Today I write to people I deeply love – Southern Baptists and our International Mission Board missionaries.
To our missionary brothers and sisters: Many of you are making the prayerful decision to retire from ministries built around people you love and places you call home. Though my voice is only one voice among millions of Southern Baptists, I speak for many when I say, “I’m praying for God to grant you His peace and His provision in powerful ways as you follow His leading.” We know that any retirement carries the grief of departure and questions about the future.
I’ve been privileged to know many of you through my seminary work and my IMB employment – and you’re some of the godliest, most prayerful people I’ve ever met. Many of you have a passion for evangelism and disciplemaking that I have seldom seen in others. While I weep with you as say “good-byes,” your Great Commission commitment and fervor also give me hope for the North American church. We need a shot of your passion, and I look forward to seeing what God might do on our continent through people like you:
- believers who realize that church is not first about them
- leaders who know how to move a conversation easily into a gospel presentation
- cross-cultural evangelists who will go out of their way to find internationals living in the shadow of a church’s steeple
- church planters who can help us plant new churches among ethnic groups
- gospel proclaimers who’ve already crossed language barriers to speak to people groups in North America
- long-term followers of Jesus who can invest in the next generation committed to reaching the nations.
If you have sensed God’s leading to return to the States, please know that we need you. Thus, I also pray another prayer for you: that God will help you to love the North American church. You come home to churches that aren’t always healthy. We struggle with doing evangelism, and we need work on making disciples. We spend more money on buildings than you can fathom. I suspect it would be easy for you to get frustrated with our churches, but I pray that won’t be the case. I pray you’ll love our churches with the same kind of love Paul expressed for the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 16:24) – a church that he also described as deeply flawed. I want you to love us because we desperately need your fire, your persistence, and your wisdom.
Please also be patient with us. It was a trusted field worker who reminded me that most of us cannot fully understand what retirement means to you. We think only that you’re “coming home,” not understanding that “home” for you may be more elusive than ever. We won’t always know the best way to walk with you, but we want to try.
To my Southern Baptist friends on this side of the oceans: We’re a denomination with a renewed passion for church planting and church revitalization. I see more excitement among young leaders than I’ve ever seen. At the same time, our numbers don’t yet reflect a renewed commitment to evangelism. Many of our churches are, in fact, inwardly focused. We talk the Great Commission more than we do the Great Commission. That’s where our retiring missionaries can help us, for they’ve lived with a laser beam focus on reaching the lost and planting churches. We need them in our congregations. We need them in our leadership. We need them as our pastors and staff members. We need them telling the global story in our worship centers, our classes, and our homes.
I’m grateful Southern Baptists have rallied to offer these retirees housing, automobiles, employment, etc., in conjunction with the IMB’s transition team. We must continue to take these steps over the next several months as retirees return. On the other hand, if we meet all these needs without capturing a missionary’s brokenness over lostness, we will not have adequately honored our retiring brothers and sisters. More importantly, we will not be adequately following Jesus.
I’m praying that God will, in the mystery of His ways we don’t always understand, recharge our people – beginning with me – in these days of transition. I’m praying that we’ll reach the nations among us and around the world.