Generosity, stewardship, Cooperative Program and missions giving. What do these all have in common? Listen as TBMB’s Matt Tullos offers perspective on the money and finance in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Matt Tullos: We are a blessed country, and I know we’re going to make it through it. This is a difficult, difficult time. But I think God is using it in some powerful ways to help us get our focus back on what is really important. And the great thing about what we do is we begin to look at where our money is going, how it’s being spent, and how much we are giving back. Because the only thing that really matters is what we give.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome into this edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host, Chris Turner, director of communications here at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. And today, our guest is Matt Tullos, special assistant to the executive director, and also the stewardship specialist here at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Matt, welcome in.
Matt Tullos: It is great to be here finally.
Chris Turner: Yeah, it’s been a while. We needed you to actually get really into your role here. You’ve been here about a year, so that’s a plenty of time. Your role has evolved some over this year.
Matt Tullos: It has.
Chris Turner: Started out primarily as our stewardship director, and then when Willie McLaren went to the SBC, you had the opportunity to move into the role to help Randy Davis, our executive director. So your plate was full, and now it’s like you’ve passed through the buffet several times.
Matt Tullos: But there’s no way that I could replace Willie McLaren.
Chris Turner: That’s right. Willie is definitely one of a kind. But what we are going to talk about today is all things, stewardship Cooperative Program, Golden Offering, these days of dealing with the COVID virus, things are fluid, but the Bible still does tell us and command us that we should be good stewards of what we have. And it’s not necessarily always our finances, but obviously finances are a big part of that.
So, as we take a look at that, just talk a little bit about generosity, as it relates to stewardship. And when we talk about stewardship, there’s no point of saying biblical stewardship, because as believers, that’s where we get our-
Matt Tullos: Money is just one part of stewardship. I mean, that’s a given. Everything in our lives, what we do, the time that we spend, our talents, and of course our treasures, and I was thinking, through this pandemic as we’ve gone on, people are really hurting right now. But I think it’s a real reality check for us as Americans to realize, hey, most of us have air conditioning unlike most people. People in Western Africa, as you know, probably feel blessed just to have a bike rather than a car. So we are a blessed country, and I know we’re going to make it through it. This is a difficult, difficult, time. But I think God is using it in some powerful ways to help us get our focus back on what is really important. I don’t know if you have, but I’ve looked through my bank account and tried to cancel every subscription that I possibly can.
And so, people all over the nation are doing this. And the great thing about what we do is we begin to look at where our money is going, how it’s being spent, and how much we are giving back. Because the only thing, when we say, as John Ortberg says, “When the game is over, all the pieces of the toy go back in the box.” And so, the only thing that really matters is what we give away.
And it’s really interesting. I was reading a report that said that as we look at generosity, studies have shown that people who give generously are in better health. They have a lower blood pressure, they are generally happy. Scientists have said that people who give generously, and they did this study where they gave the people in the study $100, but they made one group give $50 away, and in the other group, they said, this is just your money. And they found out through this study that the actual brain was energized more for the people who had $50 to give away to somebody.
And that’s just a biblical concept. God loves a cheerful giver, and I really believe that we are happier when we give. And when you think about how much we spend. Over $3,000 a year, we spend on entertainment. And that’s not counting, going out to eat, just entertainment, over $3,000. We in America are spending a lot of money on auto debt. We’ve got a $1.2 trillion debt budget just on the cars that we drive. And it’s no wonder people have difficulty giving away when they’re strapped with so much debt. So what we really want to encourage people is, look at your finances, get rid of the things that you don’t need, settle for less and give more.
Chris Turner: It’s interesting you say that. I remember both of us at one time worked for Lifeway Christian resources when Jimmy Draper was the president. And one of the things that Dr. Draper always talked about that was just a real burden for him was the amount of church debt that churches had accumulated, and how it was preventing them from being generous in giving towards missions and Cooperative Program and those types of things, because they were so burdened by all the building that they had. And he said, “If I can make one thing, go away in the SBC, it would be to get rid of the building debt that our churches have so that they can be more generous.” So it’s not just individuals that need to be more generous, it’s churches being able to get themselves in a position to be generous as well.
