TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–I recently had lunch with Dr. Johnny Hunt, our SBC president, at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was there to speak to a student conference. During lunch, the eight or nine of us who had been invited had the opportunity to discuss the Great Commission Resurgence emphasis that Dr. Hunt has championed. It was a frank, yet friendly, discussion.
Some of what we discussed centered on the question of who and what we appreciate and honor in the Southern Baptist Convention. One of Dr. Hunt’s frustrations, like many pastors of larger churches, is that Southern Baptists have not acknowledged the large amounts of money given by his church and others like it.
The complaint raised against many large churches has been that they tend to give a much lower percent of their budgets to the Cooperative Program than many smaller churches. Dr. Hunt rightly noted that the Cooperative Program has never emphasized a percent. In recent years some have suggested that 10 percent is a proper amount for churches to send to the Cooperative Program. While some churches in the SBC have felt led to increase to an even larger percent, many of the larger churches have reduced their percent over the years to between 2 and 4 percent.
In light of this lunch conversation, I began to think about what I was taught about the Cooperative Program in my early days of ministry. I was not raised a Southern Baptist. I came to faith in Christ as a young adult, and I became a Southern Baptist at the same time. I didn’t understand the Cooperative Program at first, but once I understood it I came to have a deep appreciation of what it does in allowing Southern Baptist to fulfill the Great Commission.
Dr. Hunt is correct. I was never taught that there was a proper percent to give. I was taught a more important principle of equal sacrifice. I was taught that it did not matter the size of the church or the size of the budget. What was important was that we cooperatively work together and equally sacrifice to see the Great Commission go forward. But doesn’t that get us back to the question of percents? How can we say that a church giving 2 percent is sacrificing equally with churches giving over 10 percent?
As I thought about what I had been taught, I remembered the widow. You remember her don’t you? Jesus noted her sacrifice in Luke 21:1-4. He saw rich men casting large amounts into the temple treasury. The amounts were apparently large but did not require great sacrifice. The widow stood with them and threw in two small coins that were a pittance in comparison with what the rich men had each thrown in. However, Jesus commended that widow and her gift because of the sacrifice that she made.
Which model should we follow as Southern Baptists? What will we honor and recognize? Will Southern Baptists continue to place our emphasis upon equal sacrifice and promote the example of the widow? Or, will Southern Baptists look only at the dollars and promote the example of the rich men in Jesus’ story? What would Jesus do?
Timothy Boyd is editor of the Baptist Digest, newsjournal of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.