April 23, 2010
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--I was privileged to hear the initial progress report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Feb. 22 in Nashville, Tenn. I have great respect for the members of the task force and was interested to hear what they were thinking concerning the work of the SBC. Since that time I have been following Baptist Press articles about the GCR with great interest.
I am encouraged to see the interest generated by the report and the renewed focus on the Great Commission. Surely that is a positive for all concerned. We should all be delighted to hear from people all across the landscape of Southern Baptists -- north to south, small church to large church. We are talking about how we can join hands to be more effective in our goal to fulfill the Great Commission.
I think it is both appropriate and necessary for any entity to look continually at structural issues to determine if there are changes that can be made which would help us to be more effective and efficient. Such an exercise is simply a matter of good stewardship.
While structural changes are important, they are in no way the most important issue as it regards our Great Commission effectiveness at any level, be it the local church, the association, the state convention, the various entities, or the national convention. The key issue is the restoration of passion for the King and His kingdom in the hearts of individuals and churches that would, in turn, lead to increased evangelistic activity and a deeper level of personal stewardship.
The legitimate concern being expressed about declining baptisms will not be resolved by structural changes, but by personal spiritual awakening that results in a mission passion like that of Isaiah, who cried out, "Here am I, send me!" (Isa. 6:8). The desire to make more resources available for those at the ends of the earth who have never heard of Christ, is not going to be solved by moving 1 percent of our Cooperative Program budget from the Executive Committee to the International Mission Board. We cannot be satisfied to redistribute old resources. What we desperately need is "new and abundant resources." We need a stewardship revival!
In the average American church, 25 percent of the people give 85 percent of the resources. Even more troubling is the finding that those who give regularly give only 2.5 percent of their income. This dearth of giving at the individual level has caused local churches to keep an increasingly large percentage of budget receipts for local church expenses -- the amount given by the average church to CP missions causes has dropped steadily until it now averages only 6.2 percent per church.
This reduction in percentage giving by the local church has, in turn, caused state conventions to cut back services or to retain a larger percentage of the CP monies that are given by the churches in their states. You can readily see that the stream is declining in volume as it makes its journey to the SBC entities. The issue is not to redistribute the small amount of water that makes its way to the SBC entities; the answer is to increase the volume at every level.
You may be thinking, "But we are living in challenging days financially. We are going to have to live with the economic realities!" What economic realities? Americans still have one of the highest standards of living anywhere in the world.
But to see what could be done, let's propose a simple math problem. What if the average church could double the number of regular givers –- that would mean that half of those attending are now giving regularly to Kingdom causes through the local church. What if those regular givers would double their current giving level so they are now giving 5 percent of their income? You do the math -- every church's budget would quadruple.
In case you are wondering, I am not suggesting we should ever encourage anyone to give less than a tithe. I believe the tithe is a wonderful place to begin one's stewardship pilgrimage but should never be the destination. If we were to imagine that half our people were to practice tithing through their local church -- well, you do the math. We would be overwhelmed by the resources God desires to make available at every level for the completion of the Great Commission.
We would not be debating the redistribution of 1 percent of a budget that is already too small for the great God we serve and the Great Commission He has given us. He has promised that He is able to do "far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Eph. 3:20). God wants to "do more" so He receives glory in the churches and in Christ Jesus.
I encourage you to read and digest all the information available from the GCRTF and go to Orlando and vote your convictions. But don't leave the SBC annual meeting thinking that our vote on the final report is going to resolve all the issues that have been raised by our task force.
Make a personal commitment to become more active in personal evangelism and stewardship. If you are in a place of responsibility in your church, become more active in evangelism and stewardship training. Help people to catch the vision that by generous stewardship through the local church they have the privilege of being part of a community of like-minded churches that participate in the greatest mission strategy ever conceived -- the reaching of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.
Many of our people will be challenged to give generously when you show them that their giving, combined with that of thousands of other Southern Baptist churches, enables them to participate equally in the completion of the Great Commission -- perhaps in our generation!
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC's national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth.