by Lauren Crane
In his last sermon at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as president of the International Mission Board, Jerry Rankin said the problem with fulfilling the Great Commission was the lack of motivation on the part of Jesus’ followers.
In his chapel message on April 14, Rankin asked how much Southeastern students loved the Lord and other people, and he questioned how much they would offer so a world hurtling toward hell would be saved. Rankin has served as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s IMB for 17 years and has been a missionary for 40 years. However, this summer, he will be retiring from his position. As he visited Southeastern during Global Missions Week, Rankin took the opportunity to challenge the gathered student body to consider anew God’s call on their lives and how it relates to the Great Commission.
“It’s not a problem of understanding the task or the urgency of it,” he said. “We have a problem with motivation. The Great Commission was not an afterthought – it was the plan from the beginning of time. It wasn’t just to save you and I – it was to give us a message of hope and redemption for the nations,” Rankin said.
As president of the IMB, he is familiar with the number of people who, through the SBC, are taking seriously the call to “make disciples of all the nations.” In looking at the numbers, Rankin noticed that though there are over 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries currently serving around the world, they represent only .03 percent of all Southern Baptists.
“To who do you think the Great Commission was given? An elite few?” Rankin said, “We have failed to realize it’s a mandate to all of God’s people. No one is exempt. We will all be held accountable.”
In light of this mandate to make disciples of all nations, Rankin said believers must understand what the motivation is. Before Jesus gave the command to make disciples, Rankin said he commanded his followers to look.
“Lift up your eyes and see the fields, white unto harvest,” he said, quoting Christ’s words in John 4:35. “He commanded them to look at the world and see it as God sees it. We will never do anything until we open our eyes and see the lostness of people.”
Rankin said the fields truly are “white unto harvest,” more so now in the 21st century than ever before. More than 100 unreached people groups have been reached each year with the gospel message. “Never have we seen such an unprecedented opportunity for harvest, and we will never see if unless we open our eyes and look.”
Once God’s people become aware of the opportunities around them, Rankin said God commanded them to love, first the Lord, and then, your neighbor as yourself.
“Neighbors are not your own kind of people, but other races, other cultures and people who are antagonistic toward us,” Rankin said. “Why? Because love is others centered. It is not about us.
“This is the greatest commandment. Love enables our life to become a channel for God’s love to others,” he said.
Rankin referenced the question, “How much do you have to hate someone to not tell them about the good news of the gospel?” To a lost world, lack of gospel proclamation – when believers claim it is the most important thing – looks like hate for those who don’t believe, he said. However, it may not be hate that prevents someone from sharing the gospel – it may simply be indifference or pride, he said.
“We know what the Lord has told us to do, but that doesn’t send us to the lost,” Rankin said. “It is only when we come into a relationship with him and we realize we’re sinners saved by his grace and mercy that we become a channel of his love.”
The natural implications of looking and seeing the fields that are white for harvest and loving the Lord and neighbors will then lead believers to naturally be motivated to share the gospel and make disciples.
“It’s an expectation. When you obey the commands to look and love, it’s an expectation that we’ll do anything to go and share the gospel,” Rankin said. “Once we’re aware of those who have never heard, is there not something in our hearts, because of our love for God and others, that will compel us to go?
“Why have you never considered that God may want to use you to take the gospel to unreached people groups?” Before inviting people to surrender their hearts and wills to the Lord, Rankin said, “All those questions are answered by the stated question: ‘How do you say the love of God is in you and yet close your eyes to a world in need?’”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.