Thursday, September 11, 2014

Platt: Opposition reveals our beliefs

(NOTE: This is the last of three articles featuring new IMB President David Platt’s views on various missions issues. Read the first article here. Read the second here.)

Pressure reveals character, we all learn sooner or later. And opposition reveals what we really believe.
Do we believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ enough to lose friends, social status, a scholarship or a job over it? Do we believe it enough to suffer for it? These are questions followers of Christ in many places have to answer on a daily basis. In America, the land of the free, not so much. We still enjoy the religious liberty embedded in the founding ideals of our nation.

But the rise of militant secularism — and increasing efforts to make the practice of biblical faith socially and legally unacceptable — are slowly raising the cost of discipleship in the United States. That’s probably one of the factors behind the decline of “cultural Christianity” devoid of real commitment. 
Maybe that’s a good thing, observes new IMB President David Platt.

“In one sense, I’m thankful for the trends in our culture, and even in the church, that are causing us to ask, ‘OK, do we really believe the Bible?’” said Platt, who discussed a range of missions-related issues during an interview following his Aug. 27 election to lead Southern Baptists’ global mission enterprise.
“Do we really believe this Gospel that we claim to believe?” Platt asked. “Because more and more, cultural Christianity is just kind of fading to the background. People are realizing if you actually believe in the Gospel then that’s not as accepted as it once was. It’s actually looked down upon as narrow-minded, arrogant, bigoted and offensive. Obviously, we want to be humble in our embracing of the Gospel, but it’s becoming more costly in our culture in a way that’s good — in the sense that this better prepares us [for] what we’re going to be a part of around the world.”

Paying a higher cost to live and declare the Gospel here, in other words, will make us better and more effective servants among the nations — where the cost may be far greater. The reward will be greater still.
“We’re not going to shrink back in light of the resistance that’s there,” Platt said. “We’re going to step up, rise up and say we want to see His glory proclaimed no matter what it costs us, because we believe He is our reward.” 

American Christians have enjoyed the blessings of religious liberty and freedom of expression for a long time. Perhaps those freedoms, coupled with the material prosperity of the richest economy in human history, have lulled us into expecting things will always be as they have been. That is a naïve complacency that flies in the face not only of history but the Bible itself.

“We need to realize the clear New Testament teaching that it is costly to follow Christ, that the more your life is identified with Christ, the harder it will get for you in this world,” said Platt. “We need our eyes opened to that reality. I think we’ve been almost seduced by the spirit of cultural Christianity that says, ‘Oh, come to Christ and you can keep your life as you know it.’ No, you come to Christ, and you lose your life as you know it. The more you’re active in sharing the Gospel, the more unpopular you’ll be in many ways, the more resistance you’ll face. …
“[But] it helps you realize this is what our brothers and sisters around the world are facing in different places. If we’re going to join with them in spreading the Gospel, then we need to be ready to embrace that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,’” he added, quoting the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3:12. 

During months of praying about leading IMB, Platt said God had instilled in him a “deeper, narrowing, Romans 15 kind of ambition, where [the Apostle] Paul said, ‘I want to see Christ preached where He has not been named.’” The whole concept of unreached peoples, “of nearly 2 billion people who have never heard the Gospel, is just totally intolerable.”
The reality, however, is that most unreached people live in places where religions, cultures, governments and extremists oppose — sometimes violently — the transmission of the Gospel and the making of disciples. Western missionaries and churches, accustomed to relative freedom, continue to struggle with that fact and all that it entails. But there’s nothing new about it if you read church history. What’s more, God continues to use what the world intends for evil for His good purposes. Just as it did in the Book of Acts, persecution today tends to strengthen, unify and embolden believers, even as it multiplies churches.

“Making disciples of all nations will not be easy, and the more we give ourselves to reaching unreached peoples with the Gospel, the harder it will get for us,” Platt said. “But the beauty is the more we identify with Christ [in America], the more we’ll be ready to identify with the sufferings of Christ [overseas] as we go. And we’ll realize, whether here or there, the more we give ourselves to this mission, [the more we’ll] believe in the depth of our heart that He is our reward and that the reward of seeing people come to Christ is worth it. This is just basic theology of suffering in mission. How has God chosen to show His love most clearly to the world? Through the suffering of His Son, a suffering Savior.
“So how is God going to show His love most to the world today? Through suffering saints, through brothers and sisters who identify with the suffering Savior.”