Matt Tullos: And through the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve learned that buildings are not a necessity. We’ve been able to do church just fine, thank you very much, without our buildings. And my prayer is that we’ll continue to look at creativity, and Facebook is free, YouTube is free to get that stuff out there. And so, we can do ministry, we can do worship, we can do just about anything, Bible study, we’ve seen through zoom calls. All of this technology that we’re able to leverage toward more cost-effective ways of doing ministry.
And when I think about technology, especially I think about Goliath’s sword. David used the sword of Goliath to chop off his head. And media, and I think Facebook, as well as just the internet, and that’s Goliath sword, that’s what Satan has used to cause so much harm to so many people. And yet we’re able to pick up that sword and chop off the giant’s head. I hate to be violent, it’s early in the morning.
Chris Turner: Well, that’s okay. When it comes to, to using that technology, it really is important for us to leverage it, to redeem it. And we have seen throughout the COVID virus, churches being very creative in their use of that. And it has redeemed Facebook probably more now than at any time in the history. The gospel is being preached in all the world. And so, people have access to it all over.
Matt Tullos: And one of the things that I love to point it out to churches and celebrate is their generosity. One of the things now, we’re not using bulletins that much these days, but we do have these bulletin inserts that churches can order, and they’re free. We just give them to churches to use because we really want people to understand how important generosity is. And one is eight reasons to tithe. And the other bulletin is eight more reasons to tithe, I know I’m creative. And just simple things like, when we give it’s worship, it’s a promise. God said that he’s going to take care of us no matter what happens. It’s a teacher, we get to teach our kids.
I remember, I don’t know if your parents did this, but always Sunday morning as we’re getting ready, they always armed us with the truth that we needed to tithe what we received. And if we didn’t get any money, because we were at that point, poverty stricken children, we didn’t have jobs at five. But they gave us a little money to put in there, but they taught us and it’s a teacher. It’s also just a blessing to give.
Some of my favorite stories are stories where I’ve been able to give. And sometimes I didn’t know if I could give. And for some reason, you get in touch with the miraculous, because you find out that there’s some money that you weren’t expecting coming through the mail or from the government. And it was just a God wink. It’s also an investment. We have so many investments. My 401k is an investment for years to come. But the investment that I give when I’m giving and being generous is something that’s eternal, it’s never going to go away.
And one of the things that I’ve found also in one of our other tithing inserts list, contagious, it’s just contagious to give. And it’s the joy of your life, if you’re able to give. And I just really love talking about giving, because I know it’s… And pastors, if your pastor preaches on tithing or giving, you need to thank him because he’s really giving you the greatest blessing that you’re ever going to receive here on this earth.
Chris Turner: And you talked about the bulletin inserts, and a lot of churches are not doing bulletin inserts right now. However, if a church is interested in getting the PDF version of that, that they could send to their congregation… I know my church sends out a digital bulletin basically, so that you can see the order of service and the way things are going. So, you can have a digital insert too. So what would be the best way for someone to get that information?
Matt Tullos: They can just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m still getting used to this. It’s been a year and actually eight months.
Chris Turner: Well, you’ve had that name a long time. Oh no, you’re talking about the extension. Okay.
Matt Tullos: The email. Or they can look on the page of this podcast and get that. So just email me, tell me how many you want, anywhere from one to 300, I’ll be glad to send those to you. And that’s all a part of the Cooperative Program, our way to invest back in churches.
