Currently .03 percent of Southern Baptists go overseas to serve with the IMB—that’s less than one out of every three thousand. What if one-tenth of 1 percent went as missionaries; we would have not 5,000 but 160,000 missionaries. Could not 99 percent of our members provide the support for 1 percent to go as missionaries? That would be 1.6 million missionaries—a number sufficient to fulfill the Great Commission.
Why have we fallen into a pattern of disproportionate use of resources and so few willing to take the gospel to the nations? Is this the way God desires it to be, or have we succumbed to a myth regarding the call to missions and allowed Satan to distort our understanding of God’s will?
Spiritual Warfare & Missions, #4 Jerry Rankin
By Don Graham
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Southern Baptists stayed true to their passion for telling the world about Jesus in spite of a weakened economy and sluggish recovery, giving $148.9 million to support international missionaries through the 2009 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It is the third-largest Lottie Moon offering in history.
“We are not disappointed as God proves His faithfulness through Southern Baptists, and giving through Lottie Moon reflects the heart of our churches and their Great Commission commitment,” said Jerry Rankin, International Mission Board (IMB) president. “Constituting more than half of the IMB’s annual budget, the Lottie Moon offering dramatically impacts our ability to take the Gospel to the lost world.
“I am deeply grateful for the increase in giving, some $7.6 million above the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and for the sacrifice made by Southern Baptists during these difficult economic times.”
More than $4 million of the $7.6 million increase came from a special “over and above” offering challenge issued last summer by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin and others. The extra funds allowed the IMB to send missionaries placed on hold by financial shortfalls earlier than planned and prevented even deeper reductions in the IMB’s global missionary force.
Because of Southern Baptist support, missionaries and their national partners were responsible for baptizing more than 506,000 believers and starting 24,650 new churches across the globe in 2008.
“For this year’s total to be the third highest in the history of the offering is remarkable given the economic challenges that continue to impact many across the U.S.,” said Wanda Lee, Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) executive director/treasurer. “It is truly a testimony to the faithfulness of God and the deep-rooted commitment among Southern Baptists to share Jesus with those around the world who have yet to hear of His love. We are grateful for WMU leaders and members who champion the missions cause in their churches through personal involvement and by urging Southern Baptists to give sacrificially and pray fervently for missions.”
While the $148.9 million offering meets the requirements for the IMB’s 2010 operating budget, it doesn’t allow room for growth or reversal of budget cuts.
“This generous offering will allow us to meet our operational needs but most of our capital needs will be postponed for another year,” said IMB financial chief David Steverson. “With our other major sources of income holding steady or only slightly declining, we are grateful that, for now, we don’t anticipate further reductions in our missionary force below 5,000.”
Last year IMB trustees were forced to curb appointments of new missionaries and suspend two short-term missionary programs entirely, initiating a gradual reduction in the IMB’s global missionary force. The reduction will lower missionary numbers from approximately 5,600, reached in 2009, to 5,000 but will not involve recalling any personnel because it will be accomplished through natural attrition — completions of service, retirements and resignations.
“We are grieved that budget limitations will force us to continue to restrict new missionaries being appointed,” Rankin said. “This is not just a disappointment to individuals and families called of God to serve overseas, but it means many unreached people groups will be deprived of hearing the Gospel yet another year. We are rethinking our strategy and adjusting our organizational structure for greater efficiency in order to stretch our budget as far as possible.”
Seventy-one percent of the IMB’s budget is spent on missionary support, including housing, salaries, medical care and children’s education. It averages $43,800 annually per missionary.
Though the $148.9 million offering is $7.6 million above 2008 giving, it is $1.4 million below the 2007 record offering of $150.4 million. It is also $26 million short of the 2009 goal of $175 million.
Every penny given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is used to send and support missionaries — nothing is taken out for administrative, promotional or other costs.
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.
To learn more about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, go to imb.org/offering.
