly Bible-based, is a typical response. Missionaries find these from within and beyond the fold of the Southern Baptist Convention. At each point, however, their guiding principle is the same: Does this potential partner or curriculum hold firmly to the Word of God?
These five levels of relationships are not intended to be exhaustive but a descriptive snapshot of what Southern Baptist missionaries are currently engaged in around the world. They also are instructive for any of our personnel wanting to know what boundaries have been charted in relating to non-IMB individuals and agencies.
Most importantly, these levels point to a growing reality that is emerging on our mission fields. Southern Baptist missionaries increasingly are partnering with others to fulfill the Great Commission. We're not alone! In truth, we've never been alone. Christ always has been there with us. Today, however, we are seeing more clearly how He is at work through us and through others all around us.
IMB Relationships Levels, Goals & Guidelines
IMB missionaries relate to non-IMB entities at different levels depending on their goals and needs. These relationships range from expedient to eternal in their significance. The deeper the level, the greater its significance.
Goal: Entry to the target population (e.g. tourism, business, education, etc.).
Guiding Principle: Suitability to the target poplulation.
Goal: Prayer for the population, ministry to felt needs for purpose of pre-evangelism.
Guiding Principle: Response to spiritual & physical needs.
Goal: Evangelism & Scripture distribution.
Guiding Principle: Commitment to biblical evangelism.
Goal: New Testament Churches (i.e. Baptist or baptistic).
Guiding Principle: Commitment to planting New Testament churches.
Goal: Ministerial training, theological education, ordination, deploying missionaries, etc.
Guiding Principle: Doctrinal Purity.
IMB STRATEGIC RELATIONSHIPS
Goals and Guidelines
Level One. This represents the level in which our aim is simply to gain a presence or access to a people group or population segment. The missionary may be trying to make inroads into what may be a hostile situation. Creativity and flexibility are essential in associating with cultural programs, educational institutions, business forums or whatever can open the door to deeper levels of relationships. The key in these relationships is accessibility to the people the missionary is trying to reach.I believe it is significant that the term “baptistic” was not mentioned in the new document at Level Four. Perhaps, as others have inferred, the term “baptistic” is too vague, and means different things to different people. In any case, I also think it is significant that neither Something New Under the Sun, nor “IMB STRATEGIC RELATIONSHIPS: Goals and Guidelines,” strictly speaking, limits cooperation in church planting to groups clearly identified as “Baptists”.
Level Two. This represents the level in which we seek to minister to specific needs and mobilize prayer networks. Organizations that have a Christian identity and are motivated by spiritual principles may become co-workers in disaster response and in accessing restricted people through social and developmental ministries. We have not hesitated to invite and encourage any Christian believer to pray for the spiritual needs of a people group through prayer networks on the internet and other relationships.
Level Three. This level takes our relationships beyond prayer and ministry to physical needs to the point of gospel presentation. Accordingly the extent of potential co-laborers is greatly reduced to those whose commitment is to New Testament evangelism and who present personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. Such relationships usually reflect an encouragement to each organization to contribute what they can to the total effort, whether radio broadcasts like TransWorld Radio, literature distribution like Operation Mobilization or evangelism and discipleship training like the Navigators or Evangelism Explosion.
Level Four. This is the level of actually planting New Testament Churches, and the scope of relationships would be even further reduced and restricted. Individual teams relate with individuals and/or agencies in alignment with the definition of church as stated in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the Church Definition and Guidelines document approved by trustees in January 2005.
Level Five. This is the level at which we are seeking to influence the ongoing shape of Baptist work and identity, even after the missionary is no longer present, through theological education and ministerial training. Seldom, if ever, would we engage in strategic relationships, even with other Great Commission Christians, at this level though we sometimes find ourselves with opportunities to relate to indigenous institutions in which others may already be working.
What I would like to point out, however, from a missionary perspective, is the practical difficulty, in many situations, in dividing between Levels 3, 4 & 5. First of all, when you are doing “hands on” church planting, it is almost impossible to say anything you do is strictly “evangelism” and does not enter into the “church planting” realm. In the church plants in which we have had the privilege to participate, evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training, are all intermingled together at various stages of the church planting process.
Perhaps what is intended is that significant input into the doctrinal directions of the new churches planted be limited to those in agreement with the “Church Definition and Guidelines” document. And I can see why we would want the “input” we are funding and supporting as Southern Baptists to be in agreement with our doctrinal convictions. However, I think it is important to realize, at the same time, that true “Church Planting Movements” cannot be contained within denominational structures.
Under “New Directions”, the role of the missionary is less and less that of “hands on” church planter, and more and more that of “facilitator” of CPMs. This is perhaps a subtle distinction that is hard for many that have not lived on the mission field to understand. In a true “Church Planting Movement”, we are told, the original church planters will have little or no contact with the 3rd and 4th generation church plants, and thus no direct control over them. It is even debatable to what degree, if any, we as church planters should “control” the new churches we ourselves are planting. Yes, we have influence, and significant influence, at that. But “control” is a different matter.
One of the main principles of “New Directions”, which has deeply impacted my own ministry in Spain, and in which I believe deeply, is the following…
Impacting and “reaching” an entire people group with the Gospel, and seeing CPMs started among them, is a God-sized task. It is much bigger than any of our individual ministries, and much bigger than what we as the IMB, or as Baptists, can do by ourselves. It requires the participation and cooperation of the entire Body of Christ, both locally and globally. Missions research has demonstrated that when God’s people, from differing backgrounds and organizational affiliations, have gotten together to pray, strategize, and join hands in ministry, there have been significant breakthroughs in church growth and multiplication.
In the midst of all of this, those with “baptistic” convictions regarding ecclesiology continue to teach what they understand the Scripture to teach regarding ecclesiology, those from Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds will continue to teach what they believe regarding the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit, etc.
But, in my opinion, if the emphasis is on separation and denominational distinctives, and technical definitions of Levels 3, 4 and 5, rather than the overarching unity and cooperation of the Body of Christ at large, the dynamic of growth and spiritual advance of the movement suffers as a result.
It is because of this that I prefer the 5-level diagram drawn as follows. The differences are a thick black line in between Level 1 and the rest, in order to emphasize the essential unity that brings us together as born-again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In my opinion, the differences on either side of this line are much greater than those between the various levels on the inside of this line. Also, I have changed the lines dividing between levels 2, 3, 4 & 5 to “dotted” lines, in order to signify the flexibility and fluidity that I believe ought to exist when seeking to put into practice these general principles. I think the general principles, dividing between these levels are completely valid, and ought to serve as legitimate guidelines. But when missionaries feel they have to continually be looking over their backs to see who may be looking, and may call them down, for cooperating too widely with other born-again Christians, I think we are in danger of quenching the work of the Holy Spirit.
In closing, I would like to clarify I am not criticizing the new policy. In essence, I think it is a good policy. I am just warning of what I consider a danger of misusing this policy as a club to hinder spiritually committed and effective missionaries from carrying out the ministry God has called them to do.