Disclaimer: The thoughts, beliefs, and conclusions drawn belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Port Royal Baptist Church. The concerns expressed here by the author have been previously discussed with associational leadership.
The Baptist association of which our church is a member of has an annual missions offering. This offering was established in 1992 in honor of a former Home Mission Board (North American Mission Board) missionary and Director of Missions. This namesake believed greatly in the importance of church-planting. Every year our association sets aside one week in order to promote and collect this offering. Sound good so far? On the surface, yes.
When is a missions offering not really a missions offering? The answer: when it is not used exclusively for mission work. Let me explain. When our current missions offering was established, the council recommending its creation did so with a troubling stipulation. The council wrote, “we further recommend that the proceeds of this offering be dedicated to the general associational missions budget to supplement the gifts of the churches.” Since 1992, except for the few years when a former Director of Missions arbitrarily designated portions of the offering, we have had, in essence, a “catch-up” offering that is counted as income toward our overall operating budget.
Why does this matter? Some would say that it doesn’t. I would dare say that to some of our member churches it does not matter at all. It matters because of our member churches deserve better. Allow me to explain further. The current method of promoting, collecting, and distributing our missions offering is flawed in at least two ways.
1. The current structure makes education and promotion at the church level problematic.
When I as the pastor of a church stand before God’s people and ask them to support and give to a specific cause or need, they deserve to know, to the very best of our ability, what their gift is supporting. Currently, our missions offering is forwarded to the general operating budget. It is true that portions of this offering do find their way to real missions needs. It is also true that portions of the offering support things such as lawn care, copy/printing, salaries, electricity, insurance, and other non-missions items. Our offering does not exclusively support missions and mission work. If one of my church member asks this question, “What does our associational missions offering support?” I have no choice but to give an ambiguous answer that has to be extensively qualified. Instead of an answer such as “our offering supports A, B, or C”, the answer looks more like, “our offering goes into A where it is disbursed to all budgeted items”.
2. The current structure lessens the importance of the offering itself.
The idea that a missions offering exists to “supplement” the gifts of the churches seems, at least to me, to be counterproductive. As a member church, we give a percentage of our receipts to our association for its general operation and existence. The majority of our member churches do likewise. This legal “double-dipping” seems to diminish and lessen the importance and impact of the offering itself. Some say that “it’s all missions”. Simply not true. Others say, “We need to have lights, or we need to have a building”. This may be true, but that is the purpose of our monthly contributions and not a missions offering. A missions offering should never be used to cover shortfalls or cover operating expenses. As those in the pews learn how the offering is distributed, I am afraid that they will see it for what it really is and choose not give at all.
When is a missions offering not really a missions offering? The answer: when it is not used exclusively for mission work. If our season Southern Baptist missions offerings were allocated the same way our associational missions offering is, I believe there would be fewer missionaries in the field and their work would be handicapped. In my opinion, there are areas of ministry within our association not being explored, at least in part, by a lack of funding. At a point in our associational history, many felt that the man for whom our offering was named had made such a lasting impression that a special missions offering should be created in recognition of his commitment to missions. I did not know this man. From what I have heard and read about him and his life’s work, he was not an office man. Rather, he was regularly in the field ministering to the member churches and to the unchurched. The spirit of our associational offering does not match this man. It should.