Chris Turner: Well, since you’ve mentioned Cooperative Program, let’s jump there and we’ll come back to stewardship. You had mentioned about generosity and missions and those types of things. We as Tennessee Baptist have faithfully given to and through the Cooperative Program since the 20s. And there was a reason for that. It’s because, everyone coming by and hitting up your church for a special offering for this and that, and then the whole idea that we would just have a cooperative missions giving. So just talk a little bit about the importance of Cooperative Program for accomplishing kingdom work, and how the church’s generosity really plays into being able to reach people, not only in Tennessee, but around the world.
Matt Tullos: Whenever we entered into this crisis, I remember, I guess it was early, early March, and the wisdom of Dr. Davis, even before it really became a pandemic or when they first announced it, but he was one of the first people that just really brought down to me the seriousness of what we were going through. I remember us coming in and arranging chairs early in March for a meeting and just saying, “We’re going to batten down the hatches and try to do as much as we can to protect people.” The wisdom of Dr. Davis has been incredible, and also the wisdom financially. Now, we don’t have a gratuitous stack of money in the basement of Tennessee Baptist. We believe that-
Chris Turner: We don’t even have a basement.
Matt Tullos: No, we don’t. We downsized our building, long before I came, and have a great headquarters. But we realized that as you have said, as churches know the building isn’t the church, and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board is really all about the missionaries of Tennessee Baptist. But we set up a plan to prepare for what will happen in the days and months ahead.
And we looked at several different models. In fact, William Maxwell did an incredible job of setting models of what would happen if we saw this incredible dip in CP giving, because that really is the lifeblood of everything that we do from church planting to our compassion ministries, and disaster relief, all the teaching that’s done from our support staff and our missionaries that go out and serve churches. Everything we do is about serving churches, but we wanted to make sure that we came through this and they were able to do that.
The amazing thing about it is that Tennessee Baptist in the midst of a pandemic stepped up, and instead of seeing a 40% decrease in Cooperative Program, which we were prepared to handle. I mean, those would be some painful days, but right now, as we speak, we are probably at about one and a half percent behind our budget. And we cannot take credit for that, that falls on the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Our churches have stepped up, they’ve given sacrificially. And in those first few months it was difficult. First few weeks, especially, I remember there were some churches that we talked to that said, “Hey, we had our first online service, and this week we only have 15% giving.” But once our great Tennessee Baptist got used to the idea of electronic giving, they gave to churches and then the churches courageously continued to give through the Cooperative Program, and we’re very thankful for that.
Chris Turner: And when you think about that, we helped a lot of smaller churches that really had no online mechanism for giving back then. And we have helped several others. And if there are any churches that are still out there that are looking for a workable solution for being able to do online giving, then they just need to contact us, and we have a process set up for that.
And the important thing as is not just what we’re doing with Tennessee Baptist and all those great ministries that you mentioned. But we send a significant amount of that money on, through the Cooperative Program onto the executive committee of the Southern Baptist convention. And that really is the resource that is the primary lifeblood for operating the international mission board in international missionaries.
We hear a lot about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which is extremely important, but really, Lottie only makes up a portion of what it is that the IMB needs to be able to support missionaries and send missionaries and Cooperative Program really does make up the bulk of that. Well, when we talk about generosity and the Cooperative Program, the bridge in that whole thing is stewardship. Stewardship is, I’m going to guess, something that’s an intentional thought and not something that just happens. Talk a little bit about stewardship in churches and why that’s so important that a church practice good stewardship, as well as individuals.
Matt Tullos: I think it’s a matter of consciousness. And sometimes we look at our life and we look at people and we should, but we rarely take a look at what is going out. And once you get a grasp on it, once you begin to look at your budget in the rear view, and see what you’ve spent and what you have, and you really get to the place where you say, “This is how we can tighten things up, I don’t need this.” And it’s amazing the things that we don’t need that we think we do.
And so, that idea, that concept, that principle really, of taking our families and especially our children, and bringing them into the process of saying, “This is what God has given us, and we’re going to be a generous family, and we’re going to look at our worldview, our mindset, our spirituality is directly tied to what we give.” It’s amazing, if Jesus wanted to take somebody’s temperature spiritually, he would seem to always go to money. And that’s because it’s the best reflection of where we are spiritually. The reason why it’s the root of all evil is it gets down to the core of our own survival. And do we trust God? Or do we trust our bank account? And God wants our full surrender in that area.
