This past Monday, I was sitting in Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport enjoying a sub sandwich and happened to leave my book on the table. The book I was reading was God-Centered Evangelism by R.B. Kuiper (really good, BTW). The lady, standing next to me in line, saw the book and asked, “Are you coming back from a mission trip?” I replied, “Well, not really. I am coming back from a mission to find a new home in Florida. Are you?” She responded, “Yes! We just left Ecuador on a mission trip.” Having recently done some mission work in Ecuador myself, we enjoyed a friendly, short conversation about Ecuador and all that God is doing down there.
A few moments later, another customer saw the book and asked, “Are you a minister or an evangelist?” I replied, “Indeed I am. Are you a Christian?” He answered, “Yes. I am going to do some work with folks struggling with addiction and seeking rehabilitation.” I ended up finding out that he is a member of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama, and we happen to know several of the same folks. Really cool stuff. But then there was one more.
On my connecting flight to Louisville, I got situated and comfortable, preparing to review some of Burroughs on the way back. A gentleman sat down next to me, and he made mention of the God-centered Evangelism book on my lap. Come to find out, he was on his way to “do business at the seminary in Louisville,” of which I told him I was a student. Little did I know, he was the IMB representative for SBTS!
For the next hour and a half, we talked about all things missions: the CAMEL method, levels of contextualization, the Cooperative Program (CP), Private Prayer Language (PPL), Church Planting Movements (CPM’s), IMB’s emphasis on theological education, baptism policy, assessment process, persecution around the world, and great triumphs of the gospel among the unreached peoples. Let me tell you, I love the International Missions Board. I love what God is doing around the world through Southern Baptists. It is not perfect, and sure, there are areas that need work; but by and large, we will never know on this side of glory all that God has done and continues to do through missionaries sent out through Southern Baptist churches, and I praise God for that!
In the middle of our discussion, I found it kind of funny that I was interviewing the man who interviews students! On a roll, I proceeded to ask him about other matters regarding the SBC, including stuff like the bloated bureaucracy, my research on state conventions and the fleecing of the CP, the recent news of SBC in decline, loss of young leaders, Calvinism, and the future of the SBC. I was incredibly encouraged by the responses he gave, and I won’t begin to go into detail over all that we talked about. However, there are some things which have been stated that should be corrected. For example:
1. Often it is stated that Calvinism kills evangelism and goes against the Great Commission. It is no secret that SBTS is comprised predominately of Calvinists. However, in the years that this representative has interviewed candidates for the IMB at SBTS, Calvinism has not been an issue.
2. Also, the interest level and request for interviews by seminary students has continually surpassed his ability to facilitate them. Every hour of the day for a week, he is interviewing prospective missionaries from the SBTS student body. He told me that the interest is so high that he could do this for two weeks straight and still not get around to all the students requesting to meet with him. Moreover, he is repeatedly pulled over in the hallway students seeking just a minute or two of his time for counsel and direction. But I thought Calvinists don’t do missions and evangelism? 😉
3. I have been told by some candidates that the IMB sometimes does not accept Calvinistic answers on the theological questioning in the interview process. Rather, it is best to simply repeat the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) to ensure that you as a candidate will not encounter opposition. On the contrary, I was informed that the IMB application process gives opportunity for candidates to express their beliefs, and those from SBTS (who have articulated Reformed beliefs) have been approved for appointment. What is an issue is how committed you are to the gospel, how often you share it with others, and the fruit from your efforts. Perhaps the rest of the SBC could learn from the IMB to worry less about labels and more about faithfulness to Scripture and fruitfulness in one’s life.
4. The 2+2 and 2+3 program have been really effective in training missionaries via our seminaries. For those who do not know, these are programs where you spend the first two years in the seminary getting your core classes completed, and the remaining 2-3 years is spent on the mission field where you complete your education while being trained in a real, engaging context. This got me thinking. Why don’t we have a 2+2 or 2+3 program for pastors? It makes sense that if the overwhelming majority of students who are exiting the seminary without an experience, we need something like this in place. Often we hear of the tragic reports of young ministers going into churches and things not going well. But for many of them, it is trial-and-error, and everything is a first. If these programs have worked for missionaries, then why don’t we do it for pastors, worship leaders, etc.? The disconnect between seminary and the local church could be bridged and young ministers could be given considerable training in a local church context that they are sorely needing. Just a thought. Actually, it’s more than a thought, but you know . . .
The last thing we talked about was our lives and our futures. It just so happened that we are both in a period of transitioning and will be spending the next few weeks visiting our families before we head off to the next chapter of our lives. Having spend decades on the mission field, he has felt constrained to go back to reach more of the unreached with the gospel. This time it is different with not only kids but also grandkids, and the difficulty of leaving family will be all the more challenging. But sitting next to me was a man I was unworthy to spend two hours with. In my book, he is a hero. Many are asking what the face of the SBC will look like tomorrow. I believe it will be the faces of those sitting across the table in his upstairs interviewing room in the Honeycutt Center. Those faces look quite different from his for sure, but their heartbeat is the same. It is a heartbeat for the gospel, for the glory of Christ, and the worship of the redeemed from all peoples, tribes, and tongues. My new friend and his wife are going to spend the last chapter of their lives in the hardest, darkest places of the world because of their love for Jesus. Their lives will not be wasted. Not one prayer, not one tear, not one sleepless night wasted. All will count for the sake of Jesus.
And because of that, I am profoundly encouraged.