Practical Mobilization


Your Service Has Mattered:
Honoring the Faithful, Retiring Heroes of the International Mission Board

By Shane Bennett

The smoke and roar of the traffic were sufficient to beat back jet lag as our tuk tuk buzzed across Bangkok. My team leader and I, just a few days in the city, were on a quest to meet Bill Smith, destined-be-a-hall-of-fame missionary. After we found the right house, his wife Susan, also a hall-of-famer in the making, led us to Bill’s office. After cursory greetings and explanations, he sat on his roller chair in the middle of his file-cabinet kingdom and said, “Ask away.” For the next hour we pitched questions related to our church planting research. With each inquiry, Bill would kick off one cabinet, roll to another, and pull out a file with relevant documents.

We ran out of questions long before Bill ran out of information. But what he shared shaped the course of our team’s research for the next three months. The cashew chicken that Susan served following the interview remains the best I’ve ever had. And that was almost thirty years ago.

Bill and Susan were the first Southern Baptist missionaries I’d ever met. They set the bar pretty high. Over the intervening years I’ve become friends with dozens more around the planet. I tell classes and churches in the U.S., “I know almost nothing about Southern Baptists in America, but the ones you send overseas are amazing. In so many ways, they’re leading the rest of us.”

Changes at the IMB

I bring it up because you may have heard of the recent decision, at the same time both forward-thinking and gut-wrenching, made by the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, David Platt, to offer a voluntary retirement incentive to their missionaries over 50 years old in order to reduce their ranks by 600-800 staff. This is part of a multi-pronged effort to rectify an ongoing budget shortfall of multiple millions per year.

Platt writes, “For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.”

“Words really can’t describe how much a sentence like that pains me to write. For ‘600’ and ‘800’ are not just figures on a page; they are people around the world. For many of you, they are your family, friends, and fellow church members. They are brothers and sisters whom I love, and brothers and sisters whom I want to serve and support. I not only want as many of them as possible to stay on the field; I want multitudes more to join them on the field. But in order to even have a conversation about how to mobilize more people in the future, IMB must get to a healthy financial place in the present.”

Let’s Raise a Glass

While this decision has been and will be discussed and debated ad nauseam, that is not my purpose here. Rather I want to raise a metaphorical glass to my sisters, brothers, colleagues, and heroes who have given long, good years to Kingdom service under the banner of the International Mission Board and now find themselves taking early, voluntary retirement.

My friends: There may not be a single reader of Missions Catalyst who has not been led, helped, or blessed by your collective labors, even if they do not know it. You have shown the way, not by simply pointing it out, but by sacrificially walking forward and calling us to follow in your steps. You have gone to the most challenging places and willingly raised your children there. You have embraced and implemented new ways of thinking and working. You have modeled the love of Jesus by deeply loving people who are deeply different from you.

We honor you. We are in your debt.

As you move into a new stage of life, I wish these things for you:

1. May you get the rest that you need.

I don’t know how this works out in reality, but I see you sitting on a porch on a winsome autumn afternoon, drinking coffee, enjoying a book you’ve long wanted to get to, sighing contentedly from time to time. May God help you know what you and your spouse need and how to get it. If it would help, you can come and stay for a few days for free in our garage apartment. We’ll feed you and give you some space.

2. May you have an accurate sense of your identity.

Your time has been well spent. Your value does not diminish even though your paycheck does. And you’re an ambassador of Christ regardless of who signs your check or even if you get paid for your ambassadorial service! You have mattered and you still do.

3. May you be able to maintain whatever ongoing connection to your work that you desire.

And by “work” I mean not only the job you did, but the people you’ve worked with, for, and among. Maybe it’s a relief to cut ties; I don’t know. But if you dread that, I pray God makes a way for bonds to remain.

4. May God appoint people to care for you in the way you need.

He appointed a fish to rescue Jonah, so there’s precedence! May he give you some people who know how to ask good questions then be quiet and let you answer. May he give you people who will help you re-adjust to American culture. (We’ve let some things slide while you were away!) May he bring people who will help you in all kinds of ways, particularly opening doors for the ministry God has ahead for you.

5. May hope and peace fill every molecule of your being.

Maybe you have financial concerns: I pray for abundant provision. Perhaps you’re concerned about relationships: I pray for friends and mentors, and for your marriage. If you’re concerned about what you’ll do with yourself, I ask God to fill you with a fiery, fresh sense of purpose.

Thank you for your work, your life, and your example. The world is better for your contribution. I am better. You have served your King well, and I look forward hopefully to serving shoulder to shoulder with you in future ventures.

