Empowering Whose Kingdom?
I am the product of many Southern Baptist institutions who nurtured my faith. Of all the values instilled in me from my religious education, the most important of those values is the Great Commission. The Great Commission is the bedrock of our denomination, founded some 165 years ago. Our faith forefathers decided it was better to pool our resources to exponentially multiply our effectiveness in spreading the Gospel to the nations. That missions focus, together with our cooperative spirit and doctrinal integrity, is what compelled me to remain a Southern Baptist as many of my ministerial peers decided to align themselves with other faith families. Like many of you, the past few years have been rather strange for me. Like you, I sensed that something was wrong. We all became increasingly aware that we were becoming less effective in reaching our country for Christ. Most of our churches were plateaued or declining. Many of our churches were aging fast, as we failed to reach the next generation for Jesus. There was also an increasing disconnect among us. We began to fight over worship styles, church planting, political activism, and CP percentages. I saw an unhealthy devotion to an outdated set of practices and institutions that was slowly killing us from within. The sinking sense set in that we were on the brink of fostering an ineffective Baptist subculture that resembled the Pharisees of Jesus’ time more than the Acts church. The Great Commission was taking a backseat to petty politics, musical preferences, and generational bickering.
I was greatly encouraged by the clarion call last summer in Louisville to examine ourselves to see what changes needed to be made to make us more effective, aptly named the Great Commission Resurgence. I closely followed the GCR progress through the past year with great anticipation. To me, it was a chance for our convention to analyze ourselves from within and make changes that could greatly impact our collective futures. When the report was released in March, I was initially disappointed because I expected greater wholesale changes. Most of what I saw were token gestures, hinting at bigger changes that really need to happen. What really encouraged me, though, was the renewed emphasis upon fulfilling the Great Commission by prioritizing money toward the IMB and the starting of new churches in the areas of our country yet to be infiltrated with the Gospel. I saw a call back to our 165-year-old purpose, pooling our resources to share the Gospel with the world. Instead of the normal badgering pleads for Southern Baptists to simply give more money as in times past, this report actually called for the realignment of funding structures to support these changes.
What I didn’t expect to see was the groundswell of negativity concerning this report as national, state, and associational leadership rang the bell of alarm. Many of our denominational stalwarts felt threatened by the changes. I have attended a few denominational meetings in recent months to speak and to listen. Many people talk about the GCR changes as if they are a slippery slope to splintering our denomination. They talk about the fear of cuts and the unhealthy competition for funding that is likely to ensue as churches feel more empowered to fund individual entities, circumventing the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is a wonderfully effective way to give, but it is not the only, divinely inspired, way to fund God’s Kingdom work. This method of giving was born more out of pragmatism than biblical inspiration.
I understand it is extremely difficult for large institutions to change because, inevitably, somebody appears to lose. Everybody will not receive the funding they have always received as we realign our priorities because there is a limit to the dollars we all share. All of us will need to sacrifice to make up for the proposed missions focus shift. However, instead of concentrating on what we lose with the proposed changes, I encourage you to think about who wins. Lost people groups who have yet to hear the name of Jesus spoken in their native language win if we can get more missionaries on the field. The great American cultural centers of the Northeast and West win if we can start vibrant churches that reach the millions so distant from God for many generations. The Kingdom would win from the changes, but our smaller kingdoms might have to take a hit.
The statewide theme for many years was “Empowering Kingdom Growth.” It was a call for us to see beyond our own church and denominational dominions to grasp a full vision of God’s movement in the world. It was a call to fight the spiritual nearsightedness to which we naturally gravitate. The question that hit me lately through the ensuing debates is “Whose Kingdom are we really trying to empower?” Our hearts and pocketbooks are closely aligned. Our financial spending highlights our priorities. If our focus is saving our denominational legacy over and above reaching the lost outside of our region of the country and the dark corners of the world, what does that say about our hearts? We say we are Great Commission Christians, but does our spending reflect that heart? I think most Southern Baptists would be disappointed to know how small of a percentage of their Sunday offerings actually support these endeavors. The irony is that we use international missions as the great motivator to spur our people to give their money and then turn around to spend most of it on ourselves. Most of our Sunday offerings stay in-state through local church budgets, the large percentage of CP undesignated funds kept in-state, and regional NAMB partnerships. Pennies on the dollar actually make it overseas and to the unreached North American regions. I know we need to reach our Jerusalem and our Judea, but it should not be where we spend a majority of our mission money. Otherwise, we have an unhealthy fixation on building our own denominational kingdom. I call on all of us to support the GCR this June to reverse our financial focus to the greater Kingdom to come.