Thursday, October 29

Is church oversight essential for baptism?

David Miller, writing for SBC Voices asks a very pertinent question: Is church oversight essential for baptism?

See if you agree with his biblical analysis and interpretation...
The question at hand is whether the local church is the only appropriate place for a valid, biblically-correct baptism to take place. Is a baptism that is performed outside the authority of a local church to be considered valid or invalid? I will not argue that baptism should never be performed under the direction of a local church. I will argue that local church oversight, while normal, is not necessary to the performance of a valid baptism.

Baptists have use “confessions” to describe our doctrine through the years. I will admit that those confessions support church oversight, in general. But we Baptists honor history; we are not bound by it. We are guided by what the Bible says. And I will argue that the Bible does not support the idea that baptism is only valid under local church supervision.

The Narratives of Acts

Acts has eight instances of baptism. In Acts 2:41, 3000 converts are baptized after Peter’s sermon. There was no established church at that moment. In fact, this event was the establishment of the church, so there is little evidence here. In Acts 8:12-13, Philip preaches in Samaria after fleeing Jerusalem’s persecution. He baptizes those who believe. He sought approval of no local church to perform those baptisms. Again, in Acts 8:37-40, Philip meets the Ethiopian Eunuch and leads him to Christ. The eunuch asks, “What prevents me from being baptized?” If local church authority was essential, Philip should have responded, “I’ve got to get approval from the church.”

The evidence gets stronger in Acts 9:18, because there was an established church in Damascus. Ananias is directed to go and speak to Saul, who is converted. Saul is baptized immediately, without any approval of the disciples of Damascus. Acts 10 is even clearer. Peter is directed by God to visit Cornelius, a gentile. He is baptized immediately upon his conversion. There is no local church for him to be baptized into. In fact, Peter had to defend the decision in the Jerusalem church after the fact. He only sought approval after the fact. He baptized first, then got approval later.

In Acts 16:14-15, Paul baptizes Lydia soon after his arrival in Philippi. There is no local church into which to baptize her. Later, when Paul leads the Philippian jailer to faith, there is a local church, but Paul does not get their approval before baptizing him. The baptism of John’s disciples in Acts 19:3-5 gives little evidence in this argument.

It is tricky making points from narrative. However, the eight instances of baptism in Acts consistently demonstrate no local oversight. That is evidence that must be explained by those who demand church oversight as essential. Dismissing the evidence as “narrative” is not enough.

Evidence from the Epistles

Epistolary evidence explains narrative experiences. So, what do the epistles say? There are six references in the epistles about baptism (it can be tricky to differentiate water baptism from Spirit baptism). None of them give any support to local church oversight. In fact, they argue against it.

Romans 6:1-4 tells us that those who were “baptized into Christ” were buried with him into death and raised to walk a new life. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 uses baptism to discuss the divisions in the Corinthian church. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 states that Christians were all baptized into one body. Paul and his associates were not baptized into the Corinthian church, so it can hardly be argued that he is speaking of their baptism into the local Corinthian church. Galatians 3:27 says that those who were “baptized into Christ” have put on Christ. Ephesians 4:7 says that there is “one baptism” as there is one Lord and one faith. 1 Peter 3:21 refers to the meaning of baptism as an expression of cleared conscience through the resurrection of Christ.

The key point is the phrase that is used in Romans 6 and Galatians 3, and in similar form in 1 Corinthians 12. We are “baptized into Christ.” Never does it say, “baptized into the church” or describe baptism as an initiation into a local church. It seems that baptism was an expression of a person’s salvation experience in Christ which immediately followed conversion. Local church oversight and involvement began immediately after baptism in the New Testament.

The Great Commission

Those who argue for local church oversight often base their argument in Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission. Jesus said that we were to “make disciples” by both baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Christ spoke. They maintain that the Great Commission gives oversight of baptism and discipleship to the local church. However, that is a hermeneutical stretch. This passage is given to the apostles and all the disciples – the universal Body of Christ (another debate topic entirely). No local church existed yet when the passage was spoken.