Someday your race will be over, but today is not that day. May God grant you health, vitality, and opportunity commensurate with your skill and experience. May your long years of faithful service bear new fruit in the fresh soil of emerging work and workers. May you sense deeply the smile of Jesus as he puts his hands on your shoulders, looks deep in your eyes and says, “Well done my good and faithful servant… Now let’s take another lap!”


If you know an IMB worker, would you mind forwarding this to him or her? If you have connections to a Southern Baptist Church, please pass it along to them. Thank you.

If you would like to provide jobs, housing, vehicles, or other means of support to help returning missionaries, please email the Transition Team.

» Add your comments on our website or Facebook page.

Through the Eyes of Spies



Through the Eyes of Spies:
Five Lessons for When You’re Overwhelmed by the World

By Shane Bennett

Well, the blood moons have come and gone and we’re still here. At least I am. And you are, if my assumption is correct that if you were in the world to come you’d have better things to do than read Missions Catalyst. But the level of craziness afoot in our world today seems higher than normal, and sadder, and more intractable just now. Is your Facebook feed, like mine, filled with stories of the imminent demise of civilization or at least the destruction of all good people?

Sometimes if I look closely, it can be overwhelming. Do you ever feel the same way? How can we follow Jesus in these days? And as mobilizers, how might we follow Jesus in terms of influencing others to do likewise?

I find help in one of the stories that has informed and shaped much of my adult life. It unfolds in Numbers 13-14. Remember it? God instructs Moses to send spies into the soon-to-be Promised Land. He does as God asks. The spies do as Moses asks. After forty days they return and report to the nation. Ten of them say it’s a no-go, but two intrepid scouts give it a thumbs-up.

Let’s try looking at our world through the eyes of Caleb and Joshua. Granted, the spies we love didn’t receive the warmest reception to their report and wandered with the rest for forty years until the nation finally caught up with them. Yet following their example in five ways might help us face the world as well as our calling to call the world to God’s purposes.

1. Get some skin in the game.

The last thing I want to be is someone who comments enthusiastically on stuff that I’m afraid to really be a part of. Joshua and Caleb actually signed on for the trip. They did hard things and went to scary places. Granted they didn’t have to deal with jet lag and long security lines, but, on the other hand, they saw giants. Giants!

One way to process a world gone off the rails is to move toward the issue or problem of your choice. Scout out the land. Attend a service at a mosque. Grab some buds and visit a refugee camp. Meet a few people who are in the middle of the craziness that concerns you. Engagement like this doesn’t supplant reading everything you can to understand what’s going on and what to do about it. But it adds credibility by the bucket-full and can give you no small amount of empathy and understanding.

2. Be honest about the giants.

In a poignant and feisty epilogue to the Numbers 13 and 14 story, Caleb will tell Joshua, forty years on, that he’d still like the hill country. He says, “You yourself heard ten that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

My go-to sentiment is often, “Hey, c’mon. This is going to be great!” And no doubt it will be. But I’m trying to be more honest these days, admitting that, yes, there will be pain along the way. I hate that but can’t change it. For instance, I think the U.S. should admit a ton of Syrian refugees. As a Christian, I think this is what Jesus would do, and I think it’s an accurate reflection of my country’s core values, culture, and history. Some of them will be bad people who will do bad things. Again, I don’t like that. But there are giants. The fact that there are giants didn’t dissuade Josh and Cal and it shouldn’t stop us. But let’s be honest.

3. Question your information sources.

In the ten spies’ second version of their report, basically a rebuttal of J. and C.’s words of hope, things looked considerably bleaker. They bemoan, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Their fears and assumptions began to shape their story: We can’t do this. We should be afraid. We’re in big trouble. Our wives and children will be taken as plunder! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Can I ask two things of us?

Let’s mind the origin of our information.

Let’s be a little more thoughtful about who’s saying what about the world and why they might be saying it. Can we listen less to voices that say the world’s going to hell in a hand basket? There are good reasons to think that may not be the case. God may be up to something! (See next point.)

Can we all agree to just not watch televised news?

You may disagree with me on this one, but I think it seems designed to make your stomach hurt so you’ll need the antacids advertised between the stories. There are other ways to get your news (and spend your time).

