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FIRST-PERSON: When missions hits the wall

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–“Hitting the wall” is an idiom used to describe what happens to some marathon runners, cross-country skiers, cyclists and tri-athletes.

In hitting the wall, an athlete has maxed out his/her physical resources and desperately needs an infusion of energy.

For the first time in recent history, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board has hit the wall. The current available funds are not sufficient to meet the current demands. In a day when the Gospel harvest is ripe and God is calling people to service at unprecedented levels, the IMB must throttle back its sending missionaries to the field. The IMB has discovered it is in the uncomfortable position of placing a cap on the number of missionaries it will appoint in the next 12 months.

Analysis of revenue streams shows that the IMB investment income is down, which is not a big surprise to anyone with market investments. During the stock market downturn, the IMB has used reserve funds to offset investment loses and maximize its current mission of world outreach.

If the investment income losses and severe depletion of reserve funds were not enough trouble for our missionary leaders, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions fell $10 million short of its goal. The 2002 goal was a record goal; in spite of the economic downturn, Southern Baptists gave a record historic Lottie Moon offering. IMB leaders are quick to applaud the generosity of Southern Baptists. However, the mission board was counting on the additional $10 million to place many new missionaries on the field.

Now, unless there is a major infusion of cash, an opportunity is lost.

The IMB cannot dip any deeper into reserve funds, and it already receives 50 percent of Cooperative Program funds sent to the Southern Baptist Convention.

So, what is the answer? The IMB trustees and administration believe part of the answer is prudent stewardship of the current resources they are called to manage.

Another factor to understand is that the current dilemma is not because there is a lack of resources even in an economic downturn. “Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t you just say there was a shortfall?” Yes. However, it is very important that followers of the Lord Jesus understand they are not the ultimate source for ministry funding. God alone is the ultimate resource for what He wants accomplished in this day.

Southern Baptist ministries, whether the IMB, North American Mission Board, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, our six SBC seminaries or a state convention, belong to the Lord, and He wants to provide the resources for these ministries through His people.

The day Southern Baptists start believing that cooperative ministries are “our” ministries apart from the handiwork of God, we are in trouble. Historically, some other denominations have embraced humanistic methodologies and attitudes toward ministry funding. Consequently, they have experienced the erosion of their spiritual vitality and divine usability.

Southern Baptists must continue to hold high the truth of biblical tithing and freewill offerings as God’s methods, not man’s, to accomplish His purposes through our churches, associations and state, national and international cooperative ministries.

As the IMB appears to have “hit the wall,” some of our other Cooperative Program-supported ministries and some of our churches also are “hitting the wall.” We must pray that this is a short-term phenomenon.

The fix for hitting the wall is more than a mere infusion of cash. What is most desperately needed is a renewed mindset through which Southern Baptists restate their passion to be the people of God on mission with Him through our giving of tithes and offerings via our local churches. God has blessed Southern Baptists for His purposes and not our own.
John Yeats is editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention, and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • John Yeats