We must acknowledge that a spiritual revitalization of born-again church members sharing their faith is the essential foundation for a Great Commission resurgence. Compelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christians whose lives have been truly transformed by God’s grace cannot be restrained from proclaiming the gospel. Such a grassroots movement will permeate our communities, spread across America and do whatever it takes to take the gospel to a lost world.
Making disciples will become an exponential movement when churches are teaching all that Jesus commanded and modeling Christlike character and service. Discipleship will be manifested in a compassion toward others and grace-filled witness that will draw people to Jesus Christ. To the contrary, too often the public profile of Southern Baptists is one of controversy, political action, attacks on culture and mutual alienation rather than one that draws people in the marketplace and neighborhood to our precious Savior.
We long for a fresh move of God among us in which a Spirit-filled lifestyle will infect our society and result in strong and growing churches equipped to fulfill God’s mission. But we cannot wait passively for that to happen, excusing our negligence and lack of devotion to the responsibility to take the gospel to the nations and under-churched areas of our nation. As long as churches are deciding how to use billions of dollars given for “the Lord’s work” and Southern Baptists allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to support various programs cooperatively, we must do what we can to give greater priority to our Great Commission task.
When it comes to applying financial resources to the Great Commission, there is little that can be done to change the current system without someone being impacted negatively. The case is made that we cannot do more until people give more and churches allocate more to the Cooperative Program. Actually, the SBC doesn’t have a good track record of designating more for missions when additional funds are available.
The restructuring in 1997 eliminated three agencies with the pretense that a streamlined structure would make more money available to missions. However, there was a net decrease in funding to the two mission boards and the Executive Committee and ERLC received the increases. The same thing happened when Guidestone relinquished its portion of CP; those funds went to ERLC, the EC and the seminaries. When funding to the Baptist World Alliance was terminated, instead of additional resources going to the mission boards, the Executive Committee created a new program of conducting conferences around the world.
Blaming individuals and churches and waiting on stewardship to improve is evading responsibility and attributing the problem to an elusive solution. The trends clearly indicate personal stewardship is diminishing and church allocations to the Cooperative Program continue to decline despite massive efforts of promotion, education and information.
I believe the solution is to create a new paradigm—something no one seems willing to talk about. I envision a system of cooperative funding that will be so compelling that churches will give priority to supporting it, and it will stir the hearts of individuals to give generously and sacrificially. There are three factors we must courageously embrace for that to happen:
1. Focus the Cooperative Program on fulfilling the mission of God.
2. Reflect integrity, transparency and efficiency in the use of CP.
3. Give churches ownership of the Cooperative Program.
I want to address the third suggestion in this post first but alert readers to three additional factors that will subsequently be addressed as issues which invariably arise in this discussion:
4. The fallacy of societal paranoia.
5. The debilitating dependence on subsidy at all levels.
6. The potential of church planting movements sweeping our nation and the world.
I have found that people and churches will give generously, but they want to know exactly where it is going, what it is accomplishing and want to be involved with what they give to. It was a past generation that was satisfied to give to generic causes without any direct accountability for use of the resources. Churches have discovered a smorgasbord of options for doing missions and the denomination is no longer the default channel. We tell churches to give to CP and they get to support 10,000 home and international missionaries…they don’t know them, don’t know what they are doing and will never hear from them, but just trust us and send your support. And by the way, we will use about 70 percent of what you give for other purposes enroute to that missionary support!
Let’s pretend for a moment that it is the 21st century! Churches don’t need the IMB to arrange a mission trip or contact with an overseas partner. Let’s assume we are no longer our own worst enemy in which entities compete with each other for church donations, as was the case in 1925. With electronic banking and transfers it is really not necessary for local states to collect Cooperative Program gifts from the churches on behalf of the SBC. Let’s acknowledge that it is not really cooperation for states to determine how much they keep without collaboration with SBC entities and then simply pass on the remainder.
