International Mission Board (IMB) trustees approved policy changes this week regarding baseline qualifications for IMB missionaries. There have been various misunderstandings communicated online and in social media about these policies, and these mistaken reports have given us the opportunity to provide necessary clarifications concerning what this policy change does and does not mean.
The driving force behind all these changes is to unify all Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches under the umbrella of the Baptist Faith and Message in order to send limitless missionary teams to unreached people and places for the glory of God, and I don’t want that to be misunderstood.
One issue that has particularly drawn attention is the practice of speaking in tongues and the use of a private prayer language. Up until this point, if a person had spoken in tongues or practiced a private prayer language, they were immediately disqualified from appointment as an IMB missionary. IMB trustees voted this week to remove that automatic disqualification.
Yet this was a vote that addressed issues of qualification for potential IMB missionaries in the church, not the practical work of actual IMB missionaries on the field.
That is a critical distinction, for over the course of appointing, training, and supervising missionaries, IMB addresses many significant theological, missiological, ecclesiological and practical issues, including the use of tongues or a private prayer language. Though these issues may not affect our base qualifications, they do affect our everyday work.
IMB’s long-held position remains that these practices cannot be normative in teaching or disruptive in practice. Through careful appointment, training and supervisory processes, IMB ensures that every missionary remains resolutely focused on making disciples and multiplying churches in ways that faithfully represent Southern Baptist theology, missiology, ecclesiology and practice. (See related FAQs and my earlier article.)
Let me reiterate that the purpose of these changes is to more intentionally unite IMB policies with Southern Baptist belief and practice as expressed in the statement of faith upon which over 40,000 Southern Baptist churches have agreed: the Baptist Faith and Message.
Moreover, any changes we make at IMB are not being considered and implemented simply for the sake of change. The reality of today’s lost world leads us to be unified and act with urgency in order to get the gospel to more people and places, all while remaining tightly tethered to Southern Baptist convictions.
As the international missions arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, I am convinced that we cannot settle for anything less than a streamlined approach focused on empowering limitless missionary teams to make disciples and multiply churches among unreached people and places for the glory of God.
I have been very encouraged from the spirit of unity among our trustees to the responses we have received from pastors and entity leaders across the SBC since making these decisions. I hope and pray that in the days ahead, the IMB will exalt Christ, mobilize Christians, equip the church, and facilitate church planting among unreached peoples in order that we might play our part in the eventual accomplishment of the Great Commission.
David Platt is president of the International Mission Board.
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