Missional Monday : MissionsFEST Atlanta

atlanta-skylineIn October of this year I, along with two other member of Port Royal Baptist Church (Joyce Bunton, Judy Greenlee), will take part in MissionsFEST Atlanta. This trip is the result of a partnership between South Carolina Baptist Convention Missions Mobilization, National WMU (Women’s Missionary Union), Georgia WMU, and the UACP (Urban Atlanta Church Planter’s) Network. The UACP is a cooperative effort to engage lostness through the planting of intentionally reproducing churches with the I-285 perimeter of Atlanta. Individuals and churches who participate in MissionsFEST work alongside church planters who active in reaching neighborhoods with the I-285 loop where over 100 different languages are spoken. Events and projects are designed to demonstrate the love of Christ in real and tangible ways that allow bridges to be built for future gospel conversations. Some of the week’s projects include block parties, service ministries, prayer walking, and light construction work.

We are looking at this trip as more than just an opportunity to help church planters with the enormous task of reaching their community. We are viewing this time in Atlanta as a vision trip for Port Royal Baptist Church. Every spring we sponsor a state-side mission trip for our congregation. As we seek the Lord’s guidance as to the coming year’s destination, we are praying He uses this week to open doors for future ministry. As in any trip, meeting, or conference I attend, certain hopes are always present. My hopes for this trip are as follows.

1. It is my hope that we will create partnerships for future service. As I mentioned above, we hope to be able to discern the needs of the church planters and determine if our congregation would be a fit in Atlanta.

2. It is my hope that I will be personally challenged. I believe that many of us minister within a bubble of safety. That is not always our fault, just a result of where we are. I hope to be stretched and challenged to do ministry that I never have and among people I never have.

3. It is my hope that we will learn new methods and practices for our own local ministry. Our church is very active and present in our community. I am hoping that some of what we experience in Atlanta will give us fresh ideas for reaching Port Royal.

Reflections on the 2012 SCBC Annual Meeting

This past week I attended the South Carolina Baptist Convention in Greensville, SC. I look forward to this time of the year. It is a time of encouragement found in challenging messages and powerful worship, as well as fellowship with other pastors and church leaders. Our annual meeting is also a time of information. We are able to hear the latest news and opportunities from our colleges and universities, mission boards, and other convention ministry partners and agencies. No annual meeting would be complete without conducting some sort of business. We heard and adopted resolutions, approved a ministry budget, and approved major bylaw changes in the eligibility and selection of institutional trustees. To some, these business sessions may seem boring and pointless. However, I believe they are invaluable because with them is a certain beauty. Here is what I mean. A messenger, the average person representing their church (large or small), can address the entire body, have their voice heard, and request some action be taken in an area of convention life they may have concerns about or feel an improvement could be made. During the course of the meeting as I walked around, listened, and talked with people, certain thoughts come to mind. I would like to share with you my observations from the SCBC Annual Meeting in Greenville, as I see it.

1. Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Messengers approved bylaw changes that made the BFM2000 the statement of faith for South Carolina Baptists. I believe this is a critical, wise, and timely decision. One that was long overdue. Our convention now has agreed upon theological parameters drawn from Scripture that will help to guide us in doctrinal integrity and cooperation. Trustees of our institutions will now be asked to affirm this statement of faith as part of their service agreement.

2. Debate Decorum. There was a spirit of graciousness present during this year’s meeting. Although everyone did not agree with everything being presented, their objections were offered in a spirit of grace and love. Brad Atkins, presiding president, moderated with compassion, a needed sense of humor, and a Christ-like spirit. He set the tone for the entire meeting.

3. Theme. The spirit of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations adopted last year is alive and well. This year’s theme, “Great Commission Living”, was evident and well presented. Messengers could not have left without understanding how committed South Carolina Baptists are to fulfilling the Great Commission. The theme interpretations given by the four speakers were spot-on and delivered with passion and conviction. The Committee on Order of Business and others responsible for the selection of speakers, musicians, and program features are to be applauded for bringing the theme from just words on paper to a passionate plea for life change.

4. Convention Staff. I just want to say a word about our South Carolina Baptist Convention staff. I found them to be helpful, gracious, accommodating, patient, and willing to go the extra mile to ensure messengers had a positive and encouraging experience. To an often under-appreciated staff, thank you.

5. Service. There seems to be a continual and growing dissatisfaction with the current breakdown in representation on our convention boards, committees, and agencies. Messengers have in past years, and again this year, voiced their desire for specific ways in which new voices and new faces can be involved denominational service. We often hear this referred to as “bringing more people to the table”. I am interested in seeing where the common ground will  be found.

6. Fellowship. The annual meeting is as much a place for fellowship as it is for anything else. It was interesting to see groups gathered in the hallways and the exhibit hall talking and catching up with each other. It is an opportunity to create new friendship, form new partnerships, and rekindle old friendships. I believe there will always need to be a time of coming together such as this. Over the past years, especially at the SBC level, there has been an increased call to be able to virtually attend a meeting and vote online. While I understand the logistical concerns of travel and such, that convenience cannot replace the need for the real reason for these meetings. After all, voting is one small part. People are the larger and more important part.

My Reflections on the 2010 South Carolina Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

I attended our South Carolina Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Columbia last week with a good pastor friend of mine. I enjoy annual meetings such as these. I have always made an attempt to attend these meetings and involve myself in the business of the state convention of which the church that I pastor is a contributing member. These annual meetings are times of fellowship, encouraging worship, challenging messages, reports from the agencies and entities owned by the state, and times for various business items to be handled.

As I look back on Columbia this year, I do so with mixed emotion. On one hand it was an enjoyable positive experience. I had the opportunity to represent my church as a messenger and participate in the voting process. Opportunities presented themselves for me to meet new people and form new relationships. Being new to the SCBC, this was important. I was personally encouraged by the messages I heard during the annual meeting and the pastor’s conference. Mike Stone, Ed Stetzer, James Merritt, and Ken Whitten and others personally touched my heart. I had been previously asked and was elected to serve on of the convention committees over the next three years. I am looking forward to this opportunity. I was also encouraged by a motion from the floor that called for the convention president to create a South Carolina Great Commission Resurgence Task Force whose purpose is to respond to the recommendations contained in the SBC GCR Task Force that were adopted back in June and bring their report to the messengers in Columbia next year. Anytime we can begin seriously focusing on how to better accomplish the Great Commission it is a positive step. Outgoing president Dr. Fred Stone has named this 35 person task force. You can read their names here.

On the other hand, it was a puzzling experience. To be honest, I don’t know any other way to say it than that. I was left scratching my head at times in disbelief. To put it plainly, there was a spirit of fear present during the meeting this year. As the budget was being discussed, this spirit of fear is something that could be felt. It is hard to explain, but can be characterized by statements like these, “let’s wait and see”, “what will happen if?” “we just don’t know”, “let’s make sure first”, and “how do we know what will happen?” To me, two motions demonstrate this.

First, under the 2010 SCBC operating budget, 40.44% of receipts are forwarded to the SBC. The proposed 2011 budget calls for 41% to be forwarded to the SBC. A motion was made to amend the proposed budget to freeze the SBC contribution at 40.44%. The argument was put forth that there was no way of knowing what kind of changes may be recommended or what revenue may look like. So, we should just wait before changing our percentage giving to the SBC. Unsaid was that while we wait, the nations wait. Thankfully this amendment failed.

Second, a motion was made that all receipts in excess of the 2011 budget be kept in state and divided among the seven state institutions, agencies, and schools. Again, the argument was put forth that the funding was desperately needed in the state due to the work that was going on here. I don’t doubt there is good work happening across the state of South Carolina. To ask that any extra, above and beyond what is necessary, be retained in the state and divided among the agencies who already, by percentage, receive budgeted funds is a mistake and a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to send this surplus to the mission’s agencies whose sole source of funding comes from the gifts of the churches. Again, the nations will have to wait.

In my opinion, the upcoming year is going to be a crucial one for our state. As the task force meets to being their discussion over the recommendation the SBC has adopted and plan for the effects as the state level, a great deal is at stake. We could see a call for major changes or no changes at all. Will our state convention continue on the path of retaining large portions of the CP dollars from the member churches? Will there be a shift to move toward an even distribution of CP monies? I don’t know. I am praying for the latter. I don’t know how many more years we are Southern Baptists can absorb the number of missionaries having to leave the field due to lack of funding. I don’t know how long we can absorb the shrinking number of missionaries while the number of those without Jesus Christ continues to rise.  I do know one thing. I left Columbia convicted because I did not stand and voice my opinion and feelings on these crucial matters. That will be the last time that I walk away wishing I had said something.

 

Let’s Be Fair About This

The season of state convention annual meetings is upon us. Our annual meeting in South Carolina is scheduled for November 16th-17th in Columbia. All across the SBC, states are gathering for times of worship, encouragement, inspiration, and difficult decisions during business sessions. Many of the state conventions are in the beginning phases of making adjustments after the passing of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations this past June during the SBC annual meeting in Orlando. The task force asked for SBC churches to shine the light upon how we as Southern Baptists can do better in fulfilling the Great Commission. So, state conventions, wrestling with struggling economies and fulfilling the desire of its messengers, are beginning to adjust their budgets accordingly.

Part of the budget decisions facing many state conventions is not just whether or not to increase or decrease their budget based on projected income from the member churches over last year. Another decision that states face is what to do with their percentages as it related to the Cooperative Program. The bare-bones question is this: “How much do we keep in state and how much do we forward to SBC causes?” Messengers from member churches make this decision. Historically, the percentage goal for allocation of CP dollars has been 50/50. At the beginning, Southern Baptists saw this as the ideal. In 1934, the SBC approved a distribution of receipts which called for “50% for Southwide (SBC) purposes and 50% for statewide purposes” 1

The 50/50 goal has not yet been embraced consistently across the SBC. Since that time, states have taken on their own buildings, agencies, schools, staff, and ministries. As a result, the distribution percentages have slowly but steadily shifted in favor of the state conventions. Since 1930, the division of CP funds between state conventions and the SBC has averaged 63.55% to the state and 36.45% to SBC causes.

Each state is autonomous. They can set their own budgets, choose which ministries to pursue, what and how much staff to employ, and decide what percentage of CP fund to retain. Currently, our South Carolina Baptist Convention retains 59.6% and forwards 40.4% to the SBC. Messengers to the SCBC annual meeting this year will see a proposal of (59% retain and 41% forward). I believe that our state convention is retaining too much of the CP dollar. Over the past years, and especially now with states being called upon to put more CP dollars to work on the mission field outside North America, the thought and necessity of a 50/50 split is being heard again. The state conventions of Kentucky, Florida, Nevada, and Tennessee will be at least considering  recommendations to move toward a 50/50 division of CP funds.

I am in favor of such an allocation. To my knowledge there has been no mention if South Carolina Baptists will hear a proposal to move toward a 50/50 split. I hope we do. I hope the messengers get a chance to speak to such a recommendation in the future. Here is why I feel this way. Even if our messengers approve a 59/41 split, proportionally it seems out of balance. Here in North America, the barriers to the advancement of the gospel are fewer. Think about it for a moment. Physically reaching the lost across North America is easier. Days of difficult travel to reach people groups do not exist in North America. Technology has made a variety of delivery methods available. It has also made communication between workers quicker and more efficient. Networks of church planters and those who provide resources and training to them are already in place. For the most part, the language barrier is not as great a battle here as it is in other parts of the world.

The barriers to the advancement of the gospel are greater overseas. Travel to and from remote cities and villages s difficult, time-consuming, and potentially hazardous. Limited technology in many parts of the world makes it more difficult for missionaries to communicate with each other and with those whom they serve. In turn, this limits the ways in which the gospel can be delivered. We have the luxury here in North America to be able to use social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc), video, unnumbered styles and varieties of gospel tracts, different Bible versions, and advertising to get the gospel message out. At times, our missionaries are the only “professional” in a particular area. I worked on several work and witness teams with an IMB missionary who was responsible for the Miskito people group. His area of responsibility covered the coastal and inland sections of both Honduras and Nicaragua. Contrast this with North America where we seemingly have churches on every corner with pastors and planters having each other to give encouragement, support, and resources in order to better reach people.  The language barrier hinders any kind of work. Although our missionaries spend time in language school before arriving on their field, it still takes time to effectively communicate the gospel, especially when some of our words don’t even exist in native tongue.

 Despite the contrast, we are sending more money and resources to North America, and more especially our state, and less to the foreign mission field. If we have clearly been given a mandate to reach all the nations with the gospel, and I believe that we have, then our funding should reflect the priority. Lostness is lostness, here and abroad. Should we not be funding our missions efforts equally? I believe there are a number of our state convention agencies that have the ability to gain funding outside of the CP channel. I firmly believe that the missions agencies of the SBC whose sole support is CP monies should have what they need in order to active in pushing back darkness around the world.

Would our state convention in South Carolina have to make adjustments in order to get to a 50/50 split in Cooperative Program giving? Without a doubt. Would a 50/50 split challenge the state convention and its leadership to make hard decisions and sharpen their focus on the lost beyond state lines? Absolutely. Would this be the right thing to do? I believe so.

 

1 – SBC Annual 1934 (pp. 38-49)

The Baptist Association : Part #3: Future

Over the past two posts, I have attempted to make the purpose of the Baptist association a little more clear. I also wanted to show that the association has some challenges facing it that will keep it from accomplishing its’ intended purpose. When you mix together the purpose of and the challenges facing the association, you are left with one question, “What is the future of the association?” “Does the association even have a future?” Depending upon whom you ask, the answer to this question is both varied and consistent, positive and negative, hopeful and hopeless. For example, Monty Hale, Director of Association and Pastoral Ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention said, “The association will be the face of Southern Baptists in the future. Most church leaders relate to the association to accomplish their God-given task of reaching the world for Christ.” Dr. Jimmy Draper, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources made the following statement, “In our obsession with what is new in world of church growth, let us not forget that all traditions are not bad and all of the past cannot be jettisoned. It is our tradition that builds our communities. The bedrock of that tradition in Baptist life is the local association.” Pastor Kyle Waddell of Pine Level Baptist Church in Early Branch, South Carolina says, “If I could sum my view up in one word it would be bleak. I personally have served in churches from three different associations in our state and have never seen the total effects come from any association in the capacity it was created to produce. I believe as do many in leadership in the SBC convention that the local association has outlived its usefulness in its present state and that if it were to close its doors many of our churches would never know.”  Dr. Jerry Nash, Director of Missions for the Harmony Baptist Association in Trenton, Florida writes, “With cooperative Southern Baptist pastors and effective leadership, the future of the Association is very bright.  It ultimately is at the local level that working relationships are built and trustworthiness is established.  As the SBC and state convention leaders and entities acknowledge and affirm the local Association we will be stronger as Southern Baptists.  It is just my opinion, but I believe to ignore or bypass the local Association will ultimately lead to the decline of Southern Baptists.”

I want to begin by saying that I believe the local Baptist association can have a future. I hold out hope that it is a bright future. I don’t believe it is automatic. It is my belief that the association’s future will look different than it does in the present. It appears to me that a great majority of associations still operate, at least in some manner, to the way they did fifty to sixty years ago. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Baptist association served as a conduit for denominational programs from the SBC (Nashville) to the local church. For the most part the association still has the same programs (Brotherhood, WMU, Youth, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Evangelism, Music, etc.) The strain comes when local churches either no longer utilize established programs or develop new ministries while the association continues with the traditional ministry structure. I believe relevancy is the Achilles heel of the Baptist association. Bobby Gilstrap, Director of Missions for the Huron and Southeastern Associations in Michigan wrote, “In the past, the associations and its leadership had predominately focused on two things: (1) How to get more churches involved in associational ministries and meetings, and (2) How to increase the giving of the churches to the association. As a result, there was a clear problem of relevance to our churches. The pastor’s frustration was they found no relevance in the association and our ability to provide for them as they struggled to fulfill their mission and calling. This brought me to a reality check. Our associations could not be the same as in the past or even the present. Our organization had to reinvent itself to be relevant and effective. We first realized that the association is not a church. That seems obvious, but many associations have been trying to do things that the church should be doing. That means, that the Associational Director of Missions is not the pastor and the association is not the church. The association should be a resourcing organization. In other words, the role of the association is to assist and resource the God-given vision of the churches.”

There are some who say that the association should not do ministry for the church. Others will say that this is not a problem. I believe it is in this discussion that the relevancy issue comes to light. Again, Dr. Nash writes, “As with the local church, there is a strong correlation between the strength of the ministry and missions program and the vision and leadership of the leader.  There is disagreement about whether it should be churches or Associations who do missions and ministry.  I challenge those who say Associations shouldn’t start churches or have ministries.  In the world in which I live, I do not have a single church which would be able to fund our Pregnancy Center. But together we have a vibrant ministry.” These are the issues that will shape the future of the Baptist association.

The future of the association is going to be shaped, at least in some part, by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations that were approved by SBC messengers this past June. Mike Day, Direcctor of Missions for the Mid-South Baptist Asssociation in Memphis, Tennessee has an interesting opinion as to how these recommendations will shape the future of the association. He wrote, “Most associations I know of, large or small, struggle with “activity overload.” Our efforts to be all things to all churches often result in us becoming less than what we are supposed to be. We design programs, events, and ministries that often position us as a substitute for the church. As we affirm the GCR Recommendations, particularly the core values set forth in Recommendation #2, we are affirming the centrality and primacy of the local church and its Great Commission assignment for penetrating lostness and taking the gospel to the nations. An association’s acceptance of this principle puts us in position to affirm that the Great Commission was given to the church and not to a denomination. It provides us opportunity to focus on the “organism” that is the church rather than the organizations of a denomination. Our association will be strengthened as we sharpen our focus and concentrate upon what we can do to help the churches accomplish the Great Commission, rather than what the churches can do to help us accomplish our objectives.”

