MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–In difficult economic times our minds naturally become focused on the top priority of the bottom line. This is true in budgeting for a family, a business, a church and even for our Southern Baptist entities. I know that I am not alone in my concern for the Cooperative Program and how it is impacted by this challenging economy. The danger of our shared concern is that we can unintentionally lose our focus. It can be a subtle but powerful shift as we trim down, press the pause button and hold on tight, hoping for better times, not realizing that we now have a different focus.
The answer for a declining church budget and perhaps the endangered Cooperative Program is not in merely cutting back or getting lean. Being forced to rethink our budget certainly adds pressure but it has an intrinsic value. While observing His disciples under financial strain, Jesus tells Simon to Go fish! “… [G]o to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours” (Matthew 17:27, NIV).
When His disciples were feeling real financial pressure Jesus told Peter to go fishing. Why not simply check beneath the cushions of His couch or just pull the dresser away from the wall, figuratively speaking, and find a forgotten coin? Why fish? The disciples were called to be fishers of men and in their simple act of obedience to this first priority they found relief from the pressures that want and need bring. Today, the coin is still in the fish’s mouth. We are fishers of men, not economists or Wall Street deal-makers. We are called of God to fish for the souls of people. In difficult economic times our mission remains unchanged. Jesus makes it plain that our supply is met in the obedient doing of His will, not in the mere longing for better times.
The Great Commission lived out in the local church is the answer to a declining Cooperative Program. The coin is still in the fish’s mouth. If my church fills up with people who experience the transformational power of Jesus Christ through the Word of God, our greatest challenge will be how to use an abundance of mission dollars. The answer for our Southern Baptist challenge also is found in the local church. Southern Baptists on the national, state and associational level may need to reorganize and downsize, but the local church must constantly hear our Lord and in simple obedience, rediscover her calling. We are fishers of men. Remember, however, that the fish and not the coin remains the goal. If the coin becomes the goal, I will be tempted to hoard it and not pass it on. The supernatural supply flows from our obedience to the Lord Jesus.
The goal of Southern Baptists must be to encourage and help local churches in reaching the unsaved for Christ. Our best investment would be to send more resources to the mission and use the rest to encourage local congregations to be stronger fishers of people. These tough economic times, social and moral upheaval and uncertain standing in the world have put most Americans in a place open to the influence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Who then will throw the line into the water and witness the faithfulness of God? For God’s people, that is the most important economic question.
Ed Litton is First Baptist North Mobile in Saraland, Ala, and president of the 2009 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, June 21-22 in Louisville, Ky.