Recently the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention made a huge announcement that should cause a mighty response in the denomination.
David Platt, current President of the IMB, and author of Radical, had to announce a plan to cut at least 600 employees from one of the largest Christian mission organizations in the world. This must have been an incredibly painful announcement for a man whose life purpose is to see the nations reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As a history lesson, one of the major reasons that the SBC exists is to fund missions. In fact, the Cooperative Program was created in the early 20th Century largely to fund the missions activities of the SBC. Reducing the mission force without some major economic crisis indicates there is something terribly wrong, and that there must have been a loss of focus.
These things should make Southern Baptists begin to question where our priorities lie.
Some Questions for Consideration
Whenever a crisis like this occurs, it should lead to some introspective questioning. Here are a few that have come to my mind:
- Is the Cooperative Program still viable?
- I think it is. The Cooperative Program certainly needs to be reshaped somewhat to reduce the amount of money that gets spent for regional organizations that duplicate other parachurch and national denominational organizations. However, the basic method of large association of churches contributing to fund the global missions endeavors is irreplaceable. Having grown up in an Independent Baptist church, the collective sending power of the IMB is a huge improvement to the never-ending circuit of missionaries candidating individually. The CP is a good program and we need to make sure it works in a new era.
- What are the SBC churches funding instead of missions?
- This is the $100 question. Part of reality is that since the Great Recession, the cost of living has risen while wages for the middle and lower class have largely stagnated. In many ways this economic pressure is due to bad fiscal policies at local, state, and federal levels in the United States. At the same time, I wonder if SBC churches have increased funding for global missions as much as they have funding for local priorities. Or, have they made across the board cuts that have kept more money than absolutely necessary at the local level? Local ministry is important for discipleship and growing healthy churches. However, without funding for international missions, vital ministries that take the gospel where it is currently unavailable will not happen. Local churches need to question their funding priorities.
- Are the funding problems a result of the tragedy of the commons?
- The tragedy of the commons is the phenomena where things held in group ownership are treated less well than things held for private gain. I believe the current IMB struggles are in part a result of the tragedy of the commons. This is a natural danger of the Cooperative Program; all Southern Baptists don't know missionaries intimately, and our money doesn't fund them directly, so we don't necessarily feel obligated to fund them vigorously (or pray for them diligently). This is a circumstance that local churches as organizations, pastors, and missions-minded individuals in the church will need remedy. They need to raise the alarm, continue to tell the story of missions work, and build the missional momentum to help people engage and feel ownership for international missions conducted at the national level. We need to overcome this is we are to sustain the CP.
- What level of problem is this?
- If this isn't five alarm fire, it is very close. They aren't shutting down the IMB, but there have been years of underfunding the IMB. If we can't fund international missions--if we can't send the gospel to places it hasn't been heard yet--then we are failing to use the gifts God has given us. We have prioritized our comfort over missional living and sacrificial giving. The man who wrote the book on living a missional lifestyle, cutting back on extras, and getting the gospel to the ends of the earth has announced cuts at a huge missions organizations. This is real and we need to be ready to respond in a big way.
What do we do now?
All is not lost. However, we need to have a gut check at the individual level and as local churches.
What are we spending our money on? What are we living for? Are we aggressive in our funding of gospel ministry? Are we critical in evaluating our personal expenditures? How about our local church expenditures? Are we asking what the gospel purpose in our giving, spending, and living is?
We need to get engaged as a people in giving from the abundance God as provided. We need to keep praying for our missionaries and our denominational leaders. We need to lay foundations of radical living and white-hot gospel focus in our daily lives that spreads the interest to our children and our neighbors.
Individual effort and sacrifice will be necessary if we are to turn the ship. It won't happen in a a few days, but the long term viability of the IMB and the need to spread the gospel demands it. Our faithfulness to God demands it.
An Open Letter from David Platt
David Platt has written an open letter to the SBC to explain the nature and reason for the forthcoming cuts. I have reposted it below: