Thoughts on the GCR from a Southern Baptist Nobody

I have written before about how I am, in many ways, an average Southern Baptist in my 30s.  This year I will not be able to attend the convention and cast my vote.  Being average and not even a messenger - that makes me an SBC nobody.  So I thought I would make my thoughts toward the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s recommendations known here on my blog.  (Although honestly, I probably would have done that even if I was going to the convention) Before you read this article you can, and probably should, read the excellent summary of the issues and the debate by Trevin Wax. It is succinct, accurate and clear.

If I were able to attend the SBC in Orlando I would vote for the GCR and I would gladly do so in the current form.

I do not like the concept of “Great Commission giving” as a recognized category.  In fact I have a strong dislike for that category.  It seems to me that Great Commission giving if officially recognized, begins to promote a society model of giving.  (I wrote much more about this in this post)  Nevertheless, I would vote for the GCR recommendation.

It is probably unfair to quote Jerry Vines out of context on what was an excellent post, (so go read it yourself) but allow me to clip just one portion that describes my feelings:

If you want to be a part of the leadership, setting the course of the SBC, you should lead in financial commitment. A man in your local church probably won’t get placed on the finance committee if he designates $50,000 a year to the music ministry (maybe led by his son!), but only gives $500 annually to the church’s unified budget. He’s free to give his money that way. But, I doubt you would give him the opportunity to make decisions affecting how the bulk of the church’s money is used.

So why would I vote for the recommendation even though I don't like the category of GC Giving?  because other than that, I support the recommendation.  I generally think the restructuring is a good thing.  I believe that the  restructuring is designed to put the priority of the denomination in the right place - on missions and seeing the nations come to Christ

Those are my thoughts on the recommendation.  As far as an actual Great Commission resurgence goes, there is but one way to see that happen.  Churches must do the will of God.  We are a convention of churches and if we are to see the nations come to Christ we need to see our neighbors come to Christ.

I’m not going to be there, but I will once again reiterate my suggestion.  Somebody should make the following motion-

Nobody can speak about the GCR (on the platform or from the floor) unless they share the gospel with three people between now and the time of the meeting in Orlando.  That way we’ll emphasize evangelism in spite of ourselves.

How do we keep speakers accountable?  We give em Dr. Reid style witnessing reports which they have to turn- in to the page at the microphone before speaking.

Cooperative Program?

Before I get to the actual point of this post I need to be clear about something.  I do not intend this as a polemic.  I am not writing to unite myself with any movement or to denigrate any movement.  I am merely writing about a trend I see that I am not quite certain how I feel about.  Also, I hinted at my feelings on this topic with a post at Christmas. In 1925 the Southern Baptist Convention put in place the cooperative program (CP).  This simple and brilliant concept has allowed us to become the greatest mission sending organization on the world with about 11,000 Southern Baptist missionaries.  It has made the Southern Baptist Convention the third largest relief organization in the US.  It funds 6 theological seminaries providing solid conservative theological education, and it funds countless other ministries done through state Baptist conventions.

The beauty of the cooperative program is that we can do so much more as a group of cooperating churches than any of us can do alone.  Who has not heard the story of an independent Baptist missionary who had to leave the field and find new funding after his sponsoring church split or simply changed leadership?

Are there problems with the CP?  Sure.  Alvin Reid said it well in his blog:

The Cooperative Program still matters. But simply giving because one is "supposed to" has passed. Momentum is gaining for real accountability and much more effective stewardship. I meet no one who wants to take away from the support of missionaries or the training of ministers. But I meet plenty who say something like these words from one of the brightest young men I know: "In the Conservative Resurgence, many pastors and churches expressed frustration when their giving supported liberal professors in our schools. Now, many I know have the same frustration over giving to a bureaucracy that wastes precious money that could be more focused on the gospel." I remember as a young minister thinking that if the average person in the pew knew some things being taught in our colleges and seminaries, they would want a revolution. Recently, one of the most recognized leaders of our time commented that if the average Southern Baptist knew how every penny of their money was being spent, they too would want a revolution. The category has changed, but the sentiment of dissent is the same.

I agree with the need for much better stewardship of the funds.  I'm especially talking to you, BSCNC.  Only 37 cents of every dollar goes out of the state.  Really; is that the best you can do?  I would strongly support a motion to move the BSCNC to a 50/50 split.  I would even consider making that motion from the floor if I had the proper help and encouragement.  (Sorry, I got a little distracted there)

Churchill famously said "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried."  This is very much how I feel about the CP.  Even though there are some problems, it is the best method of funding missions.

