Rankin, who plans to retire as IMB president July 31, 2010, believes the 23-member task force studying how Southern Baptists can be more effective in obeying the Great Commission will bring some radical recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting June 15-16, 2010, in Orlando, Fla.
"We should not be afraid of making radical changes. If we come out just kind of tweaking what we are doing to try to do it a little better, that would be most unfortunate," Rankin said. "We are at a watershed time in history, with an unprecedented opportunity. God has blessed us and we must not become ingrown and self-focused, committed simply to continuing what we are doing in the way we are doing it. We've got to be willing to change."
Rankin said he finds some merit in the idea of merging the denomination's international and North American mission boards but only to the extent that it helps Southern Baptists accomplish the mandate to take the Gospel to "the the ends of the earth" and "make disciples of all nations."
"If we're thinking of combining just for the sake of efficiency, thinking it will release more funds to be more focused on our mission task, I think that would be a huge misperception," Rankin said.
Trying to merge the two entities could merely wind up creating "a complex, bureaucratic structure that would dilute the effectiveness of what each of us is doing," Rankin said.
On the other hand, the current geographic dichotomy between North American and international missions "doesn't make a lot of sense and is a detriment to fulfilling our Great Commission task," he said.
Nearly every "people group we would ever hope to reach anywhere in the world is found right here in our own country," Rankin said. "If there could be a way to come to a global missions entity that is focused on evangelizing and planting indigenous churches and reaching all the peoples of the world, whether here or overseas, there could be some merit in that.... We could not afford to be diluted in focus and application of our resources on taking the Gospel to all peoples."
One challenge in facilitating a Great Commission resurgence among Southern Baptists lies in that "Great Commission" is not a term found in the Bible and people differ in their definitions of its mandate, Rankin added.
While the Bible passage usually identified as the Great Commission -- Matthew 28:19-20 -- makes it clear that Christ's mandate is to make disciples of all the world's people groups, the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 often are misunderstood, Rankin said.
When Jesus told the disciples they would be His witnesses "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth," He was outlining the progression the Gospel would take as it moved toward the "ends of the earth," Rankin said. Understood in the light of Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission is to focus on people groups that have yet to hear the Gospel and become disciples, he explained.
"Certainly God wants us to reach our home community, to evangelize our state, to minister to people in need," Rankin told IMB trustees. "But let's not misuse the Scripture to divert our attention from the focus of what the Great Commission is all about: reaching the ends of the earth, those that are yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"I am quite concerned we will miss if we miss that very foundation of what we're talking about when we talk about a Great Commission resurgence: to restore Southern Baptists to God's heart, God's priority as His people in reaching the nations and peoples of the world," Rankin said.
"If you define the Great Commission as anything and everything we do as a denomination, an increase in baptisms, more healthy churches, greater cultural impact on our society, there's not going to be a lot of change because we will just continue to do anything and everything the best that we can," Rankin said. "But I am convinced that God has blessed Southern Baptists, He has raised us up in numbers and resources, not to take pride in being a great denomination and how many programs we can implement and how well we can do them but to be His instrument to reach a lost world and fulfill His mission."
Rankin noted a recent report from Empty Tomb, a Christian research organization in Champaign, Ill., that Southern Baptists set a goal several years ago to fulfill the Great Commission and complete the task of reaching all peoples with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and calculated that if Southern Baptists could field 8,000 international missionaries, the remaining unreached people groups realistically could be engaged.
The report, however, then went on to analyze what Southern Baptists do with the billions Southern Baptist churches receive each year and the amount of money actually allocated by the denomination to send out missionaries and finish the task of the Great Commission, Rankin said.
The research organization's conclusion was that the Southern Baptist Convention has obviously implemented a goal not to fulfill the goal of the Great Commission, Rankin said.
"We must be very careful of how we speak of other entities in our denomination. I know the leadership of our state conventions, our SBC entities, how conscientious they are, how sincerely dedicated to serving the Lord ... and the wonderful job they are doing. That's not the issue," Rankin said. "If we are to have a Great Commission resurgence, we've got to be willing to ask, 'How does it all stack up in relation to reaching the nations and getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth.'"
Mark Kelly, an assistant editor with Baptist Press, wrote this article for the International Mission Board.
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