ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Ever run out of gas? Frustrating. Some people become so frustrated that they beat on the steering wheel, yell at the fuel gauge, kick the tires and bang on the motor. The problem isn’t the car. The driver failed to place adequate fuel in the vehicle at the appropriate time.
“I wiped the tears from my eyes,” an International Mission Board trustee said when he learned the brutal reality that the Lord is calling more people than Southern Baptists are willing to send. The IMB — the Southern Baptist Convention’s international missionary sending vehicle — is running out of gas in the midst of the journey to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. All that is left in the mission-sending fuel tank is the reserve.
Convention leaders, editors, bloggers, trustees — all kinds of Baptists — are proposing a myriad of ideas as to how the convention can rectify the problem. Some have boldly proposed structurally modifying the convention to give it better missions fuel economy. In other words, let’s take the same Cooperative Program dollars from the churches and then rearrange the dollars so we have a convention that has less horsepower but squeezes 2 percent, maybe even 4 percent more for mission agencies.
Small percentages, however, are not what is needed, and structure is under constant review by the various state and national ministries. What’s needed is more new fuel in the tank. This means new missions dollars, not the reshuffling of old currency. And the fuel is needed now. It takes significant time and additional resources to change the structure and gain marginal efficiency. The new dollars, however, are needed now.
If Southern Baptist churches keep doing the same things they have always done with missions giving, they are missing what God desires to do in the midst of His people to lift up a witness for Him in this land and to reach the world. Missions giving follows missions passion.
Have we lost our passion? Numbers don’t’ lie. “One Sacred Effort — The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists,” by Chad Owen and David Hankins, mentions some interesting research that shows a significant drop in overall missions expenditures by our SBC churches. They say that, in 1985, Southern Baptist churches gave, on average 17 percent of their total gifts to “missions.” (The “missions” category on the Annual Church Profile is anything the church calls missions, including Cooperative Program, denominational missions offerings, parachurch efforts, local church mission trips and projects.) In 2003, that percentage had dropped to 11 percent. (One Sacred Effort, p. 176)
Owen and Hankins found three clear trends: 1) church members were giving a smaller percentage of their income to local churches; 2) from this smaller percentage, local churches are spending less on ministries outside the local church; 3) from this even smaller percentage, the Cooperative Program is receiving a slightly smaller percentage of the total local church’s missions giving.
What can be done?
First, let’s begin by scripturally challenging church members to look outside themselves to the lostness of the world, this nation, their state and their communities. One of the signs of genuine spiritual awakening in the church is a fresh vision of the Righteous One who loves lost people and desires to transform lives.
Second, settle the issue. The church and its members belong to the Lord. Consequently, a believer’s resources and a church’s resources are to be managed according to the owner’s wishes. The Lord of lords is passionate about the Gospel reaching the people in the corners, the alleys, the houses and the huts of this planet. Does a believer’s checkbook and the church’s budget reflect His passion?
Third, let’s stop blaming the structure for the current state of affairs. Instead of beating the mechanism into submission, focus on the fuel needed to reach the lost. Be honest about the hard data that shows we’ve spent increasingly more on ourselves and shrunk the percentages going toward all mission endeavors.
Fourth, celebrate success. Churches need to take inventory of their total missions giving. Begin by adding up all missions expenditures: CP, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, state missions offering, mission trips, church plants — everything outside what the local church spends on its “Jerusalem”. How close is the figure to 20 percent?
If the total missions giving of Southern Baptist churches were to average 20 percent, it would transform the Southern Baptist Convention. Why? Cooperative Program dollars would rise along with the missions offerings and the other various direct mission ministries. Celebrating total missions giving reflects a mindset transformation.
If the local church’s total missions giving trend swings back up and beyond 1985 levels, there won’t be tears for missionaries waiting to be sent. There will new fuel to send missionaries to the lost peoples of the world, to the dark places in the cities of this nation and renewed resources to train those God is calling.
In Louisiana, we are encouraging Southern Baptist congregations to be “80/20 Churches,” giving 20 percent to mission causes outside themselves. For help determining whether a church is giving 20 percent outside itself, we have provided an easy-to-use calculator at http://www.lbc.org/8020. We welcome all Southern Baptists to use it!
John L. Yeats is director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.