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FIRST-PERSON: Creating a generous culture in our churches

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Eight months of speculation have come to an end. Last week, when the Kentucky Great Commission Task Force released its report, two things were readily apparent: their primary objective seems to have been to reach a 50/50 split between Cooperative Program funds going to the Southern Baptist Convention and those kept for Kentucky Baptist Convention ministries as quickly as possible; their other objective was to reverse the steady erosion in CP receipts coming from our churches.

The prevailing assumption seems similar to that espoused in the movie, “Field of Dreams,” suggesting that if our state convention adopts a budget that allocates 50 percent for SBC causes, then our churches will reciprocate by contributing more of their undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. The accepted imperative is that more money is needed to send more international missionaries and plant churches in our metro areas where vast numbers of people have yet to hear the Gospel.

In Task Force Chairman Hershael York’s own words: “We believe we’ve got to reverse the decline in Cooperative Program giving,” and “we believe that we’re going to have to have a paradigm shift in order to get more resources to reach unreached, unengaged peoples around the world.”

The issue, he and other task force members keenly assessed, is a spiritual one: “It’s not about money; it’s really about Jesus.” Taking a cue from the success of the Find It Here evangelistic emphasis, they envision a spiritual emphasis among Kentucky Baptists called “More for Christ.” Indeed, it’s an ingenious catch-phrase that may easily become a rally cry.

“What we are after is trying to create a culture of giving and generosity and doing less for ourselves. That we’re willing to wear old clothes, and we’re willing to drive older cars and live in smaller houses and cut out a week’s vacation in order to do a mission trip,” York advocated. “Everything we do, we want it to be focused on Christ.”

Even though the spiritual proposal is “our most significant one,” according to York, the task force’s recommendations go much further. Up front, they call for a 6 percent across-the-board cut for KBC agencies and institutions, a 9.85 percent reduction for the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Mission Board and the Woman’s Missionary Union, and nearly a 13 percent cut for the University of the Cumberlands and Campbellsville University, effective with the 2011-2012 budget. The result is roughly a 53/47 split, with a stated seven-year intent to accomplish the remainder. It’s a sharp hit, especially for the colleges, which will see an immediate loss of $192,000 annually, and the hard truth is that Kentucky Baptists’ own missions and ministries will have to learn to do “more for Christ” with less — possibly as much as $1.35 million less. Yet university and agency leaders and Mission Board staff also understand a call to sacrifice for the Great Commission.

The real key to continued success in accomplishing the Great Commission, however, rests with the third component: Churches are called upon to increase their Cooperative Program gifts by at least a quarter of a percent each year for the next seven years. This should enable the KBC to increase its Cooperative Program budget goal by three percent each year, York calculates.

In the past 12 years, total undesignated receipts of KBC churches have increased by $100 million, yet Cooperative Program support has not kept pace. “We’ve gotten more money from our people, and we’ve kept more of it at home or used it elsewhere,” he assessed. York rightly appealed, “We feel it’s wrong for us to merely vote to change the allocation and then not challenge our churches to give more.” He continued, “It’s wrong to ask the KBC to make cuts and then our churches just go on keeping more at home for ourselves. We think everybody needs to do more for Christ in order to reach more for Christ.”

Certainly, the messengers who will raise their ballots in support of the Kentucky Great Commission Task Force’s ambitious call and the ensuing stringent cuts required of the KBC’s agencies and institutions should also willingly commit themselves to lead their churches to incrementally increase their CP support. “So if anybody thinks this is just about voting to change the slices of the pie, they are missing the point entirely,” York corrected. “We must reverse the trend and get churches to say, ‘We’re going to spend less on us in order to do more for Christ.'” York is commendably leading his own church, Buck Run in Frankfort, to up its CP giving by one percent for the next two years.

Only if KBC churches do, in fact, follow suit and step up CP giving, will the plan work. According to York, nearly $24 million more would go to SBC causes, and with 51 percent set aside for the International Mission Board that would mean $11.8 million more annually to put missionaries on the field. “If we really buy in to this and start doing it, what we can accomplish for Christ is just mind-boggling,” York said.

In the “Field of Dreams,” Ray built the ball field and not only did some legendary ball players come, but he had an opportunity to play a game of catch with his father. If the task force’s recommendations are adopted, our greatest hope is that Kentucky Baptists will, indeed, “play ball,” and our Heavenly Father will smile approvingly on our Great Commission efforts.
Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder, online at WesternRecorder.org.

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