Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a missions field.
I’ve known that for years but that really hit me a couple of years ago as I made my way across Tennessee and to all 95 counties. You may recall that yearlong journey as we gathered at county courthouses to pray and ring the bell of salvation. That excursion was an eye-opener to Tennessee’s deep spiritual and physical needs.
Look at our demographic reality. Did you know that we now have more than 145 global people groups living in our state and that more than 40 of those are identified by the International Mission Board as among the world’s most unreached with the gospel? Staggering.
Look at our spiritual reality. More than 60 percent of the people in our state have no relationship to Christ and nearly 80 percent don’t consistently attend church. And then there are the children. If current trends continue, nine out of 10 of children born after 2001 will grow to adulthood with no relationship to Jesus Christ.
Look at our physical reality. Tennessee is second in the nation in crystal methamphetamine production and consumption, second in prescription drug abuse, and we have a growing heroin problem in our largest urban centers. Of our 95 counties, 91 have double-digit poverty rates — and 35 counties have poverty rates higher than 20 percent. Malnutrition among our children is growing and so is the foster-care crisis. And this is just a sampling of our physical reality.
When you really see Tennessee’s reality, how can you see our state as anything other than a missions field? We certainly aren’t the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Our reality is why I believe there are three main reasons we need to change the name of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Keep in mind that this name change affects only the Executive Board and not the network of churches that comprise the Tennessee Baptist Convention. That name will stay the same.
(1) Tennessee Baptist Mission Board represents what we have become. Two years ago Tennessee Baptists affirmed the Five Objectives. These Objectives have shaped our organizational structure and our strategy. Everything we do to, “Make Christ known by serving churches,” our vision statement, centers on evangelism, discipleship, church revitalization, new churches, and stewardship through the Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. Now more than ever as an organization, we are in the trenches with our network of churches pressing toward the Great Commission to reach Tennessee, reach the nations, and change our world for the glory of Jesus Christ. Our great staff are more than “specialists;” they are easily seen as missionaries. Tennessee Baptist Mission Board describes what we have become.
(2) Tennessee Baptist Mission Board represents what we were. At one time, in the early days of our 142-year old convention, the ministry we now call the Executive Board was named the “State Mission Board.” Those currently serving as directors of missions we once called “associational missionaries.” There was a reason why “mission” terminology was used so extensively. Baptists migrated to Tennessee and established our first church in 1772. Westward expansion began and so did the advance of the gospel. Often times, Tennessee Baptists faced adversity and persecution as they shared the gospel and went from town-to-town hosting children’s Bible clubs. Our predecessors saw Tennessee as a missions field and were willing to do whatever it took to win our state for Jesus. Thank God they did because 200-plus years later we have a network of more than 3,000 churches that span Mountain City to Memphis. Tennessee Baptist Mission Board represents our heritage.
(3) Tennessee Baptist Mission Board represents what we must be in the future. One of the reasons the first of our Five Objectives states that we want to see 50,000 Tennesseans saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024 is because we need to see that many people coming to Christ just to keep up with Tennessee’s exploding population growth. Anything less and we are losing spiritual ground from where we currently are. Let me put that in perspective. As Tennessee Baptists, our peak baptismal year was 1950 (34,550). Yes, 50,000 is a God-sized task and it is going to take all of us embracing a missionary mentality if we expect God to use us in this great endeavor. By God’s great grace, we are seeing some amazing things happen across our state and through our churches that offer great hope and give evidence that we are engaging our missions field. That Great Commission responsiveness must continue in Tennessee and around the world.
Can we accomplish our “missions mandate” with our current name of Executive Board? Yes, but as the leader of this organization, I want every person and every resource reminded of, and focused on, the missions field called Tennessee. It is for this reason I’d like to ask my fellow Tennessee Baptists to affirm this name change when we gather together in November for the Summit.
It is truly a joy to be on this missionary journey with you.