MT. WASHINGTON, Ky. (BP)–“If you will, with a broken heart, affirm the recommendation of our staff to temporarily suspend the ISC and Masters programs, and limit other new missionary appointments, please say ‘aye.'” The motion passed.
After a prayer by one of our trustees for God to provide the resources necessary to once again fund all of these missionary-sending programs, I wiped the tears from my eyes and saw our president, Jerry Rankin, do the same.
During the tenure of Rankin’s leadership over the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries has increased by more than 1,500. Our current count exceeds 5,600. But we do not have the money to support additional numbers of missionaries, nor will we be able to replace many of those who are completing their assignments. Therefore, our overall number of missionaries will soon begin to fall.
In an era when more God-called individuals are coming to candidate conferences to explore potential service with the IMB and more students are enrolling in SBC seminaries with the goal of being appointed as Southern Baptist missionaries, have Southern Baptists decided they don’t need any more missionaries? Have we reached the limits of our giving in support of international missions? Have we determined that we need do no more than we are currently doing to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth?
Because of the current formulas determining how Cooperative Program (CP) dollars are spent, only 18 cents of each dollar given through the CP in my state will ever make it to the overseas mission fields. While some states do indeed forward more money, they are the exception.
As a seminary graduate, pastor and professor, I am eternally grateful for all of the ministries supported by the Cooperative Program. The CP paid for a significant part of my education, and the CP continues to partially support my current salary as a professor. Matching funds from my state’s CP budget are contributed to my retirement.
These examples represent only a few of the ways CP dollars spent in the United States are a direct, personal benefit to me. I share that information so you will know that what I am about to say does not come from one who is personally or financially detached from the CP. I also share it so you will know that I am not making a proposal that has the potential to affect others but leave me unaffected.
My modest proposal is this: The time has come to change the Cooperative Program formula. Our prayers for workers for the harvest have been answered! The Lord of the harvest is calling out incredible numbers of workers for fields that are already white to harvest. Shall we tell them we are unable to send them? Shall we communicate to the lost we cannot afford to reach them? My conviction is that the time has come for us to make tough choices between the good and the best when it pertains to the Cooperative Program.
I am not suggesting that all North American CP ministries be defunded. Vital Kingdom work is supported by CP dollars in every state convention and in the Southern Baptist entities and institutions operating in the States. The time has come, however, to invest more of our CP funds in making disciples of all the nations.
I am proposing that every state convention and our national convention revise the formula they use in dividing CP funds by applying a simple two-question test to how and where every dollar is spent.
First, will this expenditure have a direct and transformative impact on lostness?
Second, could this money be better spent by sending a waiting missionary to a place where the Gospel will not be heard unless that missionary goes?
I believe such a test would dramatically change our stateside CP formulas. More importantly, this test would provide the funds necessary to support every called and qualified Southern Baptist missionary to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Just as Americans are changing their spending habits during the current economic crunch, the time has come for Southern Baptists to change their CP spending habits. Ministries and programs we enjoy during times of plenty but that have little or no actual impact upon lostness must be sacrificed for the sake of those facing hell with no access to the Gospel.
Through natural disasters, regime changes, creative access strategies and an ever-growing pool of missionary candidates, God has opened an unprecedented, seemingly unlimited opportunity for Southern Baptists to take the Gospel to the nations. We cannot allow doing what is good to prevent us from doing that which is best.
I plead with you, Southern Baptists, to change the Cooperative Program formula at every level to ensure that the majority of money given to get the Gospel to the nations no longer gets held back in our own nation. We are a Great Commission denomination. The urgency of the times demands that we prove it.
Paul Chitwood is pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Washington, Ky., and chairman of trustees for the International Mission Board.