FIRST-PERSON: Starting a Great Commission Resurgence
On the positive side, the enthusiastic response to this motion tells us that the heart of Southern Baptist people is to link arms in taking the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Further, it demonstrates the willingness of Southern Baptists to rigorously evaluate everything they do in the light of Kingdom priorities.
On the negative side for me was the vast exodus of people from the hall after the vote was taken. This was a negative because the centerpiece of Tuesday night's schedule was the report of the International Mission Board and most of the messengers had "left the building." One would have thought that those who were enthusiastic about a Great Commission Resurgence would have made this report a first priority. (By the way, the reports of IMB and the North American Mission Board were both powerful and moving and those who missed them cheated themselves.)
But what can we do now to start a Great Commission Resurgence? You may be thinking that we need to wait until the report comes back next year before we address this issue. When we take into account the condition of the world and the power of the Gospel, we can't afford to wait. We must act now and there are several things we can do:
-- Become even better informed. What do you know about your convention entities? What do you know about how our budget works and who gets what percentage and why? We must be good stewards of all that God gives us and to do so we must be knowledgeable. I wrote an article a few weeks ago that caused several people to tell me, "I didn't know that." For example, Cooperative giving originates at the church and is forwarded to the appropriate state convention and from there to the Southern Baptist Convention. Each state determines the amount that will be retained for cooperative ministries within that state. The Southern Baptist Convention does not and cannot instruct the state concerning what it must send to convention-wide causes any more than a state can instruct its autonomous churches what percentage they should give. Each state budget is approved by its messengers in the same manner that the national budget is approved by the messengers to the convention.
You will be delighted to know that 94.95 percent of the money distributed by the national convention is allocated for seminary training and missions (50 percent IMB, 22.79 percent NAMB, 22.16 percent seminaries). (When Dr. Morris Chapman asked me to write "Making Change" as one of the components of the Empowering Kingdom Growth process, we decided it was important to show both the biblical basis for a Cooperative budget and also how it works. You might find it helpful to engage in this 40-day study prior to next year's convention.}
-- Become more committed to prayer. Pray for those engaged in cooperative ministries from the association to the state convention to our national entities. I would encourage you to pray for them with specificity and intentionality. This will help your people to have a better grasp of their global strategy and those who partner with them in this work. You might focus on the associational missionary one week, state convention partners the next, and then, in turn, take the various entities of the SBC. For example, you could pray for Dr. Geoff Hammond of NAMB and missionaries who are cooperatively funded through the NAMB budget. Next week go on to the IMB and the six seminaries and so on until you can start the process again. Further, we should all be praying for Dr. Ronnie Floyd and all those who serve on the Great Commission Task Force. They need God's wisdom as they ponder how we can be more effective in our cooperative ministries.
-- Become a better steward. I have had the privilege of serving Southern Baptists through NAMB, Lifeway, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and now the Executive Committee. I have been intricately involved in the budgeting process at Southwestern and the national level. I have been privileged to travel across America for nearly 17 years thanking our people for their faithful giving through the Cooperative Program. I have consistently assured them that the Cooperative Program provides the most efficient and effective means of funding a global strategy that will enable us to complete the Acts 1:8 mandate. It is impressive that nearly 95 percent of the national budget is allocated to missionaries and seminarians.
Can the various entities represented in the national budget do an even better job as stewards of these resources? For the sake of the kingdom we can and we must examine all that we are doing to enable us to reach the nations. During the entire time I have been involved in Southern Baptist life at the national level, I have seen entity heads and Executive Committee trustees spend countless hours discussing how we can best divide the budget dollars to accomplish the greatest impact for the Kingdom.
The picture of our budget looked like a pizza with slices of different sizes. As a seminary president, I would often argue for a "bigger slice" for seminary training. I came to understand that "my bigger slice" would come at the expense of someone else sitting at that table asking for more resources to accomplish their work. I soon understood that we could not solve our problems by a simple redistribution of the existing funds; we needed a bigger pizza. With a larger pizza, all the pieces become larger and thus each of our needs could be met.
So how do we go about enlarging the pie for the sake of the Kingdom? This is where I must examine my own heart. The average evangelical who practices giving through their church, gives less than 2.5 percent of their income. We must first increase our individual giving.
My dad taught me to tithe when I was a child learning to count. I learned to give beyond the tithe when I was pastor in Norfolk and we entered into one building program after another. It was then that I discovered the joy of "growing in my giving." As one Southern Baptist, I plan to increase my level of giving. Yes, even during this time of recession. Will you join me? Consider increasing your level of present giving by a percentage point or more.
When we start this tidal wave of giving, we will see evidence in our local church budgets as we meet and exceed weekly needs. This, in turn, will enable churches to give more to mission causes beyond their church through the Cooperative Program. When the Cooperative Program was established in 1925 the average gift per church was 11 percent of receipts. That percentage has decreased to around 7.39 percent today. Can you imagine the impact if each church raised their level of Cooperative Giving by a percentage point or more"
It would certainly make the work of our task force easier if they would begin to see an increase in giving as they were in the process of the study of our needs.
-- Become a more effective missionary. All of us have been saved to serve. God is seeking a people who will embody His name, embrace His mission and obey His word. We are a "royal priesthood" gifted and empowered to accomplish His Kingdom activity while here on earth. You can begin to be a more effective missionary today by sharing with your neighbor the Good News of the Gospel.
Let's covenant together to pray for our Kingdom partners and our task force members, to increase our personal level of giving, and to share the Good News with someone in our sphere of influence. We can begin the Great Commission Resurgence today.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC's national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth. Read "Seek First" daily devotionals by Hemphill and others at www.auxanopress.com