The Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB) has elected David Platt as its new president. Platt has been a seminary professor, author, sought-after preacher, and since 2006, the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. Platt is 36 years old.
His election has been met with celebration and concern. Younger Baptists are thrilled someone from their generation now leads the flagship mission organization for Baptists. Platt’s demonstrated passion for missions and his ability to challenge younger people to give their all in pursuit of taking the Gospel to the nations captures the hearts of the younger generation.
Some mega-church pastors also applaud his election—he is one of them, and his mission-giving approach of the past reflects that of some of his peers. By all appearances, Platt has demonstrated only tepid appreciation and commitment to the Cooperative Program (CP). Until the last two years, his church has given more to non-Southern Baptist Convention para-church organizations. Indeed, if every Southern Baptist church had supported the work of Southern Baptists as did his church, the board would have sent few missionaries.
Thus, the concern of a large group of Southern Baptists who believe the CP is the best way to support missions and ministry from the front door of the church to the ends of the earth. Faithful and committed, these folks support our colleges, children’s homes, collegiate ministries, seminaries and, indeed, believe that the work of the CP gives all of us a part in a worldwide ministry and missions. They are Acts 1:8 Southern Baptists who believe all of our work is vital.
But whether you celebrate Platt’s election or are deeply concerned because of his demonstrated lack of support for the very work to which he now is deeply connected, he is the new leader of our IMB. I personally believe Platt has an opportunity to unite us. I, for one, pray that he will.
Platt is a passionate preacher. Perhaps the best mission sermon I have heard in years he preached during a youth week at Falls Creek. His heart for the world is clear. There may have not been a more passionate communicator for international missions since the days of Baker James Cauthen. As a young preacher, I found myself having to re-evaluate my call each time I heard Cauthen preach. You always went away asking yourself if God was indeed calling you to serve as a full-time missionary. Platt has the same ability.
Platt has declared he was wrong in his failure to support the CP. He told the selection committee and IMB Board of Trustees that he wishes he had done it differently. Platt told the full board that “the CP is the engine behind 40,000 churches powering a machine organized for the purpose of the Gospel both locally and around the world. It would be foolish not to champion CP.” I can assure you the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who believe the CP is the best (not the only way) to support ministry and missions will quickly respond if he becomes a CP champion. If he equivocates and seeks to lead us toward a more societal approach, following him will be difficult.
Platt can unite Baptists by showing respect and fulfilling his promise to partner with state conventions and associations. Let me use Oklahoma for example. Oklahoma churches average nearly 9 percent per church in CP giving. In preparing the 2015 Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma financial plan, 37 percent of the money that will stay in Oklahoma will support collegiate ministries through Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) and Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM).
Add to this amount the money our associations place in these ministries and it is a huge amount. But why? Because it is from these areas that we develop the next generation of ministers and missionaries. Today, more missionaries under appointment with the IMB hold degrees from OBU than any other university in the United States. Add to that the work of our BCMs, and you will see the gigantic impact these ministries have on missions through the IMB. Or consider that I have been told by presidents and staff of the IMB that more missionaries are called at Falls Creek than any place on earth.
If you look at Oklahoma, it is the state convention and associations that work with our churches to promote and lead in international mission projects. The state and many associations have partnerships overseas to impact nations with the Gospel. Platt will unite the strength of state conventions and associations if he will truly partner as we lead our churches to be on mission for Christ. Rhetoric will only frustrate and fragment.
I pray that Platt will use his considerable gifts and anointed leadership to unite us. Southern Baptists are at our best when we respect each area of ministry and missions involved in the work of the Gospel. State conventions, associations, and our national agencies all serve to extend the work of the local church. Southern Baptists have always been strongest when we cooperate rather than compete. We do not need a funding free for all. We have a plan, let’s support it.