4. Wonder what God is up to.

I’m not talking about the “What in the world are you doing, God?!” exclamations that sometimes come from my mouth when trouble comes to my door. But rather, let’s ask how God is at work in current situations to accomplish his purposes. In Genesis 12 he tells Abraham his intentions to bless all the families of the earth. And through Paul in Acts 17, he says he causes people to live when they do and where they do so that they might reach out and find him. Caleb and Joshua were somehow able to see beyond the grapes and the giants to this unseen hand of God: “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:8-9).

Don’t be afraid of them. Sometimes I wonder if we fear for our countries, our tribe, and our way of life more than we should. I want to be someone so totally devoted to God and his purposes that they take precedence over everything else, including my homeland. I certainly don’t have this figured out, and I’m often way too nervous about moving counter to my culture. But may God give us grace to, in the words of Mark Heard, “see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows.”

5. Speak out and dodge the rocks.

When called upon, Josh and Cal gave it everything they had. They proclaimed, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord” (Numbers 14:6-10). At a time of crisis and widespread confusion, the good scouts spoke with passion and decisive clarity. They pointed out God’s way in the midst of the craziness.

The crowd response? Guys with serious weapons (they were former brick makers, remember?) got ready to pound them with rocks! When I talk about God’s purposes, especially among Muslims, I’ve endured some angry words (infrequently), pitying gazes (more often), and the occasional long rant about how bad Islam is. But never rocks!

These guys laid it on the line. I want us to as well. You have something to say. If you’ll say it with winsome humility and authentic reliance on God, maybe you’ll provide some real hope for people. There’s a lot of angst around these days. Your words about a God at work in the midst of the madness may be a lifeline of hope for some. And just maybe you’ll get a positive response sooner than the forty years Caleb and Joshua waited.

ShaneAbout Shane Bennett

Monthly Practical Mobilization articles are written by Shane Bennett. Shane has been loving Muslims and connecting people who love Jesus with Muslims for more than 20 years. He speaks like he writes—in a practical, humorous, and easy-to-relate-to way—about God’s passion to bring all peoples into his kingdom.

Contact Shane.

Say “Yes” to the Pope: Could You or Your Church Host a Refugee Family?

By Shane Bennett

If your head’s spinning and your stomach hurts a little when you look around these days, you are not alone. There’s enough craziness afoot to make the most stoic among us reach for the antacid. If it were just the wacky run up to the U.S. presidential election, that would be enough (for those of us living in the States). But big issues on many fronts lobby for worry space in our brains. The Bible says not to be afraid, so there must be a better way.

In addition to prayers and tears (which might be among the best responses), I’d like to pass on a huge, but eminently doable challenge. It will not be easy, but the payoff could be fantastic.

Say “Yes” to the Pope

You’ve probably heard what Pope Francis asked of Europe recently: “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, and every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome.”

He went on to say, “Before the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death in conflict and hunger and are on a journey of hope, the gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned.”

He also underlined his challenge by saying his diocese in Rome would be first in line!

Putting the question of papal authority aside for a moment, let’s ask: What about you and me? What about your stream of the faith? Your church? Your town? What if this challenge caught hold throughout the church in our country or even the global church? It’s more of a hassle than the ice bucket challenge (see our article on the power of slacktivism). Imagine, though, what could happen as a result!

The First Six Months

I currently live in a little mountain town of a few hundred people. As part of our church’s facility, we have six RV sites for campers. My pastor and I are scheming about finding an RV, putting it on one of the sites, and using it to house a refugee family for their first six months in the U.S.

What about your church? Do you have the faith, creativity, and energy to catalyze this among your people? Can you forward this to your denominational or association leaders?

In all honesty, when I raise my hand and say, “Our church will take a family,” I don’t know who to say that to. I’m pretty sure the Pope’s not counting, although I can’t wait until he lays this challenge on U.S. Catholics during his visit here in a couple of weeks. For starters, at least, go to We Welcome Refugees (World Relief) and ask for more info.

Yes, There Will Be Problems

Refugees will have difficulties, some will do bad things, and all have walked down paths most of us cannot begin to imagine. Our example is Jesus, who set his face toward Jerusalem, knowing at least in part the pain that awaited him there. Who defied social taboos by touching lepers, hanging with tax collectors, and extending grace to the guilty. Who for the joy set before him endured the cross.

Three Ways to Respond

  1. Can I ask you, with all seriousness and sobriety, to pray and consider what it would take for your church to house a refugee family for their first six months in the U.S.?
  2. Can I ask you to share this article with your pastor and ask him, as I asked my pastor last night, “Is it totally dumb for us to think about doing this?”
  3. Finally, would you consider forwarding the article to three other people in three other churches with a comment that says, “We’re thinking and praying about this. Will you do so as well?”

