I grew up in the independent Baptist movement, and I appreciate my heritage for many reasons. But if there is ever a time when I’m especially thankful to be an independent Baptist, it’s during times of missions emphasis—such as our World Impact Conference at Lancaster Baptist Church this week.
1. Missionaries are called and sent out from their local churches. Following the pattern of Acts 13, the origin of missionaries in independent Baptist churches is the local church. The Holy Spirit speaks, and the church responds. It’s that simple—and that biblically based. I love that.
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1–3)
2. Our missions organizations do not undermine the relationship between the sending church and missionary. While we have missions organizations within independent Baptist churches (I’ve served on the board of BIMI for twenty years, and there are many other good ones), they support the relationship between the sending church and the missionary—they don’t serve as the authority over the missionary. Our missions organizations primarily exist to facilitate logistical and practical help by their specialized experience and connections. They do not usurp the relationship between the missionary and his sending church. Rather, they come alongside both the church and the missionary to help.
And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. And there they abode long time with the disciples. (Acts 14:26–28)
3. Churches send funds directly to missionaries. Rather than sending money to a central fund, independent Baptist churches send funds directly to the missionaries, and the missionaries receive 100 percent of the money sent. There is no money tied up in the bureaucracy of a larger missions organization, with only a fraction reaching the field.
For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. (Philippians 4:16)
4. Independent Baptist churches cooperate in missions like in no other area. Although there is sometimes fleshly contention and ministerial jealousy among independent Baptists, as there is in every group, missions is the one area where we seem to do our best at synergetic labor. Leaders who sometimes squabble over petty differences joyfully set those aside to support missionaries from one another’s churches and help them share the gospel overseas.
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:26)
Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: (Acts 15:22)
5. The majority of our missionaries are church planters. My whole life has been involved in missions. My first Bible, given to me when I was five, is filled with the signatures and life verses from missionaries. My parents were missionaries. I’ve visited dozens of mission fields. Our church supports over 250 missionaries. I believe that I can say with a measure of authority that the vast majority of our missionaries are church planters—which I believe to be the New Testament model of missions. Missions, at the core, is to go, win, baptize, disciple, plant a church, and continue the process. So much of what people give money to today is not true missions. It may be a worthy project—perhaps providing physical or medical relief to another country or supporting education—but when it comes to missions, our goal must remain obeying Christ’s Great Commission to preach the gospel, and it must follow the New Testament pattern of planting churches. Everywhere Paul went in his missionary journeys, he planted churches.
And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. (Acts 15:41)
Independent Baptists, like every other group, have had their challenges. But I’m never more thankful and humbled to be an independent Baptist than when we’re welcoming dozens of missionaries to our campus and hearing their reports of how God is using them and our support of them to reach people with the gospel.