Chris Turner: I remember ago, hearing Missiologist, Bob Sjogren, talk about the Abrahamic covenant. One of the things that he talked about was that Abraham was going to be blessed to be a blessing to the nations, and how really that does pour over into all areas of the believers’ life is that God gifts for a purpose, God gives us individual gifts for us to use those gifts to share to expand the kingdom. But obviously financial resources fall into that as well, that we are blessed to be a blessing, whether that’s to our local church, or a ministry, or through Cooperative Program, through special gifts to children’s home, or whatever it is, God gives us resources to give away.
Matt Tullos: And when you look at a church, and I’ll just give you an example, First Baptist, Martin, Tennessee, they had given 25K to the Golden Offering earlier. In the middle of a pandemic, last week, they sent in a check for $45,000 to the Golden Offer.
Chris Turner: Wow.
Matt Tullos: What an amazing act of faith and encouragement to us. But the blessing that people that we aren’t even going to get to see until we get to heaven, that that will make an impact. And I just called their pastor and I said, “Brother, Sam, what’s going on?” He just said, “We just believe in the ministry, and we want to win Tennessee for Jesus, and we believe that this is a part of our strategy.” And when it comes to the Cooperative Program, that the great thing about Southern Baptist, and when I think about, and you’ve seen missionaries who have to spend 30 to 40% of their time trying to raise money for their ministry, and the rest of the 60% of the time they can do ministry with our international mission board, North American Mission Board, those that we support can just focus in on their ministry.
My uncle and aunt were missionaries in Thailand, started one of the first prison ministries in some of the dankest darkest prisons in Thailand, and just gave their life for 33 years, and not once, did they have to ask for money for their ministry from individual churches. They promoted the Cooperative Program, but the whole point of the Cooperative Program is that we can take the resources of thousands of churches, and we can distribute it in an equal and fair way to missions in Tennessee, North America, and around the world.
And so, for us, it’s a convenience for the pastor, but it’s also the fact that churches that are, let’s say for instance, First Baptist Church, Lexington, that they give 12.2% through the Cooperative Program. Then you’ve got a little church like Woodland Mills First Baptist Church that gives 16% through the Cooperative Program. Lexington’s a big church, a little church like that wouldn’t be able to support even one missionary. But through the Cooperative Program, they’re supporting 3,700 international missionaries and growing, as well as all these other missions all across the country, as well as the state of Tennessee.
And one of the mistakes that if I could just throw in a little editorial is that we’re a big denomination, we don’t agree on some things. And some people use the Cooperative Program as, “I don’t like the way that this person is controlling things over in this little tiny organization. So I’m just going to throw out all the Cooperative Program as a protest.” And that just incenses me, because there are missionaries in India, in Pakistan, in England, in France, in Brazil that are supported, and they’re standing on our shoulders. And as Southern Baptist, it is an honor for us to do that. Now, we can have these sidebar conversations about whether we believe politically something should be communicated or not, but I think it is just such a grievance to the Holy Spirit. We don’t come together unify around the crowning jewel of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the Cooperative Program.
Chris Turner: The Cooperative Program. The thing makes me think of a little pastor as an East Tennessee been in ministry over 50 years. And from a small county as pastor in a small church, and he said, when he’s first starting out in ministry, he and several friends were talking and everyone was talking about what they’d do with a million dollars if they had it. And his reply was when it came to him that he wanted to see a million souls save for Jesus. And he told me, “I reckon that through the Cooperative Program, I’ve seen at least a million souls saved.” And I told him, I said, “In 50 years of ministry, you’ve seen way more than a million souls saved.” And he said his only regret, and if he had something to tell a younger pastor first going into ministry, it would be to be generous, and that he wished that he could have given more to the Cooperative Program because of all the mission work that it does.
