By Erich Bridges
RICHMOND, Va.—David Platt sat down for a wide-ranging interview the morning after his Aug. 27 election as IMB president — and offered a number of insights into the way he hopes to lead Southern Baptists’ global mission enterprise.
Platt, 36, who succeeds Tom Elliff, is the youngest leader in the history of the 169-year-old Southern Baptist mission organization. In the first part of the discussion, he touched on the value of mission institutions and structures — sometimes questioned by younger evangelicals — if they help nurture Spirit-led movements. He also talked about the “massive” potential of IMB to mobilize local Southern Baptist churches, cooperating with each other, to plant churches around the world.
“That’s the beauty in what God has created, even in the Southern Baptist Convention on a large scale — 40,000-plus churches working together, and the IMB keeping that coalition focused on reaching unreached peoples with the Gospel,” he said.
(Read the full story, “Platt looks ahead to mission challenges.”)
During the conversation, Platt also emphasized the necessity of looking to the Word of God— not only for guidance and power, but also for mission strategies.
“God’s Word doesn’t just tell us the content of mission; God’s Word informs in very practical ways the strategy for mission,” he said. “How can we most effectively multiply churches and make disciples? This is what we see in the Book of Acts: local churches sending out missionaries who are making disciples that form into churches that are then multiplying churches. That’s what we’re after. Let’s put everything on the table — no question out of bounds — and ask, ‘How can we most effectively mobilize churches who are making disciples and planting churches among unreached peoples?’”
(Watch the video clip, “God’s Word as mission strategy.”)
The New Testament pattern of missions offers many approaches to missions that still work, Platt observed, including:
- Bottom-up, not top-down
“There’s a fundamental paradigm that we want to operate out of that sees mission and the role of the IMB not from a top-down, but as a bottom-up perspective,” he stressed. “The temptation is to view a denominational entity as the agent for mission: ‘We [IMB] send missionaries, and we do strategy, and we support missionaries. So churches, we need you to send us people and money, and we’ll carry out mission for you’ — as opposed to flipping that and saying it’s actually the local church that is the agent that God has promised to use for accomplishing the Great Commission.
“How can we as the IMB come alongside the local church and equip and empower and encourage the local church to send and shepherd missionaries? That’s how I want us to posture ourselves, saying to the local church, ‘You can do this, and here’s how we can help.’”
(Watch the video clip, “Bottom-up, not top-down.”)
- Mission teams
“We want to send people who are making disciples together here overseas to make disciples there,” Platt said. “Again, this is a picture we see in Scripture: Jesus was always sending people out in twos, at least. Paul and Barnabas went out together. You don’t see people going out, with rare exceptions, alone in mission. How [can we adapt] what we’re doing here somewhere else strategically in the world, for the spread of the Gospel there?
“I think about some missionaries from our church who were appointed [Aug. 27]. They’re going to join an IMB team overseas that’s comprised of brothers and sisters they were with in a small group here. They were making disciples in Birmingham, Alabama, and now they’ll be serving together for the spread of the Gospel in the Middle East.”
(Watch the video clip, “Mission teams.”)
- Multiplying resources
Not everyone is a church planter in the mold of the Apostle Paul, Platt acknowledged. Paul himself relied on a wide network of Christ followers in the cities and regions where he preached and made disciples. The same is true today.
“I remember the time a guy came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m an engineer. My wife’s a teacher, and we just figured out we could get a job doing engineering and teaching in (a part of East Asia) where there’s not a lot of Gospel presence. Can we just go there? We don’t know if we count as missionaries or not. We could actually be self-sustaining there.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you count. You will be crossing cultures for the spread of the Gospel. You’re moving to be a part of making disciples there.’
“When people begin to get that kind of vision for the gifts and skills and education God has given us here, it may not just be for us to stay here, but we can use these gifts in strategic ways in parts of the world that are unreached with the Gospel,” Platt said. “If we can connect that couple with what God is doing through church planters who work specifically with the IMB and come alongside them, that’s just a win-win.
“When we begin to think like that, we can blow the lid off the number of people who can go overseas.”
(Watch the video clip, “Multiplying resources.”)
Erich Bridges is IMB correspondent.