Wednesday, February 06, 2008

There is only one reason why there is a Southern Baptist Convention. Gospel centered missions. That’s it. And when I became aware of how real a statement like that is (it’s not just a slogan or cliché…) I absolutely fell in LOVE with the idea, the dream and the vision of the Southern Baptist Convention.

We as Southern Baptists support (as of 11-07) 5,338 international missionaries. If I understand the data correctly, of that number, 4,211 of those missionaries are “vocational”…and are fully funded. The rest are partially (or perhaps mostly) funded by cooperating Southern Baptist churches. Think about that…at least 4,000 gospel preaching missionaries around the globe are not forced to bounce from church, to church, to church, to church begging for scraps…errrrrrrrrrrrrrr…”raising support” because Southern Baptists believe we can accomplish more together than if all these autonomous churches simply did their own thing. These international missionaries, instead of the obscene stress and wasted time of fund raising, can spend that same time in school learning the culture and langue(s) of the people God has called them to engage. Sometimes big numbers will numb our minds. Stop and think about that…FOUR THOUSAND FUNDED MISSIONARIES AROUND THE WORLD PLANTING GOSPEL PREACHING, REPRODUCING INDIGIONOUS CHURCHES!

Honestly…look up (or as I now say, “google”) any other missions agency or any other denomination and simply compare. When I learned about the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering of the SBC I was sold. Yes…I know that we have our "Jerry Falwell’s" who take on Tinky Winky…hey…every family has a weird uncle or two! I don’t really care if it’s “cool” or “trendy” to be in the SBC here in the north/north east either. I love Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ loves missions. If the SBC loves the same Jesus I love and loves the same gospel He loves…and loves to spread that same gospel He loves…then I love the SBC…weird uncles and all. (For the record…Tinky Winky is a gay, perverted, deviant…I’ve got “gay-dar”…just trust me. That’s a doll with a gay mans voice that carries a big red purse…plus he’s purple with a triangle on his head…yeah…he’s both fabulous and super. I guess I’m from the old school…if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well call me crazy, I think it’s a duck.)

Of course…missions is not something that is done “way out there in the heathen lands…” The SBC funds, also through the Cooperative Program, the 41 State Conventions and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, 5,000 North American missionaries, 2,500 chaplains (military, prison, hospital) and hundreds of thousands of volunteers like World Changers and our renowned Disaster Relief workers. Ask anyone devastated by Katrina or Wilma what they think about Southern Baptists and you’ll find out real quick how seriously the SBC takes missions. We had a Katrina refuge family in our congregation for several months after that devastating storm and they wanted to fellowship and worship with an SBC church because as Jim put it, “the Southern Baptists were set up and already serving food before the storm was even over…they were out there before anyone…literally…I couldn’t believe my eyes…”

The whole concept of the SBC is missions…what we call the Cooperative Program. It’s so basic that it’s brilliant. The idea is that churches of like faith and practice simply pull much of their missions giving together and then split it up on an even “pay scale” (for the lack of a better term) among the missionaries. The overhead is in many ways surprisingly minimal and is taken from the (generally) monthly giving of the churches. The annual missions offerings are then sent directly to the field. So 100% of what is given to, for example, the Lottie Moon Christmas Missions Offering goes to missionaries on the field. It’s not like a large chunk of it goes to “denomination” bureaucracy before a much smaller fraction actually makes it to the missionaries on the ground. That overhead is taken care of the “CP”. While no system is perfect or above refining…it’s great. And what it does is it allows missionaries from both large churches and missionaries from small home churches to have equal opportunity for mission support dollars. Many times…maybe most of the time…in the “missionary goes around raising funds” system the missionaries with the “right” connections with the pastors of large(r) congregations get (well) funded while missions who are just as called but are from smaller congregations without the same connections really struggle to raise support. The way the SBC does it is head and shoulders better then that. It’s fair…and as I’ve explained before…it’s far more efficient then having all these autonomous churches having to administrate all these missionaries. Streamlining the process equals more funding for the field…common sense and basic mathematics will confirm this assertion for us.

