Volunteers Crucial Component of Domestic Missionary Force

Nov 18, 2002 03:00 AM EST

ALPHARETTA, Ga. --There are 5,154 North American Mission Board missionaries serving in the United States and Canada. With more than 200 million people who don't know Christ, each missionary would have to reach almost 40,000 people.

Fortunately, they are not alone.

"The mission to reconcile the world to Christ belongs to every believer, not just career missionaries who devote their lives to it," said Nate Adams, NAMB vice president of mobilization and media.

Although their numbers are small compared to total church membership, a growing number of Southern Baptists are embracing the challenge of a gospel message disseminated by everyone -- including laypeople who recognize that the Great Commission applies to them as well as to pastors, evangelists and missionaries. They are mobilizing for a variety of missionary endeavors -- short-term, long-term, and most important, more Southern Baptists are developing a lifestyle that holds them accountable to being on mission all the time.

With the goal of awakening all Christians to the role they can play in evangelism, the five-year-old North American Mission Board has developed an array of resources since its founding to communicate the message of mobilization.

NAMB's flagship On Mission magazine and Go! magazine for students help on-mission Christians impact their world for Christ. The video series "E-ssentials" incorporates short segments designed to inform Christians about what others are doing to reach the world for Christ and motivate viewers to share their faith. Monthly Bulletin Inserts also are offered free to churches, to inform and inspire toward mission activity.

Mobilizing students

The mobilization of students has been a particular priority at NAMB. Known as the Mosaic Generation, today's students are searching for anything and everything to fill their lives. And they are motivated to make a difference.

"This generation of students has been called out, and they are responding to God's mission in his world," noted John Bailey, student volunteer mobilization manager.

One of the most successful strategies for mobilizing young Christians is World Changers, in which students rehabilitate substandard housing and participate in other ministry efforts. The projects are geared toward serving others and sharing Christ, while awakening a passion for missions service in young people.

Begun in 1990 at the former Brotherhood Commission, World Changers had grown to nearly 9,000 participants when NAMB began. This year more than 23,000 participated.

Through NAMB's Student Mission Groups program, church groups are linked with a missionary in the United States or Canada based on the ministry needs in the area and the resources of the youth group.

Other summer student missions opportunities include Sojourners for high school students and Innovators for college students. While Sojourners serve in fulltime ministry, Innovators support themselves with a secular job while working with a missionary for a summer. Both serve in a broad variety of ministries.

"The Innovators who come to Yosemite are a major part of our ministry here," said Steve Hughes, a NAMB missionary who directs Yosemite Christian Ministries. "They live and work with hundreds of young adults who come to Yosemite for a summer job.

"Their sole purpose," Hughes said, "is to be Jesus to those they meet and to be intentional about developing relationships with nonbelievers in order to share Christ with them."

Other options for college students include summer and semester missions, in which students work individually or with a team.

Adults experiencing missions

Adult volunteers also are turning out in record numbers to experience missions firsthand.

More than 24,000 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are ready to respond to any crisis situation. Trained by state conventions with specific skills like meal preparation or communications, disaster relief workers mobilize in the event of a crisis, which uniquely positions them to tell the story of Christ. As they meet people on what is often the worst day of their lives, volunteers open the door to ministry that extends far beyond immediate help in the wake of a disaster -- it includes talking about Christ.

Disaster relief units are on hand to provide meals, childcare and communications assistance soon after disaster strikes. Also, a large bank of volunteers assures that Southern Baptists are there to help with long-term recovery when needed.

Campers On Mission provides opportunities for Christians who love camping and love the Lord to combine the two and minister in a unique way. These on-mission Christians share the love of Christ everywhere they go -- from NASCAR racetracks to county fairs to the rest stops in between. You'll find them doing backyard Bible studies, leading campground worship services, distributing Bibles at truck stops and "clowning" around at parades.

NAMB's Web-based Volunteer Mobilization Information System (VMIS) -- found at
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-- helps match needs with volunteers. Associational leaders and missionaries can file requests for volunteer help, and individuals and church groups can register with information about how and when they would like to serve. Both are notified of potential matches, enabling needs to be met quickly and efficiently.

The website -- which will be renamed "The Bridge" in January -- has registered nearly 8,000 volunteers to date.

Raising up on-mission Christians

NAMB also is seeking to increase the reserves of on-mission volunteers by raising up children to be on mission. If mission values are instilled at an early age and children experience firsthand the power of God working through them, those experiences make lasting impressions, often planting the seeds for growth into fulltime mission service. Kids learn the vital role they play as individuals and their personal responsibility for sharing Christ.

Through Royal Ambassadors (RAs) and Challengers, boys in grades one through 12 learn about Southern Baptist mission efforts and how they can be involved in cooperative missions. RAs also involves boys in the spiritual process of developing an on-mission lifestyle using mission games, Bible verse memory and mission action projects.

Challengers is an on-mission accountability group for teenage boys. Their purpose is to challenge non-Christians to follow Jesus and challenge other Christians to share their faith. In this particular time of life when young men are being pulled in different directions by their peers, Challengers seeks to encourage accountability in small focused groups.

Baptist Men on Mission is for those age 18 and older who want to be better prepared for impacting their world for Christ. "They become a group of 'lay missionaries' helping the church live out its mission in its community and around the world," said Sean Taylor, strategist for adult mission education at NAMB.

Mentoring is an emphasis, as is identifying opportunities for evangelism.

"When men become on-mission, they commit to learn and apply skills that make them more effective in reaching their families, their neighborhoods, their workplaces and their world," Taylor added.

It is NAMB's priority to equip and enable Christians to discover all the ways they can answer God's call to make his name known among all people.

"We want to introduce as many people as possible to the spiritual transformation process that changes 'regular' Christians into on mission Christians," said Adams, NAMB's mobilization and media leader. "As more people discover the personal mission God has given them, the task of reaching North America for Christ starts to seem a little more possible."

By Paul Obregon