Today the trustees of our SBC International Mission Board elected my friend David Platt to serve as president, and I am radically happy. Here’s why.
I have been praying for a long, long time that he would be elected. Our IMB president must be one who can drive our missions focus in a new way for a new era. It’s not enough that Southern Baptists’ global missions leader motivates us all to give and to go (although he must do that). He must be someone who can connect from the Scriptures how the Great Commission, and especially our global Great Commission responsibilities, are the urgent concern of all of us. Most Christians know that Matthew 28 and Acts 1 command us to go, to reach the unreached with the gospel. We need though to be constantly reminded how every text, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is connected to the mission of reaching the nations.
In a rapidly shifting American culture, this means modeling a vision of why it is that cooperating together for this task is connected to everything else that we do. We need to activate and enthuse a new generation for the adventure of reaching the world with the gospel.
Look at the latest Pew Research poll of Millennials. The primary problem there is a mistrust of institutions–from political parties to marriage to church membership and beyond. We cannot simply say, “Look, we have the greatest missionary organization in the history of the Christian church” (although I believe that to be true). We must speak to a generation wary of institutions of why cooperation together is part of the eternal purposes of God in Christ.
We need leaders radical enough to make changes, but radical in the right, biblical sense. We need a radical, not a revolutionary. Someone radical enough to build up, not radical in order to tear down. That’s precisely what David is.
We need leaders radical enough to work together, against the headwinds of a secularizing American culture and a global persecution of Christians that is, if anything, only just beginning.
I have friends who were concerned because David’s church, The Church at Brook Hills, though they heavily supported world missions, didn’t do so mostly through Cooperative Program channels. I understand that concern. If I didn’t know David, I might be just as concerned. I believe in the CP, and always have. As the president of an entity funded through the CP almost entirely, I would be insane to celebrate the election of someone I thought wasn’t committed to CP.
David believes in the importance of CP. He does not want the mess that we came out of before 1925: a missionary force having to spend inordinate time at home fundraising. The society model doesn’t work in reaching the world for Christ, and he knows that.
The CP will thrive and flourish in the future. I firmly believe that. And I believe that’s the case not because Southern Baptists will feel guilty if they don’t. I believe that because there is a new sense of energy, excitement, and focus. A new generation of Southern Baptists will give, and I think give sacrificially, to CP because we believe, together, in a common cause, despite all our differences.
In 1964, the Republican Party signed up a leader to argue for its principles around the country. Many were suspicious (and understandably so) because he had always been a Democrat, had supported Democratic presidential candidates over Republican ones, even was a labor union activist. The Republicans could have punished him, I suppose, and worried that this would send a bad signal, encouraging other people to support the other party. But instead of policing boundaries, they embraced this man, with his vision and enthusiasm, as their own. That man was Ronald Reagan.
Whatever you think of Reagan or of the Republican Party, we can agree it would have been reasonable to keep him out of leadership, but that wouldn’t have punished Reagan. It would have punished the Republican Party, for generations to come. Reagan resonated with the principles of the Party, and he also knew how to articulate those principles to people, like he had been, who had connected with the legacy of Roosevelt and Truman and Kennedy.
We’re not a political party. We’re a convention committed to missions. And David was never “on the other side.” So it’s a very imperfect analogy. But I think a similar situation is at work. David Platt, the other entity presidents, and I plan to work hard, together, to say to the generations that gave sacrificially and built this great denomination, “You were right. This is the best mechanism for cooperating that can be found.” We also plan to say to those churches that want to reinvent the wheel, “How can you say the SBC isn’t committed to change, to innovation, to generational connectedness? Look at the unity, the purpose, and the cooperation together. Now, let’s work, all of us, together.”
I know and love David Platt. We have prayed through this, together and separately, and I am enthusiastic. I understand how those who maybe don’t know him, or who don’t know his heart here, might be concerned. The Cooperative Program is too important a legacy to ignore or to undermine. The Apostle Paul himself had to prove himself to the apostles at Jerusalem. Paul reflected that James, Peter, and John “asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10).
Southern Baptists expect us, all of us, to guard our legacy of cooperation, and that’s the very thing David is eager to do. And, together, we want to do more than just protect the legacy. We want also to build on it to meet the crushing burden of global lostness.
I think what you’ll see in the years to come is an IMB that is just as cooperative as ever with the rest of Southern Baptist life. You will see a dynamic and close working relationship between the entities. And you’ll see the Cooperative Program proving the legacy right: as a new generation joins together to work, together, to see the gospel cover the face of the earth.
In my view, that’s the right kind of radical for radically challenging time.