ODESSA, Texas (BP) — Several years ago I pastored a small church in East Texas. Our annual budget was slim, yet a stout conviction of our fellowship was giving to missions. We designated 10 percent of our annual budget to it. I sometimes wondered if our tiny church with our even tinier budget really made a scratch on the proverbial surface of the lost world.
One summer I was in Nazareth Village in Israel alongside several other pastors on a tour of the country. While walking into a bookstore, one of the older pastors called me over and introduced me to an IMB missionary. I’ll never forget how he did it: “Jared,” he said, “come meet one of your missionaries.” For the first time in my tenure as a Southern Baptist pastor, I genuinely felt connected to missions; I realized that my giving touched real people.
This illustrates the beauty of the Cooperative Program but it also showcases a weakness. While it’s true that every active church can say that they support international missionaries through the Cooperative Program, it’s also true that, sometimes, the missionaries are nameless numbers (as are the lost people they serve).
The Cooperative Program is more than just sharing money to support missions. It’s about sharing money to support missionaries. That is, the CP is about supporting living, breathing people who share the Gospel with dying, breathing people.
In the downsizing of our international mission force due to budget shortfalls, we are losing 600-800 living, breathing people whose lives impact countless dying, breathing people. I attended my first meeting as a member of the SBC Executive Committee in September and, as you would imagine, this loomed over the gathering. One major concern is how the IMB downsizing might impact the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. This, however, reflects our problem — that this concern is framed in financial terms.
The IMB isn’t a budget item or an offering. It’s people — living, breathing people. It’s people with passions and hopes and dreams and convictions and families and lives. But most importantly it’s saved people reaching lost people with the Gospel.
It’s judicious to be concerned about the impact of the IMB’s budget reset, but this concern should segue to the real problem — lost people. If we express more concern over a budget or an offering rather than the lives being touched, we forget who and what we are as Southern Baptists. Missions shouldn’t be a cog of the church’s machine, but the other way around.
The current issue is not an IMB issue. It’s an “us” issue. The IMB has, year after year, continued to keep and send missionaries, but the average church isn’t providing the necessary assets to keep all our missionaries on the field, not to mention send more out.
This is why the IMB needs the church’s support now more than ever. It would be a categorical atrocity if our churches’ Cooperative Program gifts stagnate or decline week by week or if this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering dips a cent lower than the $153,002,394.13 received last year, when this year’s ingathering should be the largest in history.
Southern Baptist pastors must teach their people that the Cooperative Program isn’t just a line item in the budget but a cooperation of believers to support other believers to create more believers. Pastors need to think about leading our churches to increase their annual CP giving. “Annual” is the key word. The IMB needs consistent gifts to keep missionaries on the field.
And pastors need to begin preparing their people for the upcoming Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by asking how we can strategically and creatively raise more money. What kind of event can we host? What kind of appeal can we make to place a face beside the number? What sacrifice can we make or what corner can we cut in our personal budgets?
More than ever, this is the time to come together as Southern Baptists. Let’s turn the Cooperative Program into a Cooperative Initiative. Let’s remember that our churches exist because of the Great Commission and not the other way around. Let’s remember that there are faces behind the numbers.