We have tried to convince churches that they get to cooperate in all the work of the state convention, Baptist colleges, SBC seminaries, missionary work and a host of other ministries by just making a regular financial contribution. They don’t have to do anything. But is simply giving truly cooperation without involvement and ownership in the decision of what one gives to?
The case is made that churches do have ownership of what the states and the SBC do through the votes of their messengers at the respective annual conventions. But in reality those complex and massive budgets are formulated by staff and executive committees and then ratified by messengers who happen to be attendance, seldom representing more than 10 percent of the churches. All of the churches are then forced to give to everything or nothing. It doesn’t exactly create a sense of ownership and willingness to sacrificially support a plethora of ministries and administrative functions that don’t seem to have anything to do with the Great Commission.
As mentioned in the previous blog, the IMB is the largest recipient of CP. We and our missionaries promote it vigorously. In confronting pastors of churches which designate a negligible percentage, I have never had one tell me they don’t give more because they want more to go to the state convention! But they don’t have a choice. If they bypass the state convention, SBC entities receive the funds, but the church is reported as giving “zero” to CP and is considered non-cooperative!
A lot of churches, small and large, do not want more of their mission dollars going to subsidize Baptist colleges than to sending missionaries to reach the nations. There are those who would give far beyond their current level of CP support if they could be assured it was going directly to evangelism and church planting. They are not convinced that administration of the bureaucracy doesn’t consume an inordinate amount.
It is time to divide CP into two separate programs and eliminate the connectionalism that is a contradiction of our denominational polity. Churches can own the decision of how much to give to state causes and to SBC programs. It is not really too complicated to write two checks or make two bank transfers instead of one as each church feels led by the Lord to do. We would probably reach the ideal 50/50 proportion more quickly, but I am confident there would be an increase in total allocations to give churches ownership of that decision rather than it being imposed on them.
I commend the GCR task force for recognizing designated church gifts to both state and SBC entities and ministries as “Great Commission Giving.” But how much better would it be to allow any designated gift to an approved recipient of Cooperative Program funding to be considered CP? I don’t think this is a threat to adequate support of every entity and ministry. Most churches would continue to give more to the total generic formula as they are doing now. Churches that give just a small percentage to CP would give much, much more if they could give beyond the generic allocation to causes dear to their heart.
The primary argument I have heard against dividing CP is that it would destroy our cooperation. But that cooperation has resulted in declining support for years. Is stubbornly holding on to an antiquated legacy of cooperation more important than creating an innovative approach to stimulate giving? Which has the greatest potential: holding churches in bondage to generic giving or giving them ownership in how they cooperate and support what we do together?
Jerry Rankin Blog
This article is an introduction to a series of posts I will writing on “paying to fulfill the Great Commission.” The convention has convinced Southern Baptists that you and your church don’t have to do anything; the measure of commitment to the Great Commission is how much you give through approved channels for state and SBC entities to do the job of reaching a lost world. Churches may start dozens of new churches, lead their state in baptisms and invest millions of dollars in missions but are not considered mission-minded and cooperative nor are their members worthy of board positions if the percentage allocated to the Cooperative Program does not measure up to expectations.
Let me quickly add that I am not bashing CP. The International Mission Board and everything else we do as Southern Baptists would cease were it not for this amazing program of cooperative support. The IMB gets as much as all other SBC entities combined; a lot is being said about how much is kept by state conventions, but we receive more CP than dozens of states combined. So, please don’t construe anything I say as criticism of CP as I suggest in subsequent posts a new approach to “doing more together” to fulfill the Great Commission
The Cooperative Program is a miraculous system for denominational support. I have witnessed other mission agencies suffer high rates of attrition as their missionaries are unable to sustain support through individual fundraising. Our seminaries are among the largest in the world. The extent of what we are able to do through voluntary contributions of cooperating churches is phenomenal. We dare not do anything that would erode what I believe to be divinely inspired and created by wise and visionary leaders.