Having said all of that, there is a trend I have noticed in the last few years.  This trend is the fragmentation of giving.  I see it most in new church plants, but it can be seen in other places as well.  Most new church plants have missions giving at the forefront of their plans.  However, it seems that very often this giving is in the form of specific projects.  Some have goals of planting a certain number of other churches, some say that they will accomplish some project in a place where the gospel is not known, or they will build church buildings in places where believers need the financial support.  All these are things that the CP does, but these will be done through some avenue specific to the particular project.

I know that churches have to have other mission projects besides just the CP.  Recently I attended a meeting in which we talked about a specific ministry project in Bihar India.  This project is part of a partnership with NC Baptist Men and the Transforming India Movement.  I believe in this ministry and will be proud to support it.  I think it likely that our VBS offering will go to this ministry.  (Hopefully our VBS students will be able to drill a well in Bihar.)

Does this make me a hypocrite?  Again, I know that churches have to have other mission projects besides just the CP.  Virtually all local ministries fit this category.  The problem is when they are done as a replacement to the CP.  I am not even saying that these other projects are not worthy or good, but when they replace CP giving we all become less effective.  Why does this fragmentation make us less effective?  Because regardless of where missions funds go, there will be a need for administration.  The more fragmented the giving becomes, the more administration is needed.

One of the things I learned from Baptist history is that one of the reasons our Southern Baptist ancestors separated themselves was a rejection of the mission society model.  The society model was inefficient and overly fragmented.  I do not know why our churches would willingly return to this.

I have one theory on the cause.  I believe it is an easier vision to cast to say, let's raise $5,000 to provide 2 clean-water wells in India, than to say let's give $5,000 to the LMCO when it's unclear exactly what that money will do.  People wonder when Lottie will ever be paid off.  The goal in this type of giving is less clear and more nebulous.  There is no denying that people work harder toward a goal that is reachable.  (Tomorrow I will write about how my church, as small as it is, gives so generously to the CP)

I support church planting but I believe we can plant more churches through the CP.

I support missions giving but I believe we can support more missionaries through the CP.

I would like to hear from some of you whose churches practice this.  Do you think I am wrong?  Is my theory about vision wrong?  Am I just too old-school and beholden to the cooperative program because of how cheap my M.Div was?

My Missionary Summer pt. 2

This is missions week on my blog.  This is part two of the story of my missionary summer.  Part one can be found here: It was a hot day and already in the mid-70s when I left from Nashville early in the morning.  And it was 45° when I landed in Portland in the mid-afternoon.  As you can imagine, I was immediately wondering how I was going to survive this "summer".  I was certainly thinking that I did not pack enough clothes.  (Before you worry, the first 10 days were cold and rainy, and the last 10 days were cold and rainy.  The rest of the summer I may not have seen a cloud.  It was cool and wonderful, the most beautiful weather you can imagine.)

Someone was at the airport with a cardboard sign with my name when I got off the plane.  (This was back when non-passengers were allowed in the terminals.)  As soon as I got my luggage I got out a jacket and prepared for an afternoon in the airport.

NWBA Missionaries 1995

Over the next few hours, almost every missionary from the Northwest Baptist Convention arrived.  We had a 2 day orientation at a lodge in the mountains.  Day 2 included a sight seeing trip at the Columbia gorge.

At the end of day two we split up and the groups went their separate ways all over Washington, Oregon, and the Idaho panhandle.  My association had four missionaries.  Two girls, whose names I cannot remember (actually now that I think about it, their names might be Michelle and Karen) were in one group.  They spent nearly the entire summer in the same ministry location.  The other group was David Joiner and myself.  We spent the vast majority of the summer in Longview and Kelso WA.

So what did a typical week consist of?  On Sunday we would go to our host church.  Most were in Longview/Kelso, but we spent a week in Scappoose OR and a week in Castle Rock.  On Sunday the host church would usually want to hear from the missionaries.  So I would give my testimony, and David would sing.  By the end of the summer, David could easily have given my testimony for me, and I certainly had his songs memorized.  Then, throughout the week we would hold some sort of Bible study for community children.  I believe in 8 weeks we did 13 backyard Bible clubs, 2 Vacation Bible Schools, and a youth Bible study.  Most weeks there were morning and afternoon Bible clubs/VBS, sometimes there was an evening event.  Some weeks we worked with two or more churches.

