‘Lostness’ around the world demands change of prioritiescomment (0)
May 27, 2010
By K.J. Pugh
Evaluating the final GCR Task Force report (Pro)
First let me be upfront about what a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) will cost. It will cost jobs. It will mean losing some denominational servants in Montgomery so they can be church planters in Seattle. It will mean fewer state missionaries and ministries in Birmingham and more in Boston. Any substantial GCR will probably cause a painful streamlining of state conventions, resulting in fewer services, staff members and conferences. Knowing the cost, what reasons could anyone have for supporting a GCR? Please allow me, humbly and hesitantly, to give you my reasons.
There is a gospel disparity in the world. More than 1.7 billion people in the world today have virtually no access to the gospel, while the 108 million people in the South have a church seemingly on every street corner (36,605 of which are Southern Baptist Convention, SBC, churches). So what are Southern Baptists doing to address this disparity?
The numbers say we are doing relatively little. Of the money given through the Cooperative Program (CP), the average state convention keeps 63.45 percent.
In addition to the money kept in the states, state conventions get back around $50 million in CP money annually through cooperative agreements with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The net result of all this is that over half of CP money is spent on one-third of the U.S. population — the same one-third who have the most gospel-preaching churches. This disparity grows when you factor in all the money that local churches spend on their own outreach, staff and buildings. Of the approximately $12 billion given to SBC churches last year, only 2 percent went to Southern Baptists’ vehicle for reaching the nations — the International Mission Board (IMB).
Does this disparity reveal anything about our hearts? It does, according to Al Jackson, pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church, Auburn. In a message titled “The American Dream or the Great Commission Resurgence?,” Jackson lamented that “about 98 cents out of every dollar of the Southern Baptist heart has been invested right here at home, and our heart is about 2 cents out of a dollar to get the gospel to the nations.”
Brothers and sisters, this should not be! How can we spend only 2 cents on reaching the world for every 98 cents we spend at home? Whatever our claims are for ministry here, the heathen’s claim for the gospel is greater. Whatever needs our churches have for denominational services, the heathen’s need for the gospel is greater. May we, in a spirit of gospel generosity, say with our money, “Less for us and more for the perishing nations!”
Obedience to Jesus
Consider this question: Are we being obedient to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” when we spend 2 cents to reach the nations for every 98 cents spent at home? Ultimately only Jesus can answer this question, and His answer is the only one that matters. But for my part, I would not want to stand before Him and give an account for such a disparity. I think that each of us want to say on that day, “Lord, following your example in the gospel, we impoverished ourselves that the nations might become rich in knowing you.”
Paul’s heart and God’s heart
What would Paul say about our investing 98 percent of our resources in the most reached area of the world? I can only speculate from what he has said. Paul told the church in Rome, “From Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:19–20).
How could Paul say the gospel has been “fully preached” over such a large geographical area, especially when the great majority of the people living there were still lost? Paul could make this statement because he had faithfully preached the gospel and then trained gospel-preaching churches that bear the responsibility for reaching the lost around them. Paul went on to say there was “no further place for [him] in these regions” (v. 23), so he was going where Christ had not yet been named.
Paul’s desire to tackle the gospel disparity in the world was not a mere whim of the apostle but a divinely inspired desire that reflected the heart of God. If Paul could speak an inspired word to the SBC today, then I believe he would say to us, “Let the churches reach these regions, but let the churches’ resources be used to send the gospel where Christ has not yet been named.”
For the sake of the CP
The above arguments weigh heavily on the hearts of many pastors, especially in the upcoming generation. Acting on these convictions, many pastors are leading their churches to bypass their state convention by giving directly to the IMB and funding their own missions projects. This trend may snowball in the coming years if nothing is done to address the concerns of this growing number of pastors. The only way that I see to reverse this trend is with a significant GCR that wins the support of the next generation for the CP. The CP’s future may very well rest on the success of a GCR.
Missionaries in waiting
It is both our glory and our shame that we currently have more qualified missionary candidates than we have funds available to send them. God is doing a glorious thing in raising up from among us young men, women and families who desire to be missionaries of the cross in foreign lands. We should weep with gratitude that the Lord has kindled such white-hot missionary zeal in the hearts of so many in our denomination. Our 2-cent hearts are undeserving of such a kind movement of God. It is, however, our shame that many of these called, trained and commissioned missionaries must put their lives on hold, waiting on their 2 percent of the SBC dollar. And while missionaries wait, massive groups of people die never hearing the gospel.
