Are We There Yet? Part #1

Are we there yet? This is a question that every parent with a child who has been on a road trip has been asked before. At least once. Usually in repetition. It is a question that assumes a destination. It is a question that assumes there is an ending point. For the child in the back seat, it is a question that assumes there will be a point in time when the journey will be over and they can get out of the car. Business leaders ask this question of their employees on the progress of assigned tasks. For the employee, it is a question that assumes the employer is looking for the finished product. Ultimately, it is a question of a completed task.

 “Are We There Yet?” is also the theme for the 2010 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Of all the themes in recent history, I believe this one is the most personal and urgent. The question that is asked is pointed. The question that is asked is honest. The question that is asked is demands an answer. The question that is asked requires examination on our parts. The question that is asked cannot be avoided. The question that is asked should cause us as Southern Baptists to evaluate our priorities.

As we consider this question, we have to determine where “there” is. After all, if we don’t know where “there” is, how will we know if get there? Our “there” is wrapped up in the commission Christ gave to His disciples prior to His ascension that has come to be known as the Great Commission. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” In Mark 16:15, we find Jesus’ words again “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” For Southern Baptists, and evangelical Christianity as a whole, the “there” is reaching the lost world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the latest figures available from the International Mission Board, the numbers are both staggering and sobering. There are 3,724 people groups that are not engaged at all with the gospel. People groups refer to groups of individuals, families, or clans that share a common language and ethnic identity. Scott Holste, Director of the IMB Global Research Department says, more specifically, “a people group is the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering a significant barrier of understanding or acceptance.” There are 6,426 unreached people groups (those with less that 2% of people who profess to have a personal relationship with Christ). There are 1.7 billion people worldwide that have little or no access to the gospel. 89% of the North African and Middle Eastern people groups are unreached.

So, “Are We There Yet?” Not by a long a long shot. There is work left to do. There are choices to make. In part two of this post, I will examine some questions in which in our answers will determine how quickly we get “there”.  

 

Reflections on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Initial Report : Part #4

Component #4: “We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to move the ministry assignments of Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education from the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and return them to being the work of each state convention since they are located closer to our churches. Our call is for the state conventions to reassume their primary role in the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship education, while asking the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to support these efforts with enthusiasm and a convention-wide perspective.”

 The task force believes the primary responsibility of education and promotion of the Cooperative Program among  local churches should be given to the individual state conventions. Since 1997, Cooperative Program education and promotion has been the responsibility of the SBC Executive Committee. Dr. Floyd, task force chairman states, We envision that a consortium can be created by these state convention leaders that involves the President and CEO of the Executive Committee and together they can plan and execute an annual strategy that will promote the Cooperative Program to our churches as well as challenge our churches in biblical stewardship.” In its infancy, Cooperative Program education and promotion was the responsibility of the Executive Committee.

 I don’t really have a problem with this component. I personally feel that the each local SBC church needs ongoing education as to how Cooperative Program funds are distributed. Churches also need new and varied ways to promote the Cooperative Program. I believe the state conventions are in the best position to fill this important assignment.

 

 Component #5: “We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to reaffirm the Cooperative Program as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries; but in addition, we will ask Southern Baptists to celebrate with our churches in their Great Commission Giving that goes directly through the Cooperative Program, as well as any designated gifts given to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, a state convention or a local association.”

 I am 100% opposed to this component of the report. The task force desires to create a new category of giving entitled “Great Commission Giving”. The goal of this designation is to celebrate what every church is doing to fulfill the Great Commission by recognizing their CP gifts and their designated giving to other SBC, state, and associational causes. In a supplemental article, Dr. Floyd writes, “there was a need to ask Southern Baptists to celebrate with our churches the Great Commission Giving that is given through the Cooperative Program which is our priority, but also to celebrate with our churches those gifts they felt led to designate to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, a state convention, or a local association. When our churches give to offerings like Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and state-related missions offerings, the Gospel is being advanced. Therefore, our convention should celebrate with our churches what God is leading them to do.”  

Dr. Floyd states that this new category of giving is not designed with traditional CP giving. He states, We are reaffirming the definition of the Cooperative Program that was adopted by the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. We believe the Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentile of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries.” I believe this too. One area of possible confusion, at least to me, is the inclusion of Cooperative Program gifts in this new Great Commission Giving. I am fearful that a competition will naturally arise between these two giving designations.

 The Cooperative Program is a unified effort. This means that a portion of church’s offerings through the CP reach all the various ministries and missions across the state and SBC. This collective work enables all agencies, commissions, and boards to be funded and carry out the work they have been called to do. My question is this: How does including designated monetary gifts to the local association, state convention, and SBC causes, not given through the Cooperative Program channel, reaffirm the Cooperative Program as the primary plan of giving for the SBC? Hopefully this example will explain further.

