DENVER — After a vote by International Mission Board (IMB) trustees to suspend some short-term appointments and limit the number of new missionaries, Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt told trustees it’s time “to take the gloves off.”
“We need to take the gloves off in Jesus’ name and tell the truth so the people will know,” Hunt said as he spoke at the IMB’s trustee meeting May 20.
Lack of funds is forcing the IMB to limit the number of missionaries it can send to the field.
“I think Southern Baptists are going to say there are some things we can cut, but sending missionaries is not one of them,” said Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock. “That is not an option.
“I personally believe that with all my heart that the people of God will rise to the occasion.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin, in his report to trustees, gave unequivocal endorsement to the concept of a Great Commission Resurgence as advocated by Hunt. Rankin described the health and vitality of Southern Baptist churches and the future effectiveness of the denomination as dependent on reclaiming the focus for which the Southern Baptist Convention was formed.
Rankin also challenged Southern Baptists to retool “outdated” denominational formulas to reach a lost world for Christ.
“God has blessed Southern Baptists in numbers and resources, and we will stand accountable before God for whether we use those resources to serve our own needs, church programs and denominational entities or fulfill our mission task to reach a lost world,” Rankin said.
With 95 percent of the world’s population living outside the borders of the United States, Rankin said the percentage of Cooperative Program funds being channeled toward overseas missions is not enough. In order for Southern Baptists to adjust to a changing world, he said the percentage needs to be increased.
In 2007-2008, Southern Baptists gave $11.1 billion in offerings with $9 billion undesignated. Out of the undesignated gifts, churches forwarded $548,205,099 through the Cooperative Program, with $343,819,507 for state missions and $204,385,592 for SBC national causes. Of the amount forwarded for SBC national causes, the IMB received 50 percent, or about $102 million, which amounts to just over 1.13 percent of undesignated funds contributed to local congregations.
The IMB receives 100 percent of Lottie Moon Christmas Offering gifts which amounted to $150 million for 2007-2008. Combined with the IMB’s CP allocation, the $252 million in contributions to cooperative international missions were less than 2.3 percent of total gifts to SBC churches.
“The number of missionaries we can support is totally contingent on the voluntary giving of Southern Baptists and determined by the allocation of Cooperative Program resources as determined by state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention,” Rankin said.
“Although we are driven by a vision to reach a lost world … we must operate within available resources.”
Rankin acknowledged that the problem begins with personal stewardship; the number of Southern Baptists who tithe regularly is diminishing.
Yet the opportunity to reach a lost world has never been greater, Rankin said.
Last year’s IMB Annual Statistical Report showed that 565,967 people had been baptized and 26,970 churches started overseas through IMB missionaries working with Baptist nationals.
“God is using global events to provide unprecedented opportunities for global advance,” Rankin said. “The harvest is accelerating, unreached people groups are being engaged as never before, but we are on the verge of forfeiting the opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission.”
If the IMB doesn’t send those who have a passion for missions, Rankin said many of them will find other channels for service; many of them will be forced to raise their own support and churches will begin diverting resources to support those called from their congregations.
“They will be forced to be obedient to God’s call by going independently,” Rankin said. “The Cooperative Program will suffer as a result.
“We need to recognize that we must get on board with God’s agenda of going into all the world and making disciples of all nations.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hendricks is a writer with the International Mission Board.)
Hunt’s letter to the Southern Baptist Convention calling for a renewed commitment to the Great Commission is available at greatcommissionresurgence.com. To see a chart on how Cooperative Program funds are channeled, go to imb.org/main/give/default.asp.