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‘Christmas in August’ offering welcome, but not a long-term solution, IMB’s Rankin says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While additional gifts for missions are welcome, the “Christmas in August” special offering being promoted across the Southern Baptist Convention will not solve the long-term funding needs of the International Mission Board, that organization’s leader says.

“We are grateful for the passionate response we are seeing on the part of so many churches when it is obvious they have other critical needs and many families in their churches are hurting,” Jerry Rankin told Baptist Press. “But one-time gifts are not the solution because missionary support must be maintained. It would be unfortunate to send out additional missionaries this year and then have to bring them home next year because we could not sustain this level of giving to missions. As churches take special offerings, we must have faith to believe that they will continue to give at this increased level in the future.”

The idea of taking up a special Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in August was proposed by Daniel L. Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in June during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, Ky. Akin proposed the special offering to help the IMB make up a shortfall in the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The $141 million collected for that offering fell $29 million short of the $170 million goal and more than $9 million short of receipts for the 2007 offering. As a result, International Mission Board trustees suspended new appointments to two short-term missionary programs and cut back on the overall number of missionaries to be appointed for the remainder of 2009.

Akin told messengers at the annual meeting: “It breaks my heart that people want to go, but we don’t have the funds to send them. I am not going to tell our students to look for a home assignment just because of a shortage of funds. I am going to tell them to look for a movement of God to get the necessary funds to get them to the fields.” He announced that Southeastern Seminary would receive a special offering for international missions in their Aug. 25 chapel service and said the Lottie Moon shortfall “provides us with another opportunity to demonstrate our devotion to Christ and passion for the lost.”

At Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which has posted promotional materials for the “Christmas in August” special offering, one member of the executive leadership team expressed a personal perspective on the challenge to greater stewardship.

“While I hope that this special emphasis eases the current financial shortfall, I pray that focusing on the importance of reaching the world for Christ will result in sustained increased giving across the SBC,” said Thomas White, the seminary’s vice president for student services and communications. “I know that God has worked within my own heart so that I plan to increase my personal giving permanently to state and national mission efforts. With the eternal destinies of almost 7 billion people in question, nothing could be more important.”

A number of concerns have been expressed about raising money for an extra missions offering in August, among them the impact on state and associational missions offerings, some of which are conducted in September, as well as the still-ongoing Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and even the 2009 Lottie Moon Offering, which will be promoted in December.

Some also have noted that “Christmas in August” is the trademarked name of an established partnership between Woman’s Missionary Union SBC and the North American Mission Board. Since 1927, Christmas in August has mobilized WMU groups in local churches to provide supplies like school supplies, personal hygiene items, Christian music and movies and Bibles that NAMB missionaries need for their ministries.

“We understand and appreciate the intent of some Southern Baptist leaders to encourage giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this August,” national WMU president Kaye Miller told Baptist Press. “However, we are greatly concerned that calling the effort ‘Christmas in August’ will confuse many in our churches, since there is no offering associated with [WMU’s] Christmas in August and it supports North American missionaries rather than international field personnel.”

In a July 28 column in the Florida Baptist Witness, Ken Whitten, a former International Mission Board trustee, responded to some of the concerns that have been raised.

Saying he is “in full support of taking special offerings like many are doing today with ‘Christmas in August,'” Whitten, who is senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., urged other pastors to “do ‘Christmas in August’ and … do it big!” He also exhorted them, however, to be sure the special offering isn’t raised “at the expense of another worthy ministry” and to be sure the 2009 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is “bigger than ever in December.” He also encouraged churches to remain faithful to the annual offerings for local Baptist associations and state missions.

Whitten also echoed Rankin’s focus on the need for increased long-term giving.

“Keep in mind, the solution is not giving — it is sustaining,” Whitten wrote. “We need more pastors and more churches casting the vision for an Acts 1:8 mission strategy. Personally I believe the light that shines the farthest shines the brightest at home. I do believe God pays for what He orders. There’s a great deal of talk these days about priorities and proportioned funding. That’s where God comes in. We need His wisdom and guidance, and where He’s working, we will join in.”

While the international missions offering fell short of its goal, the $141 million that was raised may represent serious sacrifice, given the state of the nation’s economy, said Wanda S. Lee, executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union SBC.

“Naturally, we are concerned that the goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was not met,” Lee told Baptist Press. “However, in a year of financial hardship for many families and churches, we are grateful for the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptists to missions. This year’s giving to these offerings may be more sacrificial for some than ever before considering the level of unemployment and loss of income experienced by many in our churches.

“While many continue to focus on our nation’s economical plight, the real issue here is stewardship,” Lee added. “Ever since WMU began the annual offerings that support international and North American missionaries, we have underscored the importance of supporting them so missionaries can follow God’s call to service. More importantly, however, since our inception in 1888 WMU has instilled the biblical principles of stewardship in all areas of life. What is needed is an ongoing infusion of these principles through the teaching of the church through missions education. Then, and only then, will stewardship of our resources become a part of the fabric of our daily living.”

Rankin said Southern Baptists “are unique in that they have chosen to do missions cooperatively” through the Cooperative Program.

“It has enabled us to become the largest missionary-sending agency in the world because we can do more together than churches can do independently,” Rankin said. “While we greatly appreciate every special offering, the ultimate solution will not be found in additional special offerings, but in individual church members and families practicing better stewardship; it is only as churches and the denomination give a higher priority to reaching a lost world and find ways to consistently allocate more to missions on an ongoing basis will we be able to be obedient in sending the missionaries God is calling from our churches.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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