 First Church gives 5% to the CP totaling $15,000, $2,000,000 to a church plant in New York City, $10,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and $8,000 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Under the new designation, their Great Commission Giving would total $2,033,000.

 Second Church gives 11% to the CP totaling $29,500, $3,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and $2,800 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Under the new designation, their Great Commission Giving would be $35,300. Who do you think will be celebrated? I am not opposed to church planting, nor am I opposed to individual churches supporting specific missions and ministries. Although First Church gave over two million dollars, only $15,000 went to the collective efforts of the state and SBC.  I am concerned that an atmosphere of “look at how much we gave” will overtake the foundational principle that “we can do more together than we can do alone”. The Cooperative Program  fuels us doing more together.

Personally, I believe that if this component comes to pass, there will be an abandonment and erosion of the CP as we know it years down the road. Although not intentional, when two classifications of giving are offered, one will fall by the wayside. The CP is the SBC at its best. Any effort, intentional or unintentional, to shift the focus off of collective funding of missions and ministries will would unravel the very fabric that holds our unified missions efforts together.

 

Preparing for Lottie

As Thanksgiving arrives, so does the time of planning for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Without a doubt, this is my favorite time of the year. The LMCO is our yearly missions offering that supports the work of our Southern Baptist missionaries around the world. One encouraging part of this offering is that every dime collected goes directly to the mission field. This offering is especially close to my heart. It’s not because I am a pastor. Over the past twelve years, I have been able to be part of six IMB work/witness teams that have worked in Honduras and Nicaragua with three different missionary couples. I have been able to see how the money collected through the LMCO is used on the field. Our missionaries are very mindful of the sacrificial giving back home that supports their calling to a specific group of people. Not only are they mindful of the giving back home, they are incredibly careful as to not waste any of it. They stretch every penny to get the most out of it for ministry. Having seen this first hand, I can with all of my heart champion the cause for their support and the continuance of God’s work around the world through them.

I am excited about this year’s events at Port Royal Baptist as it relates to the LMCO. Our missions leaders (of whom I am proud of) are planning an inspirational and educational missions study on Wednesday, December 2nd to showcase the area of this year’s study: North Africa. Also, during our family night supper that night, we will have an international menu made up of the foods from our study region. I am looking forward to sharing a sermon series on missions that will continue through our collection date.

The theme for this year’s offering and study is Whose Mission? Who’s Missing? Two great questions. The week of prayer that has been set aside for this year’s offering is December 6th-13th. December 13th is that date we have set aside to collect our offering. Our goal for this year is $3500. I believe that we as a church can meet this goal. I pray, for the sake of our missionaries, that we go above and beyond. Allow me to encourage you to be involved in the missions study, the week of prayer, and finally the giving toward the LMCO this year.

Budgetary Shortfall at IMB to Affect Programs and Personnel

A recent article in the Baptist Presss reported the trustees of the International Mission Board meeting in Shreveport, LA this past week adopted the 2010 operating budget. During this adoption process, the trustees learned that it would be necessary to move 7.5 million dolars from a contingency reserve fund in order to balance the budget. This action was necessary because revenue is expected to be lower than expenses in 2010. When you couple this with the fact that the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering came in under the national goal, it paints a sobering picture.

As a result, the IMB will be cutting back or restructuring two programs and possibly losing up to 600 positions. One of the programs being restructured is the Masters Program. The Masters Program is a program that offers the opportunity to those 50 years or over to serve overseas for a term of two or three years. Part of the restructure will call for those in the Masters Program to produce part of their own support, while the IMB provides logistical support. About the reduction in staff, the BP article goes on to say, “the drawdown in the missionary force during 2010 will be accomplished through natural attrition, completion of service, retirements and limiting appointments , not by recalling any personnel, the trustees were told” (emphasis mine).  It appears that missionaries will not be coming off the field, but there may be a delay of new missionaries getting to the field. 

I want to make a few observations here:

1. In regards to the Masters Program. I don’t feel that those who are appointed to this program (or any other IMB missionary service program) should have to provide their own support. I believe it is distracting to and detracts from their work on the field. I would not be in favor of them, or any other IMB missionary having to leave the field in order to come home,drum up financial support then return to the field. It is counterproductive.

2. Gordon Fort, IMB VP for Global Strategy said further in this article, “Because economic realities are forcing IMB to retrench its efforts, the organization must delibrately plan to have fewer missionaries — with implications for a lost world that should distress Southern Baptist church members.” There seems to be a mentality creeping into mission boards that is already in our corporate world today. That thought: do more with less. There is no way that you can reach more people, in more countries, in more languages, through more cultural barriers, with less personnel. I just can’t believe that. How can the IMB and the SBC justify one one hand our current population growth and on the other, as Fort says, “the organization must delibrately plan to have fewer missionaries”?

