By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
One of the reasons the Southern Baptist International Mission Board may be cutting its missionary force is Southern Baptists’ lack of support for missions education for its children over the past two decades.
That’s the sentiment of Wanda S. Lee, executive director of Southern Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union, based in Birmingham, Ala.
Lee was one of several Southern Baptist leaders who expressed dismay at the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee meeting last week in Nashville about the IMB’s downsizing of 600-800 missionaries. See story.
“We can lament the churches that haven’t given; we can lament many things. But one thing we have failed to do in our churches is to embrace the missions assignment of helping our children and our youth understand God’s field,” Lee said.
Lee observed that too many churches have abandoned Wednesday night missions activities in deference to youth sports.
Again, she is telling it like it is. I have seen this happen.
“We sacrificed our adults of 20 years ago,” she continued. “We sacrificed them when we said, ‘Well, I guess we can’t have RAs (Royal Ambassadors for boys) and GAs (Girls in Action) because kids have got to go play soccer.’ ”
Lee is absolutely right when she says we have a generation of adults who do not know why they give. “They don’t give sacrificially because they don’t know the field. They don’t know the depth of lostness,” she observed.
I have maintained for a long time that our decreased emphasis on missions education would come back to haunt us and it is coming true. As Lee points out, we have a generation who did not learn about Southern Baptist missionaries and the Cooperative Program.
I strongly believe that decreased giving through the Cooperative Program today also can be traced to lack of Southern Baptist missions education.
We once had a Southern Baptist entity devoted solely to missions education for boys from first grade through high school. In the early 1990s the Brotherhood Commission (based in Memphis) was disbanded and their program assignment for missions education for boys was given to the North American Mission Board.
Within the past few years NAMB passed missions education for children solely on to Woman’s Missionary Union which had been providing educational materials for girls. It basically came full circle. WMU did missions education for everyone prior to the Brotherhood Commission.
Now, missions education for children is back where it started. We just need Southern Baptists and our churches to get totally involved in missions education once again.
Several people have expressed concern that the materials produced for RAs and GAs are not as good as they once were. If that’s the case, hopefully that will change now that one agency is in charge of the entire program and more and more churches get on board, providing additional funds needed to produce printed curriculum.
If your church has abandoned Southern Baptist missions education programs, bring those programs back.
The future of Southern Baptist missionary efforts depends on an understanding of who we are and why we do what we do through the Cooperative Program by upcoming generations.
Southern Baptist missions education is imperative to reaching a lost world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.