IMB trustees established a policy to streamline guidelines for appointing new personnel within the framework of the Baptist Faith and Message during their May 12-13 meeting in Louisville, Ky. Below are questions and answers which may explain the changes.
Q: What is the central idea of the new policy?
A: The revised policy approved by IMB trustees on May 13 creates a single statement of qualifications that will characterize every missionary serving through any pathway created by IMB to mobilize more Southern Baptists to go to unreached peoples and places with the gospel.
Q: Why are you changing missionary qualifications?
A: As we look toward the future and the limitless number of missionaries we want to mobilize from Southern Baptist churches, we know that this will likely involve many new pathways through which men and women might serve on missionary teams through the IMB. Each of these pathways may carry unique qualifications, involve various types of training and include different levels of support from IMB. However, we have seen a foundational need for a simple, clear statement of qualifications that not only unifies all IMB missionaries together, but also unifies IMB with the churches and entities of the SBC.
Q: Sending limitless missionary teams is a big goal. How do you plan to achieve this?
A: IMB aims to provide multiple pathways in which members of Southern Baptist churches may serve on a missionary team.
When you hear pathways, think possibilities—all the possible ways that ordinary Christians might serve overseas: as church planters, doctors, teachers, accountants, lawyers, fitness instructors, rickshaw drivers, retirees, students and the list goes on and on. God has providentially arranged a multiplicity of avenues through which His people can take the gospel around the world, and as IMB, we want to help Southern Baptists go through as many of those pathways as possible.
Q: What is an example of how IMB may adjust these specific criteria?
A: As an example, a lead church planter in the remote deserts of the Middle East may require different criteria than an information technology expert in London, a student in Shanghai, a business professional in Dubai or a retiree in Bangkok. IMB may establish different criteria for missionaries serving in each of these pathways and positions, yet all of them will meet a base level of qualifications, which is expressed in this revised policy.
Q: Does this change mean families with teenage children may now be appointed as IMB missionaries?
A: It depends. This revised policy does make it possible for missionaries with teenage children to be appointed. However, the previous policy was established for good reason in light of challenges for children (and their families) moving overseas at certain ages, and we will continue to take those challenges into account when considering missionaries. For example, a family considering serving long-term in an isolated African village may be different than a family considering a one-year term in London.
Q: Does this change mean that people who have been divorced may be appointed as IMB missionaries?
A: Yes. Divorce is no longer an automatic disqualifier for long-term service. Short-term assignments (two to three years in length) have been open to people with a history of divorce for years. In all categories of missionary service, individuals who have been divorced may be able to serve. However, a person’s role on a missionary team, the circumstances surrounding his or her divorce, and the suitability of the culture where he or she will serve will all be considered by the IMB in cooperation with that person’s local church.
Q: What changed with the IMB’s policy related to baptism?
A: IMB will now operate solely in accord with the statement on baptism in the Baptist Faith and Message, which reads: Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
Q: Does this change mean that someone can become an IMB missionary even if they were not baptized by immersion?
A: No. In light of the statement on baptism in the Baptist Faith and Message, any potential IMB missionary must have been baptized by immersion as a symbol of his or her faith in Christ.
Q: What has changed related to speaking in tongues and private prayer languages?
A: A person who has spoken in tongues or may have a private prayer language is not automatically disqualified as a potential IMB missionary. However, IMB missionaries in no way promote speaking in tongues or a private prayer language. Further, IMB may still end employment for any missionary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive” to our missions work, which must align with the Baptist Faith and Message agreed upon by the Southern Baptist Convention.
Q: Does this change mean that IMB missionaries will now speak in tongues and/or promote speaking in tongues around the world?
A: This is definitively not what this change means. Trustees voted this week specifically on the base qualifications for potential IMB missionaries in the church, not on the practical work of actual IMB missionaries on the field. This 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. Though these issues may not affect our base qualifications, they do affect our everyday work. 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.
Q: Does this change mean that potential IMB missionaries will no longer need to have a certain level of education?
A: It depends on the particular role that a person might play on an IMB missionary team. As we develop different pathways for people to go overseas and define different positions in which they might serve, various levels of education may be either recommended or required for service. For example, if a potential missionary is going to serve as a lead church planter, IMB will have qualifications pertaining to biblical, theological, missiological, ecclesiological, and practical expertise and/or education. If, on the other hand, a potential missionary is going to serve in an accounting support role for our missionary teams, we would expect him or her to have a level of experience, expertise, and/or education in accounting. In sum, the new policy that trustees created this week establishes a baseline of qualifications which does not include a particular level of education. Any qualifications for education, expertise, or experience will apply to specific positions in particular pathways through which a missionary might serve.
Q: Do these actions by IMB trustees lower the standards for missionaries?
A: No. The opposite is true. The baseline qualification for missionaries includes men and women who bear spiritual fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ. They must be meaningful members of a Southern Baptist church in which they are leading people to faith in Christ, seeing new believers baptized and showing believers how to obey Christ.
Q: How will the local church be involved in determining if an individual is qualified to serve?
A: IMB desires to partner together with local churches as they send out members on mission. As such, prospective missionaries must show evidence of a missionary call that is both discerned within their local church and affirmed by that local church alongside IMB leadership.
Q: What differences does IMB hope these policy changes will make?
A: In addition to uniting IMB more closely with Southern Baptist churches and entities through clear alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message, IMB hopes these changes will open wide the door for Southern Baptist churches to send more qualified members to serve on IMB missionary teams making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached. Team members will serve in many different positions with many different responsibilities, from church planters to administrative assistants, from business professionals to college students, to active retirees. From a variety of different backgrounds with a variety of different skills and a variety of different qualifications, they will join together to spread the gospel to people who have never heard it. The ultimate aim of this revised policy is to enable limitless God-exalting, Christ-following, Spirit-led, biblically faithful, people-loving, high-quality Southern Baptist missionaries to serve with IMB through a multiplicity of pathways IMB provides in the days ahead.
Q: Can people who were not approved for service under the previous guidelines related to baptism, speaking in tongues, private prayer language, divorce and teenage children reapply under the new guidelines?
A: Yes. Please remember while this policy change is effective immediately, the processes, systems and procedures will be changing over the coming weeks and months.
Q: What’s the exact wording of the policy?
A: IMB Policy 200-1
An IMB missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church, and affirmed by the IMB to cross geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places. IMB exists to empower limitless teams of missionaries made up of different men, women, and families with distinct roles and responsibilities. IMB provides multiple pathways in which missionaries may serve on one of these teams, each of which carries unique qualifications. However, any IMB missionary serving through any pathway created by IMB leadership is required to meet the following qualifications:
Vibrant personal discipleship: As they abide in God’s Word and walk in step with God’s Spirit, IMB missionaries bear fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ.
Evident personal disciple making: IMB missionaries are meaningfully involved in a local church in which they participate in leading people to faith in Christ, seeing new believers baptized in the church, and showing believers how to obey Christ, all with a view toward reaching the nations with the gospel.
Call: The call to serve as an IMB missionary has been discerned within a local church and affirmed by that local church alongside IMB leadership.
Commitment: IMB missionaries are devoted to the vision, mission, values, and beliefs of the IMB.
SOUTHERN BAPTIST IDENTITY
Currently a baptized member of a Southern Baptist church
Commitment to and identification with Southern Baptists
Conviction of truth as expressed in the current Baptist Faith and Message statement of the Southern Baptist Convention
Good physical, emotional, and mental health.
IMB missionaries model a godly family life and/or personal relationships.
Service is open to U. S. citizens and permanent residents of the United States.