I know first hand of the abundant generosity of the Southern Baptist Convention and their support of missions. What is now The Epicenter Church was started with more than simple well wishes, prayer and pats on the back. After various assessments were completed the North American Mission Board of the SBC took our little group of 7 on as an official SBC church plant. I have not only never graduated from any seminary (let alone an SBC seminary)...I've not spent a day in one. They of course reviewed my history and spoke with about 435,000 people about my giftedness, calling and competence. But they understand that God calls men to preach...seminary is a great tool...but a degree from one does not mean one is called to preach. Heck, we didn’t even have a name for the mission at that point…yet the SBC committed $24,900 to our mission, dispersed over a three year period, before we even had a name. They kicked in a bit more once we had shown some growth and so the final investment from the NAMB of the SBC was $29,100. The SBC commissioned us to evangelize the unreached peoples of Wadsworth Ohio and put $29,100 behind that commission.

That was just the national SBC. Our local association has helped us in so many ways that I can not even begin to think of how to add it all up. Free printing and the free use of what is known as a “block party trailer” has been invaluable. Not to mention the work and mentorship of our DOM, Martin Jones. So I can’t even add that value up. But I do the Summit Baptist Association has invested around $9,000 into the mission since we started. On top of that our sponsoring church, Ridgewood Baptist has kicked in about $8,000 in addition to the use of the building for our church council meetings…and now they have opened up their building for us to worship in on Sunday evenings!

There have been many other SBC churches and individuals who have also pitched in. But these have been the significant givers to the mission.

That’s $46,100 our mission has received since May of 2004 from those big sources. If I took the time to add up ALL the various sources of mission support from SBC churches I’m positive the number would be closer to the $60,000 range (or more for goodness sake, I don’t deal with the church finances so I’m basically guessing right now, and the more I think about it the more I fear my guessing is way too low). In addition, this year our local association has made available $15,000 grants to our church plants. On and on it goes! Of course as a congregation is built tithes and offerings come in and a church begins to sprout…it's a long process and it does require faithful financial support over the long can’t just add water and mix. The product we are selling is the LAST thing sinners want to hear...the market for it isn't very good. But God is and we've seen so many miracles as a church is being born! Faith without works is dead…and the SBC is not about hypothetical well wishing…when the find a man who they recognize has been called by God to serve as a missionary they don’t fool around! The churches demand a HIGH level of missions support from the various SBC mission agencies. It's why we are the largest Bible based/Protestant "denomination" in the world.

So I’m on the inside and I understand that the SBC is no joke…it’s a missional convention which bleeds missions. That’s why I have little tolerance and zero respect for church plants which take advantage of the SBC or of the generosity of our local association. THAT REALLY BURNS ME UP. Hey…I’m theologically "Baptist" by heritage and don’t be too stunned that I am not much for civility when it comes to such non-sense. I get real bent over the thought of it. Can you imagine taking all that money and support, then saying, “You know…we’ve discovered that we can't be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention after all…shucks...thanks for all the help! Later!”? After the way the SBC came alongside our little group with so much love, support and encouragement which has been a primary key to all the growth we've had...I can’t imagine wanting to be a “silent partner” or just leaving. I really can’t. A church plant doing that BLOWS MY MIND. Shame on them.

The Epicenter Church is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Same with Coram Deo Community Church...and I’m not sorry about it or ashamed of it.

I have never met a single unbeliever who had a problem with the SBC who did not also have a problem with historic, orthodox and evangelical Christianity at the same time. Sure, atheist apologists are quick to spew half truths and urban ledgends about the SBC...but it's not like those folks are in love with any other historically Christian tradition. The only folks who even care enough to ask come from churched backgrounds and they are not my primary "target" at any rate. To my knowledge not a single person has left our church because we are associated with the in my opinion...our guys in this region of the country need to get over any discomfort with our missional association. Churched people care about such things and are almost always the ones to ask questions like that (along with questions such as, "what seminary did you graduate from") anyway. I am hardly asked and when I am I just say, "our church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and we partner with them in missions...but we have folks from all kinds of backgrounds who are part of our church family..." and I've yet to have a problem. Every unchurched person I've said that to has said, "oh...that's cool".


Zac said...

This post has some good information, and it must have been really encouraging to receive such generous financial support from the Convention. Good stuff.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!

thanks man! it just seems like the SBC takes a ton of criticism...much if not most of which is deserved. but every now and then someone needs to bring some balance to the discussion. the SBC believes in missions in both word and deed!

man it was great seeing you all Sunday night! what a great time! we need to do that more often!