In conclusion, the view that all valid baptisms must be performed under local church oversight may be argued from historic confessions, but not from scripture. There is no support for it in the narratives of Acts. The epistles describe baptism as “into Christ” and do not support it either. Only a forced reading of the Great Commission supports the idea. It is clear to me that baptism is an expression of faith in Christ that is properly experienced under the guidance of the body of Christ, but local church oversight is not essential to the performance of a valid baptism.
So what do you think? Is church oversight essential for baptism? Do you agree or disagree with David?

Tuesday, October 27

The Antioch Gathering (Part 2)

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven...Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst." (Mat 16:19, 18:18-20)

More themes which came out during the Antioch Gathering, October 10-17, 2009

  • The Kingdom is a country with its own rules and government and values. To be a Kingdom citizen we must understand that our first loyalties are to that Kingdom. If we want to see the Kingdom of God come, we must see the kingdom of me/we go. Self, our nationalities, and our denominational/organizational loyalties are in effect competing kingdoms
  • the exhortation to return to our "first love" (Song of Solomon chapter 2, Rev. 2:1-7) we must love HIM first and foremost, not "the work" or elevate Kingdom above relationship with the King
  • urgency is key, yet we must wait for the Spirit and not run around in endless fruitless efforts to bring in the Kingdom on our own terms and understanding
  • the importance of NT groupings of numbers and symbols 3, 12, 72, 120 as relates to structuring, strategy and impact
  • Seek FIRST HIS KINGDOM by simplifying everything, including our lifestyles... surrendering our agendas and goals to those of the King, discriminating between what is Kingdom and what is non-Kingdom
  • Jerusalem. From Jerusalem something will take place very soon that is so big, and is something that initiates in Antioch. Antioch is the last stretch of the "silk road" which ends in Jerusalem. How the "Back to Jerusalem" movement ties in with Antioch, the silk road, and the fulfilling of the Great Commission in our lifetime.
  • repentance from our man made ways of doing Kingdom business and a return to seeking the Spirit's guidance and direction before moving a finger, even if the "wait" is longer than we like
  • commission people into missions as fathers-sons, not as mission agencies
  • God is doing something new. Yesterday's manna is no good for today. Beware of taking a frame out of God's movie and blowing it up thinking THIS IS WHAT GOD IS DOING at the expense of missing the frames which follow in God's ever moving and quickly advancing film of the ages
  • Tarsus: death first for effective ministry. Paul spent eleven years of obscurity in Tarsus before the Spirit was able to use him.
Interestingly, the most tense moments of the gathering centered around a day trip to Tarsus, the place where Paul "died" to self. About half the group wanted to skip the trip and stay together in prayer Ala Acts 1 where the 120 were instructed to "wait for the Spirit" which came in Acts 2. The rest of us (including me) were looking forward to the trip to Tarsus. In the end it was decided that those making the trip were just as led of the Lord as those wanting to stay and remain in prayer, and that both groups had something to contribute to the whole of what God was trying to show us. For me personally the Tarsus trip was a highlight of our time which I hope to share in greater detail at a later date.

Saturday, October 24

The Antioch Gathering

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. (Act 13:2-4)

October 9-17 of this year, 72 brothers and sisters in Christ, representing 18 nations of the world gathered in the ancient port town of Seleucia, just outside of Antakya (ancient Antioch of Syria). From the window of our bedroom, we could throw a rock and hit the wall you see above where Paul and Barnabas departed for Cyprus on the first of their missionary journeys.

The gathering was like no other meeting Linda and I ever attended. There was no set schedule, no assigned speakers, no morning devotionals, no singing, and no hot water! Due to the lack of space in the small ocean side club where we all stayed, the rooms were shared. Linda and I climbed a steep ladder to sleep in the bedroom "loft" while another couple from Texas slept on the bed below us, with yet another brother from California sleeping on the small couch between us!

The food was typical Turkish "delight" with daily breakfasts of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and a dry salty yogurt cheese with plenty of flat chewy Arabic bread. I found I liked drinking 20 glasses of of strong Turkish tea everyday (which was great in keeping us alert during the long prayer and prophecy sessions!) Linda especially loved all the different ways eggplant was prepared and served, and we couldn't get enough of the wonderful and abundant baklava which we bought in the nearby town of Samandag and ate way too much of while there!