Saturdays were typically travel days.  The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place, however, and many times rather than rest and do laundry, we would go with host families on sight-seeing trips.  We took a few trips to the Columbia gorge, Castle Rock, and Mt. Saint Helens.  We went to Seattle, where, as a kid from small-town KY, I saw things I'll never forget.  We also went to Mt. Rainier on a very cloudy day, where we had a snowball fight in July.

Floating the Coweeman

Two weeks were exceptions.  The week of the 4th of July no church wanted to have Bible clubs or a VBS, so we mostly had the week off.  Our host pastor, Mike Neal, took care of us that week, we floated down the Coweeman River, (It even had a few rapids) and did typical Independence Day activities.  It was a good time, mid-summer, for a restful week.  We even had a cookout and saw fireworks on Lake Sacajawea.

The final week was the other exception.  The convention had a week of children's camp at a place called the Dunes Bible Camp.  It was on the beach, but the water was about 50° so there was no swimming.  The four missionaries from our association plus a mission team from Mississippi, were the staff for this week.  We served as basically the teachers for the entire camp.

So what did I learn from my experience as a Summer missionary?

This is literally the first Bible study I ever taught

Before leaving for this trip I had never taught a Bible study lesson.  (Except on youth Sunday as a teenager.)  I had only once spoken in front of a church.  By the end of the summer, I was a veteran.  I will never forget how nervous I was teaching the first Bible study to a group of Children, how great it felt as they paid attention, and some kind words of encouragement from one of the parents after I finished.

I can remember having a conversation with David during our last assignment.  I was looking back and wondering if I accomplished anything.  Over a 10 week summer, we saw no professions of faith, and no one was called to the ministry or to missions.  We didn't build anything or accomplish some great task.  Really I was rather depressed thinking that the summer had been wasted in some way.  Although I knew I had been faithful to God.

However 2 summers later, as I was serving as the interim Minister of Youth at my home church, God called me into the ministry, and I could look back and see how much of what I now knew I could do, I learned in that summer.  I definitely learned to rely on God.  When you go 2500 miles from home, for a salary of $60 a week, to a place where they don't sell Mello Yello, without knowing a single person, before cell phones were common, you must depend on God for your support.  You learn that you actually can depend on God.  In fact, the main thing I learned that summer was that I can depend on God.  He is always faithful.

It really is a beautiful place

Looking back, there are few experiences in my life that played as large a part in shaping who I am, as that summer.  There is nothing like a mission trip to teach you things about God that you simply cannot learn at home.  I would recommend summer missions to every college student, especially if you are struggling with God's will for your life.

You can learn about summer missions in North America at this link, and international summer missions at this link.

IMB Commissioning Service

Missionaries with flags Monday night at the 2008 BSCNC featured a commissioning service for 31 IMB missionaries.  It began with march in the flags of many countries lined the aisle ways as the missionaries worked their way on stage.  Then it concluded with a message from Dr. Tom Elliff.

By far, the best part of the commissioning service was the the time of testimony from the missionaries themselves.  There were 31 appointees.  They ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s and they all had different stories.  They were literally headed to every part of the globe.  Some were called as children in GA meetings, some in college, and some as they were retiring.  Single, newlyweds, widows and grandparents.  It was very inspiring.

My prayer every day is that I will go wherever God wants me to go, Alaska to Africa, as long as I know it is god who has called.  I have a very clear sense of calling, but that commissioning service allowed me to see something I already knew, there is nothing super-Christian about missionaries.  they have simply been called, and said yes.  I have a couple of friends that are missionaries and I admire them for their willingness.

This video of missionaries from West Africa demonstrates this point very well.  Enjoy it, and be willing to be God's vessel wherever he calls you.  He may want to send you to Indonesia, but he also may want to send you to the choir, the nursery, or the nursing home.


Final Thoughts on the SBC 2008

I didn’t know how to wrap up my experience at the 2008 SBC, so I decided to just make a list of stuff I am thinking. This list will be complete thoughts, but not expounded upon unless you want to hear more.