» Please comment on this article on our website or Facebook page and share relevant information and updates. This is a complex and fluid situation. We can all benefit from all our wisdom.

Subversive Mobilization: Family Mission Trips

Maybe it doesn’t work for you to bring a refugee family to where you live. No shame. What about flipping it around and taking your family to where refugees are?

I flat out love the thought of family missions trips. And I especially love them when they happen among unreached peoples. Granted, that adds complexity, but also a powerful pay off.

Consider this: You, your spouse, and the kids take five days or a week to sweat and toil, interact with people who are different from you, try new foods whose prices don’t make sense to you, and return home tired but changed. Yes, that could describe a trip to Disneyland. But I’m thinking something further afoot. What would it take for your tribe to participate in a family mission trip?

A Closer Look

Two big red flags snap and crackle in the wind of that question: Safety and cost. A third flag often hangs limp until you decide to go, then it flies: Is there relevant, helpful stuff for us to do? So let’s take a closer look.


Yes, you’re safer at home. At least in the short run. And yes, it’s easy to mock someone’s desire for safety when it’s not your kids and wife. And yes, I assume we’d all agree in principle that wisdom and faith are often in tension when we think about our family in the kingdom of God. Jesus said both, “Follow me” and “Be shrewd as snakes.”


If your family mission trip includes getting on a plane and you actually have a family, things get pricey in a hurry. Three things that could help:

  1. Drive to where populations of unreached refugees are gathering. This is getting increasingly easy in the U.S. and many other places.
  2. Just take some of the family. I can already hear echoes of the chaos and fights this might engender, but it could be your solution.
  3. Receive grace from God to spend a chunk of change in a way that will change your family for the rest of its history.


Honestly, what can a foreign family do in a short-term time frame?

Be there. You can be there. My simplistic model for any mission trip right now is this: Hear their story, tell your story, share God’s story. Most anyone can do this with a mite of training.

Add to it some praying for sick people, some contributory labor, and some intentional learning, and I’ll argue with anyone on the worth and relevance of a family mission trip.

Finding Opportunities

The cool organization I work for has groups living in some of the coolest (and hottest) places in the world who would gladly welcome a bold, humble, servant-minded family to hang out with them for a week or two. I’d be happy to link you up. Many other groups would say the same.

I’m also pulling together a family trip to Sicily to care for refugees there. Looks like it will happen around March 21-25. If that’s your kids’ spring break, or if you home school and can flex the school calendar a bit, I’d love for you to think about coming along. Shoot me a quick note and we can talk about it.

Editor’s note: See also this article on family mission trips and the links it includes (

Practical Mobilization

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_largeIn this Issue: Setting a course for global engagement

3268697347_e58bdc1b10_zSailboat image: Easysailing, Flikr/Creative Commons

What’s Your Status, Gladys? Setting a Course for Global Engagement

By Shane Bennett

My wife and I have a text message shorthand question to ask how things are going when we’re apart: “What’s your status, Gladys?” Neither of us is named Gladys. I just like the rhyme. And I’m hoping it will stick in your mind as I ask you what your status is relative to God’s work throughout the world. You know: missions, the Great Commission, call it what you like.

What’s your status, Gladys?

What is your part and how well are you playing it?

If you’re the epicenter of your church’s cross-cultural efforts, if you’re confident and comfortable in the role God has you playing right now, or if you’re up to your ears with an unengaged people group, this article isn’t so much for you. It is, however, for people in your sphere of influence, so please consider passing it along.

If, on the other hand, you sense God asking you to engage in a more significant way, if there’s a niggling somewhere in your heart or mind, and you’re not sure what to do or how to get going, read on. This is going to help.

The process is simple:

A. Set a course.
B. Determine the very next step.
C. Kick down the obstacles.

Let’s take a closer look.

A: Set a course.

Maybe you’re thinking about the world for the first time. That God might be asking someone like you to join someone like him in amazing global work is a new concept. You’ve got to figure out how to get going.

Or maybe you’ve been following Jesus for a while and always thought missions was a cool idea, but never actually took the leap. Now God’s saying, “The water’s great. Get in here!”

Perhaps you’ve been logging hours for the world but have this crazy hunch that God wants to strap some rockets to your efforts and light the fuse!

The first thing to remember is that you can’t do everything. If you try, you’ll be lousy at the whole list. Paul was right about that body of Christ thing: God is smart enough to equip each of us so that together we can accomplish what he has in mind. The trick, of course, is determining if you’re a hand or a heart, an elbow or an epiglottis. (Is anyone that part of the body?)