I ask you: Is it right for us, the most affluent nation in history, to spend 98 percent of our resources on ourselves while poverty-stricken nations perish without the gospel? If we gave 4 percent of the SBC’s $12 billion, then we could double what we are doing now to reach the nations. But to quote the apostle Paul, “I will show you still a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:30).
Need for transformation
The “more excellent way” is a bottom-to-top, missions-driven transformation. We need a GCR transformation on three levels: the family, the church and the convention. First our families need to embrace Jesus’ radical teaching on wealth. Jesus called the man a “fool” who “stores up wealth for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Instead of using his excess to be rich toward God, the foolish man builds bigger barns to store his excess for himself. Too many families (including mine) foolishly waste their excess on themselves instead of using it to store up treasure in heaven. Jesus went on to tell us the wise thing to do, “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make for yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven” (v. 33). The transformative principle is this: Do good and advance Christ’s mission with your excess, thereby converting your temporal losses into eternal gains. Jesus’ economics teach us to be content with having our basic needs met and use our excess to be rich in good works and toward God. We need families who will settle in at making $40,000 a year, so that when they make $80,000, they can give half of it away in advancing Christ’s mission. Our families need to learn that we can do without some parts of the American dream in order to pursue with greater abandon God’s mission. May the Lord bring a GCR to our families, transforming each one into a gospel-propelling force unto the eternal joy of the nations.
We also need transformation on the church level. Why should families give up on building bigger barns for themselves in order for their church to build a bigger barn for itself? Both the family and the church must embrace the same GCR mind-set. Many of our churches are like luxury liners. Their goal is to have the biggest ship, with the most passengers, the best crew and the most attractive amenities. The GCR mind-set recognizes that we are not on a cruise but in a war, and we need to transform our luxury liners into battleships. Church budgets need to be streamlined and nonessentials trimmed away. All hands need to be on deck and every member equipped to minister. My church is in the beginning stages of partnering with other churches to plant “Swift boat” mission congregations that will be committed to using only half of their revenues to support the local ministry while using the other half to advance the global mission of Christ. Just imagine the gospel wave that might roll over the world if SBC churches spent only half of their resources on maintaining the ministry and the other half on advancing the mission!
The convention also needs a GCR transformation. The GCR Task Force has been given the task of casting a vision for this transformation. I believe the task force will make sensible and moderate recommendations to the convention in Orlando, Fla. But lest any think that it goes too far, let me share what I would propose.
My (radical) proposal — In sharing this proposal, I realize that I risk giving ammunition to a few anti-GCR people who wish to portray pro-GCR people as radical reformers. I would be saddened if my proposal was used to spread a caricature of the pro-GCR camp. I only share it to demonstrate how moderate the current recommendations are by comparison and how less moderate they might be if the task was left to the next generation of SBC leaders.
My proposal can be encapsulated in one statement: the reversal of the CP pecking order. Let CP money first go to the IMB, and after we have placed every qualified missionary candidate on the field, then let the remaining funds be passed on to NAMB and the other national entities. Once NAMB has every qualified church planter planting churches in North America, then the remaining funds can be given proportionally to the state conventions.
This reversal of the CP “food chain” would send the message that getting the gospel to the nations is of first importance to us, and it would cement the CP in the hearts of the younger generation by transforming many of its critics into its champions. Such a sweeping commitment on the part of Southern Baptists might also be used of God to inspire a GCR in other gospel-believing denominations. In the providence of God, the SBC could set the stage for fulfilling the Great Commission in our time.
I hope you agree that Southern Baptists cannot go on spending 98 percent of our resources at home while giving only 2 percent to make disciples of all nations. We need a GCR restructuring. Every Southern Baptist can play a part in bringing about a GCR in their families and local churches. Reformation at the family and church levels is, after all, vastly more important than any structural changes. We should not, however, neglect structural changes or dismiss them as being unneeded.
I hope that we will see some GCR changes adopted at the national convention in Orlando. But even more, I hope that you will join me in praying that more and more of our families and churches will embrace a GCR mind-set that lets “goods and kindred go” for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God among the nations.
EDITOR’S NOTE — K.J. Pugh is associate pastor of education and missions of Open Door Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa.
What are your thoughts about the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report?
Answer seven questions at www.surveymonkey.com/s/gcr. The results are anonymous and will be compiled into a story for the June 10 issue of The Alabama Baptist.
CLICK HERE to read the con GCR perspective.