To be clear, I don’t embrace Mormon theology, and I believe the errant belief and practice of this false religion confuses and greatly harms the accomplishment of the Great Commission around the world. But I do believe there is something we can learn from Mormons: they intentionally, systematically, and aggressively engage the major cities of the world with their message. At any given time, there are more than seventy thousand full-time Mormon missionaries scattered across the globe spreading the false gospel of the Mormon religion.
This may come as a surprise to many, but according to recent statistics the total number of Mormons and total number of Southern Baptists are almost identical. In April of 2016, there were a reported 15,372,337 Mormon members around the world. According to a June 2016 report, there were 15,294,764 Southern Baptists in the world.
The most interesting finding, however, is that though the total numbers are similar, the number of full-time missionaries sent by the two are vastly different. There are around seventy-five thousand Mormon missionaries serving around the world while the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries is less than five thousand (including full-time missionaries and students who serve for six months or more). Furthermore, most of the Mormon missionaries are under the age of twenty-five.
“Though the total numbers are similar, the number of full-time missionaries sent by the two are vastly different.”
So what is the Mormon church doing to mobilize and send so many young people to the nations? How are the Mormons able to send seventy thousand more missionaries on an annual basis than the forty-seven thousand Southern Baptist churches? What is the strategy the Mormons are employing to send out so many missionaries?
For training and preparation, Mormon “missionaries spend a short period of time at one of fifteen missionary training centers throughout the world.” Mormon literature states that at these training centers the missionaries, “learn how to teach the gospel in an orderly and clear way and, if necessary, they begin to learn the language of the people they will be teaching.”
A typical day for a Mormon missionary includes, “waking up at 6:30 a.m. for personal study…The day is spent proselytizing by following up on appointments, visiting homes, or meeting people in the street or other public places…Missionaries end their day by 10:30 p.m.”
One final question, then, is how that mission work is funded. “Missionary work is voluntary… Missionaries fund their own missions—except for their transportation to and from their field of labor—and are not paid for their services.”
Now, as a reminder, I am advocating neither Mormon theology nor methodology. But, this information does invite the question: what if Southern Baptists began raising their children and creating the expectation that it was normal for eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds to spend a semester, a year, or two sharing the gospel around the world?
What might God do if more than forty-seven thousand SBC churches began casting this kind of missionary vision for their children at such an early age? What if our kids saw that we were more passionate and proud of them for being a disciple and making disciples than we were for them to go to a prestigious university and get a high-paying job out of college? I know this kind of thinking is counter-cultural and goes against the grain of many of our Western ideals. Yet, there’s something that seems oddly New Testament and kingdom-oriented about it, too.
As our mission statement asserts, the IMB “partners with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.” The notion of “limitless missionary teams” includes tens of thousands of Southern Baptist students taking a year or two—before, during, or after college—to join existing missionary teams and make an eternal impact by being involved in Great Commission work across the globe.
“What if Southern Baptists began raising their children and creating the expectation that it was normal for eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds to spend a semester, a year, or two sharing the gospel around the world?”
Right now, in partnership with the IMB, churches can send teams of students to join missionary teams in some of the most spiritually and physically needy places on the planet (see opportunities here). Contrary to the Mormon theology and methodology, Southern Baptists students have the opportunity to take the true gospel to the peoples of the world and share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. The infrastructure is in place and teams all around the world are awaiting scores of students who will join them in their work.
I want to encourage pastors to lead the way in this endeavor. It will only succeed if pastors cast the vision, shepherd their congregations, and equip parents and students to join God in what he is doing around the world. In a closing charge to pastors, I can’t improve upon the words of George Pentecost from over a century ago:
To the pastor belongs the privilege and the responsibility of solving the foreign missionary problem. Until the pastors of our churches wake up to the truth of this proposition, and the foreign work becomes a passion in their own hearts and consciences, our Boards may do what they can, by way of devising forward movements or organizing new methods for raising money from the churches, yet the chariot wheels of missions will drive heavily…The pastor of the smallest church has the power to make his influence felt around the world…The pastor is not only the instructor but the leader of his congregation. He must not only care for their souls, but direct their activities. If there are churches that do not give and do not pray for foreign missions, it is because they have pastors who are falling short of the command of Christ.
Pastors, lead and shepherd your people to be a Great Commission people. Challenge them, exhort them, and equip them to be instruments for the spread of the gospel around the world, and let’s see what God may do in and through us toward that end.
Paul Akin is the senior aide to IMB President David Platt. He can be found on Twitter @pakin33.