What Happened in Oklahoma City

Oklahoma_CityI went to Oklahoma City last week mostly because of the guest list.  The invitation seemed deliberately vague: a group of some fifty Baptist ministers and missionaries were going to be talking about how to do missions in the 21st century.  There were some hints about “finding new ways” that suggested the old ways were no longer working.  I didn’t know what to make of that.  But as I looked down the guest list I began to think that a couple of days talking with those people would be worth the trip.

So I went.

I hoped that we would spend some time talking about the missional church and the idea that missions is no longer only “over there” somewhere, but also “right here,” where we are.  Instead we spent most of our time talking about how to send missionaries to other parts of the world.  I began to get the feeling from this mostly West-of-the-Mississippi delegation that they had been disenfranchised by the Southern Baptist Convention and disappointed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but still felt compelled by Christ to carry the Gospel to the world.  How would they do that?

One large church is already sending missionaries on its own.  An independent non-profit is sending missionaries to the world’s unreached people groups.  A number of the churches are doing groundbreaking community missions right where they are.  The consensus that emerged was that there ought to be some way to make all this information and all these resources available to any Great Commission Christian.  And in the 21st century context in which we live, we started talking about a website. 

Did you get that?  Not a denomination, not a convention: a website.  We decided that what we didn’t need was a top-down organization telling local churches what to do.  We’re Baptists, after all, who believe that local churches are autonomous—free to determine their own mission and ministry.  But we also believe those churches can do more together than they can alone, and if there were some way to collaborate online, well, who knows what might happen?

We talked about a site with the social networking genius of Facebook and the open-source, information-sharing genius of Wikipedia, so that churches interested in working in a particular area could network with each other, share stories and ideas, maybe even travel together.  There might be a whole category called “Housing the Homeless,” or “Sharing Your Faith Across Cultures,” or “Mosquito Nets for Africa.”  Suppose you end up in a chat room talking about how to help refugees from Nepal when they come to your town, or uploading video from a river baptism in Bolivia?

I don’t know what will happen next, but I do know I came home buzzing with ideas and thinking about how we might apply some of these same strategies to our work here at First Baptist Church.  At the very least, then, what happened in Oklahoma City is that I got excited about missions—again.

That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Missionary School

i know pick meI’m in Oklahoma City with about fifty other Baptist pastors, talking about how to do missions in a changing world.  One of them told us an interesting story about something that happened to him a few years ago.

He said he got a visit from a young woman who was engaged to be married to a member of his church.  “Is it true,” she asked, “that before I can be married here I have to join First Baptist Church?” 

“Um, well, yes, that is our policy.”

“I can’t join this church,” she said.  “I’m a member of the Christian Missionary Alliance church.  We take missions seriously.”

“Well, so do we,” he said, proudly.  “We’re Baptists!”

“Humph,” she said.  “How many Baptists are there?”

“Um, I think there are about…”

“I’ll tell you,” she said.  “Sixteen million.  Sixteen million Baptists!  And how many missionaries do you have?” she asked.

“Maybe you could tell me,” he said, settling back into his chair.

“Five thousand,” she said.  “That’s pitiful!  If there were sixteen million people in my denomination we’d have 100,000 missionaries!” 

She was just getting warmed up.

“How many people in this church?” she asked.

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me,” he said.

“Six thousand, five hundred,” she said, crossing her arms.  “And how many missionaries do you have?”


“That’s right!” she said, triumphantly.  “None.  I can’t join this church.  Y’all don’t take missions seriously.”

“And so,” he said, finishing the story, “she joined as a watchcare member.” 

Baptists don’t usually get taken to school like that when it comes to missions.  We’ve been sending missionaries to the ends of the earth for decades!  But maybe the girl from the Christian Missionary Alliance had a point. 

Part of what it means to be missional is understanding that the church is not here only to send missionaries: the church is here to be sent.  In the tenth chapter of Matthew Jesus sends his disciples to tell people that the Kingdom has come near—to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out demons.  In other words, to do the very things Jesus was doing.  In the twentieth chaper of John he breathes on his disciples, tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, and then says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  To be a disciple of Jesus, then, is to be sent.  It’s not just the career missionaries; it’s all of us. 

So, if that girl from the Missionary Alliance Church were to ask me how many of our members are missionaries I’d want to tell her this:

“All of them!”