Matt Tullos: And just to give you an idea of the kind of sacrifices our churches are making right now, and these are large churches, we always say equal gifts, equal sacrifice, churches like First Baptist, Clarksville, already this year, calendar year, they’ve given $228,000 through the Cooperative Program. Bellevue Baptist, 533K through the Cooperative Program. And it’s just that idea that they’re going to give away. And if I could share one story before we close here, I know I’m probably way over time.
Chris Turner: No, you’re fine, you’re good.
Matt Tullos: Okay. One of my favorite stories is just a metaphor of this idea of generosity. And I think it speaks to churches as well as to individuals. A guy named Bob Benson. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, he was a writer, died in the 80s. But when he was a child, he grew up here in East Nashville, and as a child, his parents, and this is something we would never think about doing, they just left him at home, this was the 50s, and I guess you could do that back then, they left him in the home when he was like nine years old, as they went out of town and said, “You should just hold things down.” They were right next to the church, and so he walked to church. But before he walked to church, he forgot that it was dinner on the ground. Something we used to do a long time ago. After church, everybody brings their stuff.
And he just got a piece of bologna and two stale pieces of bread and went on to church. And then after church, he got there to the dinner on the ground to play with his friends. And there was Ms. Williamson, and she had fried chicken, roast beef, that great green bean casserole, you know that?
Chris Turner: Yeah. Staple.
Matt Tullos: And peach cobbler, and all of that stuff. And Ms. Williamson said, “Look, what do you have in your Brown bag?” And he said, “Well, I’ve got a bologna sandwich.” And she said, “We like bologna sandwiches, and I bet you like fried chicken. So why don’t we just put everything together, and let’s all eat together?” And because he was willing to join this, he got to eat like a king rather than a popper. And that’s really a metaphor of generosity.
So many times, we are white knuckling our Brown bag with our bologna sandwich, while there is a feast and God’s saying to us as churches and as individuals, “Why don’t you take what you have and put it in with what we have, and we can all face together?” And yet, so many of us as churches, as families, as individuals are saying, “You’re not going to get my bologna sandwich.” But the fact is, God doesn’t need our bologna sandwich, but we sure need his fried chicken.
Chris Turner: When we talk about just that generosity and the giving, we definitely want to close on a major high note that we’ve seen here over the past five years with golden offering, and just the massive escalation and the generosity of churches giving through state missions. And when we talk about the Golden Offering, and one of the things that we have said here about Tennessee is any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field. And we talk about, there are 145 different global people groups in our state. That’s a reality, we have about 40 of those are among the most unreached people groups in the world, according to the IMBs, the way that they categorize people groups. And so, we’ve just seen an increase in the number of ethnic churches have joined the Tennessee Baptist Convention, whether that’s a Cantonese, or Vietnamese, or Burmese, or Hispanic, Arabic churches.
So, our convention is really reflecting a little more that revelation 5:9, 7:9 some from every tribe, tongue, and nation. But our state unfortunately has the second highest opioid addiction and second highest prescription drug addiction in the nation. Foster care is just overburdened, a lot of that due to children being removed from houses where parents were abusing, unfortunately cooking math.
And so, when we say, anyway, you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field. There really isn’t a catchy slogan that really is a phrase that defines the great spiritual need that we have in our state. And Golden Offering, really, 100% of that that’s given, goes directly to some type of ministry that is making a difference in the state. Just talk a little bit about how important golden offering is to that, and just the giving increase that we’ve seen in Tennessee Baptist.
Matt Tullos: It’s extremely important. And one of the things that’s really exciting about the Golden Offering, people are not only giving through their churches, but they’re going on our website, and go on to tnbaptist.org/cp, and there’s a give button, and they can give individually. And instead of going out to eat one night, people are chipping in. It’s amazing. But with Golden Offering, we are ahead of last year in Golden Offering giving. Now, we don’t expect that to be the same when we reach August, when we begin September, and start closing the books in October.
