Reflections on the Cooperative Program

Kentucky Baptists have much to celebrate as we close our 2014-15 fiscal year for the state convention. Not only was there an increase in the Cooperative Program over the prior year, but each of the missions offerings were also more than last year.  Thank you, Kentucky Baptists!

Yet this good news is tempered by the announcement from the International Mission Board that it will be necessary for them to bring 600-800 missionaries home from the field.  Dr. David Platt has written an excellentletter to Southern Baptists to explain why this has become necessary.

A Southern Baptist missionary visited my office a day or two after the IMB announcement. I shared with her that we grieved this situation with all who are having to make difficult decisions, but also encouraged her that we need the language and cultural expertise that returning missionaries will bring right here in the USA to help us reach the nations that continue to come to this country. It is my prayer that God will use this for good even though it is certainly not what we had wanted to see happen. But I also explained that Cooperative Program giving as a percentage of the undesignated giving of our churches has declined. Instead of each church giving 10%, the average CP percentage is about 6.5 percent. It is this decline that is contributing to the crisis faced by the IMB.

Two days after that visit, I spent hours at home sorting my father’s sermon files and other materials, deciding what to keep and what to toss. Richard Luebbert was a prolific writer and never hesitated to speak up about matters that were important to him, whether it was in Baptist life or the political realm.  I found an article that he wrote on November 17, 1982. The setting for this article is New Orleans and I share it here with you. While he is addressing the impact of individual giving, the application can be made to corporate giving as well.

“I had a dream the other night. I questioned whether or not I should share it with you, but decided that I would. This is what happened in my dream. I was able to look down on the world from a vantage point in space and see missionaries closing up their houses, packing their luggage, and boarding ships and airplanes to go home.
    “I saw Home Missions Centers being closed, boarded up, and missionaries loading their cars to go back to where they had come from. I saw Baptist Seminaries and Baptist Colleges boarded up – faculty housing abandoned – dormitories like ghost towns. I saw students out looking for jobs instead of going to classes. I saw small Baptist missions where Sunday Schools had been meeting – closed and abandoned. I saw The Rescue Mission with a sign on the door ‘Closed’ and transient people standing on the sidewalk wondering where they could find to eat and bathe and sleep. I saw young girls who would soon deliver babies being put out on the street as the staff at Sellers Home locked the door, put up a sign, ‘Closed,’ and then drove away in their cars wondering where they would go and what they would do.
     “Then I saw First Baptist Church standing cold and dark…No one came and went because the doors were locked. The lights were out. A sign on the door said ‘no services – attend the church across the street.’ The pastor and staff had found it necessary to seek other employment to care for their families.
     “Then I asked, ‘Why have all these Baptist missionaries gone away? Why have all these colleges and seminaries closed? Why have all these ministers sought employment as salesmen and school teachers? Why has our church closed down and cancelled all its ministries?
      “The answer was given to me in a flash – because all of God’s people suddenly decided not to give to their churches and not to support the Cooperative Program any longer! Then I awoke and at first I was glad because I realized that what I had seen and heard was really only a dream. But then I realized that what I had dreamed was not a dream — it was a nightmare!”

For Southern Baptists, reducing missionary appointments is tragic and bringing missionaries home is indeed a nightmare. May this crisis cause us to renew our commitment to cooperative missions giving. May we be faithful in tithes and offerings, both as individuals and as congregations.

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