While the gathering might have been considered a "who's who" of the organic/simple global house church movement, along with several from the front lines of CPMs going on in various parts of the world, I was struck by the absolute egolessness of our time together. The only celebrity present and acknowledged was the Lord Jesus Christ.

In fact one of the reasons of the gathering was to repent of our false self-importance, and our failed man-made ways of attempting to do God's Kingdom business our way instead of His way. The greatest hindrance for the Great Commission being fulfilled in our life times has nothing to do with existing political governments, economic woes, or any of the major dominating global religions. The problem is us/me/I. We are the "cork" in the bottle restraining God's power from being spiritually released upon the nations. Over and over the theme of humility and dying to self were discussed as key ingredients needed for God's spiritual power to be released upon the nations.

I guess at this point it would be helpful to explain what did take place since there were no speakers, schedule, etc. Basically, the Antioch gathering was to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He has to say about reaching the nations. Long periods were spent individually in prayer and seeking the Lord. Then we would gather to share collectively what each was sensing from the Lord.

After prolonged times of prayer and waiting upon the Lord, prophetic words in the form of Scriptures, symbols, visions, dreams, and impressions were shared. These prophetic words were evaluated and openly discussed in I Cor. 14:29-33 style.

Several themes began to emerge as the days went by. What follows are from my own notes, and not necessarily what others present discerned.

  • God's will is revealed corporately rather than individually. Individuals may have a piece of the puzzle, but it is only when all the parts are put together that we understand God's big picture of what He is up to...together we have the key and are the key to lock/unlock the secrets of the Kingdom
  • intentionality in resurrecting true Kingdom building through restoring the Biblical role of apostles and prophets...praying to God to reveal to us with whom to have these A/P relationships..."The impossible is possible when apostles and prophets are properly functioning."
  • learning to speak behind the masks people wear and publicly display and learning to trust one another far more than we presently do
  • the meek inherit the earth...someone voiced it this way, "A humble person wants someone else to prosper at their own expense."
  • Jesus is calling us to a new level of intimacy; from servants, to friends, and to becoming His chosen Bride
  • rather than operating individually in our spiritual giftings, we need to "marry" our different giftings in cooperative ventures
  • the needed working/relational partnership between apostles and prophets (we even went through a symbolic marriage ceremony where the apostolic and prophetic were joined again spiritually as key ingredients for seeing the nations come to Jesus)
  • the absolute need for us to move away from our own empires and personal kingdom building, and return to a grandfathering-fathering-sons-and grandsons vision of doing Kingdom work...fathers need to "get over" their own importance and start focusing on the successes of their sons
  • church 3.0 (1.0 first-century church, 2.0 Constantine to the present, 3.0 the wineskin that will be used to gather in the final great global harvest already unleashed)
  • restoring the "Antioch" model of missions as primary instead of the stagnant "Jerusalem" model that prevails in Christendom today
  • understanding that Jesus is about something new in today's world that is global in nature, we are in a new phase of church history. Those who do not "get it" will not be part of what God is doing and will fade from relevance
  • not, who am I in God's Kingdom; but who are WE. The idea of embracing accountability
  • a return to Kingdom principles as a way of understanding the current "glocal apostolic reformation of the Ekklesia and its implications towards a reformation of life and a global housechurchbased missional platform"
This last one may be a bit hard to understand unless familiar with Wolfgang Simson's "Starfish" vision and manifesto writings. During our time together at Antioch, Wolfgang released to the Body of Christ his "Starfish Manifesto" something he has worked on for the past 3-years, putting into language the outworking of what so many of us have sensed is lacking in our lifestyles as professed followers of Christ (a copy of his much shorter and summarized version entitled "Starfish Vison" can be downloaded here.)

In summary, there was simply too much heard and experienced that we are still only beginning to digest. For Linda and myself, it was a very holy time of reconsecrating and renewing our vows to the King. Much of what took place was too spiritually intimate and holy to voice in public. In many ways the experience was a steep learning curve to realize how far we have drifted from NT ways and Kingdom values.

In the coming days, I hope to share some of our pictures and some further reflections on this amazing Antioch gathering. Between us, Linda and I took close to 1800 digital photos! of our 3-week trip to Spain and Turkey. But don't worry, we will only subject you to the best 1600 of them! :)

Monday, October 19

What is the missionary role in the major cities of Latin America?

What if, for some reason, we suddenly had to pull out of all the major cities in the Americas? No more missionaries in Bogotá, San José, Lima, Asunción, Sao Paolo, BA...would it really make any difference? Would we really be missed? So why are we still in the cities? Why are most of our missionary personnel still in places like Caracas, Santiago, Mexico City, Quito, Guatemala City?

I have a few thoughts about the roles we missionaries play in the cities of Latin America where the Gospel has already taken root. If we use the analogy of the missionary task to that of a field being planted, the farmer first plows the ground, plants the seed, waters the seed, pulls the weeds, and eventually harvests his crop.

Those missionaries who came before us did an excellent job in plowing the hard ground, planting the Gospel seed, and watering the seed through a host of ministries, institutions and programs.

But I would argue that those initial three phases now belong primarily to the national church and are no longer our tasks as missionaries.

In many parts of Latin America the work is mature. The national church is effectively carrying out these roles as effectively--or better in many cases--than we foreign missionaries were able to do.

So, what then is the missionary task that justifies our presence in the major cities of Latin America?

I propose that our missionary role and presence in the cities is validated by the extent of our engagement in the later phases of "weeding" and in many places "bringing in the harvest."

How do I define "weeding?" Weeds are what compete with the sowed grain and negatively impact bringing in a bumper crop. After two decades in Guayaquil I can name those weeds that are most hurting us: discouragement, distractions, divisions (the 3 D's of the Devil.) The missionary task, as I understand it is to be a prophetic voice "weeding out" the 3 D's of the Devil. There are probably other "weeds" out there, but these three seem universal in harvest fields. Our role is to help identify in the churches, ministries, institutions, and conventions, the weeds which are choking out the harvest which God wants to bring in.

Nobody likes to pull weeds. But what happens to a crop if nobody hoes weeds? All the hard previous labor will fall short of its potential. The thieving weeds will ruin a harvest! How weed pulling is played out will surely vary from city to city and region to region, but it must be addressed.

The other final phase is to bring home the harvest.

I see in this missionary phase the task as primarily an administrative, logistical role of coordinating, training, mobilizing, motivating, and inspiring people. We can't possibly bring home the harvest by ourselves. To finish the task, the Lord of the Harvest is going to have to touch many hearts. Our part is to be an instrument that He uses as a mouthpiece, a voice, the go-between to get people from point-A to point-B where the harvest is taking place.

We are the ones who need to thoroughly understand concepts like partnering, networking, mobilizing, how people communicate today, and understanding today's generations and cultural values to harness that energy to bring in the harvest the Lord has been preparing for decades in the cities of Latin America.

So, what do you think? Should we still be giving our missionary time to plowing, planting, watering, as well as to weeding and harvesting? Would you add/subtract anything to the above? Again, I am speaking more in the context of the missionary task, not as what we the Church should be engaged in. Till Christ returns, the church should be out there making disciples of the nations. But where do we engage our priorities as missionaries? That is the question.

Friday, October 16


I read Seth Godin's blog everyday. Recently he wrote this entry which I cannot stop thinking about.
The closer you get to someone, something, some brand, some organization... the harder it is to demonize it, objectify it or hate it.

So, if you want to not be hated, open up. Let people in. Engage. Interact.
So true. Them--our perceived "enemies"--are really not so bad once we make a move closer to them. Sit down together. Share our hearts. Maybe Seth is just reminding us of something Jesus taught his disciples over and over one another. Sometimes to love we must be the one to make the move to engage and let others in. We generally have more in common with people than the differences that keep us apart.

Tuesday, October 13

What is my role as a missionary?

I will not attempt to speak for my colleagues and fellow missionaries around the world. What I seek to describe is how I understand my own calling/role/function as a missionary.

