By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
I was born in 1937, which was just 12 years after the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention was born. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offerings for missions were already institutions. For 79 years I’ve known these three factors as the sources for financing SBC missions. I also got educated about Baptist history, the SBC’s birth in 1845, the various SBC agencies and entities, and the beloved Woman’s Missionary Union of 1888. Mother taught me tithing when I was 9. Royal Ambassadors, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, church, seminaries, etc., did the rest.
A strange ignorance among Baptists today. Most Southern Baptists today are ignorant of what you just read, or, at best, they have minimal knowledge. I’m not here to impress you with how much Baptist history I know or solutions to missionary downsizing in 2016. I am here to testify what I have experienced.
The Cooperative Program replaced a societal method where the squeaking wheel got most of the grease or money. The CP is still the best thing going in our cooperative efforts as Baptists. Most folks don’t have a clue of all the Cooperative Program does other than missions. Most Baptists don’t know how the Cooperative Program promotes theological education in our seminaries, preserves our history, funds the total Christian ethics and religious liberty ministries, and the Executive Committee’s operating expenses, in addition to missions and ministries in each state convention. No one is born knowing, so you can’t blame the current generation for its ignorance. You can blame those in my lifetime who have let us become so ignorant about what it means to be Southern Baptist.
Let me be more specific about the burr under my saddle. As a denomination with an International Mission Board, we have just turned over about 20 percent of our lifetime committed missionaries to something else while Satan fills the vacuum. How could that happen? Ignorance is the primary answer!
Let’s consider the pretext of money for the context. We overspent our foreign missions costs by about $210 million in five years. Horrors! Let’s downsize and see how many volunteers will retire — with a financial gun pointed at their heads. Well, that’s a bit severe, but we did lose about 1,200 folks, dedicated full-time to missions. Wikipedia says that in 2008, SBC churches gave a gross amount of $11.1 billion dollars for all causes. Of that amount, churches sent about 5 percent to state conventions, which kept about half of it and sent the rest to other Cooperative Program causes: missions, education, ethics, etc. I don’t have a clue about the validity of those statistics. I do know we have a strange ignorance about the prices paid by Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and the millions who contributed to the Cooperative Program. Why, $210 million would be a blip on the screen. Our world has about seven billion people on the planet, and we’re retreating from missions as if we were afraid of indebtedness and Satan. I’m ashamed of us! I’ve been both a pastor and a businessman, and I understand the reality of matching income and outgo. But I also know that money is often only a pretext for the context of downsizing — a lack of faith!
Mind you, I’m not questioning motives. Our best motives born in prayer can still result in wrong decisions. Sincere and devout Christians have made the missions downsizing decisions. I don’t fault their motives; I fault Southern Baptists’ ignorance. Just 4 percent of our SBC churches give 50 percent of all Cooperative Program dollars. But many of the smaller churches are giving mightily, so it’s not just a matter of size of church. The point is the Great Commission and how we go about it. Give more to the Cooperative Program! Educate!
Did you know that only about 30 cents out of every dollar through the Cooperative Program gets to the foreign missions field? And about a third gets to the home missions field. The rest is wisely used for education, ethics and liberty, etc. Did you know that many of our churches don’t even have Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong Offering envelopes anymore? The churches may budget some amounts toward those offerings, but we don’t know Lottie or Annie or what they stood for and started. Yet, 100 percent of each dollar given through Lottie or Annie gets to the missions fields the dollars are given for.
We don’t know WMU and the international powerhouse God used women to start and carry on. Yes, we have a strange ignorance. I have read causes, effects, and suggested solutions for financing missions. I agree that it’s wrong to continue the blame-game. But I most emphatically insist that Southern Baptists go back to educating its people on total missions within the Great Commission! Along with education, our own Randy C. Davis (executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention) has given us great solutions too in his recent B&R columns.
“Be angry and sin not.” The Bible does speak of an anger that is righteous. Jesus had it in the temple when He cleansed it. Paul had it when he wrote Romans and Galatians to cleanse the church of the heresy of works or circumcision as part of salvation. And I have it now as I grieve “over Jerusalem” and feel compassion for a lost world. Wise up, Baptists!
— Copyright 2016 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author: firstname.lastname@example.org