You didn’t ask for advice, but here it is: Don’t let this decision paralyze you. Trust in the equipping (and when you goof, the redeeming) power of God and get moving.

Some people shake out the basic modes of involvement in missions into praying, sending, going, welcoming, and mobilizing. Consider simply picking from the list and moving in that general direction. Definitely seek God at this point (and every other). You’d also be wise to seek the input of people who are wiser or more experienced than you are.

Keep in mind: These categories can overlap. Choosing one as a focus doesn’t lock you in forever.

If you can honestly say “I feel that God wants me to play a bigger part in his globally expanding kingdom, but I don’t know what part,” let me offer you two options to consider:

1. The unengaged

Focus your copious skills and energy on an unengaged Muslim people group. Read this Practical Mobilization column from a couple of months ago. Check out this list from the International Mission Board. Then talk to someone like the kindly mavericks at Frontiers about how quickly you can dive into the deep end!

2. The overlooked

Let me invite you, as personally as I can in an article like this, to join me in a growing effort to respond to the heart-wrenching humanitarian crisis and amazing gospel opportunity unfolding in Sicily right now. I think there’s a place for you in what God is launching, and I’d love to explore that with you. Let’s do something epic together.

B: Determine the very next step.

Regardless of the general direction you choose, education might be your next step. Perspectives classes, which may be the best introduction to God’s global purposes, are starting up right now all across the U.S. and beyond. There are other classes and curricula that cover similar ground which may be in the works in your church or town. Ask around!

Signed up for Perspectives, now what? Generally, look to see what your tribe is doing. How does the direction you want to head in work at your church? How could you contribute there? Is God unfolding something cool at your church that he has in mind for you to contribute to? Moving forward with your tribe can be very powerful.

For specifics, this site has some great ideas for each main role. Also consider these:


Set an alarm on your phone for 10.02am and simply pray as Jesus said to in Luke 10.2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”


Tell a fund-raising friend that you’re trying to learn to send, so you’ll support her $20 (or $200) a month for six months and then re-evaluate. Ask to get on her email newsletter list.


Get a passport! You may not be able to go anywhere cool without one.


Call the closest university and ask if any international students have signed up to be paired with local friends. Agree to be one of those local friends.


Forward this email to three friends who might walk with you as you move toward the world and God’s work in it.

C: Kick down the obstacles

It would be so cool if knowing your general direction and clearly understanding the very next step led seamlessly to action. Sadly, in the real world, things like fear, apathy, and busy-ness conspire to keep us where we are. Might as well be honest about it. What is most likely to keep you from taking your next step?

Thinking your friends will think you’ve lost it?

Wondering where the money will come from?

Mired in uncertainty?

Do this with me: Name it and un-claim it! Seek God’s power and a friend’s, pastor’s, or mom’s support—whatever is required. Take that very next step.

One caveat: If it’s all you can do right now to breathe and your next step is pretty much just trying to stay alive, please don’t let these words further burden you. My prayer for you is that God soon brings you out of the valley into refreshing green pastures and quiet waters.


So what’s your status, Gladys? What’s the main direction, what’s the very next step, and what do you need to kill to take it? God’s grace to you and to us! I’m hungry to see his purposes fulfilled on the earth. I want to see his blessing blossom in every family. And both the Bible and experience indicate it’s going to take a lot of us showing up with all the strength and smarts and persistence we can muster, coupled with the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We need you. Your contribution matters. If God is nudging you forward: engage!

» We welcome your comments on this article below or on our Facebook page. Please share it freely.

Practical Mobilization


In This Issue: Beware the Florida of the Mind

Mel2Mel Sumrall, founding pastor of Denton Bible Church, continues to inspire.

Beware the Florida of the Mind

“Your Story Is Still Being Written”

By Shane Bennett

Mel Sumrall grew up in a large Depression-era family in the Texas panhandle. At 17 he joined the Marines and spent the next three years in the South Pacific. Upon returning to the US, he went to the University of Colorado where he picked up a degree in mechanical engineering—and a wife. He and Patty moved to Pueblo, Colorado, and Mel quickly moved up to production supervisor at a large steel mill.

They were living the dream: great job, financial security, four beautiful little kids, and fine standing in the community. Then disaster struck and fundamentally altered the course of the Sumralls’ lives. Patty took their baby, Pamela, to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling well. By that afternoon Pamela was dead.

