MADISON, Ind. (BP)–Many Southern Baptists are watching from a distance as the Great Commission Task Force goes about its work. As comments from the formal listening sessions, buzz in the blogosphere, and published responses show, present opinion is divided on the advisability of this undertaking. Given the nature of the project, and the consistent disposition of Baptists to disagree, such division is to be expected.
Perhaps like most Southern Baptist pastors, I have paid loose attention to the reporting on the Great Commission Resurgence, but have not been deeply engaged in the process. After praying and reflecting on the matter in light of having attended a recent state convention annual meeting, I would like to offer this encouragement to my fellow pastors: We had better all start paying attention to this discussion.
As I sat in the convention hall and perused the book of reports at my state convention meeting, I started to do a little mental math based on the proposed budget for 2010. In my new-work state of Indiana, roughly 36 percent of Cooperative Program receipts collected from the churches make it to the SBC. From there, those funds are divided among our various entities: primarily, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, six seminaries, and the Executive Committee. Of these beneficiaries, the IMB receives half the total funding and the other groups split the remaining 50 percent. The end result is that when my church gives a dollar to the Cooperative Program, only about 18 cents goes to the IMB and 82 cents stays in America. From another perspective, since my church gives 10 percent of its receipts to the Cooperative Program, when I give a dollar to my church, a dime makes it to the Cooperative Program, 3.6 cents goes on to the SBC, and 1.8 cents makes it to the nations through the work of the IMB. So I guess you could say I put in my two cents worth — almost.
It is true that in the old-line state conventions, the percentage of Cooperative Program dollars that goes to SBC national causes is higher. But even in the states where the percentage is 50-50 (once considered the gold standard for CP giving), the actual dollars going to fund world missions is a shockingly small percentage of total church gifts. If the other terms of my example above remain the same, in a state convention which sends 50 percent of Cooperative Program gifts to the SBC, only about 2.5 cents of every dollar given to the church makes it to the billions of people who live in the most unreached and underserved parts of the world.
My purpose here is not to denigrate the vital work of state conventions which are pushing back against an ever-rising tide of lostness in America. Still less is it to label my church or my state as a poor example of missions stewardship. Rather, I think my church and my state convention are fairly well representative of the whole. In light of that, I would like to stimulate thought and prayer about the issue of missions funding in SBC life, especially against the backdrop of the call for a Great Commission Resurgence.
As an individual Baptist examining my stewardship, it boils down to this: Is two cents of every dollar dedicated to taking the Gospel to the world’s lost billions while 98 cents is retained in America the best distribution of resources possible? With images from a trip to Asia still fresh in my mind, this disparity is simply incapable of justification. More importantly, I think it is self-evident that the rising generation of SBC pastors will not be content with this sort of a distribution plan for our mission dollars. We can either rethink our commitment to adequately and sacrificially funding world missions, or these men will step away from the Cooperative Program.
The praises of the Cooperative Program have long been sung among Southern Baptists, especially in comparison to the old societal approach to giving. While I can readily agree with that sentiment, I cannot accept that less than two cents of my church offering making it to the areas of the world most devoid of a Gospel witness is sufficient. The fault does not lie in the Cooperative Program as a unified funding mechanism. Rather, it lies in the failure of our present system to prioritize distribution of the financial resources to the greatest concentrations of spiritual need. Refusal to face this reality will not serve in the long run to preserve the Cooperative Program. Instead, it will doom it to a slow demise.
The truth is that there are weak links all along our SBC mission supply lines. It begins with far too many Southern Baptists failing as stewards. From there, too many of our churches are failing to give adequately to undergird mission work, and out of the total mission gifts, too little of the money finds its way to the points of greatest spiritual need. Through the years, our leaders have been reluctant to address these concerns out of fear of unsettling our cooperative efforts. It has been easier to kick the can down the road than to make the hard decisions necessary to reprioritize mission funding in the SBC.
The Great Commission commands that our vision be set not only on Jerusalem and Judea, but also on the uttermost parts of the earth. It is time we take a hard look at how well our convention is doing that.
Speaking only for myself, a sober analysis of the distribution of our mission dollars is enough to cause me to say that any true Great Commission Resurgence must include a realignment of our giving priorities at every level of Southern Baptist life, including at the local church level. I recognize that it will take much more to see a true resurgence of the Great Commission among us than rethinking our spending priorities, but I do not think we can expect any meaningful resurgence without such a reallocation.
Paul Brewster is pastor of Ryker’s Ridge Baptist Church in Madison, Ind.