“Getting there”. In yesterday’s post, I began looking at the question that is being asked of all Southern Baptists during this Christmas season as we study about, pray for, and give to our missionaries through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The question is “Are We There Yet?” The “there” is the lost world. The “there” is the culmination of our witness so that everyone has heard the name and gospel of Jesus Christ. Along the way, questions must be answered. The status quo has to be challenged. Priorities must be re-shuffled. Today, I want to offer two questions that surely will have to be dealt with before we can get “there”.
Question #1: Are we there yet in our willingness to place the funding of our missionaries as a top priority?
Our Southern Baptist missionaries are on the front-line in the battle over spiritual darkness and are funded solely by monies contributed through the Cooperative Program. This enables our missionaries to remain on the field engaged in training leaders, planting churches, building relationships with local people groups, and other gospel-proclaiming endeavors. The flip side of the issue is this. If churches decrease their giving, then less money will reach the mission field overall. If state conventions decide to keep for themselves larger and larger percentages of the CP dollar, then less money will reach the mission field.
It is a reality that ministry requires money. It is just the simple truth. Reaching the lost, and the nations for that matter, requires the individual believer, the individual church, the individual association, and the individual state conventions to give selflessly, in whatever manner is available to them in order for Christ to be proclaimed. Budgets reflect priority. It does not take an economist to tell that financially our county has been hurting for a few years, and continues today. I am also a firm believer that financial challenges further reveal priority. When faced with financial challenges, churches can decide to either make missions and ministry a priority or play it safe and look within. At Port Royal Baptist Church, we have recently made decisions to further invest in what is fruitful and decrease what is not seen as fruitful. Associations, when faced with financial challenges, can either choose to cut ministries and play it safe or aggressively speak for the nations on behalf of the fellowship of churches. State conventions, when faced with financial challenges, can either decide that missions work beyond the state lines is as equally important and worthy of equal funding, or can allow the lobbying of the state agencies and entities to drown out the call for needed funding from overseas.
What makes me question whether or not the willingness is there or not comes from what I have seen over the past several months across the SBC. This willingness can be seen in several state conventions have voted to move their CP division to a 50/50 split, meaning the state retains 50% of funds sent to them from the churches and forwards the other 50% to the SBC. This is encouraging and exciting thing to see happen. It is at the very least a recognition that more funding is needed beyond the state in order keep already appointed missionaries where they are and fund the ones who are standing by. As I had mentioned in a earlier post, our state convention is South Carolina during it’s annual meeting voted to keep any excess funds beyond what is required to meet the operating budget within the state and divide the excess between the seven state entities, agencies, and schools. Do difficult financial times in our country give us a free pass on reaching the nations with the gospel? Absolutely not. Until we as Southern Baptists possess a willingness to make missionary funding a priority, “there” will remain just beyond our reach.
Question #2: Are we there yet in our realization that “business as usual” is no longer acceptable in our efforts to reach the lost?
I believe this was the genesis for the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Going back to the original motion in 2009, there has been a realization across the SBC that on present course we are, at best, treading water in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. This passion and desire to get our practice right as it relates to the Great Commission is real. It is just as real as the passion and desire was to get our theology right during the Conservative Resurgence of the mid-late 1980’s. From time to time it takes something to rattle us and wake us up from our slumber. I believe GCRTF has put before us as Southern Baptists the picture of lostness and legitimate recommendations that would enable us to fulfill the Great Commission. These recommendations, if implemented by the various agencies, will change the face of our denominational structure and how we do “business”. I was encouraged to read what Dr. Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, said recently at a missionary appointment service. Dr. Ezell said “As we go through changes, absolutely every change we make and every reduction we make is to put more missionaries in the field.”
It is very easy to get settled into routines, schedules, ministries, programs, and structures; and as a result, place our trust in them. Any changes to the present structure will be questioned and difficult. Territorial spats are already occurring and changes have only been proposed. Recently, a group of directors of missions from Alabama wrote an open letter to the SBC encouraging a slow down on the Great Commission Resurgence. I’ll be writing a response to that letter in the near future. How do you hope to slow down a renewed desire and passion to fulfill the Great Commission? Better yet, how dare you ask such a thing? I sat in the convention hall of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Orlando this past June, it was clear that Southern Baptists were saying “business as usual” is no longer acceptable. It is a willingness to let go of “business as usual” and set aside turf wars and territorialism that will determine our ability to get “there”.