But right now, it’s been amazing to see how Golden Offering has continued, and all the things that we’re doing from planting new churches, meeting human needs through compassion ministry, Baptist Collegiate Ministries. We think about our Baptist Collegiate Ministries, we also think about our BCM directors, and all the work that they’re doing supported by the Golden Offering. Church planting has just been incredible because we’re going where there is no gospel witness. And then, we see children coming to Christ through events. And this has changed quite a bit. It’s been though, because our camps have not received any income for a long time, but as we look at next summer and how important next summer is going to be, as far as our children’s camps, what you give now will help us there, English being taught to someone in a second language. So all of those things.
Chris Turner: Well, and another biggie is one of our most absolute vital and important ministries is Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. Cooperative Program covers the cost of having West Jones as our director, and all of that type of administrative things in coordinating that ministry statewide. Golden Offering is used to apply directly to disaster relief. None of that’s used for administrative or salary, or anything like that. So when our DR teams go into a Nashville, or to a Chattanooga, or Cleveland, or somewhere else where there’s been tornado or flooding or something like that-
Matt Tullos: Or a pandemic.
Chris Turner: Pandemic, because we’ve actually been able to help with that, the Golden Offering funds really… And another way to say that is ministry funds, because those funds are applied directly to alleviating suffering of people while putting some very qualified people onsite to also share the gospel with people.
Matt Tullos: And one of the things about our disaster relief is that they are not only meeting the needs physically, but they are trained evangelists. And I remember we were in a meeting somewhere, and Wes was getting texts from somebody who was at a disaster event, and they were ministering and saw on trees and doing all that stuff. And we just had somebody pray to receive Christ, and about 10 minutes later, we had another person. And then a day later, we found out that they had three folks that accepted Christ as their personal savior. So they’re out there doing a lot of hard work from the sweat of their brow, but also the passion of their spirit.
Chris Turner: When we think about generosity and stewardship, and Cooperative Program, and Golden Offering, one of the things that Dr. Davis is just real intent on is us. And it’s actually one of our core values is stewardship. And so, we recognize that every penny, whether it comes from a special gift, or a Golden Offering, or whatever that Tennessee Baptist gives, we have a responsibility to be a good steward of that and make sure that that money is used for kingdom work. And as you know, that’s something that he rides hard on to make sure that we’re not being wasteful, but we look at just all of the ministries being done in Tennessee and beyond. Ultimately, as mentioned earlier, we won’t know the harvest that all of that has reaped until we get to heaven.
And so, it really is making an investment, regardless of the way that people share their generosity. It really is making investment in kingdom work. So, well, great. We look at the pandemic and we see where we are financially, where churches are financially, and there really does seem to be a vision for reaching people, reaching the nations for Christ. So hopefully we’ll be able to come back at the end of this fiscal year and-
Matt Tullos: Celebrate it.
Chris Turner: Celebrate, which we will, because it has been really remarkable, and the Lord has definitely worked through churches.
Matt Tullos: And I just want to underscore again, how awesome Tennessee Baptists are. Talking to other CP folks in other states they’re really hurting. And we pray for them and want to support them through this. But God has just been so gracious to us, through our churches, the faith of our churches, and through the leadership of Dr. Davis, 10 years, he’s really made such a difference in our state and in ministry.
Chris Turner: Churches give, we direct those funds to viable ministries to turn those resources into action. And we can definitely close out with what we always say, together we really can do more than we can apart. Matt, thanks for giving us your report.
Matt Tullos: Hey, thanks for the opportunity.
Speaker 3: Thank you for listening to Radio B&R, a podcast production of the Baptist and reflector, the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at baptistandreflector.org/radio br. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the Cooperative Program, and gifts received through the Golden Offering for Tennessee missions. For more information, visit tnbaptist.org.