In the midst of the deep depression that followed, God began to speak to Mel through a wise and caring friend who prayed with him and shared the Bible with him. Even though Mel had prayed to accept Jesus when he was eight years old, this was the first time he’d been intentionally discipled. Slowly he shifted from living for himself to living for Jesus.

Mel’s discipler had continually challenged him to shift his skills and kingdom investment from running a steel mill to running a church. So at 48, the Sumralls traded the security of their Colorado situation for seminary in Texas. As four years of seminary drew to a close and no church seemed eager to turn Mel loose with his emphasis on discipleship and the equipping of the saints, the Sumralls decided to start their own. Denton Bible Church was formed.

As the church grew, Mel wisely brought it a partner, Tommy Nelson. Nine years after Tommy stepped into DBC’s pulpit, Mel stepped out of it.

At 62, Mel was near retirement age, but Mel wasn’t big on retiring. Mel and Patty began a third career: training pastors internationally. Together, they ministered in over 40 countries, developed training courses, discipled pastors, and left a mark that is visible today in thousands of churches world-wide.

Last week I got to hear this man speak. He’s now nearing 90. I felt as if I was in the presence of one of Jesus’ buddies. I thought, “I want to be like Mel.” I wondered how many “maybe-Mels” are out there wondering if God is done with them.

What does Mel’s life tell us? Your whole story has not yet been written. Yes, you may have more days behind you on this earth than ahead. Yes, your culture may be intimating (or outright shouting) “Move over, Buddy, you’ve had your chance. Make way for new blood.” Yes, you may be tired and discouraged.

But Mel Sumrall and our Father in Heaven would say you are not done. “No matter how old you are, your story still matters,” says Mel. “You have something to offer us. Your story is still being written. Your contribution is not locked up in the past in years gone by.”

Can you imagine starting something at 50 or 60 years old that is so big it eclipses whatever you’ve done up to that point? What if working on problems and overcoming challenges is how God brings renewal to our lives? What if you are just getting started and the past decades have been preparation for what’s next?

It’s okay to celebrate what has happened. It’s okay to be tired. But it’s not okay to be cynical. There is a real-life Florida, a paradise for retirement. But (with apologies to hard-working Floridians) there is also a “Florida of the mind,” and you shouldn’t go there. Don’t give up. Remember Saint Paul wrestling with this in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

Don’t let anyone convince you that you’re done. We need you. The unreached and unengaged peoples of the world need you. We need you, like Caleb in Joshua 14, to ask for another mountain or two.

What is your next mountain? That step that will require the best you have to give and then some?


Thanks to Lawana Robinson for her great bio on the life of Mel Sumrall and Denton Bible Church and to my Indiana pastor, Matt Carder, for much of the verbiage at the end of this article. Please listen to Matt’s whole encouraging sermon. Thanks to MissionNext for helping cut trails for significant work among the nations, especially for those later in life. And thanks to Mel and Patty Sumrall for a wonderful example.

» We welcome your comments on this article on our website or Facebook page. Please forward or share it freely.

Practical Mobilization



Three kids in Sana’a, Yemen. Source: yeowatzup (Flikr/Creative Commons).

Engaged, Unengaged

What You Can Do for Those Waiting for their Day to Come

By Shane Bennett

The big news in my family is that our oldest, Joseph, has gotten engaged. This is a whole new world for us. I’m happy the only boy in the clan is the one diving in first because I hear it’s a bigger deal when daughters have weddings! With that in mind, and the reality that it was only, what, a month ago, the girls were all diapers and cheerios, I’m must say I’m glad they’re so far unengaged. But that likely won’t last, will it? There is good reason to hope that their day will likewise come.

In recent years missions experts have begun to talk about people groups still waiting for their day to come, for perhaps the first efforts for the gospel to begin among them. They’ve called these groups unengaged. Though the way the term is used may vary, the actual definition is precise: a people group is unreached when the number of Evangelical Christians is less than 2% of its population. It is further called unengaged when there is no church planting strategy consistent with Evangelical faith and practice under way. A people group in not engaged when it has been merely adopted, is the object of focused prayer, or is part of an advocacy strategy.

Mike Latsko, in an article for Mission Frontiers asserts that 34% of all unreached Hindu peoples are unengaged, as are 43% of all Buddhist unreached and 59% of all Muslim unreached.

That 59% number translates into 1168 distinct Muslim people groups among whom, as far as we can tell, no one is currently living, speaking a local language, and working hard to spark movements of disciples to Jesus. That means if each church in my home state of Indiana took on one group, they would all be covered… with churches to spare for Hindus and Buddhists!

