Several years ago I pastored a small church in East Texas. Our annual budget was slim, and we barely scraped enough together each week to pay the light bill. A stout conviction of our fellowship, however, was giving to missions. We designated 10 percent of our annual budget to it. The experience was difficult, one that made me wonder if our tiny church with our even tinier budget really made a scratch on the proverbial surface of the lost world.
One summer I found myself in Nazareth Village in Israel. I was on a tour of the country alongside several other pastors. While walking into a bookstore, one of the older pastors called me over and introduced me to an IMB missionary. I’ll never forget how he did it: “Jared,” he said, “come meet one of your missionaries.” For the first time in my tenure as a Southern Baptist pastor, I genuinely felt connected to missions. I realized that my giving touched real people, even if I felt like a widow giving her final mite.
This illustrates the beauty of the Cooperative Program (CP), but it also showcases a glaring weakness. While it’s true that every active CP church can say that they support international missionaries, it’s also true that, sometimes, said missionaries are nameless numbers (as are the lost people they serve).
The CP is more than just sharing money to support missions. It’s about sharing money to support missionaries. That is, the CP is about supporting living, breathing people who share the gospel with dying, breathing people.
Recently David Platt announced he is downsizing our international mission brigade by 600-800 people. This means that we are losing 600-800 living, breathing people whose lives impact countless dying, breathing people. This is disconcerting news. I recently concluded my first SBC Executive Committee (EC) meeting. As you would imagine, this issue beleaguered the gathering. One major concern is how Platt’s reset will impact CP giving, particularly the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO). This, however, is just the problem. That this concern is framed by the potential impact it can make on an offering is why the IMB is in its current predicament. The IMB isn’t an offering, nor is it money. It’s not a budget item nor is it, really, an entity of the SBC. It’s people—living, breathing people. It’s people with passions and aspirations and hopes and dreams and convictions and families and lives. But most importantly it’s saved people reaching lost people with the gospel.
It’s judicious to be concerned about the impact the reset can make on the offering, but this concern should segue to the real problem—lost people. When we express more concern over an offering rather than the lives the offering touches, we’ve lost touch. The Cooperative Program becomes just that—a program. We forget who and what we are as Southern Baptists because we think of missions as a cog of the church’s machine rather than the church as a cog in the machine of missions.
This is all to say that, with all of our finger pointing, we ought to look at the four fingers pointing back at us. The present issue is not an IMB issue. It’s an “us” issue. The IMB has, year after year (and with less than sufficient resources) continued to keep and send missionaries, but the IMB can only operate within the confines of the financial assets it receives, and the average church isn’t providing the necessary assets to keep these missionaries on the field, not to mention send more out.
This is why the IMB needs the church’s support now more than ever. It would be a categorical atrocity if this year’s LMCO dipped a cent lower than the $153,002,394.13 it received in 2015. Not only this, but it should be the largest ingathering in history.
Southern Baptist pastors ought to teach their people that the CP isn’t just a line item in the budget but a cooperation of believers to support other believers to create more believers.
Pastors also ought to begin thinking about how they can increase their annual CP giving. “Annual” is the key word. The IMB needs consistent gifts to keep missionaries on the field.
Finally, pastors ought to begin preparing their people for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering now by asking how we can strategically and creatively raise more money. What kind of event can we host? What corner can we cut? What face can we place beside the number?
More than ever, this is the time to come together as Southern Baptists. Let’s turn the Cooperative Program into a Cooperative Initiative. Let’s remember that our churches exist because of the Great Commission and not the other way around. Let’s remember that there are faces behind the numbers.
–Jared C. Wellman is pastor of Mission Dorado Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas.