NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Despite the nation’s financial upheaval, “the generosity of countless numbers of men and women in the pews of our churches” is evident, leaders of the SBC’s 11 entities and its women’s auxiliary noted in an open letter to Southern Baptists released Feb. 16.
Difficult circumstances often are “the platform on which God demonstrates His supernatural activity,” the Baptist leaders noted. “What appears to many as a dark day may be the brightest day we have ever seen for reaching this generation for Christ.”
The open letter was read by SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman during the opening session of the EC’s Feb. 16-17 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Released through the Great Commission Council, which consists of SBC entity presidents and Woman’s Missionary Union executive director, the letter also was signed by Atlanta-area pastor Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Randall L. James of Florida, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
The letter was drafted at a time when Cooperative Program giving is 0.81 percent ahead of the 2008 year-to-date giving in support of Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America.
Daniel L. Akin, chairman of the Great Commission Council and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, appointed a three-member team to draft the letter on behalf of the council: Morris H. Chapman; Charles S. Kelley Jr., president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“The presidents of your Southern Baptist Convention entities are keenly aware of our need to exercise wise stewardship during these difficult days,” the leaders said in the letter. They noted, for example, that missionaries of the International Mission Board face “a significant depreciation of their resources” amid the global decline of the dollar. The SBC’s six seminaries, meanwhile, have seen their endowments decline and, as a result, are less able to hold down students’ tuition costs.
Through the Cooperative Program, “thousands of churches have pledged to work together for Kingdom causes,” the leaders noted. “The economic challenges may be great — and they are — but our God is greater…. Let us covenant together to trust in the Lord with all our heart, to pray fervently, to give willingly, and to look forward expectantly.”
The full text of the open letter follows:
February 16, 2009
Dear Southern Baptists:
Our nation has experienced a sudden and precipitous economic decline. The presidents of your Southern Baptist Convention entities are keenly aware of our need to exercise wise stewardship during these difficult days. Southern Baptists have remained faithful in giving to Kingdom purposes despite the collapse in consumer confidence that grips our nation. We commend the generosity of countless numbers of men and women in the pews of our churches and humbly acknowledge their faith-filled obedience to the Lord. Even in the face of such sacrificial giving, our SBC entities are facing financial challenges of an unprecedented nature. We are working closely with our respective boards of trustees to bring our expenses in line with our available resources. We think this is the wise and prudent thing to do. At the same time, we remain confident that our God will continue to provide our every need according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
Revivalist and church historian Lewis Drummond once asked whether we would be willing to see our country brought to its knees financially if that is what it takes for revival to come to America. This may be that day. Financially, our nation is on its knees. Difficult circumstances, such as the current worldwide economic crisis, are often the platform on which God demonstrates His supernatural activity. What appears to many as a dark day may be the brightest day we have ever seen for reaching this generation for Christ.
Your Great Commission Council (GCC) is comprised of the presidents of our two mission boards, our six seminaries, LifeWay, GuideStone, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Executive Committee, and the executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union. Each member of the GCC uniformly believes that the Cooperative Program remains God’s special gift to Southern Baptists for the fulfillment of His Kingdom purposes. Since its inception, the Cooperative Program has been a channel through which the Lord has blessed others. It provides consistent and dependable financial support for our worldwide missions and ministries.
The Cooperative Program exists because thousands of churches have pledged to work together for Kingdom causes. We are convinced that we can accomplish more together than we could ever do alone. While we cooperate with one another, we maintain a strong commitment to the biblical principle of autonomy of the local church. Thus each church determines for itself what percentage of its tithes and offerings it forwards for Convention causes.
Both individual Baptists and local churches have an opportunity to practice what Paul terms grace giving – giving that does not come from our abundance, but rather from God’s abundance. As individual Southern Baptists give their tithes and offerings through their local church, they enable their church to reach its community with the message and hope of Jesus Christ. As local churches forward a percentage of their receipts through the Cooperative Program, it enables them to support ministries that reach beyond their own Jerusalem. The miracle of the Cooperative Program is that it enables churches of every size and description to participate equally in the fulfillment of the Acts 1:8 mandate. As churches give through the Cooperative Program, they join with thousands of other Southern Baptist churches in reaching the lost.
Today, the GCC believes that the Southern Baptist Convention has an opportunity for cooperation that will be unparalleled in our Convention’s history. With the decline of the dollar in the world’s financial markets, our missionaries face a significant depreciation of their resources. There is an urgent need for Southern Baptists to be faithful in giving through the Cooperative Program for the cause of international and North American missions.
Our educational institutions are facing an unusual challenge. In addition to Cooperative Program funding, our seminaries depend on income generated from endowments. As the market has declined, endowment revenue has declined with it. Thus, they will receive smaller amounts from their endowment funds to help defray tuition costs to students. Once again, as we continue to give through the Cooperative Program, we have the opportunity to see God meet the needs of these men and women preparing themselves for service through our churches and around the world.
The GCC stands united in this endeavor – to assist churches in fulfilling Great Commission ministries through the Cooperative Program. We recognize and emphasize the essential unity of all our denominational work in the various state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.
In order to raise the level of cooperation among the entities, the states conventions, and the churches of the Convention, we must commit ourselves afresh to our responsibility to seek first His Kingdom. One way we do this is by giving through the Cooperative Program to help reach our world for Christ. These difficult economic times provide Southern Baptists a marvelous opportunity to bear His light. As we all give sacrificially to His purposes, we as members of the GCC commit ourselves to you and the Lord to exercise the wisest stewardship possible of God’s resources and to demonstrate our confidence in the sufficiency of Christ.
Hopefully, the recession will be short-lived. Regardless, we are committed to following biblical principles of stewardship and accountability that we believe will help us emerge from the recession with the strength necessary to continue the expansion of evangelism, church planting, theological education, missions at home and abroad, and the promotion of ethics and religious liberty that the Lord has entrusted to us. In all things we want to be found faithful, both to the Lord and to Southern Baptists. The economic challenges may be great — and they are — but our God is greater. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. Let us covenant together to trust in the Lord with all our heart, to pray fervently, to give willingly, and to look forward expectantly.
Daniel L. Akin, chairman of the Great Commission Council and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee
Jerry A. Rankin, president of the International Mission Board
Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources
Richard D. Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
Wanda S. Lee, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Charles S. Kelley Jr., president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Johnny M. Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention
Randall L. James, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.