One great emphasis of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force centered on the need to reach the Northeast, North and West in America. In addition, the focus was to reach the great urban centers across the nation. How will we accomplish the task?
The major focus has been on cutting dollars spent in the southern states. These dollars would be used by the North American Mission Board to appoint missionaries in places where the greatest need exists. No doubt this approach will enhance the work in those areas. But even if every dollar were transferred, there would not be enough money to hire the number of missionaries necessary to evangelize and congregationalize the most Gospel-starved parts of our nation. It will take more.
When the Gospel blazed across the American new frontier in the early 1800s, it rode in the wagons and on horseback as lay people staked out new lives in the West. Pastors in the East burned in the heart of their people to plant a church wherever they planted their homes. They did—and no one did it better than Baptists. Within 100 years, Baptists had become the largest denomination in America.
This same approach will be needed if we are to carry the Gospel to the cities and unreached regions of America. It will take lay people who are willing to follow the call of God to invest themselves in the hard soil outside of the South—people willing to move their families into the urban areas filled with high-rise apartment buildings inaccessible except to those who live in them. The same is true of the gated communities. Ghettos will be reached by those who will live their faith incarnationally.
This seems odd to many. But why would it be so radical? If we are followers of Christ, then all of us, whether minister or lay person, should be open to God’s call to the unreached regions of this nation. It would seem only reasonable that the Father Who longs to see all come to repentance would call His people to go where the Gospel is scarce. Are you willing to pray and ask God where He would have you invest your life? Some will respond very practically by saying, “But my job is here.” Abram had everything in the Ur of the Chaldees, but God called him to leave all so that he might bless the nations. Are we any different? Shouldn’t we be open to His call? Can’t He provide for our needs if we follow His will?
It is interesting to me that much has been said about state convention staff and associational leaders in the South giving up their places of service to go to the unreached areas to plant churches. That is no problem if God calls them. But why would we limit it to people in these categories? Some would say it is because they are paid by the Cooperative Program, and those monies should be spent where there is the greatest need. I would suggest that all who are in ministry should ask if God is calling them to go North, Northeast and West.
Staff positions have proliferated over the last 50 years. Some mega-churches have as many and more staff members than whole state conventions. Would it not be reasonable to challenge these churches to join conventions and associations in downsizing and sending these staff members to the unreached regions to plant churches? Could not the people in the church take those places of service to release personnel and dollars to go to other areas in America where there is a scarcity of the Gospel and churches?
If we hope to make a dent in the lostness of America, we cannot remain as we are. Denominational focus and structure must change. The local church must become missional at home and beyond. Lay people must see themselves as vital to reaching America as ministers. There must be a missional migration of God’s people to the North, Northeast, West and the cities. Churches of the South must rethink the necessity of paying people to do the ministry of the church. Churches and denominational life will have to become leaner, and the dollars that are saved must be invested in the dark and spiritually hungry places of America.
Denominational reconfiguration and reorientation are important. But I reiterate—the real resurgence will occur from the ground up.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.