Our part in international missions

In John 3, Jesus instructed his disciples to ask “the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the fields.” That prayer is frequently offered in our churches and homes as we consider the billions of lost people around the world. Usually we assume that if God will call them out, we can find a way to send them, and for years that has been true. The cry has always been for more workers. The possibility that our missionary force may decrease during the next year for financial reasons should change our assumptions about international missions.

The enthusiastic response of missionary candidates to a huge task and broadening opportunities is nothing but good news. Our missions board has also struggled to squeak every bit of efficiency out of available missionary dollars. This is demonstrable and commendable. It shows that they believe in what they are doing. A change needs to take place upstream on the missions funding river–my house and yours, my church and yours.

As it is, less than five percent of SBC churches provided nearly 47 percent of Lottie Moon gifts during the 2002 giving year. Of SBTC churches, only about 57 percent gave as much as $5 through our convention to the offering. Some of the remainder doubtless gave directly or through another convention and yet too many did not participate. Our total giving divided by the number of Southern Baptists comes out to a little over $7 per member. I’m not complaining, but you’d have to agree that we could do better. Here are few reasons why.

First, God has enabled us to address the Great Commission in this way. We have the resources and not all of us have been called or empowered to go. How else are we obeying our Lord’s command?

Next, as above, we have been commanded to be witnesses in the whole world. Can we deny that the need is great? The New Testament model is that some went and some sent, all prayed. The kingdom of God is not poor and Paul’s testimony from prison was not that his need was the reason for giving. Our giving is the witness of our spiritual life and growth. We are not exempt from this command or the need to give to the Lord.

Also, the IMB is not being presumptive in their exercise of faith. It’s one thing for me to step out in faith that God will provide for my family and ministry. It’s another for me to toss you out in faith that God will provide for you. As a missionary sending body, IMB does its ministry according to what God provides, after he provides it. To proceed regardless of available resources would be to tempt God.

Consider your own need. It goes against instinct but missionary generosity prospers the giver. I’ve been in churches and other ministries that were strapped for operating funds but I’ve never been in one whose primary need was financial. If the need is vision, giving will lift your eyes beyond your own horizon. If the need is greater love for God and others, how better than to give away something that is probably too precious to us anyway? A church prone to quarrel and look inward does so partly because it’s forgotten the scope of its mission. Look at the world beyond your locale. Even financial prosperity may follow the ministry that gives to others.

Friends, we need to give but the need is more specific than that. We need to support Southern Baptist missions. Other groups send missionaries. Some others hope to send missionaries someday. No other group of Southern Baptists has demonstrated the efficiency, doctrinal integrity, and effectiveness of our International Mission Board, though. It is not all the same. Not all causes are equally worthy of your support.

Our mission leadership has earned our trust. As Southern Baptist churches, we have, by definition, committed to support this work.

Do you know any missionaries? Have you seen the people God has sent them to? If you do, you will not be able to forget them when you consider supporting Southern Baptist missions. More than half of the world’s people groups have not been reached with the gospel. Fewer still can actually be described as “evangelized.” If you can’t go, look at the material prepared by the IMB to tell of the world mission field. The TEXAN will also give you a regular glimpse of Southern Baptist missions. The IMB (www.imb.org) website and that of Baptist Press (www.bpnews.net) will also show you pictures and stories of world missions. They are compelling and convicting. Both sites offer opportunities to receive regular updates of our work around the world.

Is it so difficult to promote the Lottie Moon offering in your church, maybe for the first time, this year? It’s not and the IMB offers resources and ideas to help you get started. Neither is it difficult to raise your goal over last year by reminding your church of the privilege we have to serve in this way. Maybe your own family has never participated in missions giving. You should.

It sounds like so little, maybe too little, to give a few dollars more. So easily it may sound as though God needs the money. He doesn’t but he calls us to function as a body. If those who should go respond to the call (and certainly, not all have) and fewer of those who should send fail to respond to the opportunity, we have today’s problem.  In the past three years our missionary count has grown at a rate 400 percent greater that Lottie Moon giving.  God has given us the means to do all that he calls us to do.  Simply, many of us are not doing what he has told us to do.

Our giving grew a little last year.  The opportunities grew to a greater degree.  Hallelujah!  Now that we’ve had our wake-up call, let’s obey our Lord’s commission in all the ways God has enabled in our lives and churches.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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