“Said California is the place you ought to be,
So they loaded up their truck and they moved to Beverly…
Hills, that is.”
I remember that song from the hit show The Beverly Hillbillies from my childhood, a rags to riches comedy about county bumpkins who struck oil and moved to the opulence of Beverly Hills, providing a humorous showcase on the comsumerism of the American Dream. Let’s face it: a show on a rural southerners who suddenly became wealthy and gave half their fortune for the gospel would hardly make a pilot episode.
But what if I told you a group of key leaders and active members of an SBC megachurch in the south — northeast Arkansas to be precise — put their homes up for sale and prepared resumes, praying and preparing to move to one of the most unchurched cities in America, Spokane, Washington? Last night I had the honor of speaking at the Global Impact Conference at a great church, the Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. This rapidly growing multisite megachurch sends teams literally all over the world annually, plants churches nationally, and is not afraid to send out some of her best and brightest for the sake of the gospel.
The service began with a beautiful ceremony with flags from scores of nations where Central has ministered lining the auditorium. At the front, the last two places had a spot for the Christian flag and the American flag. But there was another place for a flag. I wondered what country was left? Then, at the end and alone, a dark, unfeatured flag was brought to the most prominent place in the room. This flag symbolized the over 1.6 billion people who have yet to hear the gospel. What a stirring reminder of the unfinished task.
I love speaking at these events. My giftedness and passion fit them, so annually speaking at these serve as a highlight of my year. My tradition, the Southern Baptist Convention, has plenty of issues. We need dramatic change, not in our conviction of Scripture, but in our depth of teaching and practice of living it. But I want to highlight one of the best things happening about my denomination, because God is still using Southern Baptists.
When I began itinerant ministry nearly three decades ago, finding a Baptist church that sent mission teams overseas was about as common as a Chicago Cubs trip to the World Series (sorry Cubbies). Now it is almost impossible to find a church in the SBC not going overseas. While speaking in Jonesboro, my home church had their global emphasis as well. We go to many places annually as well, including a major church planting work in India. Sunday our young pros ministry I lead will have several missionaries sharing including some sweet former students. Most of my students come to seminary having already gone overseas on a mission trip.
This has brought about a helpful shift in programming. Our calendar reflects our priorities, after all. I remember as a child Lottie Moon Offering each Christmas. I remember the occasional missionary speaking. But now, Global Impact Conferences, or Great Commission Events, or some other title is used for an annual event that has for many churches become the biggest thing in the church year.
This is a good thing.
Earlier this year I was at the great First Baptist Church of Arnold, Missouri with my friends Kenny Qualls and Bob Caldwell. Last night I got to meet pastor Archie Mason, a remarkable leader, and Central’s outstanding missions pastor Larry Bailey. I had taught their student pastor and his wife, Justin and Nicole Arbuckle, at SEBTS, and currently teach students from Central including Nathan Brown, who joined me on this trip, and his bride Kali. In February, I will be with Ken Whitten and Kelly Knouse and other friends for the Global conference at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa as well, one night speaking to the whole church and another to the students. I almost explode my artificial hip stomping and screaming at these events.
If your church does not have some kind of Global Impact each year, I would highly encourage you to put that in a prominent place on your church calendar. We vocalize and calendarize what we prioritize.
We have many challenges ahead of us as believers in America and as Southern Baptists. We need more to understand the value of church planting, of reaching the cities, of a deeper grasp of the gospel and its effects in all of life, all of Scripture, and all creation. But I am grateful for the shift to magnify reaching our neighbors and the nations for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel.