FIRST-PERSON: GCR: Compelling Southern Baptists to settle the Lordship issue
One of the things the GCR Task Force is trying to say is there has never been a better time for every Southern Baptist to live up to the high calling of Lordship and stewardship in their personal lives! If you are looking for identifiable causes for the decline in evangelism, baptisms, missions and offerings in SBC churches, here is a BIG one. The average American, Christian or not -- Southern Baptist or not -- spends $1.26 for every dollar they earn. When your obligation and first allegiance is to the credit card companies, mortgage companies, banks, insurance companies, schools and universities, utilities, groceries and cell phones, you find yourself trapped, unable to pursue the things of true value in your life. I have found it's not that Southern Baptists do not want to give and serve, they CANNOT give and serve! Financial pressure puts too many of us under a weight of fear, anxiety and discouragement. You don't have to look far to find church members living out the truth of Proverbs 22:7 (NASB) "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender's slave."
In this cultural climate, people of every stripe, color, language, economic stratum and belief are worried about money. It's on their minds and in their hearts. They are concerned about their jobs, they are struggling to pay their bills and taxes, they are struggling to invest in their future and they are struggling to give! Ed Stetzer says in a recent article, "The realities of the great recession have reached every city, every town, and every community, and now it is an issue at church...." Maybe the people in our churches are wondering why their pastor does not preach about money, and not just about tithing and building buildings. They might be asking, "Does the Bible have anything to say about making money, investing money, spending money, saving money and giving money?" Chuck Bentley, President & CEO, Crown Financial Ministries, reports, nearly 20 percent of all Americans are either unemployed, underemployed or are what he calls, "nervously employed," fearing they could fall victim to corporate downsizing. Bentley also says, "Fear is at the core of many financial issues today, and God's Word speaks to it. This is clearly an area where pastors can truly minister. Families are in pain, causing stress on marriages and family relationships, and this must be addressed. The pain people feel due to financial hardship has been sobering, and as a result, there is openness to rethinking stewardship and many issues on the part of families and individuals." I'll say it again; there has never been a better time than now to start a conversation in your church about money!
When Ronnie Floyd spoke to the Executive Committee in February he challenged Southern Baptists to preach and teach about money. Clearly, if Southern Baptists were free from debt, they would be free to give and free to serve! He said it right! Bottom line is this, if Southern Baptists were to tithe their gross income at the rate of 10 percent instead of giving the current 2.5 percent of disposable income, offerings in our churches would rise from about 10.8 billion dollars per year to an astounding 46 billion dollars per year. If you extrapolate the current rate of giving to the Cooperative Program, using the 46 billion dollar number, you would have the IMB receiving over 500 million dollars from the CP allocation budget every year, which would more than allow them to recruit, deploy, and support the additional missionaries needed to engage the unengaged people groups of the world. Now THAT is a compelling vision for Southern Baptists! This does not include the additional impact on North American missions and theological education. The GCR Task Force report is right; we must challenge our people to be obedient and provide education and resources for pastors and churches!
However, there are recommendations that appear to "fly in the face" of the Task Force's compelling vision to help Southern Baptists settle the Lordship issue, get out of debt, and be free to give and free to serve! Giving the IMB additional funds is a great idea and every one of us should be proactive and creative in finding ways to fund mission support, at home and abroad. However, to increase the IMB's budget 2 million dollars is anything but compelling. Some have called it "bold," others have called it "symbolic." But, our quest to fulfill God's Great Commission has to be more than "symbolic." What if the recommendation from the GCRTF called every Southern Baptist to become financially free, settle the Lordship issue in their life and begin to live out the "abundant life –- the good life" with integrity and enthusiasm? Talk about a cultural bridge for evangelism, church planting and missions! Why didn't the GCR Task Force recommendation put stewardship at the heart of Great Commission Giving? What if Southern Baptists became known for generosity and integrity in financial matters at home and abroad? Imagine the world-wide impact that would result from Southern Baptists living up to a Biblical standard of giving? Gutting the Executive Committee's budget thus restricting the impact and leadership of a national presence for CP and Stewardship is counterproductive to the stated goals of the GCR. In effect, taking 2 million dollars from the Executive Committee's budget will have the same results as closing the CP Promotion and Stewardship Education offices!
A Stewardship vision such as this deserves branding, awareness, exposure, consensus, research, cooperation, practical action steps, partners, teaching and preaching. This vision for Stewardship demands a cooperative effort among local associations, state conventions, national entities, seminaries, state Baptist Foundations and stewardship partners, i.e. Crown Financial Ministries and others. The functional role of the national stewardship office is to posture every partner and every pastor in the best possible way, for the overall good of the vision. By "throwing a blanket" over everything stewardship, the national Stewardship office helps Southern Baptists gain synergy, stay on message, and begin living up to the high calling of Lordship and stewardship.
Less than one half of our 42 state conventions have a stewardship director and apart from the 14 large state conventions you will find all other state conventions woefully under resourced when it comes to producing, promoting and distributing CP and Stewardship resources. This makes the resources of the Executive Committee even more crucial as we challenge our people to live up to God's Biblical standard regarding tithing and generosity.
In the case of stewardship I joined the Executive Committee staff four years ago and assumed responsibility for developing and implementing a national stewardship initiative, one that would change lives and make a difference among Southern Baptists and in SBC churches. I understood the implementation phase of this initiative would involve networking and collaborating with state and associational entities, as well as seminaries and Baptist colleges. We have entitled this new national initiative; It's A New Day For Financial Freedom.
Now, four years into this assignment, I can offer some thoughts and observations. Currently over 3,000 pastors have attended a one day It's A New Day conference in 100 locations across 28 states. These conferences are funded by the Executive Committee and feature a very practical process for dealing with money matters, personally and professionally. The content for these conferences is provided by Crown Financial Ministries and is presented by one of their national presenters. Also, you will be pleased to know an additional 1200 seminary students have attended an It's A New Day conference on five of our seminary campuses. The most recent seminary conference was held at Southwestern in April of 2010, with over 400 students in attendance! In this past year we have produced and distributed over 4,000 of the four-week sermon series by Dr. Ed Stetzer (available free to pastors at the SBC annual convention, Orlando, 2010). This sermon series is complete with sermon outlines, Power Point presentation and listening notes, and the kit includes a DVD of Dr. Stetzer preaching at FBC Hendersonville, Tenn. Also included in the kit is a four week, age graded, Sunday School lesson series, which complements the sermons. The EC's national partnership with Crown Financial Ministries has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in cost for Crown's personal money management and church related resources.
I think I can speak for every Southern Baptist who, like me, finds himself today, standing humbly at a crossroads, asking "where do we go from here and how do we get there"? I have no desire to run or turn away. As a matter of fact I am anxious to move forward. I would humbly ask Southern Baptists to consider if the current CP Promotion and Stewardship Education component of the GCR task force recommendation represents a compelling vision for Southern Baptists. Is this component of the GCR Task Force recommendation consistent with the high calling of cooperative giving and cooperative missions, which has been a hallmark of Southern Baptist life? Will this component of the GCR Task Force cause Southern Baptists to become Biblical stewards, people of integrity, generous, free to give and free to serve? Will this recommendation result in additional hundreds of millions of dollars for Kingdom work, given by faithful and generous Southern Baptists? In my opinion, reallocating 1 percent of the Facilitating Ministries allocation to the IMB will not move us forward as a convention of churches to reach our world for Christ. However, if this is the wish of the convention, I would respectively request that we spread the impact equally across every SBC entity and not restrict the EC's effort and leadership in this important area of CP Promotion and Stewardship Education.
Ashley Clayton is associate vice president for stewardship at the Executive Committee.