Through the years, missionaries have served the Lord in many capacities. Church planters, physicians, administrators, Bible translators, pilots, social workers, educators, evangelists, are only a few of the many roles and tasks taken on by missionaries around the world.

In our own 20+ years on the field we have served as a consultant, seminary professor, counselor, media missionary, administrator, Minister of Music, and as a church planting catalyst.

"Church Planter" is really not an accurate descriptor of my role as a missionary. I have never planted a single church. However we have functioned in a catalytic role to see over 250 churches planted over the past years. To me there is a critical difference between being a "church planter" and a "church planting catalyst."

If I set out to plant a church, with the help of the Lord, I might be able to plant one or two new churches per year. If, however, I refrain from actually planting a church and give myself instead to a catalytic function of training, mentoring, and coaching 50 others to plant churches, there will be anywhere from 20 to 30, and possibly even 50 churches planted. One church, or fifty. Which will make a greater impact upon lostness?

Using the words of Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in their provocative book, "The Starfish and the Spider", a catalyst is "any element or compound that initiates a reaction without fusing into that reaction..." They go on to explain, "Take nitrogen and hydrogen...put them in a container, close the lid, come back a day later, and...nothing will have happened. But add ordinary iron to the equation and you'll get ammonia...The thing is ammonia doesn't have any iron in it--it's made solely of hydrogen and nitrogen. The iron in this equation remains unchanged: it just facilitates the bonding of hydrogen and nitrogen in a certain way..."

This sums up so well what I feel my role/function is as a missionary. The authors clarify that in organizations, a catalyst is the person who does the initiating but then fades away into the background. A catalyst gets things going and then cedes control to the members. "The catalyst is an inspirational figure who spurs others to action...A catalyst is like the architect of a house: he's essential to the long-term structural integrity, but he doesn't move in." (pg.92-94) That is exactly what I feel my role is as a missionary--to spur others to action, and then get out of the way and allow God to work through their lives.

In our experience, outreach groups and new churches do not form by themselves in a vacuum. A human catalyst is needed if one is to see fruitful ministry. If you simply gather a bunch of people in the same room, not much is likely to happen of consequence. But add a CP catalyst and soon you have people talking and planning about planting churches.

While being careful to not make blanket statements that apply to everyone everywhere, I feel we need to have more of a catalytic mindset as missionaries. In our desire to impact lostness, too many of us are trying to do the work of "starting a church" when what we need to be doing is acting as a catalyst. A catalyst who can be used of the Lord to ignite dozens of fellow believers to step out in faith to carry out the Great Commission.

Saturday, October 10

To do and teach

This past week our team began a process of reevaluating who we are as a team, our purpose, role, mission, and what God is trying to say to us in regards to restructuring for greater effectiveness in the ministry He has given.

We decided to go back to the book of Acts for instruction. Every week we go through a chapter of ACTS, and verse by verse glean what is there for us to learn.

On Saturday morning we began with Acts 1:1

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach...

In all the versions we had the Biblical order appears first, to do; and second, and teach. We found this significant and a confirmation of what we have been trying to do for several years. It is more important to first DO something before trying to TEACH others. Doing comes before teaching. Wasn't that Jesus' way?

However, most of us come from an opposite teach-do approach to learning. We are first encouraged to attend conferences, read books, take notes, watch videos, and sit in classrooms where we are taught about a lost world, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, etc. After the instruction time is up, we learners are expected to go out and DO what we were taught. In our experience, 9 times out of 10 this doesn't work. Nine of the ten will never follow through on what they were taught.

Over the years we have tried very hard to implement a church planting "do-teach" methodology.

To learn how to swim, the best way is not by sitting through class lectures, or by watching instructional swim videos. The best way is get those wanting to learn how to swim into the water ASAP. Once in the water, panic sets in at realizing "I don't know how to swim!" After this initial panic experience they are more than ready for lesson #1: KICK, KICK, KICK!

Back in the water we go to practice our kicking. We model for them in the water how to kick. They watch us kick, and then we watch them kick. After a while, we get out of the water and talk about kicking. We might even assign a book on kicking, give a chat on kicking, or show a video. But now the experience of what is being taught will be much meaningful and practical.

