Jerry Rankin Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Last week I wrote about three things I learned from Jerry Rankin. I wrote that post because Jerry Rankin has been a great influence for me personally, but I was motivated by a Lifetime Achievement Award he was awarded by Missio Nexus. Here’s a description of the award and the reason behind it:

The annual Lifetime of Service Award affirms the value of finishing well.  In presenting this award, the staff and board of Missio Nexus celebrate the faithfulness of God as evidenced in a life of service to the cause of global mission. The award is presented annually at the Mission Leaders Conference in September.

 Past awards have been given to Dr. Wesley Duewel, Dr. Ralph Winter, Dr. George Verwer, Dr. Robertson McQuilkin and Dr. Greg Livingstone.

Here is a great video that shows why Dr. Rankin is so deserving of such an honor, and of our respect.

3 Things I Learned from Jerry Rankin

“We are only 4 votes away from dismissing Rankin,” a trustee of the International Mission Board told me years ago.

That was the first moment when I knew that there was a coordinated effort to oust Jerry Rankin from the presidency of the International Mission Board, and it caught my attention.

I am not writing to opine on the inner workings of trustees of another agency. Like all of us, they are imperfect (as am I) and can make their own decisions—sometimes right and sometimes wrong. However, about that time I started watching Jerry Rankin– and I learned much from him over the years.

I was particularly impressed with how he led during very difficult times in the life of our denomination, and think we can learn much from his leadership during that time. Every controversial time in life is an opportunity to learn or an opportunity squandered.  Learning from such times brings wisdom, and such accumulated wisdom is hard to find in people.  All too often we repeat the same mistakes and never make progress when wisdom is right at the doorstep.

“Happy is the man who gains wisdom,” the writer of the Proverbs recorded.

God grant us such.

Things Learned from Jerry Rankin

Here are some things I learned from Jerry Rankin:

First, respond sparingly to your critics.

Jerry always responded to his trustees, but sparingly answered his critics. He seemed to have grasped that statues are never erected in honor of those who live to criticize, and did not worry himself over them.

I once asked Jerry, “Why don’t you publicly respond and turn on the lights to what is going on behind the scenes?” His answer: “Ed, I don’t need to. God brings what they do to light, and every time it hurts them and not us.”

Time has proven him right.

Second, don’t come down from the wall.

Jerry didn’t operate according to hierarchies and did not follow the rules of denominations. He missed meetings that, well, I would not miss. He was not fazed by those who sought to intimidate him. He only cared about the mission.

As much as we wish it wasn’t true, every denomination faces strife within its ranks– and Southern Baptists seem to have more than most. But this was a distraction on which Jerry couldn’t afford to spend his energy. He was– and still is– focused on the Great Commission, and he did not have time to come down from the wall to deal with the sniping. He always listened to his trustees, but he did not have time for pettiness from various quarters of SBC life.

Following Jerry’s retirement announcement, Erich Bridges, longtime IMB writer , said he had never heard Rankin speak that he didn’t utter  the words “a lost world.”

This was the focus of his life as a missionary in the field, the president of the IMB, and in retirement.

Third, believe in the supernatural.

Jerry believes in spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, and God working miraculously. And, although we might differ on a few things, I find it refreshing. It seems many Christian leaders have become too dignified to trust God for a miracle and pray against a satanic attack.  I am glad Jerry is not among them.  He was uniquely qualified to prepare our SBC international mission force for the darkness they face as they take the gospel of Christ to strongholds of the Evil One.

In a day when our denomination is stuck and stagnant, we need a supernatural move of God. Perhaps we need to believe in the supernatural to pray for such a supernatural awakening.

I’m Thankful for Jerry Rankin

Jerry Rankin would be the first to acknowledge he is not perfect (despite the fact that, like all missionaries, he has a special calling in his life). He learned long ago the special thing about him is Jesus Christ, not himself and his call to missions.

In the last several years I have learned a lot from Jerry.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain… and most fools do.” There is no leader without critics.  Yet, because of what I learned from Jerry Rankin, critics don’t have the influence in my life and ministry they once did. I’m better able to focus on the mission and the goal.

On Friday, Jerry Rankin was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the North American Mission Leaders gathering, sponsored my MissioNexus. It is well deserved and I appreciate him deeply.

Because of Jerry Rankin, I, for one, will lead differently– maybe you will as well.

What the Future Holds for the SBC and Other Denominations

As I previously wrote, I do think there is a future for denominations—specifically the SBC—in America. Denominations are inevitable because like-minded people will always find a way to associate with one another. They are inevitable because, although the Great Commission was given to the church, your local church can’t finish it alone—you HAVE to form up a team with others to get to all nations.

And, if you don’t use the tool of the SBC, you are going to need to create another one. Sure, it will look like a sleek network at first (and I am for them), but over time it will start broadening its mission and eventually become a denomination, just like, well, every other network over time in the history of the world.

So, what should we do to be the best denomination we can be? If the SBC and other denominations are to not only continue, but flourish, I believe they must:

1. Be on mission together as opposed to being suspicious of other tribes. Denominations should be made up of churches that look outward rather than inward and help other churches do the same. We don’t need to have different groups circling the wagons, but rather we need them to be partnering in mission.

I could give several examples of such tribalism, but let me address the newest controversy. For example, there are now groups and places where the defining narrative and purpose is Calvinism. There are also groups and places where the defining narrative is baptist theological traditionalism. If that’s our driving purpose, that’s not helping. There are legitimate discussions that need to be had, but forming up tribes is not the way to have them.

2. Partner with confessional consensus. I believe strongly in the importance of confessions of faith. As the SBC works to become more ethnically diverse, partnering together with biblically faithful contemporary, traditional, ethnic, and all kinds of churches, and working through questions of our future in all of our demographic variety, we must maintain a strong confessional consensus in order to partner together.

That means we don’t need agencies and organizations within the convention to have a standard other than the SBC’s standard. We do not need, and we cannot survive, with a balkanized theological system. Instead, the BFM should be the confessional standard for our partnerships—formally, informally, and in every other way. Other standards breed distrust and, in my view, undermine a central promise of the Conservative Resurgence that eventually we’d agree on enough to partner together.

3. Value methodological diversity. Confessions are important but do not answer all of the methodological questions churches will face. Holding a common confession as a denomination gives us the confidence to trust those within the confessional community who differ methodologically from us. One of the signs that tribalism has replaced a missional identity is when we think that the denomination would be much better off if everyone operated “just like our church.”

Cooperating Southern Baptists work together because of common doctrine, not uniform methodology. God forbid we apply the domestic standard some have of a uniform methodology to our foreign missionaries. It would only mean the outsourcing of a bygone era of Americana.

4. Assist local churches, not vice versa. We must remember that denominations are begun for missional reasons and that denominations should continue for missional reasons. The denomination exists to help churches carry out the Great Commission. When we get this backwards, self-preservation becomes the goal. The denomination is subservient to the church. The denomination exists to support the mission of the churches, not to perpetuate a temporary organization. The church carries forth God’s eternal purpose and the denomination assists the churches to do so better, together.

It is this nature that I believe holds the future of denominations. Less political legislation, less cult of personality, and more cooperation, anchored by a confessional consensus, between mission-focused churches lasered in on the mission of God.

There is strength in denominations. In His wisdom, God has allowed for the cooperation of churches in networks and denominations so that the greatest number of people in our world can be most effectively reached with the one thing that brings true unity: the gospel.