Can It Be Done?

Like many things, engaging the unengaged is easy to understand, but very difficult to do. I checked, and not every church in Indiana is interested! And beginning work among unengaged is not the only thing God is doing. But 1168?! You and me and God?! Why would we not think we can do this?

Well, there’s the fact that it’s hard. Many of the unengaged Muslims live in really hot places. Almost all of them speak foreign languages! In America, and maybe other countries as well, we have spent the past decade nurturing a fear and anger toward Muslims that plays right into the hands of the more antagonistic elements of Islam. And the list goes on. The “con” column is long and formidable.

On the other side, Latsko says, “We can do this if we will. His Word is sufficient. His Spirit convicts and empowers. His presence is sure. We have the money. We have the workers. We have the know-how. The unengaged have been the new hidden, but they are hidden no more. We can do this if we will. So let us do it in our day, in full dependence upon him, and in collaboration with one another. Let us do it in our day, and give honor to his name. Let us do it in our day, and hasten the day when many others will sing with us, ‘Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised.’”

So what do you think? What might you do? Before you answer, in a phone call just this morning a friend asserted, “Everything you do changes you.” So your smart response at this point would be to do nothing! Because anything might lead to something else and before you know it, oh my!

If, however, this idea of dropping that 1168 number to zero is getting under your skin, if the Holy Spirit is niggling you, implying that, in fact, it is people like you who do things like this, or if you relate to Saint Paul in that you’ve made it your ambition to preach the gospel where Christ has not already been named, lest you build on someone else’s foundation (Romans 15:20-21), then what might you do?

Five Things You Can Do

Here’s a (laboriously) alliterated plan to get you going. And if you’re already going toward the unengaged, would you mind taking a minute to comment and encourage the rest of us?

1. Dream.

Let’s ask God to take away our “Jonah” eyes and help us see the peoples of the world as he does. Let’s dream big that God could use us to start a new work among a new people. Let’s pray that he keeps us humble along the way and that he brings a sharp cadre of teammates to work with us.

2. Dial in.

At some point, just pick a people! God loves them all and plans to do a great work among each of them. You can consult this list for starters. If it kills you to narrow down to one people (Myers Briggs P’s, you know who you are!), connect with a ministry like Frontiers to find a strategic city in which many unengaged Muslims peoples are present.

3. Develop a tribe.

Get Seth Godin’s book Tribes, read it in an hour, and put it into action. You can also read about how Jesus pulled together a bunch of people to launch his start up. Good people all over the place are waiting for you to lead them!

4. Deliver.

Actually start to engage. Discover who else cares about your people and contact them. Start writing a newsletter for your group. Make a Facebook page. Equip people far and wide to pray. Take a subset of your tribe to visit your people. Pray and then ask everyone you meet if they might be able to lead the first team.

5. Duplicate.

Equip five people to do for another unengaged group what you’re doing for “yours.”

What if we could live to see the number of unengaged people groups drop to zero? May God let it be! If I can help you in any of this, let’s talk.

» Comment on this article below or on our Facebook page and please forward or share it freely. See also an earlier article on this topic, Sowing among the Seedless: Learning to Love Jesus among the Unengaged.

Too Many Needs. Too Little Time.


How to respond to a world of seemingly unlimited requests for help

By Shane Bennett

I’ve had an unusual and troubling experience over the last couple of weeks. If you read April’s Practical Mobilization column you may remember me harping on Sicily and the staggering number of migrants landing there lately. I’ve been scheming and dreaming about this situation for several months now and was happily surprised to see the issue foremost in my mind become the issue foremost on global media. I didn’t want more boats to sink just so the issue would gain greater prominence, but I did want to responsibly “strike while the iron was hot.”

Then the Himalayas shook to their roots, thousands perished in minutes, and Nepal pushed my issue right off the front page. I confess, part of my brain though (but only briefly), “Ah, man, there goes the attention I’d hoped to leverage for migrants in Sicily. There go the funds I was hoping to raise.” I’m not too proud of that response!

It’s indicative, though, isn’t it? We live in a world of incalculable need. Global connectivity brings needs to our attention and the curious can now even watch HD drone footage of latest devastation. You probably get more requests for prayer, funds, and involvement than you can possibly respond to. You love Jesus, but you can’t do it all.

About a month ago, I fell in love with a relatively new movie called The Good Lie. Rent it and watch it this weekend. It’s a story about refugees coming to America. It’s a Hollywood film, with a predictably happy Hollywood ending. Except for the gut-wrenching reality that this reasonably good outcome occurs in the context of tens of millions of unhappy ones. It’s almost too much to deal with.

