Taking the gospel to the whole world is a big assignment – too big for all International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries together. We’ll need serious multiplication – not addition – of this current mission force just to make a dent in the task of proclaiming Christ to the world. And that’s not going to happen at Southern Baptists’ current rate of giving.
Statistics show that Southern Baptists are giving about $7 per person to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO). Can we pause here and let that embarrassing figure sink in? Our Savior has a mission for every believer. In describing that mission we use words like “all,” “everything,” and “whatever it takes.” This year’s theme reflects those absolute words: “Totally His” – His heart, His hands and His voice. I’m having a hard time reconciling our giving habits with this theme.
I’m not implying that there is something wrong with the theme. I am suggesting that some major obedience, major generosity and major cooperation needs to surface among Southern Baptists. Like Lottie Moon, our current mission personnel are serving in places that are sometimes uncomfortable, potentially unsafe and always challenging. It is important that we pray for them, stand with them and serve beside them in their assigned field.
As a pastor for 35 years I was privileged to serve churches that were heavily involved in fulfilling the Great Commission. Occasionally I am asked what made those churches mission-focused fellowships. I share the following observations with the hope that this will strengthen the missions vision of our churches and move us beyond $7 per Southern Baptist to LMCO.
1. If giving to the LMCO is important to the pastor it will be important to the church. The pastor sets the tone and gives leadership to every aspect of church life. If he is passionate about missions all year long, it will not be difficult for the church to respond generously in December.
I did not wait until December to talk about international missions. Most sermons throughout the year contained information or illustrations about God’s work around the world. Underscoring the scriptural foundation for missions was always on my agenda. Keep talking about the Father’s passion for His glory to be known among the nations.
In addition, missionary guests stood before the congregation all year long. Some were invited guests who were given a few minutes in the Sunday morning service, or they were given the entire service. Others were missionaries who just came to worship with us, but they were recognized as honored guests.
It is not difficult for the congregation to discern if the pastor genuinely believes the Great Commission is important, or if he is following a denominational obligation. When December rolls around, they are ready to hear more specific stories that the IMB provides to tell the work of our international missionaries.
2. If the pastor demonstrates sacrificial giving to missions, the church will follow. When I began my first pastorate, my family gave sacrificially to LMCO and many other missions offerings.
A few years later the Lord convicted me that my giving was based on my reasoning rather than God’s revelation. We determined that instead of calculating what our family could afford to give, we asked God what He wanted us to give. When He gave us the figure of $1,000, we knew it was beyond our ability. But He said, “You have not, because you ask not.” So, we asked God to allow us to give $1,000 to the LMCO. He provided, we gave, and it set a pattern for the rest of our lives.
I know people who have asked God to allow them to give an amount that would support one IMB missionary each year. This year, that amount is $51,000. They asked, God provided, and they continue giving by the same pattern. That’s radical faith. What are you asking God to provide through your family this year? Is it a reflection of your ability, or is it worthy of God’s ability?
3. If Baptists are informed about the work of the IMB, they will respond generously. It has been my practice to use a variety of IMB materials. Posters, envelopes, prayer guides, videos and a host of other materials are available to encourage and inspire.
4. Giving to missions increases as a church becomes personally involved in overseas missions. Nothing inspires as powerfully as a personal visit to another country. Walking the streets with a missionary in a foreign land is a life-changing experience. As more church members participate in mission trips, awareness of the need becomes very real. Their contagious spirit spreads like an epidemic among the fellowship.
Frankly, the involvement of volunteers is an essential element in multiplying the missionary force. Some will receive a call to career mission service. Many others will want to get more deeply involved.
5. I had a habit of reminding our church that we are a missionary training center. We don’t gather each week simply for worship, Bible study, fellowship and other activities. We are training missionaries! Some will go overseas; others will be missionaries in “Jerusalem.” I often said, “We are not just Anytown Baptist Church.* We are the Anytown Baptist Missionary Training Center.”
These are just a few thoughts. I hope they are helpful. There are thousands more to be added by other pastors and church leaders. Share your suggestions with us. We look forward to telling stories of how God used your church to support our IMB missionaries.
Please use the prayer guide in the Nov. 23 edition of the Biblical Recorder and available at imb.org to pray specifically for international missions and for generous giving among Southern Baptists. (At the IMB website choose the “Week of Prayer” under Quick Links on the left-hand side of the screen.)
*Insert your church’s name here in place of Anytown Baptist Church.