Ok – this is the last post on this subject. As some of us looked at issues the next leaders of the SBC should consider, here are the final thoughts I will share. I’m ready to move on to other topics.
Having spent the last couple of years examining non-traditional SBC churches in our midst, my bias is that in the minds of young church leaders there is a disconnect between Cooperative Program and the very thing that led us to create the SBC – missions. Whether or not there is a connection is not the point – the perception of such is my point. The perception is gaining that there is no connection between being a Southern Baptist and actually supporting and doing missions. We’ve done it to ourselves by becoming a convention that is dominated by value added services (which evidently fewer people are asking for) and by compromising the prioritization of missions as our purpose. Naturally, many folks have come to the conclusion that our re-prioritization of missions is the answer. So, what I have to say here is nothing revolutionary - just so obvious.
The IMB and NAMB are the key to SBC winning the ongoing partnership of the children of Southern Baptists.
The IMB and NAMB are collaborative ministries built on the volitional, financial and spiritual cooperation of autonomous, biblical, distinct churches each bearing the tenants of Southern Baptists. The origins and the glue of Southern Baptists is wrapped up in biblical churches willingly joining together to give and pray and preach and go to disciple disparate peoples toward faith in Jesus Christ. We arrived at our missional heights through among other things, this tool we call Cooperative Program giving. Thank the Lord for the gift of CP and the dedication of generations of Southern Baptists who have made the connection between their gifts and missions work around the world. Today, the system has become so many steps removed from feet on the ground that it’s hard to explain how donations at my church actually make it to SBC mission activity. When church members learn about the tiny percentages that actually arrive on the mission field, they jump to the correct conclusion that our commitment to the SBC is not necessarily as much of a commitment to missions as they assumed. I’ve watched people become distraught as they learn the break down of where their CP dollars go.
It goes without saying that those miniscule percentages of financial distribution to missions must be reversed, state by state if churchmen in those states are going to have their faith restored in giving through the traditional CP mechanism. We’ve got to stop calling anything and everything missions. State and local leadership need to understand that CP was not created to keep hundreds of convention staff employed. CP was created to keep 600 missionaries from attritioning off the field; rather CP should be keeping all of the 5,600 and more missionaries on the field. In actual fact the CP is not about the missionaries – it’s about the Great Commission and the missionaries are just one critical piece of that. Another critical piece is churches who are engaged in lostness at home and abroad. I guess the message to churches who vote to approve the same weak percentages year after year is, “Why do we accept the status-quo? Change the state conventions’ budgets.” Until we are willing to make those drastic changes financially, we are going to continue to see children of Southern Baptists lose interest for lack of our own credibility.
In addition, I believe that the user-friendliness and a growing service-orientation of the IMB and NAMB is key to our children understanding the need to partner with The Southern Baptist Convention in missions. As servants of Southern Baptist churches, both the IMB and NAMB must play a multiplicative, catalytic, and service role, which maximizes the spread of the gospel and the impact of global discipleship. If the IMB and NAMB, as instruments of the SBC are to win the hearts of our children and grandchildren, we will do so by helping churches fulfill their mission of winning the lost, planting multiplying churches and reaching the least reached around the world and at home.
Currently, the preponderance of SBC missionaries are not focused on serving North American churches in their mission to reach the world. Missionaries are focused on doing excellent mission work – laboring night and day to start effective churches globally or here in North America – which has been our paradigm for generations.
In the future, doing excellent mission work will not be enough.
While we cannot give up doing effective mission work, missionaries have to add to their full plates, the role of joyfully serving and mentoring North American churches in missions. This is a sacrifice for missionaries who have given their lives to serving the lost not serving complacent North American churches. My sense is that this step backwards is a necessary step to dramatically mobilize laborers personally and financially. Particularly among younger adults, I’m convinced that without personal involvement with church planters and field missionaries, giving and going with the IMB and NAMB will not follow. In addition to missionaries mentoring, there is a great movement of missionally engaged pastors and church leaders who have much to teach and share with our missionaries about engaging the lost. We live in a global village and back-and-forth mentoring is needed across the globe.
Not only must missionaries learn to serve local churches, the SBC must back missionaries by marketing and communication about the opportunity to give directly to mission agencies and projects as well as to the Cooperative Program. By discouraging direct giving we are sending Southern Baptist dollars to other missionaries and other mission entities. Generations of missionaries have been taught to go far and to go deep in planting roots as missionaries around the world. In recent years some missionaries have adapted their methodologies to rapidly advance the spread of church planting movements among the least reached. Since the advent of short-term mission trips, some missionaries have been learning that they play a new role in mobilizing and equipping and serving churches. The result is that pastors and lay leaders come to the field like never before. Short-term trips are not going away and the role of North American churches in direct missions around the world is here to stay. The difference between us and Independent missionaries is that they have seen that their fund-raising is directly connected to their ability to mobilize and equip and partner with individuals and with North American churches. For other agencies short term trips yield direct funds for mission work. For us, short term trips motivate older Southern Baptist to give more to the Cooperative Program. That just doesn’t work so well for younger Southern Baptists. To win the hearts of churches that are led by the children of Southern Baptists, IMB and NAMB missionaries must become as effective as our independent missionary colleagues at serving local churches in their mission and by giving them the opportunity to give directly to meet the needs they have experienced first hand. At the same time, the SBC Executive Committee must not only support this effort but must accentuate the opportunity to give Cooperatively and Directly to support NAMB and the IMB.
Other mission agencies work hard to win their financial support and to partner in the advance of the Gospel. Our missionaries overseas are not allowed to raise more support and even if they did it would not add food to their tables, whereas independent missionaries have a very clear financial need and motivation to raise support constantly. Could the future of the IMB be built upon a change in the DNA of our missionary culture, which encourages but does not demand missionaries to be active mobilizers-through-service? Our ability to become servants of churches may win the hearts and the pockets of younger Southern Baptists. Regardless of the success or demise of the Cooperative Program, it seems to me that the effective funding of missions by future Southern Baptist churches will be tied to NAMB and IMB’s ability to provide value-added service among our church sending base.
As a missionary, I don’t like what I’m saying here. It just adds one more duty to the already over-worked missionaries. As unseemly as it feels coming out of my on mouth, I am afraid that our missionaries in a competitive marketplace with other mission organizations.-competitive only in the sense of dollars and cents. In the past we’ve never had to worry about financially needing 600 missionaries to either retire or not extend their service in order to reduce our numbers by 600. That day is here now. How many more missionaries must return home before we consider a foundational change. The answer is not found in berating SBC churches for not giving more. Unfortunately, our SBC mission entities and their personnel are going to have to painfully participate in the process of changing the current trend. It simply is not acceptable that 600 missionaries must be attritioned into retirement. Only a game-changing shift across the board will change this trend and our new leaders must be willing to change the role that missionaries of the IMB and NAMB contribute to the solution.
So the question remains, will young Southern Baptist reengage the mission of Southern Baptists? Will the world sink or swim on the answer to that question? (Obviously not.)
DNA is caught more than taught and it is the missionaries and some of our missional pastors and leaders who have that DNA “in their bellies.” So, if missions is to be restored to its rightful place as our SBC core value, then our missionaries and our missional pastors and church leaders are going to be the ones to teach and mentor the next generation of Southern Baptists.
That’s all on this subject. Now let’s turn our hearts to the reason for our worship – the risen Lord.