The Southern Baptists, and how "limitless" can be limiting
One of David Platt’s (President, IMB) big passions at the IMB is “sending limitless missionaries.”
As someone who believes we don’t have enough workers in the harvest, I appreciate this. I think sending more workers is a good thing. And I don’t mind the passion in limitless. He wants to blow down the barriers to sending people.
Now, obviously, we have an “unevangelized world” because many of the current missionary workers are “clumped” in some places, and not enough are in other places. There are many in Papua New Guinea, and few in Uttar Pradesh. (My Global Church Growth Outlook is a work in progress profiling 40 places where there are proportionally very few workers and believers.) I’m not saying PNG needs fewer people, but I do believe Uttar Pradesh needs more. So, yes, more workers, please.
And, we need different kinds of workers, because we need a variety of platforms to get into some places. You can’t send people to Uttar Pradesh or Punjab or Maharashtra on missionary visas, generally, for example. It’s not easy to get platforms like education or medicine or business right–some have mentioned that, when it comes to BAM (business as mission), some have too much B and others have too much M, and the balance is hard. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it.
Let me use this as a moment to discuss something else. If “what got you here won’t get you where you want,” it is equally true what you do to get to the next stage can prevent you from getting to the goal.
I wrote earlier this week about how we’re sending missionaries at the right levels to be 1 per 100,000. We have two options:
1) send more workers, to reduce the ratio of missionaries to nonbelievers, or…
2) change strategies, so that the existing work force can reach more people.
What I’m concerned about is: if we send “limitless” workers, what we might do is fall for the temptation to do #1 – lower the ratio of missionaries to nonbelievers. This means the missionary does the task of evangelism and discipling.
I suggest this is a very bad idea.
When you have a limit – say, 1 per 100,000 – your self-limit can spark some innovation. And the limit, in this case, means we recognize we cannot do everything, and we must raise up the local church. That’s a good thing, because in the long run a resilient local church is what’s needed to sustainably finish the task.
I’m not trying to tell Platt what to do – goodness knows that would be arrogant of me – but I do want to remind us that putting some limits on ourselves can help us toward truly limitless strategies.
“We must decrease so he must increase.”
And if I could change the “limitless” word to anything, what would I change it to?
I’d change it to “enough.”