The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) board of directors approved a recommendation that calls for the BSCNC to serve as a catalyst in engaging North Carolina Baptist congregations with those unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs).
While the International Mission Board and the North Carolina convention will partner together to serve as resources and connecting points, responsibility for actually engaging these groups with the Gospel will reside with North Carolina Baptist churches, said Mike Sowers, senior consultant for the BSCNC Office of Great Commission Partnerships.
"Each church involved in this effort is going to claim a specific people group and commit to seeing a church planting movement take place among that people group," Sowers said. "Yes, this means a lot of responsibility falls to the local church, but this is the most effective, and biblical, way to engage these people groups."
The initiative will focus primarily on people groups in one region of Asia as the point of emphasis for training, but North Carolina Baptist churches are not limited to only engaging groups in that region.
"This is not a partnership, but an emphasis on unreached people," Sowers said. "We want churches to go where God has called them, and we will work to provide them with the resources they need."
Through the convention's Great Commission Partnerships office, Sowers helps connect churches in missions partnerships in areas such as Boston, New York City, Toronto and Moldova. He helps churches extend their missions involvement beyond a one time, short-term missions trip as they develop an effective missions strategy locally and globally.
Even though the emphasis on unengaged, unreached people is not a partnership, Sowers said he prays churches will still approach this opportunity with the intent to be strategic and long-term.
"We want churches to help facilitate, through prayer and mobilization, a church planting movement by multiplication. We want to see disciples making disciples within a people group," Sowers said. "A self-sustaining, disciple-making process should be taking place."
An important aspect of the strategy will be to create self-sustaining ministry and disciple-making, instead of a dependency on outside funding, volunteers or even physical structures such as church buildings, said Joe Dillon, a missional church strategist for the International Mission Board, during a recent "Impact Your World: Team Leader Training" event in High Point, N.C.
People groups cannot depend long-term on a church in North America to sustain any type of church planting movement, Dillon said. That type of movement must be indigenous to the people group.
"Our job is to empower these people to be a disciple-making congregation," Dillon said. "One-on-one discipleship is how we'll saturate the culture with the Gospel."
Dillon also said that 96 percent of mission teams from the United States travel to only 2 percent of lostness in the world. Engaging unreached people groups will help change that statistic and help get the Gospel to more people who have never heard.
During the Southern Baptist Convention in June, the IMB challenged Southern Baptist churches to embrace one of the 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups in the world. Now the IMB's "Embrace" challenge offers training opportunities and resources to help churches get started. Small group prayer guides, worship guides, research about different people groups, and information about national "Embrace Equipping Conferences" are available at call2embrace.org. Two equipping conferences are being held in 2011: on Oct. 27 at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, and on Nov. 4 at Applewood Baptist Church in Denver, Colo. In 2012 the North Carolina convention will host a May 1-2 event at First Baptist Church in Charlotte.
"As believers in Jesus Christ, we cannot be content knowing there are people in this world who will die without ever hearing the name of Jesus Christ even once," Sowers said. "God has commissioned us to go into the world and to share the Gospel, and the command was given to go everywhere. It's disobedience not to go."
Some people groups will be harder to engage because of challenges such as travel to the country and access to the country, Sowers said. Safety, security and logistics are all possible challenges.
"The task before us is not easy, but Jesus never said following Him would be easy," said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., the BSCNC's executive director-treasurer. "Our Savior did promise that He would be with us and would empower us to accomplish His purposes if we will be obedient and yield to His leading. I am trusting God to guide our churches as they seek to expand His Kingdom by taking the Gospel to unreached and unengaged people groups."
"God's plan to redeem humanity and to get the Gospel message to a dying world begins with His church. If we don't go, these people groups may never hear about salvation through Jesus Christ," Hollifield said. "If they do not hear they cannot repent and trust Jesus as Savior. And if they do not repent and trust Him, the Bible says they will spend eternity in hell. We have been entrusted with the stewardship of the Gospel. We cannot keep it to ourselves when people are dying and going to hell."
Prayer is critical to the success of engaging unreached, unengaged people groups, added Chuck Register, BSCNC executive leader for church planting and missions development. He encouraged North Carolina Baptists to begin their journey of embracing a people group with prayer.
"Our destination is determined by God. He guides our path and we must be sensitive to His leading," Register said. "We cannot depend on ourselves to accomplish this task of seeing the nations come to Christ. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through us can that happen. And that begins with us humbly coming before God and pleading for Him to pour out His power and grace."
Melissa Lilley is research and communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Learn more about the IMB's Embrace challenge at call2embrace.org.
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