Consider me to have a bit of a deficit in denominational nostalgia. I don’t apologize for it.
A lament heard often in our SBC circles is about the halcyon days of ten percent Cooperative Program giving, the fictional harmony among various groups that made up the SBC back then. That lament includes despair for the days of ever growing statistical measures, chiefly money, that gave state conventions and the other SBC entities the optimism and verve to engage on endless staff hiring sprees, build magnificent buildings, and dream of ever greater sums to fund denominational dreams.
The ten percent days are a generation and a half in the past and few people among us under the age of fifty have a memory of such levels. Perhaps that is why some SBC graybeards among us get a glazed over look and begin a wistful chant that begins with, “If SBC churches gave an average of ten percent to the Cooperative Program like we used to, we could…”
Better to leave that brother alone in his requiem than to administer a dose of reality.
But I’m one of those who wishes for the clean and simple approach to SBC international missions that was (at least to my limited, youthful understanding of the time) present 35 years ago:
- Churches gave heavily to the CP, over ten percent on average of their undesignated offerings.
- The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was universally promoted in churches each year, yielding growing sums.
- Individuals felt a call to serve overseas, responded, were appointed, and spent a lifetime serving.
- Travel to distant places was out of reach of the average church member, so energy and funds were unlikely to be spent on short term mission trips that had limited value and little overall direction and strategy for reaching the world.
Things have gotten rather complex.
- The CP has steadily declined and accounts for less than one-third of our International Mission Board’s budget.
- The LMCO has been stagnant for years, actually declining in real dollars.
- After continuing to spend as if revenues would suddenly and permanently surge by tens of millions, the IMB is on a plan to severely pare down missionaries and support staff.
- Churches spend tens of millions on short term missions, a routine budget item that looks like just another program, and less on support of IMB through CP and the LMCO.
- SBC churches are more open than ever to an endless stream of parachurch organizations, independent mission lone rangers, and alternative, non-SBC, mission sending agencies.
- In some cases IMB has an unusual arrangement in which they work directly with some SBC churches to facilitate those churches own personnel in certain mission endeavors.
- The IMB is proposing “partially funded missionaries” raising questions about how the unfunded portion will be funded. The obvious question about whether or not SBC churches will be approached for direct funding of the remainder has yet to be answered.
- Many churches eschew the LMCO in favor of a generic global mission offering, only a portion of which might be forwarded to the IMB.
- Churches have created funding programs for retiring missionaries who are taking the IMB voluntary retirement incentives and remaining on the field. Some of these are devoting a portion of the LMCO to this purpose, direct funding of retired IMB personnel.
- Individuals have declared their intent to take what they would have given to the LMCO and send it directly to a ‘retiring’ IMB worker.
- At least one organization is utilizing the term “Lottie” in promoting the above.
This is complicated to think about. Give me a minute to indulge my own wistful reminiscence of previous, simpler days.
OK, I’m over it.
If I were beginning as a pastor in 2015 (rather than in 1982) here’s how I think I would look at and prioritize things:
- I’d try and lead my church to 5% or greater Cooperative Program giving. That’s about average. Above average would be good but below would be unacceptable.
- I’d do my best to give heavily to Lottie Moon, perhaps by building into the church budget some level of monthly LMCO giving, that in addition to the heavy emphasis at Christmas for the LMCO as an ‘over and above’ offering.
- I’d communicate as best I could to the congregation why IMB is cutting numbers and why our response should be to step up our LMCO giving. I’m not sure doubling the offering would be the best goal but I would point out that some churches are attempting just that.
- I’d attempt to stave off the inevitable requests for independent missionary funding, some friend/relative of a member, and exclusively support the global strategy of our own IMB.
- I’d do short term missions as long as they folded in with IMB strategy and did not negatively impact regular CP or LMCO giving.
- I’d presume that the IMB’s announced strategy of utilizing fully funded, partially funded, and unfunded overseas missions personnel is worthy of support but also of scrutiny.
- I’d think long and hard before I acquiesced to any IMB program that had candidates making direct, personal appeals to churches for dedicated funding.
I think I’m solid in asserting that we will never go back to past systems in SBC international missions.
I see nothing that will restore the Cooperative Program to former, double-digit percentage levels of the past.
I doubt those who respond to a call to overseas missions in the 21st century will have as long an average tenure overseas as previous generations of IMB workers.
I suspect that strategies will be employed that shift personnel to and from certain regions of the world and to and from certain people groups.
While I may be flummoxed by all of the above, I remain certain that our International Mission Board is worthy of our highest level of support. I would be preparing my church for the most vigorous 2015 LMCO promotion that I could get away with.
The SBC is a vast, noisy, rambunctious herd of independent operators, proudly so, which leads me to ask, “How do you look at all this?”