Seventeen years ago, David Beck, a New Testament and Greek professor at Southeastern Seminary, used his sabbatical to address his concern that “evangelism is often recognized as the heartbeat of the church, yet it is rarely the focus of serious research among biblical scholars.” Upon his return, he gave a faculty lecture during a Southeastern chapel service on Nov. 6, 2002. He asked faculty and students: Continue reading
With all of the trouble we have in the world today, do you find that you function somewhere in the “overload” zone in your life? In years gone by the public was not bombarded by all of the tragedies and troubles of the world on a moment by moment basis. If something took place which was particularly troubling, most people would not find out about it until the event was at least two or three days old. Of course, the closer it came to home, the quicker the news traveled, but most world news was what today’s media would term “old news” by the time we got it. By then one would reason that since it was a few days old and since it had exerted no impact upon their lives that they were safe from it and therefore did not worry about it. But today it is different. News organizations such as CNN, FOX, MSNBC and the major networks make sure that everyone in the world has the ability to consume any and all types of news immediately. If there is a bombing in Israel (something you can do nothing about) you know it before the smoke clears. If there is a murder which is particularly gruesome, you know it before the blood stains dry. If there is a natural disaster it is as if it is taking place in your own living room. If there are starving children anywhere in the world, you are transported right into their midst. And, the average person feels the frustration, pain and guilt of not being able to do anything about all of this.
So, the question arises; just what is news to me and when is a happening turned into a production so that the news media can sell commercials and be the one who can claim that they were “the first to bring you the story.” Personally, I feel that real news is anything that has a direct bearing on my life and the lives of my family members. These are the things that I need to know about and news should be something you NEED to know not something that is mere information. Furthermore, the real news is made up of bare facts minus all of the commentary that is espoused by so many of the news personalities today. I believe that one reason so many people live with so much tension and frustration is that they are continually confronted with things they cannot control and can do nothing about. Being the good people they are, and desiring to help people, they find themselves under undue stress because the news media has told them INFORMATION which is beyond their ability to affect in any way. Just think about it this way. The next time you view the news just ask these questions following each story: “Now, did I NEED to know that?” “How does that affect me personally?” If you cannot find a valid reason why you needed to be exposed to the information then it was not news to you, but simply INFORMATION. Then, determine in yourself that you will not let those things which are hurled at you each evening stir you into fits of guilt and frustration because of your inability to do something about them. Don’t let the information raise your blood pressure and cause fits of anxiety.
I recently told a person who was giving me material to read that I had so much I HAD to read that I didn’t have time to read some things I WANTED to read. I feel the same about the news and what is fed to us. I spend so much time dealing with things I HAVE to deal with in ordinary life that I don’t have time to spend on things I can do nothing about. But I want to share with you that I have discovered how to take the tension out of life and to live above the things going on around me. The only person who has the answers to life is Jesus Christ. When I committed my life to Him and He became my Savior, I found that His Spirit led me to believe everything He says in the Bible. In Mt. 6:25 and following, Jesus talks about our trust in God and how we should not worry. He says in verse 33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” I believe in a Sovereign God who knows everything and who is in control of His universe. He cannot be caught by surprise (because that would indicate that He thought something else was going to happen and therefore He is not omniscient), and you cannot disappoint Him (disappointment would indicate that he expected something else and was disappointed when it didn’t take place.) This would indicate that He was not sovereign and could not control the events of life. When I believe in a Sovereign God, I relieve myself from the frustration, worry, high blood pressure and tensions of life. It makes life much sweeter. It also helps one decide what really is important and how they should react to it.
So the next time things start pushing you into the “Overload Zone” just remember that it was never designed by God for you to live that way. Also remember that He IS in control no matter what the circumstances are saying to you. The God who is able to handle anything and everything did not intend for us to Live in the “Overload Zone”.
Dr. Rick Patrick, Pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Alabama
Exec. Director, Connect 316
In 2010, even as Southern Baptists admitted that all missions giving is worthy of celebration, we clearly affirmed the superiority of the Cooperative Program over against every alternative method for the financial support of missions:
We call upon Southern Baptists to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach… The greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program. We call upon Southern Baptists to recommit to the Cooperative Program as the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding, without which we would be left with no unified and cooperative strategy and commitment to the Great Commission task. (Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, 2010)
The time has come for Southern Baptists to decide if we truly meant these lofty words concerning the Cooperative Program that we adopted in June of 2010 or if we only truly meant the lofty words about celebrating rival forms of missions support. While it makes sense to celebrate any and all support for missions, it is only logical that we reserve our greatest passion and excitement for the one strategy we deem most effective, most exemplary of our greatest stewardship, and unquestionably the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding.
Either we have a Cooperative Program or we don’t. When churches diminish the importance of the Cooperative Program to “do their own thing” under the banner of Great Commission Giving or any other competing approach, it cannot help but weaken the most effective missionary sending channel in world history. Certainly, whenever anyone gives to missions, we celebrate this fact, regardless of their approach, but if they reduce their Cooperative Program support in order to fund a little something on the side, we are right to identify such reallocations as clear threats to our mutual Southern Baptist missions work. The leadership principle used to make this evaluation is the simple time honored notion that the good is the enemy of the best.
