From reading the early annuals of the SBC it is quite clear as the reason for its formation: the sending of missionaries. Southern Baptists have been and hopefully always will be a missional bunch. Since 1845, missions have been a priority for the Convention. But where did this drive for missions originate? The concept of sending missionaries did not originate with the Southern Baptists; we were heavily influenced by our forefathers in the Triennial Convention. But even they drew their missionary identity from elsewhere.
The foundation of Southern Baptist Missions can be traced all the way back to 1784 to the Nottinghamshire Baptist Association meeting which passed the “Monthly Concert of Prayer for Missions.” T.B. Ray, in his work on Southern Baptist’s foreign missions published the resolution which reads as follows:
“Upon a motion being made to the ministers and messengers of the associate Baptist churches assembled at Nottinghamshire, respecting meetings for prayer, to bewail the low estate of religion and earnestly implore a revival of our churches and of the general cause of our Redeemer and for that end to wrestle with God for the effusion of his Holy Spirit, which alone can produce the blessed effect, it was unanimously resolved to recommend to all our churches and congregations, the spending of one hour in this important exercise, on the first Monday of every calendar month.
“We hereby solemnly exhort all the churches in our connection to engage heartily and perseveringly in the prosecution of this plan. And as it may be well to endeavor to keep the same hour as a token of our unity herein, it is supposed that the following scheme may suit many congregations, viz.: to meet on the first Monday evening in May, June and July from eight to nine; in August, from seven to eight; September and October, six to seven; November, December, January and February, from five to six; March, from six to seven; and April, from seven to eight. Nevertheless, if this hour or even the particular evening should not suit in particular places, we wish our brethren to fix on one more convenient to themselves.
We hope also that as many of our brethren who live at a distance from our places of worship may not be able to attend there, that as many as are conveniently situated in a village or neighborhood, will unite in small societies at the same time.
And if any single individual should be so situated as not to be able to attend to this duty in society with others, let him retire at the appointed hour, to unite the breath of prayer in private with those who are thus engaged in a more public manner. The grand object in prayer is to be, that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, and the name of God glorified. At the same time remember, we trust you will not confine your requests to your own societies, or to our own immediate connection; let the whole interest of the Redeemer be affectionately remembered, and the spread of the Gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe, be the object of your most fervent requests. We shall rejoice if any other Christian societies of our own, or other denominations, will unite with us, and we do now invite them most cordially to join heart and hand in the attempt.
Who can tell what the consequences of such a united effort in prayer may be? Let us plead with God the many gracious promises of his Word, which relate to the future success of his gospel. He has said, ‘I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them, I will increase them with men like a flock.’ Ezek. 36: 37. Surely we have love enough to Zion to set apart one hour at a time twelve times in a year to seek her welfare” (6-7)
It was this association that eventually gave birth the the missionary society which sent out William Carey to India in 1793. It was not long until those in the US eventually adopted the monthly concert of prayer, starting with the Pee Dee Baptist Church in South Carolina (Ray, 21). The pastor at this time was Richard Furman, who according to Fletcher, was the mentor of William B. Johnson, the first SBC President (Ray, 14).
This Concert of Prayer was held dear by the missionaries of the time. Henrietta Shuck referenced this time of prayer in a letter she wrote to her sister when she says:
“Have just returned from the monthly concert held at Mr. Brown’s. If I enjoy any meetings more than others, they are the monthlyconcerts. Then we meet particularly to pour out our petitions in behalf of the object to which our lives are dedicated; and we know that all over the world, where a band of Christ’s disciples can meet, they are found assembled within the same twenty-four hours, for the purpose of seeking the same blessing. Prayer then, like a volume of holy incense, arises to Jehovah’s throne. I do so love to feel that others are praying for me; my father, mother, sister, all my Christian friends. It is indeed a privilege to be thus remembered by pious hearts” (Jeter, 157).
The resolution of the 1784 meeting of the Nottinghamshire Baptist Association accomplished its purpose. It ignited the fire that set modern mission work ablaze. Thank God for those faithful few that did all they could do. The modern missionary movement is perhaps one of the greatest testimonies to the power of prayer when faithfully carried out by God’s people.
Jeter, Jeremiah B. Memoir of Mrs. Shuck. (Greenfield: Merriam and Mirick, 1846).
Ray, T.B. Southern Baptist Foreign Missions (Nashville: Sunday School Board, 1910).
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