Aspect 4(b): A Mission Focused on This Nation (Multi-Faceted, All-Encompassing, Church-Centered)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Our mission must be multi-faceted:

In addition to proclaiming the gospel from inside of the four walls of a church building and in addition to community outreach programs and door-to-door visitations, we must continually remind ourselves and our congregations that everything we do matters to God. Drawing upon Martin Luther’s concept of vocatio, we must teach that every believer has the privilege and responsibility of bringing glory to God in each of his callings: family, church, workplace, and community. The workplace, in particular, is an oft-neglected calling in which we are given an almost unparalleled opportunity to bring God glory and to love one’s neighbor.[1]

Further, God has given us the ability and responsibility to work out our faith in the various spheres of culture, including especially the arts (e.g. literature, music, movies, visual art), the sciences (e.g. biology, physics, chemistry, sociology, anthropology, psychology) and the public square (e.g. law, politics, economics, journalism, moral philosophy). For the gospel-minded Chrsitian, there is no room for indifference or hostility towards these aspects of human culture. We are not given the option of abdicating our responsibility to glorify God across every square inch of his good creation.[2] Instead, we are called to engage the culture arising from the society in which we live and minister, critiquing and developing it according to God’s word. In so doing, we sow the seed of the gospel throughout every dimension of our cultural context, providing a sign of God’s Kingdom.

Our mission must be all-encompassing

Not only is our task cross-cultural and multi-dimensional, but it also stretches across the geographic and demographic spectrum. We must reach both the small towns and the great cities of the United States. While evangelicals and Baptists have been fairly successful in the South, we have been less successful in the great cities of the northeast and the west. We recognize the strategic nature of urban involvement and seek to heighten Southern Baptist involvement in the largest, least churched, and most influential American cities. Urban centers such as New York, Washington, D. C., Boston, and Los Angeles are the nerve centers of North American socio-cultural activity, having massive influence on our continent and across the globe, and yet they are among the least churched cities in America.

We must reach both the down-and-out and the cultural elite. Southern Baptist churches have been fairly effective at reaching the upper and lower middle classes in the Bible Belt, but often we have not reached the cultural elite or the poor and disenfranchised. In reaching those who are “down and out,” we must be prepared to build churches that intentionally minister in the inner cities, are willing to embrace those with HIV, and are happy to include those who may never be able financially to contribute in a significant way to the church. When we minister to these men and women, we recognize that they are God’s image-bearers and deserve our love and attention every bit as much as anyone else.[3] In reaching those who are the cultural elite, we must intentionally reach out to artists, scientists, philosophers, moral and political movers, and others. In so doing, we are “swimming upstream,” ministering to those who in turn might have the most ability to influence our society and culture for the sake of the gospel.

We must build churches that do serious-minded student ministry, both for youth and college students. It will be a good day indeed when an increasing number of our churches’ student ministries are known more for sound doctrine and genuine cultural savvy than they are for cutesy Bible studies and superficial cultural gimmickry.[4] Moreover, we pray that the day comes when more of us seek, consciously and consistently, to win our nation’s college campuses to Christ. In the classrooms of our American universities sit the students who are the future of our nation and in many cases the future of our churches, as well as international students who are the future of their nations and of their nation’s churches. We must make student ministry a priority in our churches, even during those times when it seems not to bear spiritual fruit and even during those times when it does not make sense financially.

Our mission must center on church renewal, church planting, and cooperation:

Our mission will not succeed without healthy churches. This requires, first and foremost, an emphasis on church renewal. We must always be renewing and reforming. This is the only way to ensure that our churches are sound in their doctrine, consistent in their evangelism, intentional in crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries, and contextual in their cultural forms. It is only from the wombs of healthy churches that we might see a church planting movement that is capable of reaching our own country. It is only healthy churches who will faithfully and meaningfully proclaim the gospel of our Lord and build churches across cultures and sub-cultures, languages and races, vocations and dimensions of culture, cities and suburbs, rich and poor, young and old.[5]

Second, our mission requires aggressive and intentional cooperation in church planting. The churches we plant must be sound in their doctrinal orientation, contextual in their cultural forms, and aggressive in their evangelistic and mission orientation. In order to make this work, we need renewed commitment from our churches, local associations, and state conventions. For local associations, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that their existence matters. In days gone by, local associations provided local churches with mission resources and advice that are now being provided by other institutions, networks, and people. For some state conventions, this provides an opportunity to return to their roots and stem the tide of churches that are bypassing these conventions, refusing to give money to what they consider to be inefficient bureaucracies.[6]

Third, our mission will not fare well if it is not cooperative. This includes local church cooperation with other churches, local associations, state conventions, seminaries, and agencies. The daunting nature of our task demands that if any of the above associations is unwilling to fulfill their missional calling, then healthy churches will seek other ways to cooperate in order to fulfill the calling God has given them. It is the hope and prayer of the churches of our convention that the associations, conventions, seminaries, and agencies that we now have will prove to be sufficiently willing and able to take on this God-given calling.[7]

[1] The best brief introduction to Luther’s treatment of calling is Gene Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).

[2] Among the most helpful books treating Christianity and culture are D. A. Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), Michael S. Horton, Where in the World is the Church? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002) and T. M. Moore, Culture Matters (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007). Carson’s text is a meta-level theological treatise on the Christian’s place in culture, while Horton’s text is a popular level, practical treatment of the church’s role in its cultural context. Moore’s monograph is a concise, intermediate level manifesto for Christian cultural engagement. David Dockery’s treatment of Christian Higher Education exemplifies the outworking of our faith across the various dimensions of culture. David Dockery, Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education (Nashville: B&H, 2008).

[3] In the gospels, we learn that the most “religious” people, the Pharisees, were able only to attract people just like them. They circled the world in order to find one convert. But Jesus attracted all kinds of people: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc. Jesus, not the Pharisees, must be our model.

[4] This is not to degrade the solid student ministries in many of our churches. There is a revival of interest, in our churches, for theologically sound and culturally savvy student ministry.

[5] Many resources are available to help pastors and their congregation work toward church health, of which we mention the following three. First, IX Marks ministries offers a website, a journal, and more than a few books on the topic of church health: Second, Thom Rainer has authored more than a few books dealing with church health and growth. Thom S. Rainer, The Book of Church Growth (Nashville: B&H, 1993); Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Nashville: B&H, 2006); Thom S. Rainer and Daniel L. Akin, Vibrant Church (Lifeway, 2008). Third, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson’s recently published Comeback Churches, a study of 300 revitalized churches. Stetzer and Dodson, Comeback Churches (Nashville: B&H, 2007).

[6] Daniel Akin, “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence,” 16-18. Manuscript of sermon preached April 16, 2009, Binkley Chapel, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Manuscript available at

[7] If the associations and state conventions prove unwilling or unable to invest their resources in church planting and renewal, many of our best churches will bypass those associations and conventions and form informal partnerships of their own. We do not wish to see this happen.

From Simple to Essential

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina recently sponsored an Essential Church Conference at Apex Baptist Church. The speakers included Thom Rainer, Sam Rainer, and Darryl Craft. The Rainers are co-authors of the popular book Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts (B&H, 2008). Craft is the senior pastor of the Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, North Carolina. The speakers and attendees had much to say about a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC. You can read some of their thoughts in this article.