3. I believe somewhere along the line from the church to the state convention to the IMB there needs to be an adjustment to the Cooperative Program percentages. Fort went on to say, “When Southern Baptists collected $11.1 billion in offering plates in 2008, accoring to denomination’s Annual Church Profile, and 2.7% “finally arrive to support the vision of reaching a lost world, and when [Southern Baptists] are structuring ourselves in a way that guarantees we will fail in our mission, it just shouldn’t be.” I tend to  agree. In my opinion, we have a structure problem. Southern Baptist churches decide what percentage of their undesignated offerings will be given to the CP through the state convention. The state convention then decides what percentage of those gifts will remain in the state and what percentage will be forwarded to the SBC mission boards and other entities. In tomorrow’s post, I will show how much actually makes it to the IMB from the church level.

I find articles and stories like these tragic. In a day where the population is growing and anvenues are opening up for the gospel to be shared, the worst thing we can see is a lack of personnel to meet the growing need. What can we do? We can pray. We can pray the financial barrier will be removed and our missionaries who are waiting can hit the ground running.

Changing Faces at the IMB

The International Mission Board has reported that Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB has announced his retirement that will take place on July 31, 2010. Dr. Rankin made this announcement while in Jacksonville, FL at the IMB Missionary Appointment Service that was held at FBC Jacksonville where 60 new missionaries were appointed. You can read about that service here.

Let me say that I have never met Dr. Rankin personally. I have heard him share mission messages and his heart for the lost at various convention settings. This man has a true heart for mission work and the lost. I am thankful that such a passionate and humble man had led our IMB fo the past 17 years. During his leadership, the missionary force has grown to what it is today. Here is how the IMB looks today. There are over 5500 missionaries, nearly 27000 churches have been planted in total, 101 new people groups have been engaged for a total 1190 different people groups being reached.

I have served on six short-term mission trips through the IMB to Honduras and Nicaragua. I have been impacted and challenged by Dr. Rankin’s vision for the IMB. As I have watched and participated in IMB ministry over the years, the IMB has had some real challenges. One challenge has always been present and will always be there. I am speaking of the challenge to take a message of love and hope to an unloving world. It is a call to take the message of Jesus to the unsafe and dangerous parts of the world. Dr. Rankin has consistently encouraged and challenged the Southern Baptist Convention to trust God above all else and go. We are seeing time and time again individuals and couples willing to put their lives on the line tht othes might hear. Amazing.

Another challenge that has surfaced recently is the decrease in giving to the Cooperative Program. As you may or not know, our missionaries are solely funded by the CP gifts from every SBC church and from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. As a result of these tough economic times, mission funding has decreased. I have written about that here. Today, the IMB has candidates who willing, capapble, qualified, and approved to go the field, however, the money is not there to send them. Tragic.

I will be praying earnestly for our IMB. I cahllenge you and encourage you to pray as well. How can you pray? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Pray the IMB will seek a president that has a passion for the lost and that will listen to God as how to reach them.

2. Pray for the safety, security, and success of our missionaries already on the field worldwide.

3. Pray the funds will come available through increased CP giving to be able to send those missionaries who are waiting to go.

4. Pray that God will open a door for you to go.

An Unforseen Casualty of the Current Economic Downturn

Most of what is written and reported about toda’y economy is negative. We hear a great deal about how bad things are and how many Americans are not spending money like they once did. This is also true when it comes to the giving as it relates to the church.

I recently read an article that deppressed and concerned me greatly. The trustees of the International Mission Board met recently at their scheduled trustees meeting in Denver on May 19-20. The highlight of this article was the fact that 101 new career missionaries were appointed.  Now the bad news. The IMB is suspending new appointments to its career, apprentice, and associate programs. The appointments that do occur will be more selective and focused upon more strategic assignments. This suspension is to begin immediately and remain in effect until trustess review the suspension again early in 2010.

IMB fundng has been hit by a downturn in Cooperative Program giving and harder than normal economic times. The overall work, support, and logistics of IMB missionaries comes from Cooperative Program giving and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. When the average church members across the SBC don’t give as they once were able to, that in turn leads to fewer missionary appointments to the field and decreased church planting efforts around the world. It is a tragedy to hear there are men and women who are willing, ready, and qualified for appointment, but the funds are limited to send and support them.

As we look at the fields, we pray as Jesus asked us to. He told us pray that the Lord of the harvest would sent workers into the field. God has answered our prayers for workers. However, Paul Chitwood, IMB Trustee Chairman shares what I feel is a sad and painful statement I thought we as Southern Baptists would never hear. He says, “Today, we have more candidates knocking on our door and downloading our applications than ever before. Yet, on this day when God has answered our prayers for workers for His harvest, lack of funding has forced us to temporarily suspend categories for service.” May we as Southern Baptists always remember to “Seek first the kingdom of God” that we might be able to fulfill the Great Commission that has been given to us.