The IMB may be in a time of transition, and the president may be interim, but there’s nothing else “interim” about the IMB. No one has pushed the pause button. We move forward at full speed, in the power of the Holy Spirit, because we must not ever slow down in getting the gospel to the ends of the earth. Our mission has not changed, and our mission shall not change. So, in order to think about our next steps, I invite you to consider Numbers 32.
Leave the Comfort Zone
It’s about forty years since the children of Israel had their first opportunity to move into the promised land. When their first chance came, they chickened out. And because of that, they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. But then, God gave them another opportunity. They were once again ready to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land.
But then the tribes of Reuben and Gad came to Moses and said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan” (Num. 32:5 ESV). They were saying, “You know what, we’ve already conquered this area, and it’s just right for us. We’ve found our comfort zone.”
Now, a lot of times when we think about the “comfort zone,” we think about physical comfort. But sometimes the comfort zone is doing the things we already do and the things we already understand. We do what we do because that’s comfortable, because we know how to do it, we’ve got it figured out. It’s good enough. But in verse six, Moses answered them, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them?” (Num. 32:6–7 ESV).
“Let somebody else do it,” we say. We’ve found our niche, and you’re asking us to do something that’s bigger. Let that big church with all those resources do that. Or maybe, we’ve found our niche as a big church, and you’re asking us to do something that would require a focus difficult for us. Let that small church over there do that. Or even we as missionaries have said, “You want me to spend part of my time partnering with that church? I’m plenty busy. Let that guy over there do it.”
“May we not say, ‘Leave us here,’ or ‘Let the other guy do it,’ but may we step forward.”
But folks, we need to move beyond. Partnership requires us to do things we’ve never done, things we don’t already understand. It requires us to be open to new ministries and new expertise. May we not say, “Leave us here,” or “Let the other guy do it,” but may we step forward.
Stop Repeating History
Now Moses is obviously frustrated, but in verse eight we see what really bothers him: “Your fathers did this, when I sent them from Kadesh-Barnea to see the land. For when they went up to the Valley of Eshcol and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the people of Israel from going into the land that the Lord had given them. . . . And behold, you have risen in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people” (Num. 32:8–9, 14 ESV). Moses’s greatest concern was that the sad history that had gone before would be repeated again.
It’s been almost two thousand years since the Lord challenged us and those who have gone before us to take the gospel into every corner of the earth. And still, the gospel has yet to go into the whole world.
In 1883, a guy named Baldwin came to the IMB, back when it was called the Foreign Mission Board. He told them that God had laid a specific community in North Africa on his heart and he asked them to send him as a missionary. They took that request from committee to committee and came back with their answer: No. We will not send you.
Now some years ago, more than a hundred years after Mr. Baldwin’s request, people began to take the gospel to that same community. And they responded in amazing numbers. Last I heard, there were at least 100,000 evangelical believers among them! Brothers and sisters, think of what might have happened. Think of how different the history of North Africa might be had our forebears taken the gospel there 140 years ago.
The questions I put before you are: Will we repeat history? Or will we put aside what we’re used to doing, how we’re used to doing it, and where we’re used to doing it? Will we move forward?
“Let us move out of our comfort zones to be used in ways that we’ve never imagined.”
The Israelites came to the Jordan, and they didn’t want to cross it. We don’t have a river before us, but we do have a Jordan. Each one of us has a different Jordan that God would call us to cross. Let us not come to the edge of our Jordan and turn around without getting our feet wet. Let us move out of our comfort zones to be used in ways that we’ve never imagined.
Dr. Clyde Meador served with the International Mission Board for forty-two years as a church planter, seminary teacher, area director, and regional leader in Central, South, and Southeast Asia. His twenty-seven years overseas were followed by fourteen years in the home office, serving as executive vice president, interim president, and advisor to the president. He currently serves as the interim president for the IMB.