February 21, 2005
I am more optimistic about the state of the Convention and the cooperation therein than I have been since coming to this office. My optimism stems not only from the high standards to which the Executive Committee holds itself and the exceptional quality of our work, but also from the growing passion I sense among all entities and throughout the state conventions for being Kingdom people doing Kingdom work, all for God's glory.
Certain ingredients are necessary for this passion to stay the course until it sweeps the Convention and, hopefully, the nation. We have some of these ingredients in common with other conservative evangelicals; others are distinctive to us.
Biblical integrity and doctrinal purity are matters about which we must be forever vigilant. Adrian Rogers once said, "Our zeal for missions will not surpass our zeal for the Bible."
Missions, including personal evangelism and church planting, has long been our hallmark. We must find ourselves compelled to obey the Great Commission and accept the challenge of our missions boards to strengthen missions, personal witnessing, and church planting, all of which are woven into the very fabric of our identity.
Christian education is more important than anytime in our history. We must commend and encourage our Christian colleges and universities to remain faithful to education based upon a biblical foundation. To do less is to eliminate the word "Christian" from Christian education. Our Southern Baptist seminaries must be commended for accepting the challenge of providing a quality theological education at reasonable costs to rapidly growing student bodies.
LifeWay Christian Resources is in the business of educating God's people in the local church through the publication of Bibles, Sunday School curriculum, reference works, and trade books. The challenge to anticipate and prepare for the multiple worship forms in our churches has never been greater, but one thing remains constant at LifeWay — the publishing of materials that encourage solid expository preaching and teaching from an inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God.
GuideStone Financial Resources continues to institute new initiatives solely for the benefit of the ministers who participate in its retirement, medical, disability, and life insurance plans. Guidestone's assets are increasing as a result of good money management and an upward tick in the stock market. If Jesus tarries, we will all be most grateful to retire with a sense of dignity that comes from having maintained at least a degree of self-sufficiency in those golden years. Should those golden bells ring for us, our spouses, children, and grandchildren will hopefully have a security that otherwise would not have been possible except that we were encouraged to put aside some of our earnings along the way. Of course, should Jesus come, the money will be left behind, and we will be rejoicing in the treasures we have laid up in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal (Matthew 6:20, KJV). Unlike Social Security, it's a security plan that not even the President and the Congress of the United States can equal.
Southern Baptists have had a powerful and influential voice in Washington and wherever the wrongs of this nation need to be righted. While the source of our convictions, God's Holy Word, is often questioned, there is never a misunderstanding about what we believe. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission often drives the debate in matters that should be on our minds, upon our hearts, and in our nation's conscience. The syndicated weekly radio broadcast, For Faith and Family, is carried by more than 600 stations nationwide and reaches more than 1.5 million listeners.
The Woman's Missionary Union has dedicated itself to focusing upon the meaning of the "M" word in its name. It is deliberately and systematically concentrating efforts and energies upon the original missionary purpose of its existence. The WMU continues to play a significant role in missions education in our local churches and promotes the annual missions offerings.
The Executive Committee is the one organization within the Southern Baptist Convention whose assignments are spelled out in the SBC Bylaws. We are a committee of the Convention charged with specific responsibilities as well as those tasks not otherwise assigned to the Convention's entities. Perhaps the most important decision the Committee has made in recent years has been to approve the establishment of the Empowering Kingdom Growth Task Force, which has become a catalyst in the effort to spread the vision throughout the Convention, primarily through the support of Ken Hemphill as the national strategist for EKG. LifeWay also has assisted in his financial support.
Under the umbrella of Empowering Kingdom Growth, ministries we could not have anticipated are emerging, including Kingdom Families, the Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge emphasis of our president, Dr. Bobby Welch, and the Acts 1:8 Challenge on missions for which a book has been written as a companion study along with The Heartbeat of God by Ken Hemphill. One DOM from North Carolina gives us a glimpse of the excitement God's Spirit is generating among our churches. Gradually people are asking the question, "Am I a Kingdom Person?" In a recent note to Dr. Hemphill, he said, "The Alaska Baptist Convention or one of its associations picked up my review of your book from Amazon and printed it in one of their newsletters to promote EKG. When I find out, I'll let you know who placed the article in the newsletter. This thing is spreading like wildfire!"
In recent months, our state Baptist executive directors have begun to talk about educating and promoting the Cooperative Program with an urgency and passion I have not witnessed heretofore. In fact, it may be the most pronounced effort on the part of the state executive directors since the SBC, in 1925, asked them to take responsibility for promoting the Cooperative Program within their state conventions. While the dollar amount of Cooperative Program giving has climbed steadily higher over the last twelve years, an alarming trend is developing underneath the good news. In 1984, the local church averaged giving 10.6 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. Twenty years later, in the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the percentage dropped to 6.99 percent. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the dangerous trend that is unfolding.
I believe the state executive directors, chief executives of our SBC entities, and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention are poised and ready to launch one of the most thorough and exciting efforts in our history for the purpose of challenging our people to practice biblical stewardship, including the giving of a tithe to the storehouse, the local church.
As a pastor, through the years, sometimes a person would say, "but there's not much in the New Testament about tithing. Jesus only mentioned it once." When you have a Bible that is the truth — God's inspired Word — Jesus only needs to mention it once. Nevertheless, they would go on to say, "I believe in the grace giving concept of the New Testament." Usually — not always — but usually, they say they believe in "grace giving" because it is a practice they have found would allow them to give less than ten percent. After all, we're under grace now and not under law. But I would ask them, "If God gave us the principle of storehouse tithing ten percent through the local church by law, would He not have expected and wanted us to give more by grace." Our grace opportunity is that opportunity to give more than we would ever have given by law.
God help our people to learn biblical stewardship. God help our people come to a new conviction of tithing through the local church so that Christ can be preached not only in their Jerusalem but around the world to the ends of the earth.
The task will not be easy because a large contingent of members in our local churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention have little or no knowledge about the huge significance of the Cooperative Program in supporting our missions efforts around the world.
Southern Baptists have an enormous vision for reaching the world for Christ. We must support the vision with our tithes to the church, some of which finds its way through the Cooperative Program and to the seminary classrooms and missions fields to which we pledge our support.
There has never been a day in our history when it has been more important to stress the significance of working together in a cooperative spirit. We are today's leaders, and few of the names will change in the next decade. It's now or never for us. What is our responsibility? It is not to spend time thinking about what others owe us, but rather, to focus on what we owe others. It's a difficult task. To do so is to resist our human impulses. We can't be perfect, but we can be much more Christ-like in living and leading.
In Psalm 119:105 David said, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (NIV).
There is a way for us to walk. There is a way for us to talk. There are principles by which we are to live. And there are lapses for which we are forgiven. Shall we lead this Convention from the foot of the Cross? Shall we finish well? Or shall we fade into the sunset having abdicated the leadership necessary to pave the way for an outpouring of God's Spirit upon this nation?
God's answer for us is well-known and quite simple: If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14, KJV).
I try to remind myself it's not about me. It's about God — the One upon Whom we dwell, the One upon Whom we focus, and the One for Whom we live. It is our choice. We have established that we have a profound belief and profound conviction concerning the authority of God's Word. But as we stand vigilant at the gate, we also have the responsibility to use that lamp, God's Word, as that light for our path that would lead us in our attitudes, in our life style, in what we say, and how we say it.
God help us as Southern Baptists to be a catalyst for God's Spirit to fall mightily — not only upon this Convention but upon these United States of America and to the ends of the earth.