Perhaps I am just a naive and idealistic millennial, but I remain hopeful and excited for the future of the IMB. Without a doubt, yesterday was a heavy day for Southern Baptists and for the International Mission Board (IMB). IMB President, Dr. David Platt announced that he has asked IMB Trustees to begin a search for his successor as President of the 172-year old organization. In light of that news, yesterday was also a heavy day for me on a personal level. I spent the last 3 years serving directly alongside Dr. Platt as Senior Aide to the President at the IMB. Those were 3 very informative, intense, and impactful years for me. I learned so much observing Dr. Platt and will forever count it a joy and privilege to have served so closely alongside of him in that capacity. I accompanied him to almost every internal IMB meeting, every denominational meeting, and every international trip during that 3 year span of time. I was the proverbial “fly on the wall” in each of those settings and had a front row seat to observe the inner workings of the Southern Baptist Convention and the organization responsible for its birth, the IMB. During my time in this particular role I also learned an incredibly valuable truth that continues to encourage me today and gives me a great sense of hope for the future…but more on that later.
Dr. Platt’s Leadership
First, I praise God for his grace in Dr. Platt’s leadership over the past 3.5 years. Dr. Platt entered his role as President with great excitement and a immediately articulated a compelling vision for the IMB. He spoke boldly from the start about “5 Desires” that were to drive and mark his leadership in the IMB. He wanted to lead the IMB to 1) exalt Christ, 2) mobilize Christians, 3) equip the church, 4) facilitate church planting, and 5) play our part in the accomplishment of the Great Commission.
In many ways, what took place over the next 3 years was the practical implementation of Dr. Platt’s vision across the IMB. Out of a desire to exalt Christ and strengthen the missiological foundation of the IMB, Dr. Platt led the IMB through a process of defining key terms. The defining of key terms then led to the formation of a guiding missiological document (forthcoming) that clearly outlines the theological and missiological foundations that govern IMB work around the world.
The desire to mobilize Christians led to the Pathways initiative and a vision for limitless sending. As Dr. Platt often states, fully funded missionaries continue to be the priceless, precious, and critical core of the IMB mission force. At the same time, IMB leadership under the vision cast by Dr. Platt embraced the idea to explore new sending avenues in addition to the more established sending avenues to enable Southern Baptist to send more missionaries in the days ahead.
The desire to equip the church initially led to the formation of the Training Team at the IMB. The Training Team was established to help ensure that the IMB is leading the way in helping equip churches, prepare missionaries, and partner effectively with national believers around the world.
The desire to facilitate church planting led to the development and adoption of a new mission statement for the IMB. The new mission statement states, “IMB partners with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.” The mission statement clarifies that the distinguishing characteristic of the IMB’s mission is its focus on the missionary task, and central to that task is the planting of healthy churches.
The desire to play our part in the accomplishment of the Great Commission culminated in the limitless vision articulated by Dr. Platt. The guiding conviction of the limitless vision is that all of God’s people have a role and part to play in the Great Commission. Regardless of location or vocation, all Southern Baptists have an opportunity to join God in what He is doing among the nations.
Dr. Platt also demonstrated incredible fortitude in the early days of his Presidency by making tough decisions and doing what was necessary to balance the IMB budget. The Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) was not a process that anyone had planned for, but IMB Leadership was unanimous that it was the best possible solution under the circumstances at the time to ensure the long-term viability of the IMB. Dr. Platt patiently and graciously led the IMB through that entire process in 2015-2016.
Now that Dr. Platt’s vision is in motion and the IMB is in a stable financial position (A huge thanks to the faithful, generous, and sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering!), one might assume that I am discouraged and disheartened by the recent news from Dr. Platt. Without a doubt, there are mixed emotions. Am I sad that Dr. Platt will not be able to carry out more of his vision as President of the IMB? Certainly. Am I heartbroken for the thousands of IMB missionaries around the world who rallied around him and eagerly followed his leadership? Absolutely. Am I grieved on a personal level that Dr. Platt’s tenure as IMB President will be coming to a conclusion in the near future? Sure. Am I still hopeful and excited about the future of the IMB? Emphatically YES!
The Heroes of the IMB
Why? In light of this seemingly discouraging news, how could I possibly be optimistic, hopeful, and excited for the future of the IMB? The answer is simple. I am confident in God’s grace, presence, and favor in the lives and ministry of the 3,500+ IMB missionaries around world. Organizational leaders come and go, but the real heroes of the IMB always have been and always will be the anonymous and unknown missionaries (and the national brothers and sisters they partner with!) who are faithfully serving Christ around the world. It is THESE spirit empowered brothers and sisters that make the IMB unique, distinct, and indescribably special.
Maybe I’m just a misguided optimistic millennial, but it’s precisely because of these missionaries that I have great hope and confidence in the IMB in the days ahead. Because of these missionaries, unreached Tibetan Buddhists high in the Himalayas are hearing the gospel. Because of these missionaries, difficult to reach tribes deep in the Amazon Jungle are responding to the truth of the gospel. Because of these missionaries, the gospel is spreading across the vast urban centers of Asia and beyond. Because of these missionaries and the great God they serve, the gospel is advancing and the mission continues today to the ends of the earth.
Hope for the Future
Throughout its 172-year history, the IMB has endured and weathered a variety of crises and challenges. Economic depression, world wars, natural disasters, terrorism, denominational division, and an ever changing and revolving group of leaders. In the midst of it all, the IMB has remained committed to the gospel, the authority of the Bible, the primacy of the local church, and the vision of a multitude from every language, people, tribe, and nation knowing and worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ. An unchanging mission in the midst of a constantly world has always been a defining characteristics of the IMB throughout its history.
One of my favorite quotes used regularly by Dr. Platt is the notion that “this whole thing is rigged.” Dr. Platt, often referring the sovereignty of God, will utter this phrase to remind people that God is in control and providentially orchestrating the events and circumstances of our lives for His glory. Today, as I reflect on the recent news from the IMB, I’m freshly reminded that God does indeed “have this whole thing rigged.” We can always trust His sovereignty and His providence.
Over the past 3.5 years, God has used Dr. Platt in a significant way to help lead the IMB in the right direction for the future. He is one of my closest friends and I will personally miss serving under his leadership as the IMB Trustees begin a process of naming a successor to replace him. Yet, in the midst of it all, I remain confident and hopeful for the future of the IMB. Today, there remain more than 3,500+ IMB missionaries scattered across the globe who continue to faithfully share the gospel, make disciples, and plant healthy churches among unreached people and places for the glory of God. What an amazing thought and reality! These anonymous and unknown servants of Christ will continue to labor for the same great God, engage in the same great mission, and do so with a heightened sense of urgency in the days ahead. It is based on that truth and that realization that leads me to believe that the IMB’s greatest days are still ahead. By God’s grace and mercy may it be so until our work is done and our King returns!