I never thought I’d live to see the day when the Southern Baptists would make the front page of the Chicago Tribune. In this part of the world we generally have more important things to worry about, such as will any of us live long enough to see the Bulls win the NBA Championship again, but that’s a topic for another day. The story is quite simple. The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination with over 16 million members. Over the next few years the convention plans to do mission work in America’s largest cities. They hope to do evangelism, engage in ministries of practical compassion, and to plant new churches. Next year they are sending 100,000 short-term missionaries to Chicago. I assume that in later years they will do the same in cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
Before going any further, two things should be noted: First, Christianity is and always has been a missionary religion. Ever since Jesus told his disciples to “Go and preach the gospel in every nation,” Christians have been spreading the Good News. In a true sense, what the Southern Baptists plan to do in Chicago is really no different than what Paul did in Athens and Rome 2000 years ago. Second, the Southern Baptists have been sending mission groups to Chicago and other major American cities for years. That’s really no big deal. It’s the size and scope of their planned effort that has caused so much controversy. If they were sending, say, 1000 volunteers to Chicago, no one would know or care and the mainline religionists wouldn’t pay any attention.
What will 100,000 people do in Chicago? I’m sure they’ll do some door-to-door evangelism, spread out in teams and visit the parks, beaches, and other public areas, chatting with whomever they happen to meet. Plus they will deliver food to the hungry, do some Habitat for Humanity-type construction projects. I’m sure there will be some large rallies, prayer meetings, and praise services that the rest of us who live here will be invited to attend as well.
As I think about it, 100,000 may not be enough when you consider that the Chicago metropolitan area contains over 8 million people. Maybe they should think about sending 200,000 instead.
As you can tell, I’ve got no problems with this. None at all. I have no idea how ultimately effective the Southern Baptists will be, but that’s not the bottom line. Only God can give lasting fruit. The problems of the city are so great that we ought to look with favor upon any legitimate attempt to bring Christ to Chicago.
I’m not surprised that the religious power brokers don’t like the plan. That means the Southern Baptists must be doing something right.