Who is More Lost?

After reading Ephesians 2:1 again for the umpteenth thousandth time it was like reading it for the first time.  Ephesians 2:1–”and you he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins”.  Do you realize that lost means dead?  It means that we were once dead and God, through the atoning blood of Jesus made us one with him and we were born again, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we were raised from the dead to walk in a new life.  Excuse me while I shout and throw a hymn book. :)

We seem to have advanced the debate of a Great Commission Resurgence to deciding who is more lost.  If you remember Dr. Mohler made a motion at the 2009 SBC in Louisville that a committee be formed; ” concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” (Item #12, P.57) This motion has produced debates that range from the state conventions being “bloated and bureaucratic at every level” to the task force being organized in order to find ways to keep younger pastors from abandoning the SBC.  Now, one on the GCRTF seems to expand this motion with the idea that a name change is needed in order to reach the lost.

It seems that some are using the lost and unreached people groups to promote a debate that leads to pet projects.  I am not against getting the Gospel to the lost and unreached people groups of the world.  I believe the mandate of reaching the unreached people groups is as much a part of the Great Commission as my Jerusalem. I have a scriptural conviction to  do all within my power, through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of other Southern Baptist and Evangelicals, to see the mission accomplished.   However, since we began this debate on the Great Commission Resurgence we, as pastors, are now being presented with the argument that we are keeping 93% and the state conventions and the denominational structure fight over 7%.

The reason for the push back by some, either openly or privately, is there seems to be an elitism represented in the debate.  The presentation of the debate make some, because they do not buy into a direction being presented, appear as if they do not want to reach the lost and unreached people groups. How do we actively further this debate without making others, who are engaged in active outreach to the lost, appear they do not desire to reach their world for Christ?  Being the preacher that I am, I see three ways to bring about reconciliation in the debate.  First, we must all agree that we have the greatest missions sending organization in the world.  Part of this agreement means we must stop berating those who desire more information before agreeing to a total reconstructive effort.  Second, we must acknowledge that the State Conventions have their ministries and they do a great job fulfilling their ministry objectives.  Third, we must understand not everyone agrees with every item found in a state convention budget and stop trying to direct autonomous entities to do something we are not willing to do ourselves.

First, we must all agree that we have the greatest missions sending organization in the world. Let’s face it the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board are the greatest organizations we as Southern Baptist have put together.  Are there changes that could and should come about within these entities?  You bet there is!  Should only those changes that please me happen?  No, they should not! We as Southern Baptist should be open to changes and call for changes, but those changes are to happen through the Trustee structure.  Whenever there are private individuals that publicly push for change in order to satisfy his/her ego it undermines the fabric and unity of the  greatest missions organizations in the world.

Second, we must acknowledge that the State Conventions have their ministries and they do a great job fulfilling their ministries objectives. Let me first say that I do not agree with everything that happens in the North Carolina Baptist State Convention.  If you call Brother Milton Hollifield he will affirm that statement.  However, I remain a part of this great convention because I believe in what she is doing.  Could she do things better?  Yes she could!  Does she do everything like I would like to see it done?  No she doesn’t.  Does that make her a bloated bureaucracy? No, it doesn’t!!  Are there areas where belts could be tightened and more bang be given for the buck?  I believe everyone will agree there is.

Some have returned to calling our state conventions bloated.  Then we have other pastors calling on us to pressure state conventions to live off 50% of the income they receive from their churches.  Some pastors are leading their churches to give a mere customary amount in order to maintain the benefits of the state conventions.  In NC we have the Annuity supplement from our convention when we give $105 per month to Guidestone retirement.  The annuity supplement costs $640 per year and BSCNC uses the first $640 received from the churches in CP funds to cover that supplement. The reason our convention went to this system was that some churches were enjoying that supplement for their pastor and staff then giving only a token amount ($100-$500) to the CP.  (We have in place a system that will cover small church pastors whose annual budget is under $50K) Therefore, when a church shows $1000 given on their CP portion of their ACP in reality they only gave $360 to CP.  There is one megachurch pastor that is calling for a 50/50 split and his church only directed $55k to CP.  Don’t get me wrong they gave over 3/4 million $$ to other missions.  This church has at least 25 staff members.  With the formula in NC that means this megachurch gave $39k to the CP, if their Pastor and staff enjoy the Guidestone benefits.  From that $14820 went to Nashville and $7410 went to the IMB.  You say that is pitiful and I agree.  It started out at $55k and only $7k made it to the IMB.  That megachurch sent 27% to Nashville, but look at the amount they kept for their staff, in Guidestone benefits–39%. (That is if the staff participates in Guidestone)

