The world's attention and much of our focus (at least at the time of writing) is on COVID-19. We've seen how fast it can spread and we're learning daily how to protect ourselves and those we love while creatively ministering in a constantly changing world of uncertainty. I'm concerned about those who might be infected with the virus, but I'm even more concerned about those who have yet to be infected with the love of Christ.
Prior to this "new normal" surrounding COVID-19, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd announced a five-year initiative to reach every person with the gospel in every town, every city, every state and every nation. Vision 2025 contains five major strategic actions for the SBC to accomplish by 2025. My prayer is that COVID-19 will not be a distraction from these goals. Now, more than ever, we must work together to bring this vision to fruition because the world is looking for hope that can only be found in Christ!
One of the goals is to increase the total number of full-time, fully-funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving the SBC 4,200 full-time, fully-funded missionaries through the International Mission Board (IMB).
I find this goal humbling and challenging because our new normal is something many of our missionaries contend with every day in their ministry settings. While we're dealing with a contagious virus for what is probably only a brief period of time, our missionaries serve in places where in- fectious diseases, intestinal disorders, flesh eating bacteria and parasites that cause fatal diseases are common daily occurrences.
So, how will we call out and enlist those God is leading to serve? What will we do to contribute toward an increased number of missionaries? I believe this goal is attainable, but it's going to take every pastor and church taking hold of it and doing their part locally.
Here are some practical steps that each local pastor and church can take toward increasing the number of missionaries serving on the field:
1. PREACH sermons that challenge people to go — 21 percent of missionaries are called to serve as the result of a missions sermon in their local church.
2. AFFIRM those upon whom you recognize God is leading — to the one who is questioning his or her abilities, your words may be the confirmation he or she needs to go.
3. HOST a missions conference — 20 percent of missionaries feel called to serve after listening to a missionary speak.
4. PROMOTE missions offerings — we will only realize an increase in missionaries going when churches send the necessary financial resources to sustain their ministries.
5. SHARE what God is doing through our missionaries — how exciting and stimulating it is to hear stories or see videos that help us to understand what missionaries are doing and how they're making a difference.
6. PARTNER with missionaries — going becomes more personal when over a period of 3-5 years a church is Skyping, sending teams, providing prayer support and sharing ministry resources with specific missionaries.
7. LEAD your church to engage in a short-term missions experience — many full-time vocational missionaries are inspired to go and serve as the result of a short-term missions trip.
8. PRAY and lead your church to do so — the fields are ripe unto harvest and the need for missionaries is great.
I suspect the fears and concerns over COVID-19 will pass, but our concern for the lost who have yet to hear the hope of the gospel should never pass. Satan poses a much greater risk to humanity than COVID-19, so we should work together to make the kingdoms of this world the kingdom of our Lord. If our desire is to see people from every nation come to know Him, then we should be willing to do all that we can to accomplish the goal of sending more missionaries.
Eric Allen is missions mobilization team leader of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.