FORT WORTH, Texas — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s World Missions Center hosted the first Sending Church Conference last week. Churches from Texas and Oklahoma desiring to learn how to send missionaries learned through large group and breakout sessions from former missionaries and state convention staff.
Ian Buntain, director of the World Missions Center and associate professor of missions in the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, opened the conference by welcoming the attendees, who represented over 20 churches. Buntain referenced how his life was personally changed by the work done by Southern Baptists when he said, “my eternal life was forever changed because Southern Baptists exist to send.”
Buntain, a native of Canada, explained that his mother was converted to Christianity through a Southern Baptist missionary who was called to serve in Canada. “My mother was a communist who hated many things,” said Buntain. “She met a missionary who shared the Gospel with her and changed her life.” After his mother became a Christian, she shared the Gospel with “some drunk who stumbled into a Baptist church” who eventually became Buntain’s father.
“We are the weird ones,” Buntain said, referring to those committed to missions. “But we are not doing this to be relevant, we are doing this to be weird and to reach those who have never heard the life-changing news of the Gospel.”
For the Sending Church Conference to be a success, Kirsten Burns, coordinator in the World Missions Center and Master of Divinity student from Apex, North Carolina, described the planning as a collaborative process as the World Missions Center was able to “talk with churches about the need for conferences like this,” as well as the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the International Mission Board, and the Send Network of the North American Mission Board.
In the first large group session, Stu Cocanoughe, share strategy pastor at Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, spoke on “How to be a Missional Church.” He said because the church as a whole exists to be the hands and feet of God’s blessing to the earth, “missions should not be a specific area of your church ministry plan; it is a reflection of the nature of God.” Cocanoughe stated that a large problem with American churches today is that they “believe the Great Commission only applies to a select few.”
He finished his session by discussing practical ways churches can fulfill the Great Commission. “The best way to be missional is to preach and teach about God’s heart for the nations,” Cocanoughe said. “We need to be able to raise up the church with knowing what God desires from us.” He said that “cross-cultural ministry is a calling for all Christians,” both in America and abroad, and he exhorted the attendees to look in their communities for ways to reach the various cultures.
After the first large group session, the conference broke up into several morning break-out sessions which covered a variety of topics, including international student ministry, leading churches in short-term missions, the displaced and how churches can respond, leading churches to create effective cross-cultural ministries, and sharing Christ among cultures and religions.
During the session on sharing Christ among cultures and religions, Bruno Molina, director of interfaith evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, shared his experience from his many years of cross-cultural evangelism. Molina said that “even though all Christians are called to go, many aren’t leaving the walls of their church into their community.” During the break-out, he emphasized churches need to know their communities and the various cultures so they can share Christ well and not offend people’s cultural backgrounds in the process.
The conference attendees also heard from Barry Calhoun, a church mobilization strategist for the International Mission Board, who spoke on how church leadership can cultivate being a missional church.
“Churches need to be shifting missions from the back burner to the front burner,” said Calhoun. “Only about 56% of SBC churches send directly for missions through the IMB and we need to change that.”
Calhoun also explained why churches should send. “The Great Commission has not changed,” but times and cultures do change, he said. According to Calhoun, “the church does not have a mission; God’s mission has a church to complete it.”
During the conference’s afternoon breakout sessions attendees learned about member care needs for Southern Baptist missionaries, international student ministry, leading churches in short-term missions, cross-cultural missions, and missions at home.
During the session on missions at home, Buntain discussed practical ways people can cultivate a missional-minded household. “Our churches need to be filled with sending homes so that we can be sending churches,” said Buntain, who served for almost 40 years as a missionary with the IMB and NAMB. He provided five practical ways a home can be a sending home, including parents raising children themselves and not letting the church or state do it, giving children to God and not to something else, exposing children to missions at a young age, loving unconditionally yet blessing conditionally, and being a grace-filled disrupter of societal norms in favor of the Gospel.
David Washer, associate pastor of administration and missions at Lane Prairie Baptist Church in Joshua, Texas, concluded the conference as he spoke on how a church can care for missionaries who have already been sent. Washer spent six years working as an IMB missionary in Madagascar and recalled various times that he felt a lack of support from churches, but also of the times when he felt empowered by churches.
“The best way to care for missionaries is to build relationships with them,” said Washer. “Get to know them, ask for a monthly newsletter, and pray specifically for what is going on in their lives.”
Washer said that working with the IMB was “exactly what he was called to do,” but that does not mean that it was easy. He spoke about how his wife became very ill while they were on the mission field and was on the brink of death, but God provided the medical personnel and medicine to heal her. He explained that during his second time of service in Madagascar, he had churches reaching out to him to pray for him and this helped power him through “reaching the lost people of that small island.”
Following the final group session, Buntain gave some closing remarks encouraging the churches and attendees who were part of the conference. He thanked them for seeking ways to help grow missions in the Southern Baptist Convention and let them know that what they did at the conference “may seem weird to some, but it is beautiful in the sight of the Lord,” he concluded.