Do I fault this megachurch for looking after their staff?  No, I do not because they are very much needed for that church to reach their Jerusalem.  I do fault the pastor for calling on the state convention to do something he is not doing with his church.  You can call it bad parachurch ministry all you desire, but you cannot call on another autonomous body to do something you are not leading your autonomous body to do.  But this also begs another point.  If we cut back our staff in order to meet a financial objective where did we just place the will of God?  In reality the will of God took a back seat to the financial objective of making sure we get the money to another group of people. One can see this debate exposed with this statement: “if we heard about the great need in Kentucky while also hearing about the even greater need around the globe, we would undoubtedly vote to send a greater percentage of our money towards this greater need.” Thus, those lost people, we cut staff to reach, have become more lost then those I am called to reach in my Jerusalem. Why?  There is a greater need of reaching lost people around the world than there is of reaching lost people in the hills and hollers of Kentucky.  Lost is lost whether you are in Tibet or Taylor Mill.

Third, we must understand not everyone agrees with every item found in a state convention budget and stop trying to direct autonomous entities to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. The example above is just one such church.  We have another pastor, in our convention, publicly calling on his fellow SBC pastors to petition their state conventions saying that all state conventions should give a 50/50 split.  I would like to congratulate those state conventions that have achieved a 50/50 split and encourage all state conventions to make that a goal.  However, some serious concerns are raised when a pastor, whose church is giving $11k to the Cooperative Program out of a $400k undesignated budget, calls on the state convention to go to a 50/50 split.  Why should this concern me?  What another church chooses to give is that churches decision and I applaud and affirm their autonomous nature and decisions.  However, one cannot call on their state convention to live off of 50% when the church sends a mere 2.75% to CP to be divided between the state and national convention.

If we are going to reconcile this debate we must begin treating others the way we desire to be treated.  We have the greatest mission sending agencies in all the world.  Could God get his work accomplished without the Southern Baptist Convention?  Certainly He can!  Could God remove His good hand from the SBC allowing us to implode?  Certainly He can!  Will God abandon the SBC?  According to Scripture, God reminded Elijah that there was a remnant that have not bowed a knee to Baal.  I know that is theology concerning the restoration of Israel, but it also carries over to us as Christians.  God always has a remnant.  As long as there is a group that desires to fully serve God and get the gospel to the nations within the SBC, I do not believe one could find scriptural authority that would say “God will not use the SBC.”

We must affirm our state conventions in the work they are doing.  Some state conventions are fat in some areas and others are slim in other areas.  That is the nature of the beast.  Are there areas in the convention that could be trimmed according to my analysis.  Certainly are!!! Are there areas in my church that a state executive believes I should do away with and send the money to missions?  You better believe it is.  There is always two sides to every coin.

We need to accept that we do not agree on the specifics of everyone’s suggestions.  What will the Task Force bring out?  Who knows.  We need to keep them in the front of our prayers as they are meeting this week and presenting their preliminary recommendations next week to the Executive Committee.  One thing is for certain.  When they bring the recommendation(s) to Orlando we will debate it and vote on it.  Whatever the outcome of the vote there remains a fact that no one can deny.  WE STILL HAVE A LOST WORLD THAT NEEDS JESUS!!!.  Let’s stop trying to determine who is more lost so we can get them more funds.  God has presented that people are lost we need to go after them.