Well done, good and faithful servants!

Today i had the bittersweet experience of hugging the necks of many dear friends that i hadn’t seen for at least a year. They are gifted and godly men and women who years ago responded to God’s call to go wherever He sends and do whatever He commands. Some have served overseas for multiple decades; some for less. But all of them have endeavored to walk obediently and serve faithfully. Today, having accepted the voluntary retirement incentive (VRI) offered by IMB, many of them are standing at an unplanned crossroad in their journey waiting on the Lord expectantly for His next assignment for them. Each of those i spoke with shared their desire to be engaged in meaningful vocational ministry or mission somewhere – either in the US or back overseas. Each of them knows that the Lord has not been caught by surprise, and He has more in store for each one of them. But all of them displayed a sadness that what they had seen as a life calling through IMB was now coming to an abrupt halt. As i looked at about 200 people scattered across that room, i was struck by the collective uncertainty that VRI had brought to their lives and the feeling overcame me that i wasn’t witnessing God’s perfect plan, but rather God’s permissive plan. But i was witnessing servants that had run the race faithfully – and are committed to continuing to do so – albeit on a different track. Ironically, today i also read a Baptist Press release about the thirty Richmond communications team members who did not choose the VRI, but rather whose positions have been “removed” – “not driven by financial needs”, but “by stewardship of responsibility”. Purportedly “our mobilization efforts… have not kept up with our times” and “struggle with employing new methods for reaching a changing audience” and “have been disconnected from our field strategy”. Again i experienced that same feeling that i wasn’t witnessing God’s perfect plan – but this time, every fiber of my being also cried “foul”! Because i also know this team. For nine years, i was privileged to have led and served with them. This too is a team of gifted, godly, and passionate followers of Christ. On top of that, they are some of the most gifted communicators in their respective crafts. They have been employing new methods for reaching a changing audience for years. They have led the charge for those new methods and have been the conscience of that changing audience within the organization – even when the organization didn’t want to acknowledge the changes – and the only field strategy they were disconnected from were the strategies that advocated that the church’s role was simply to “pay, pray and get out of the way”. This team championed the role of the local church in mission and brought other parts of the organization along sometimes “kicking and screaming”. And through it, were key in the role of equipping the local church for mission. The irony to me is that the very team that championed the ethos that current leadership seemingly wants to embrace of customization and flexibility is the very team that is being jettisoned. Leadership has the responsibility and the right to make the decisions that they believe are the best for the organization. i do not begrudge them that right – and i pray for God’s wisdom and direction for them in every decision that is made. But the statements made regarding this team have been patently inaccurate – and their stellar efforts have been grossly undervalued and maligned. So allow me – on behalf of the thousands of churches – and hundreds of thousands of Southern Baptists that God has used them to awaken and mobilize in mission – to say to them, “well done, good and faithful servants! You have run the race well. You have run it with excellence. Continue to run it with head held high wherever the Lord leads you.” My only regret is that we no longer get to run the race together!