Congratulations to David Platt on his election as president of our most important SBC ministry. Others have spoken jubilantly about the election of a young man to the job and SWBTS President Paige Patterson has suggested in a blogpost what Southern Baptists should do for its new missions leader. Let me humbly suggest a few things that Dr. Platt will need to do, and perhaps a couple of challenges he faces as he takes the reins in Richmond.
—Spend his influence wisely—It has been rightly emphasized that Dr. Platt has a good hearing among younger Southern Baptists. That’s great and can be leveraged for the glory of God’s kingdom. It’s important what he does with this influence. He’ll need to highlight things that he knows now but didn’t quite so well when he was a pastor—the crucial part cooperative giving plays in reaching the nations for Christ, for example. It’s not going to be enough to get younger leaders to our meetings or even engaged in the mission unless they become committed to the principles (not methodology, necessarily) that have brought us to the position of strength we currently hold. Yes, I said “strength.” Our decline in giving, attendance and baptisms is ominous and undeniable but we still have remarkable resources for the advance of the gospel. We can’t disregard them.
—Build bridges with existing leaders—There are some constituencies that have concerns about the comments and theological statements Dr. Platt has made as a popular speaker and writer—nothing unorthodox but pretty Calvinistic at times. Additionally, his approach to missions giving has caused some to wonder about his commitment to our thorough missionary enterprise. I’ve heard him address these issues and you’ll find some of those explanations in this issue of the TEXAN, but he’s going to have to tell the story to those people who currently pastor our churches, lead our state conventions and support SBC missions. Many of them are 10 to 30 years older than him. These folks are the present tense of the SBC rather than just its heritage, and they are ardent fans of the IMB. Connecting with them will be more work than connecting with his own age group but the work can bear much fruit.
—Develop a strategy that fits the times—Neither hope nor urgency will reverse the decline in SBC numbers. We have a big task and amazing opportunities in the 21st century. The strategy of an earlier time will not suffice. I believe that individuals, churches and state conventions should give more beyond their own borders—many believe that—but that conviction is not a strategy and it is not a financial plan. Dr. Platt is positioned temperamentally and historically to help us find a new way of using our resources to reach people with the gospel. Strategy is perhaps the most important thing he’ll need to develop and winsomely communicate to our convention.
—Develop a strategy that fits our churches—Some SBC churches are capable of sending missionaries and starting churches from their own resources; most are not. In a way, approaching megachurches with the challenge is the gathering of low-hanging fruit. We should keep doing that but the reality is that we are still a convention of smaller churches. I’ve heard some suggest that larger churches should develop their own missions strategies and others should give through the Cooperative Program. That’s a thoughtless attitude and I don’t perceive David Platt to be that kind of leader. But how will churches of 50 or 100 or even 200 be part of a new strategy that flows up from the churches? Perhaps the trend of our people clustering in large churches will continue until that is about all we are but that day is not here. Smaller churches are the present makeup of the Southern Baptist Convention. A good mission strategy must bring them into more significant engagement without undermining the CP.
On this subject, let me suggest something that some wise SBC leaders have made a practice. Southern Baptist missions has advocates, major fans really, in places I know like Newburg, Ind., and O’Brien, Texas. Those churches will not likely call the president of the IMB this week to speak to their people six months or a year down the road. One friend told me of his practice of keeping a Sunday each month open for last-minute preaching invitations, thinking that smaller churches are more likely to make “last-minute” invitations. That allowed him to keep in touch with people and churches he’d never know otherwise. I think this kind of engagement with people who don’t come to big meetings would make a difference in how Dr. Platt leads our mission board. Maybe there are other ways to keep in touch, but regularly giving attention to small congregations of Southern Baptists in out-of-the-way places sounds like an edifying discipline.
My space is nearly used up but I’ll close by saying that the SBC and the kingdom of God can be strengthened as God blesses David Platt’s ministry. I pray for that to happen and encourage you to join me in that prayer. There are other ways we might have opportunities to encourage him and to join him in his work and we will do that. The work of our IMB is important in every era and I think every generation that the Lord tarries will find the urgency of the work more apparent. For our day, Southern Baptists need our IMB and its new leader to prosper in worldwide gospel ministry.