JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A few weeks ago, I received a letter from Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board (IMB). His letter was primarily a challenge specifically written to the IMB personnel. However, it serves as a challenge for all of us to awaken to the urgency of the hour.
Here is an excerpt from Dr. Elliff’s letter:
“Here is the issue we must address: Over the past 30 years the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) experienced a ‘first’ for evangelical conventions and denominations. For the first time in history, a major entity that was drifting to the left and losing its appreciation of the Word of God as inerrant, inspired and infallible, made a significant turn to the right!
“Southern Baptists, in what has been called the ‘Conservative Resurgence,’ waged a battle for the Bible, and now enjoy the fruit of victory with record enrollment in our institutions, led by entity heads, pastors, churches and mission personnel who embrace a high view of the Word and a pure understanding of the gospel.
“But it appears that we were then much more energized over saving the Word from liberalism than we are now about sharing the Word with the lost. To be perfectly honest, there are bright and remarkable churches, entities, and state conventions that stand out as exceptions to this statement. These churches and entities are embracing the Great Commission in an aggressive, creative and sacrificial manner. But they are still the exception in the SBC … not the rule, as the statistics sadly reveal.
“Ironically, during the conservative resurgence, the enemy of liberalism was clearly and boldly depicted, and we joined ranks to rise up and defeat him. Yet now the Enemy is the same! We are in danger of becoming theoretical conservatives but practicing liberals, arising each day with little sense of urgency to fulfill the Great Commission.
“At the same time, we have put aside the necessity of working together, a hallmark of the Conservative Resurgence, and drifted into a dangerous and prideful state of independence and isolationism. May God help us!
“So I am calling on you, our IMB mission personnel, and on any churches, entities and state conventions of the SBC who are committed to aggressively living out the Great Commission, to rise up with us in restoring the lost sense of cooperation, urgency and zeal for missions that must attend these days.”
As I read these passionate words, it caused me to take inventory of my own behavior. Am I engaged in cooperatively reaching the lost in such a way that it brings pleasure to my Lord? Does my lifestyle demonstrate God’s desire for His people to cooperate with urgency and passion to reach the lost in this world?
Some will say, “Preacher, the poor economy is the reason our cooperative mission dollars are faltering.” Is that really the case? Or is it because “cooperative missions” is too often the church’s easy target for adjusting a tight budget or limited cash flow? It is tough for church leaders to faithfully prioritize the resources God gives through His people. Are we faithful stewards to His agenda that reaches out to lost people here and there in the outermost?
Or is it because of something I heard a deacon in another state say, “We like sending our dollars where we can see some good”? You cannot see everyone who is supported by the Cooperative Program.
More than half of our Southern Baptist international missionaries are in high security areas. You cannot see all the mission work that occurs every day in Missouri or that occurs with a chaplain in the military or that occurs with a campus missionary – on and on the list could go. The amount of ministry and evangelism accomplished through the Cooperative Program is mindboggling.
You may not see these missionaries and ministries but you support them through the percentage your church gives through the Cooperative Program. You are the one holding the rope, the life-line for missions.
There were days not too long ago when the passion for cooperative missions burned brightly in the hearts of Southern Baptists. In those days, it was not uncommon for local churches to send double-digit percentages through the Cooperative Program to our great mission works in our states, nation and the world.
If our average CP giving ever rises to double digits, that would reflect something that only God can do. Only He can turn our hearts away from what we are doing and what we control and cause us to give our resources to what we cannot see. That would be a revival of great faith.
Some churches are moving forward with an incremental strategy to increase support for cooperative ministries. Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, has challenged Southern Baptist churches to prayerfully consider a “1 percent challenge” – adding 1 percent to the previous year’s percentage of giving through the Cooperative Program. If each of our churches did that, it would demonstrate the power of cooperative giving. If not 1 percent, what about a half percent?
More importantly, let’s approach our cooperative mission giving with the passion of someone rescuing a soul from an eternity of separation from God who loves.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Yeats is executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention and recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared at his blog, http://johnyeats.net.)