Contagious Commitment

I was moved to envy watching the brief testimonies of 95 missionaries at the November 3 appointment service of the International Mission Board. Sitting in the impressive facilities of Prestonwood Baptist Church we watched couple after couple step up and share their call to missions. The excitement in their voices was unmistakable. Some were single, some had grandchildren, some were returning to their country of ethnic origin. All seemed ready to go from where I sat. I couldn’t help but ask the Lord if he wanted me to go. As before, the answer was “no.” This time I was a bit disappointed.

I spoke with a couple of new appointees afterward and gained an even stronger sense of the privilege of the missionary call. Maybe they thought longingly of the more predictable nature of my ministry, but only a little. These folks are adventurers and straining to get at it. We have a high honor to send them.

The emotions we all experienced during the service must be similar to what IMB trustees feel several times each year as they interview and appoint hundreds of God’s best. A hint of that appeared when the staff and board discussed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering during the trustee meeting. The Richmond-based support staff each had pledged $455 for the offering (a response to their daily proximity to the missionary frontlines). The trustees spontaneously polled their own numbers and their average pledge was $954. Compare this with the SBC average of $17.76 per family.

It’s a simple idea. People care more about things they know or experience. That’s why partnership missions is popular and beneficial to our churches.

Conversely, greater separation bureaucratically or geographically causes a more theoretical commitment to missions. We will pray and give a little but we won’t give up anything for missions. As gently and humbly as I know how to say it, we who live in suburban, Bible belt, Texas too easily forget the needs of northern, western, northeastern, and international locations. We sometimes abandon or demolish facilities and equipment far better than what is available to missionaries within a day’s drive of Dallas. Organizationally, we may consider our church or a denominational body to be “upstream” in the channel of missionary resources. We use what we need and beyond that without adequate consideration of what will be left when the river empties into the ocean of worldwide need.

Try this attitude instead. A few remember and many of us have heard of the conservation measures taken by civilians during WWII. Ration books governed the use of gasoline and tires. Scrap metal was collected for the war effort. Some food items were also rationed and scarce. Many non-gardeners grew “victory gardens” so that commercial farms could provide more for our servicemen. A culture of sacrifice arose that bore fruit way beyond the salvage of recycled steel and aluminum. Miracles of manufacturing, creativity, and production were made possible because the war was “our” cause, not “theirs.” Equipment and material produced in the U.S. supplied our troops as well as those of Russia, England, Australia, Canada, France, and our other allies.

Americans never forgot those on the front lines who needed all we could send them. It helped that everyone was close to someone who was””over there.” Our people also had a sense that something urgent and ultimately important was going on. If they couldn’t go, Americans were honored and obligated to do what they could.
The connection is obvious. The cause of missions is more urgent even than the defense of our nation. Overall, our sacrifice has not yet risen to this great challenge. I’m not suggesting that we worship in decrepit facilities or stop paying our staff members because that is the norm in some places. My father’s generation slept in beds in decent homes while their fathers slept in damp holes across Europe and the Pacific during the war. I’m suggesting that we take this sacred cause as seriously as do the parents of newly appointed missionaries. That we accept an obligation to pray and give and send as modeled by our IMB staff members and trustees. That we go if we are able, send our children when called upon to do so, give up something in our churches and homes so that those on the front lines will be more plentiful and well-equipped. The cause of missions beyond our personal horizons is more important than any merely human cause.

Some speculated what would happen if the roughly half of Southern Baptists we call resident members came to the $455 per household level of giving to our Christmas Offering. It was a staggering number and it won’t happen. What if instead we raised the average gift from $17 per family to $25 or even doubled it? Not staggering, but marvelous and doable. Many of you would have to lower your giving to come to the $25 or $50 level. Don’t do that, but increase it by fifty or a hundred percent and you’ll have the idea.

Stop listening to those who despise our mission. Tales of fat, unused endowments, archaic methodology, and waste just don’t stand up to scrutiny. At their recent board meeting, the trustees gave reporters full copies of staff budget proposals and even discussed Jerry Rankin’s salary package in the open. This kind of transparency is unique among the Baptist organizations I know, Southern Baptist or anti-Southern Baptist. I also don’t know many churches this open.

Our missionary board is exercising good stewardship. They’re cutting all they can cut over here to send more over there. Right now, more people are being called out than the board can see a way to send. A continued commitment to cooperative giving will enable a stronger, more numerous missionary force. A generous response to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is the other significant part of supporting our missionaries. You can keep your scrap metal and use all the gas you need, but remember our people on the frontlines. Read about them, pray for them, meet them when you have the chance-do whatever you can to put missions in your mind and heart. In doing so, you’ll be learning the truth. The truth will put missions in your heart so that the cause becomes ours, not just theirs.

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