The same holds true for those we hope will go out and plant churches. Church planting is not a classroom, conference, video watching activity. It is getting plantees out there with real people in the water. When they come back with real life questions, they are more than ready to be taught. But we teach to improve or build upon what the plantees are already doing.

In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the 70 with a few guiding instructions. As they obeyed and did what was commanded, Jesus was able to pray, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven...I praise you, Father...because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children..."

As we learn to first DO what Jesus said, we earn the right to TEACH others and have them listen to our message and instruction.

Wednesday, October 7


The lack of a clear defined purpose for why God has us in Ecuador is clearly one of the major hindrances I see in our overall work and ministry. There is simply too much going on. Too many irons in the fire. Too many distractions. We desperately need to simplify. Focus and act on less to accomplish more.

I am more convinced one of Satan's major strategies is to distract us from the few things that are really important. As Jesus says in Luke 10, "Martha, are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

What is the "one thing" needed that Jesus tells Martha? I think it is simply that very little of the "stuff" that we are distracted with is all that important. The one thing we need to make sure we are doing is to "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..." Cut out all the clutter in our lives that is detracting from obeying this command. Define what "seeking first his kingdom" means and then do it.

How do we implement this commandment of Jesus in our daily lives?

God is showing us is that we don't have to respond or act upon all that is directed our way. Just because someone throws us the ball, doesn't mean we have to catch it.

To me it means simplify. Reduce. Unclutter our lives. Define what is really important and focus on doing well fewer things. Prioritize where our time is being spent.

If the enemy can somehow keep us on the move, filling our days with endless trivial tasks, we won't have time, energy, or focus for those Kingdom matters that really count.

What do you think of the above? What is God showing you these days?

Sunday, October 4

The future of missions organizations

With the recent announced retirement of IMB President, Jerry Rankin, more than ever the future of denominational/institutional missions organizations is being redefined. I found the following thoughts by Bob Roberts, Jr. insightful. What do you see as the future of missions organizations like the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, SIM, YWAM, CCC, etc. as we know them today?


There has never been a time, or as conducive an environment, for mission agencies and institutions to engage the world like there is today. If it happens, mission agencies and institutions are going to have to:

1. see themselves as connectors of the whole body of Christ to the whole world.

2. release control or lose any control at all because people aren't going to sit around and wait.

3. train not just local culture and practices to a missionary but global culture and practices.

4. redefine how missionaries work, what they do and how they operate.

5. be a revolving door not just of sending western missionaries but of "global" missionaries from every society.

6. be a receiving entity for missionaries coming to America who feel called to work here . . .

7. value local churches and laymen beyond just seeing them as cows to milk for their institution (I'm convinced the key to raising funds is not asking for money but partnering and doing things together--there will be more money than they could ever imagine.

8. view themselves not as funders of people who want to be vocational missionaries but partners "gospel" seed planters of the kingdom throughout the world.

...People are going to work with people that are willing to work together and ignore those who aren't willing to partner. The days of a huge bureaucracy telling a church that is funding it what it can and can't do are numbered. Getting a bunch of young guys in a room and telling them "we want to hear from you" won't cut it. Getting a bunch of youngsters with a radical "newlight" missionary--saying there's a city, now take it, and the skies the limit. You empower them all, you infuse enthusiasm, and you learn from one another.

Thursday, October 1

Words of appreciation for Dr. Rankin

Erich Bridges is one of my all-time favorite IMB staff writers. When he recently wrote his Note to the boss: Thank you about Jerry Rankin's announced retirement, I found myself identifying with his words of appreciation.


Dear Jerry Rankin,

I knew this day would come, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.

You’re retiring next summer as president of IMB (International Mission Board). When you made the announcement to our trustees, I thought back to the days leading up to your election 16 years ago.

At the time, you were a missionary and mission administrator who’d been in Asia for 23 years. By your own admission, you were quite happy on the field where God had called you — and you weren’t all that excited about dealing with Southern Baptist bureaucracy and politics back home.

You said you felt “inadequate to the task.” You were reluctant to take on the gargantuan job of leading the largest evangelical missionary-sending agency during “a peak of controversy regarding control of leadership roles among Southern Baptist Convention entities.”