However, I believe it is critical that some changes be made to reconstruct the Cooperative Program to be relevant for the future, appeal to the mindset of our churches and result in a significant increase of resources needed to fulfill the Great Commission. An additional 1 percent here and there is not going to make a great difference in global impact. There is no way needed changes can be made without becoming a “win-lose” proposition for entities and between state and national work. I am going to suggest some changes that I sincerely believe could double receipts to CP and enable us to fund a radical advance for impacting lostness in America and around the world.
But first I need to acknowledge that even this will not make a great difference without a grassroots change in life transformation of the redeemed, quality discipleship and a strategy of “doing” rather than paying others to fulfill the Great Commission. Subsidizing state conventions and SBC entities, including mission boards, cannot substitute for what local churches and every believer must do!
Many other commentators on the GCR have mentioned the need for a more authentic approach to evangelism. One speaker called it a “shrink-wrap” presentation of the gospel in which people respond because they don’t want to go to hell, but they don’t want to die to carnal living and self-centered values. No repentance is involved. Something has to be suspect about an approach to witnessing that doesn’t result in life transformation. When those making professions of faith never follow through with baptism and identification with a local church and have to be coerced to attend and give, we should not expect them to share a persuasive witness with others.
Jesus sent us to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom in which God is glorified by the reign of Christ as Lord of one’s life, but we have resorted to proclaiming a gospel of salvation instead. Don’t think I am disparaging the simplicity of the gospel; I was saved by praying a sinner’s prayer in childlike faith. However, once people give intellectual assent to the premise of our presentation and sign on the dotted line, then it should not be an exercise in futility to persuade them to tithe, attend church, serve the Lord and live according to Christlike character.
Which brings us to the second aspect of our dilemma—a lack of discipleship. Too often discipleship is neglected or is simply approached as an introduction to church membership. One doesn’t become a disciple of Jesus Christ by being injected with information and knowledge, even of God’s Word. Discipling comes from relationship—a growing relationship with Jesus and with mature believers who walk alongside mentoring, encouraging and modeling Christian maturity. Knowing what to do and how we are to live doesn’t necessarily result in that becoming a reality.
In his book, Every Member Evangelism, J. E. Conant said, “The Great Commission is sufficient authority to send us after the lost, but it is not sufficient motivation; it is not the authority of an external command but the impulse of an indwelling presence that sends us after the lost.” Knowing we are to witness and do missions doesn’t result in it happening. It will not be driven by guilt and another program of mobilizing for witness. It is only the compelling power of the Holy Spirit within us that will compel us to reach a lost world.
When we recognize we are undeserving sinners saved by grace, there will be the motivation and impulse to share our faith with others and do whatever it takes to reach the lost. This is what is happening in so many places overseas. People’s lives are changed; they cannot be restrained from telling others what Jesus has done for them in spite of persecution, social pressure or government restrictions.
A third flaw is our tradition of a highly subsidized methodology and paying others to do it for us. We pay professional church staff to do the work of the church instead of a handful of gifted ministers equipping the members for witness, teaching and serving. Our programs demand expensive facilities and budgets that make it impossible for “offerings to the Lord” going to fulfill the Great Commission.
Beyond the local church, we pay the state convention, missionaries and the SBC to do the work for us. One of the critical issues in response to GCRTF proposals reflects an acknowledgement that the work of state conventions is based on subsidized resources that will be devastated if any changes are made. There will never be enough money to sustain all our denominational programs and stimulate any advance in fulfilling the Great Commission.
I believe we can do more and make our financial resource go further by reprioritizing what we do. This will create a more compelling motivation for stewardship and cooperative support. But there won’t be a significant difference without a spiritual renewal that brings about massive grassroots involvement in witness and missions, churches reproducing and starting churches and a paradigm shift from paying someone else to do it for us. Stay with me as we explore these issues.