For the Baptist association to have a viable and fruitful future, the local church will have to be the focal point. The future of the Baptist association will depend upon the success of the local churches. As I see it, the church does not exist for the benefit of the Baptist association. If there were no association, the church would still exist. The association exists for the benefit of the local church. If there were no church, there would be no association. I believe that Dr. John McInnis, former Sunday School Consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, said it right, “The association will be viable and effective to the extent that it understands and operates its mission to help churches accomplish their individual missions – one church at a time.”

Track of Cooperative Program Gifts

In yesterday’s post, I made several observations relating to the Baptist Press article on the budget shortfall at the IMB. Due to these shortfalls, there may be delays in some missionaries arriving on the field. One of the observations I made was that I believe it may be necessary to change the percentages of Cooperative Program giving to allow more funds to arrive on the mission field. The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptist’s unified giving program for funding missions that has been in place since the early 1900’s. The CP is about percentages. The local church designates a percentage of the undesignated receipts to be given to the CP through the state convention. The state convention then designates a percentage (based on messenger vote) to retain in the state and a percentage to forward to the SBC for the mission boards, seminaries, and other entities. It is along these lines of designated percentages that funds make their way to our missionaries.

The South Carolina Baptist Convention retains 59.56% of CP dollars coming from the local church and forwards the other 40.44% to the SBC. It is best to look at this through a real-life example. Let’s say that a church gives $100 to the CP in the state of South Carolina. 59.56% of that $100 stays in the state. This percentage is broken down as follows:

30.4% – South Carolina Baptist Convention Ministries
25.56% – South Carolina Baptist Institutions
2% – Womens Missionary Union
1.6% – Church Staff Retirement Plan

40.44% of that $100 is forwarded to the SBC. The SBC has a consistent distribution plan for all CP dollars that are collected from the state conventions. Here is that plan:

50% – International Mission Board
22.79% – North American Mission Board
22.16% – Six Seminaries
3.4% – SBC Operating Budget
1.65% – Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission

The local church’s gift of $100 at the SBC level amounts to $40.44. The gifts, at their final dispersed amount, look like this: International Mission Board ($20.22), North American Mission Board ($9.21), Six Seminaries ($8.96), SBC Operating Budget ($1.37), Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (.66).

In my opinion, here in where the answer rests. It is not so much as the amount the church itself sends, it has to do with the amount that the state keeps. Now, I understand that each state, including our state of South Carolina, have ministries and programs the leadership deem important and worthy of Cooperative Program dollars. When it comes to the funding of missionaries where their only source of support comes from the local church, through the state convention, can’t we do better? Again, in my opinion, I believe we will see a recommendation come from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in June of 2010 relating to this area of CP percentages. Listed below is what other state conventions retain/send to the SBC as a matter of comparison.

Florida Baptist Convention  (60%,40%)
Georgia Baptist Convention  (58.6%, 41.2%)
Alabama Baptist Convention  (58%,42%)
Mississippi Baptist Convention (66%,34%)
Hawaii Baptist Convention  (69.4%, 30.6%) 
Tennessee Baptist Convention (58%, 42%)
California Baptist Convention (72.1%, 27.9%)

We’re Here For You

On Saturday, November 7th we will participate in the convention-wide ministry day labeled as “We’re Here For You”. Our South Carolina Baptist Convention is encouraging all churches to be involved in some sort of simultaneous and tangible mission project in their local area. This state-wide project is occuring the weekend before the SCBC annual meeting in Columbia. This event mirrors the Crossover events that occur in the host city of the SBC annual meeting during the summer where evangelism amd ministry events take place througout the host city.

At Port Royal, we have decided to take on as our project the local skatepark and farmer’s market. Our goal is to go where the people normally and regularly gather and perform acts of kindness. In this case, we will giving out free water. Our desire is to be able to tell people why we are there, share some information about our church, and if the door opens share Christ with someone. We want to establish a presence that will build bridges for future ministry. Prayerfully through this simple project, someone will come understand that God loves them through our love for them. In addition to free water, we will be face painting, making balloon animals, and maybe some hot-drink (depending on the weather).

This project has encouraged me. As we began to plan for this day, there was a sense of excitement among our people. Many agreed that we needed a presence in this area. We have scheduled two prayerwalks ahead of this event. The first was last Saturday with twelve people attending. This was encouraging to me. The next prayerwalk is scheduled for Saturday, October 31st. I am thankful for those who came out to walk, to pray, and to lift up this event to the Lord. I am so very proud of our people. Pray for us as we strive to change our little corner of the world.