I 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?