Thoughts in no particular order

  • I didn’t vote for Him, but I love and deeply admire Johnny Hunt and believe he will be a great president.
  • The music was wonderful. I was moved to tears more than once. The Gettys particularly, but also the combined choir from the final night.  My favorite song is here. (start at the 5:23 mark in this one)
  • After seeing the IMB report, I am deeply convicted that I need to go on a foreign mission trip.
  • I only saw 2 votes unopposed – Moving the schedule forward 15 minutes because the order of business committee didn’t have any business, and appreciating 100 years of RAs.  Every other vote had at least one person waving a ballot in the negative
  • Frank Page runs a tight ship.  We were ahead of schedule nearly the entire time.
  • Folks at the convention seemed generally positive. Different from the general tone of the blogging world, and a great encouragement to me.
  • For some reason I really enjoy the business part of the business meeting, where we have motions, amendments, and calls for the question and such. Is that weird?
  • I was not there for resolution 6.  (I didn’t get up when my sister-in-law tried to wake me.)  But it was the most important of the convention. I’m glad it was amended and hope it has some effect. Also, this is a good summary/commentary.  Or you can watch it yourself here (it starts around the 15 minute mark)
  • Half of all Guidestone claims are for “preventable” issues such as diabetes and heart conditions. As a fat dude (though not Guidestone insured), I’m ashamed of that.
  • 7300 messengers is more than I expected. Especially with the convention being held north of the Ohio.
  • The Annie Armstrong banquet was wonderful. The speaker was great, the fire alarm ruined it
  • The falling dollar cost us $18 million as we tried to spend LMCO moneyDollar vs Euro...Wow

I’m not that popular but I saw a bunch of people I know pretty well

Here's some other stuff not necessarily convention related but related to my trip.

  • For the first time ever I pumped ethanol.  $2.99 but it got much worse mileage.GPS leads through Lucas Oil Stadium
  • The GPS I borrowed tried to lead me through a football stadium.
  • My brother’s dog is humongous.
  • The TSA took my toothpaste.  Stupid liquid rule.  But I learned that saline is allowed in your carry-on.

Saying Yes to Jesus

This week, in our association we are holding an On Mission Celebration. What this means is that each participating church hears from 5 missionaries during a 4 day period. In our case we get two IMB missionaries, two NAMB missionaries, and one BSCNC missionary. Our church is four services in, and I am hearing some common themes from each of the missionaries. More than anything else, the theme we hear from all of the missionaries is, “God called and I had to obey.” In most cases that meant not knowing exactly what God had in store for them. They could only say yes and then wait until they got clear direction. In every case that meant having their families on board. It is one thing to say that God has called me to do this or that, but another to say that I will uproot my wife and children from where we are and go, whether it is to Pittsburgh or to Lucknow India.

I admire all these people for their efforts. I admire especially those who go to foreign lands and do these things. They have been honest with us and told us stories about how they have opportunities that people in their countries don’t have, and they have to be careful who they trust, or that they really don’t have much guidance once they get on the field.

What this post is really about is saying yes to Jesus. My pastor uses this phrase all the time to refer to salvation, but I mean beyond salvation. We need to say yes to whatever God may call us to do. Most of us in our American churches have never had to suffer for Christ. At least not more than in a slight way when we are ridiculed for or belief or painted as morons for believing in Christ. Because we have never had to suffer, we limit the ways we are willing to be used by God.

We say, "I’ll help in VBS, but only in the kitchen."

We say, "I’ll give to help send the youth to camp, but no way I’ll be a chaperone."

We say, "I'm not going to the nursing home, old people smell funny."

We say, "I’ll go to church on Sunday morning and even Wednesday, but how dare anyone expect me to go on visitation."

We say, "I’ll go to church regularly, but I’m not going to consider sitting anywhere other than my seat."

We say, "I can't be in choir, they expect me to be at practice regularly"

We say, "Witness to my neighbor? Isn’t that my pastor’s job?"

We say, "I’ll do construction work on a mission trip but I’m not going to do surveys."

We say, "I’ll bring my Bible to church and read it daily, but I’m not memorizing scripture; that takes work."

All these are ways that I have seen people limit God. Not that God is actually limited in any way but they don’t allow Him to be used in their lives in these ways.

The thing that separates missionaries from other Christians is not some super-spirituality or extra dose of faith. (Only a little is enough to move mountains.) What they have is the “Yes.” We sing Yes, Lord, Yes but we don’t mean it. I have sung Where He Leads Me I Will Follow hundreds of times, but I don’t remember the “I won’t follow to the Nursery” verse.

In case I have not been clear to this point I'll say it this way.  We are on shaky ground when we limit what we will allow God to do through or with us.  As I pray for revival for our church and our nation I realize that this is where revival breaks down.  When Christians love God right up to the point that service is not comfortable, I am afraid God will bless us only to that point.

Please make this your prayer today...God I will go anywhere,* Africa to Alaska, and do anything, as long as I know it is your will.

*This includes the nursery and the nursing home