Baptists must be 'correct,' Page says of stewardship
"If we do not get the issue of stewardship correct, the work to which God is calling us will simply not be done in a way that would honor Him and glorify Him as He would wish," Page, president of the Executive Committee, said during the opening session of the EC's Feb. 20-21 meeting.
"The factors that impact stewardship at various levels can sideline us, can marginalize us into a group of ministries which are hardly making a difference."
Stewardship, Page said, is "a key to all we do."
Southern Baptists have much to be thankful for, he said, in God's provision of finances for missions and ministries nationally and internationally since the creation of the Cooperative Program in 1925.
Over the span of 90-plus years, Southern Baptists have given nearly $4.81 billion for missions through the Cooperative Program, including:
-- nearly $3.27 billion for the International Mission Board and its predecessor, the Foreign Mission Board.
-- more than $1.39 billion for the North American Board and its predecessor, the Home Mission Board.
Additionally, nearly $1.46 billion in Cooperative Program funding has supported the SBC's six seminaries and other theological education initiatives.
The overall total, Page said, reaches beyond $6.2 billion in support of these and other Southern Baptist Convention causes through the years.
"To be good stewards we have to thank God for that which has happened in the past," Page said. "These are impressive numbers.
"But there is yet much to be done," he said, at a time when "there are many currents that seem to push us to the side and push us apart."
"Sometimes those currents and forces and factors may be theological in nature, sometimes they are ecclesiological, but usually they are methodological in nature. Sometimes those factors are personality-driven, issue-driven, cultural in nature. … [I]t seems now that rope of trust is so painfully thin and frayed...."
Yet, Southern Baptists are "blessed with a tremendous unity," Page said, in their resolve to hold Scripture "as the inerrant Word of God" and to share a common commitment "to the task of our Lord Jesus Christ. … The cause that we are committed to is bigger than our differences."
Page said three areas of stewardship will draw repeated emphasis:
"We need to have a massive effort of biblical stewardship education in our churches" to help individuals and families understand that "[t]he need for personal stewardship cannot be overestimated."
In 2003, church members gave an average of 2.48 percent of their income to their church, Page said, while the most recent statistics show a decline to 2.16 percent. Also, 70 percent of households gave to charitable causes in 2003, declining to 65 percent in 2015.
"God help us," Page said. "Is it any wonder why we don't have all we need" for reaching the world for Christ?
SBC entities and state Baptist conventions will be working together "to push as hard as we can to get into the local churches [stewardship resources] that will be both heightened in their energy and in their emphasis," Page said.
"When I was saved as a boy," he recounted, "I was part of a non-Christian home, but I learned as a little boy the power of tithing unto the Lord. I've seen what it has done in my life…."
Churches are "under a great pressure to fund a number of initiatives," Page acknowledged, yet noting, "We say to young church planters, we say to young pastors, we say to old pastors, Study it [the Cooperative Program], and we believe at the end of the day you'll find it to be the most efficient, effective way to do missions and ministries."
Sadly, Southern Baptist churches in overall missions giving, including the Cooperative Program, gave 11.3 percent of the tithes and offerings they received to missions in 2006 compared to 10.44 percent in 2015, Page said.
"Our churches need a wakeup call regarding their own stewardship," Page said. "Overall mission giving is not in a state of ascendency but in a state of descendency. We ought not be going down in mission giving, we ought to be going up."
One positive note, Page said, is that the North American Mission Board is actively promoting Cooperative Program support among its church planters across the country.
"We're excited to see some great things happening, especially among the youngest of our churches and our pastors," Page said. "We talk about [the Cooperative Program] with every ethnic group, with every age group, we talk about it wherever we go."
The SBC, as well as state conventions, "must continue to find ways to be diligent and effective and efficient in the stewardship of the dollars God has given us," Page said.
Toward that end, he noted a change that is being proposed for the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget for the Executive Committee to go to zero for any yearly SBC budget overages and for the funds to be provided to the International Mission Board "to see the nations come to Christ."
The Executive Committee's percentage of the CP budget already has been twice pared to 2.99 percent from 3.4 percent in 2011, with the funds also provided to the IMB, and the overage percentage likewise had been pared to 2.4 percent.
"We want to constantly look for ways we can do more to reach the lost for Christ," Page said, in voicing a resolve never to be a bureaucrat.
"I wake up every day and say, 'God, don't let me ever be a bureaucrat that cares more about the institution than he does the vision of the institution. … And God, let the cause always be the cause of Christ, not the cause of the Baptist denomination."
A bureaucrat, Page said, cares more about "perpetuating the institution or the denomination rather than fulfilling the Great Commission," more about "the external rather than on the eternal," on "buildings and programs when we ought to be focusing on the sending capacity of our churches," and more about "placating of the status quota rather than to challenge the complacency of our lives, our churches, our entities."
"May that never happen," Page said, "to me or us. Ever."