It’s a decades long tradition in my church. Every year in December, our auditorium gets decked out with an array of flags from all over the world. It’s an awesome thing that I really enjoy, especially as it gives us a chance to explain to visitors and newcomers what they represent while we remind ourselves.
Those of us steeped in Southern Baptist culture know that December means the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. It is a season where many of us pastors or missions leaders urge our churches to give a special offering where every penny goes to support those we send to the mission field through the International Mission Board.
The offering is something that I have a great heart for. First, because as a Christian, I want to see disciples made from every people group just as Jesus commanded. What an awesome thought to think about eternity when people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be celebrating the goodness and love of our Eternal Father! Second, despite the fact that no system is perfect, the Cooperative Program and the LMCO allow thousands of churches to band together and send out missionaries. Many of our churches couldn’t even support one missionary family on our own, but together we can send out thousands. Third, my family has benefited from Lottie. My wife served a stint with the International Mission Board. Like other missionaries, that was funded by the churches of the SBC.
As a pastor, I am happy to say that over the last three years we have seen our giving to Lottie Moon increase. In 2015, the year the IMB’s financial crisis was made known and SBC churches gave record amounts, we gave 17% more than we did in 2014. Then in 2016, the year where many churches’ LMCO giving stabilized back to prior norms, we gave 47% more than we had in 2015. And we have set our goal this year even higher.
So, then, back to the flags: Why do we put out flags and what do they mean?
We put them out to remind us of the global need of the gospel and our call to give. Each flag represents a country where our Mission Board has missionaries in place. We even have flags set near the front where people in the church have personally gone to do mission work.
But we also have one flag that is different than the rest. It is a black flag that always stands at the front. This flag represents the places that are closed to the gospel; those places that have no missionary representation. The black flag reminds us that the task is far from over and that there are still many in this world who have never heard about Jesus or the good news that he brings.
So, pastors and others, however you choose to remind your people to give for the sake of the gospel, do indeed remind them. Let us pray for those still in spiritual darkness and let us give so others can go with the gospel where we cannot.