How does a heart of compassion respond?

My friend David recently expressed his feeling of being, “bombarded with many requests even from my own community as we launch another season of short-term mission trips.”

What do you when a dozen bright, young, college students send you letters asking for prayer and funds? Even when you consider that your paltry paycheck is many times greater than that of most people in the world? What does God expect of us when each crisis seems more devastating than the one before?

These questions call for book-length answers and long conversations over coffee or something stronger. At the risk of being trite, let me float out some thoughts. Please bless the rest of us by commenting and letting us know how you deal with these common issues.

1. Keep God at the center.

I’m sorry if this goes without saying, but as we consider the need of the world and the various requests to respond that we encounter, we’ve got to remember God, who he is, and what he is doing. He knows the number of hairs on every head. He knows every tummy ache, every loss, every relentless search, every sleepless night of despair, and every thought of suicide. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is not unaware of the pain. He has calculated the need.

If I didn’t believe that, I’m not sure what I would do.

But I do believe it. And that is the first layer of response for me: God is more concerned than I am and it’s his responsibility more than mine. I (we) have the actually quite stunning privilege to partner with God in his response to the world’s need. Is that not remarkable?

2. Don’t shut down.

One response option is to decide to simply not respond. It may be the extreme version of “bloom where you’re planted,” e.g., “I’m planted on my couch and I will bloom here while I binge watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.”

I remember wresting with this during a long-ago sojourn in Mumbai. My team leader and I were in a cab driving through a part of town where people gathered to beg. When one guy wheeled up to my team leader’s rolled-down window and asked for something, my TL stared straight ahead. The beggar glanced at me and said, “Uncle is a bad man. He will not even look.” Before he could ask me for something, we rolled away.

I could understand where my team leader was coming from. On the one hand, the need was too great for us to fix it. We knew enough to sense how very little we knew about the situation, the real situation, of most of these people. So a clear option, which we both went with from time to time, was to shut down and simply not connect.

Please don’t do that, not every time. Please don’t kill that part of you that cares.

3. Choose where to give.

I want to be more generous than I am. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 challenge me: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” And Jesus teaches us, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

Assuming that you can’t give to everything, how do you decide?

It seems too trite to say, “Just ask God and do what he says.” At the same time, I know I need to cultivate a greater sensitivity to God. Two weeks ago I was driving away from lunch with a young man who was working with me for the day. He said, “Hang on a second,” and then proceeded to pull a couple of dollars out of his pocket for an aging man begging on the corner. I was challenged by this guy, who though younger, poorer, and, as far as I know, less Christian than me, looked a lot more like Jesus than I did. I’d noticed the man begging the day before but did nothing. I need to learn to listen better.

I also think we’d be wise to invest more in fewer things. If you regularly get fifteen summer mission support letters, perhaps you could decide to give significantly to two of them, trusting God to provide in other ways for the rest. (In fact, though it’s beyond my authority, I give you permission to do that!) Or ask God if he would give you a burden for a particular kind of work, maybe in a particular place. Then dive into that and live free from guilt over what you’re not doing.

4. Learn to say no.

Briefly, you’re free to toss unsolicited direct mail. You’re free to not “like” causes that make it to your Facebook news feed because someone invited their whole friend list to “like” it. Revel in this freedom.

But if a friend writes, calls, or texts you, please respond. Speaking as someone who raises funds to feed my kids, a “no” is better than no response. I know you’re busy and things get lost. Heavens, I’ve ignored more than my share of personal requests as well. Maybe we can band together and decide that we will respond, even if that means we need to say no.

5. Choose how to give.

Maybe your best gift to someone who’s asking for prayer and funds is to really give them some prayer! Actually do it! Write out your prayer and send it to them. If you’re prone to forget, carry a small token, a marble or something, with your keys for a couple weeks, and pray each time you bump into it.

Maybe your best gift is advice. I think we should assume the best and be quite cautious about judging what someone feels that God is asking them to do. But if you have grave concerns beyond just looking for a reason not to give (or is that just me?), please share them. You may save someone a busload of grief.

This side of the fullness of God’s kingdom we will have pain and great need. May God overwhelm us with grace to respond as he desires. May he free us from guilt over what we can’t or don’t do. May he multiply our gifts and service to his great glory.

» How do you choose what needs to respond to? Comment on this article on our website or Facebook page and please forward or share it freely.

Image source: Angelinux (Flikr/Creative Commons)