(Watch related video clip: Opposition clarifies mission task)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Platt: Bible still the best mission plan


(NOTE TO READERS: This is the second of three articles featuring new IMB President David Platt’s views on various missions issues. Read the first article here. The third article will post Sept. 11.)

David Platt sat down for a wide-ranging interview the morning after his Aug. 27 election as IMB president — and offered a number of insights into the way he hopes to lead Southern Baptists’ global mission enterprise.
Platt, 36, who succeeds Tom Elliff, is the youngest leader in the history of the 169-year-old Southern Baptist mission organization. In the first part of the discussion, he touched on the value of mission institutions and structures — sometimes questioned by younger evangelicals — if they help nurture Spirit-led movements. He also talked about the “massive” potential of IMB to mobilize local Southern Baptist churches, cooperating with each other, to plant churches around the world.

“That’s the beauty in what God has created, even in the Southern Baptist Convention on a large scale — 40,000-plus churches working together, and the IMB keeping that coalition focused on reaching unreached peoples with the Gospel,” he said.

(Read the full story, “Platt looks ahead to mission challenges.”)

During the conversation, Platt also emphasized the necessity of looking to the Word of God— not only for guidance and power, but also for mission strategies.
“God’s Word doesn’t just tell us the content of mission; God’s Word informs in very practical ways the strategy for mission,” he said. “How can we most effectively multiply churches and make disciples? This is what we see in the Book of Acts: local churches sending out missionaries who are making disciples that form into churches that are then multiplying churches. That’s what we’re after. Let’s put everything on the table — no question out of bounds — and ask, ‘How can we most effectively mobilize churches who are making disciples and planting churches among unreached peoples?’”

The New Testament pattern of missions offers many approaches to missions that still work, Platt observed, including:

§  Bottom-up, not top-down
“There’s a fundamental paradigm that we want to operate out of that sees mission and the role of the IMB not from a top-down, but as a bottom-up perspective,” he stressed. “The temptation is to view a denominational entity as the agent for mission: ‘We [IMB] send missionaries, and we do strategy, and we support missionaries. So churches, we need you to send us people and money, and we’ll carry out mission for you’ — as opposed to flipping that and saying it’s actually the local church that is the agent that God has promised to use for accomplishing the Great Commission.

“How can we as the IMB come alongside the local church and equip and empower and encourage the local church to send and shepherd missionaries? That’s how I want us to posture ourselves, saying to the local church, ‘You can do this, and here’s how we can help.’”
(Watch the video clip, “Bottom-up, not top-down.”)

§  Mission teams
“We want to send people who are making disciples together here overseas to make disciples there,” Platt said. “Again, this is a picture we see in Scripture: Jesus was always sending people out in twos, at least. Paul and Barnabas went out together. You don’t see people going out, with rare exceptions, alone in mission. How [can we adapt] what we’re doing here somewhere else strategically in the world, for the spread of the Gospel there?

“I think about some missionaries from our church who were appointed [Aug. 27]. They’re going to join an IMB team overseas that’s comprised of brothers and sisters they were with in a small group here. They were making disciples in Birmingham, Alabama, and now they’ll be serving together for the spread of the Gospel in the Middle East.”

(Watch the video clip, “Mission teams.”)
§   Multiplying resources

Not everyone is a church planter in the mold of the Apostle Paul, Platt acknowledged. Paul himself relied on a wide network of Christ followers in the cities and regions where he preached and made disciples. The same is true today.

“I remember the time a guy came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m an engineer. My wife’s a teacher, and we just figured out we could get a job doing engineering and teaching in (a part of East Asia) where there’s not a lot of Gospel presence. Can we just go there? We don’t know if we count as missionaries or not. We could actually be self-sustaining there.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you count. You will be crossing cultures for the spread of the Gospel. You’re moving to be a part of making disciples there.’

“When people begin to get that kind of vision for the gifts and skills and education God has given us here, it may not just be for us to stay here, but we can use these gifts in strategic ways in parts of the world that are unreached with the Gospel,” Platt said. “If we can connect that couple with what God is doing through church planters who work specifically with the IMB and come alongside them, that’s just a win-win.

“When we begin to think like that, we can blow the lid off the number of people who can go overseas.”

(Watch the video clip, “Multiplying resources.”)

In the third and final installment, Platt will talk about missions in hostile cultures — at home and abroad.