You weren’t the only one with doubts. The convention was still reeling from years of painful struggle over its theology and identity. Your distinguished predecessor, R. Keith Parks, had crossed swords with multiple critics while leading the mission board toward new strategies to reach the world with the Gospel.

I can’t speak for other folks, but some of us grizzled reporter types in the old IMB newsroom thought you were going to get taken apart limb from limb in the first year.

It didn’t quite turn out that way. I think we all underestimated you.

You’ve led us through some tough times, to be sure. You’ve taken your share of criticism — some of it fair, some of it misguided and wrong. I’ve grumbled myself a few times.

Today, though, I want to thank you for stepping up and taking the heat, even when it hurt. For spending countless nights away from home in dodgy airplanes and dingy Third World airports. For attending innumerable meetings. For preaching thousands of mission messages to churches at home. And for walking beside thousands of missionaries and Christian servants in some of the darkest places on earth.

More than that, thank you for being a disciplined and visionary leader from day one.

I’ve never heard you speak to an audience or congregation without using these three words: “a lost world.” Not once. I got tired of hearing it — until I realized it wasn’t a phrase but a consuming passion within you. The fact that so many millions of people have yet to hear the name of Jesus Christ actually breaks your heart. I want it to break mine.

By far the biggest challenges IMB missionaries and staff have faced during your tenure have involved not convention politics or economic difficulties but the “main thing”: How do we reach a lost world with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ? As a leader, you have never taken your eye off that all-important task, given to us by the Lord Himself in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations …”

All nations, not just the ones that are open, friendly or willing to grant missionary visas. And not just all “nations” as we understand them in the political sense, but all peoples — in all their staggering cultural, ethnic and linguistic variety. That is how God sees the world, and He wants all the peoples of the world to worship Him in spirit and truth.

The magnitude of that command led you to become not a denominational bureaucrat but a revolutionary. As a field missionary who started out in an earlier era, you first had to revolutionize your own thinking about missions. You embraced new strategies you once questioned and aggressively spread them throughout a global enterprise.

You declared that the International Mission Board would no longer talk about reaching the whole world while sending missionaries only to part of it. Rather, we would mobilize Southern Baptists and other Great Commission-minded Christians to do whatever it takes to plant churches among every unreached, unevangelized and unengaged people group.

In a day when people demand hands-on involvement, you declared we would move beyond simply sending missionaries. Instead, we would make local Southern Baptist churches — regardless of their size — full strategic partners in the task of global missions. That is their biblical role, after all, something often forgotten in the age of professional missions.

It’s not always easy working with a revolutionary — especially one who advocates continuous revolution in pursuit of a grand vision. You have initiated two major IMB reorganizations (the latest is still unfolding) and many smaller ones during your tenure. Missionary and staff assignments have changed and changed again. Strongly held beliefs about mission methods have been repeatedly challenged. Comfort zones have been abolished.

And you’re still pushing and prodding us to take the next step.

Has it been worth all the blood, sweat and tears? As an occasionally queasy rider on the “Rankin Express” for the past 16 years, I say yes.

A large, traditional mission board now embraces new and even experimental strategies to impact lostness. An organization once known for going it alone now aggressively pursues mission partners overseas and church partners at home. I’m not exactly objective, but in an era suspicious of all institutions, I honestly believe IMB is more relevant than ever to people who seriously want to reach the nations.

You helped get us to this point, Jerry. Where your continuous energy comes from, I don’t know. Deep prayer, I suspect, and powerful coffee.

Thank you for being passionate and not just talking about it. Thank you for taking spiritual warfare seriously. Thank you for being obsessed — in a holy way — with a lost world.

When a reporter asked about your legacy a few years back, you responded: “I would like to be able to say, ‘We can no longer identify a people group that doesn’t have access to the Gospel.’ To me, that’s the essence of what we’re about.”

We’re not there yet, Jerry. But we’re a lot closer than we were 16 years ago.

Another good write-up is by fellow missionary "Strider" Honor to whom honor is due. Thanks for these good words Strider.