Taking the Temperature of the Cooperative Program
Measuring the health of the Cooperative Program can be compared to taking the temperature of a patient. A healthy human body requires a temperature reading of 97.3 – 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures are considered life threatening when they fall below 95 degrees or rise above 104 degrees. The same human body that flourishes at one numerical reading will die at another. There is no magic in the thermometer itself. Any numerical reading will not do. The temperature must fall between a certain range or the physical body will die.
Similarly, the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention flourishes when the temperature readings are strong, but fails to survive as the readings sink lower and lower. According to a 2003 study, Southern Baptist Churches gave an average of 10.5 percent of our undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program in the 1980’s. That number declined to 7.39 percent in 2002. Our most recent data indicates that this number has now dipped to 5.16 percent for the reporting year 2016-2017.
It makes sense that there is a certain threshold below which our ministries simply cannot function. It is a simple fact of arithmetic that our reduction of international missionaries by 25% over the past three years could have been avoided if Southern Baptist Churches had not cut our Cooperative Program giving in half since the 1980’s. We must understand the problem is not the Cooperative Program itself. Our thermometer is working fine. The problem is that our readings on this thermometer have dipped below the level required to sustain life and health. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we have a strategy historically proven to be both feasible and successful, unlike our decade long experiment with alternative giving options, which have proven to be both infeasible and unsuccessful. All we must do is bring our numbers back within their appropriate ranges. This is a plan every Southern Baptist Church can embrace—unlike the strategies of some SBC churches today who utilize Great Commission Giving. In so doing, they fund their own special projects on the side while giving less through the Cooperative Program.
Smaller churches simply cannot afford this “do it yourself” strategy. Thus, if we are all going to be in this thing together, then the Cooperative Program is the only game in town. It is the greatest system for the support of missions that the world has ever known—but it needs a little medicine to bring up our body temperature.
The 10-3-10-50 Strategy for Southern Baptist Cooperation
This is not merely a hypothetical plan for cooperation. It represents the precise formula I am presently putting into practice in my personal finances and in the financial choices of my church family and my state convention. It does have one very specific advantage. If everyone did this, Southern Baptists would be in excellent shape financially to support our mutual missions work at every level of our denominational cooperation.
Here’s how the plan works. There are four areas of cooperation—individual, association, state, and national.
This is a simple and proven strategy. It works. Frankly, it works even if the numbers are approximately at these levels. As long as we are in the vicinity of these benchmarks, Southern Baptist missions will thrive financially.
Overcoming the Two Most Common Objections
1. Don’t these voluntary benchmarks threaten the principle of autonomy?
Not in the least, and here’s why. In Southern Baptist life, every individual, every church, every association, and every convention is completely autonomous. They can do whatever in the world they want. No single goal at any level of the money trail can threaten autonomy because no one is being forced to do anything at all. Having said that, I can certainly ask Christians to tithe. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. I can also ask churches to support their local association with donations in the vicinity of 3%. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. I can ask churches to support the Cooperative Program with donations in the vicinity of 10% through their state convention. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. And I can ask the state convention to forward Cooperative Program receipts in the vicinity of 50% to the Southern Baptist Convention. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. Because every action is voluntary and everyone involved is autonomous, I endanger no Baptist principle by recommending these reasonable, attainable, and worthy goals.
2. Isn’t it true that percentages do not pay for missions, but dollars do?
This observation is often credited to Adrian Rogers, whose ministry and legacy I profoundly appreciate. Nevertheless, the statement presents a false dichotomy, since any level of funding can be stated in terms of either percentages or dollars. I fully understand the gist of this argument that a large church’s small percentage often translates into an amount most people consider an enormous sum of money. This is simply the way percentages work. Ten percent of nothing is nothing while ten percent of a fortune is a fortune. Which would you rather have in your missions fund—one billion dollars or ten percent of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ net worth? If you chose the dollar amount, on the theory that dollars pay for missions, you would have one billion dollars. However, if you chose the percentage amount, ignoring this adage about dollars paying for missions, you would have 13 billion dollars. Clearly, percentages can be thirteen times more effective than dollars in financing expenditures! Not only do percentages pay for missions, but higher percentages pay for more missions than lower percentages.
However noble its intentions, Great Commission Giving has neither improved Southern Baptist missionary work nor Southern Baptist cooperation. It has left us with a house divided in our missionary funding strategy. We have been challenged to celebrate societal missions, but why? Why celebrate the embrace of a missions funding approach that is neither most effective, an example of our greatest stewardship, or the promotion of our central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding? Why celebrate the second best option when the best option is readily available? Let us quit playing around with rival approaches that have only gotten us lost in the woods. Let us stop abandoning the Cooperative Program on the false assumption that we have discovered a better way. There is no better way. The Cooperative Program, when supported at sustainable levels like those described in the 10-3-10-50 Plan, remains the greatest channel for the support of missions that the world has ever known. It is not too late for Southern Baptists to administer CPR—a Cooperative Program Resurgence—that will bring us back to life again and restore our missionary heartbeat.