Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Leader and His Sword

A leader who would have success in battle must be willing to take up the same sword that he asks his soldiers to bear.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force meeting started with a lament that we had scores of missionaries ready to go to the mission field, but we could not send them due to a lack of Cooperative Program funds. We would assume then, that the goal of this meeting and the purpose of the Great Commission Resurgence is to get more soldiers on the field. That takes more money, without debate.

The meeting ended with task force members (once again) having to defend their church's Cooperative Program contribution percentages.

The unfortunate take-away is: "Don't do as I do, do as I say." Once again. Whether they like it or not.

Imagine a pastor trying to get his people to tithe in this fashion:

"My dear people, I know that tithing is not specifically prescribed in Scripture as a requirement for church membership, but we all believe it is a God-ordained practice and a good starting point for giving, so I am asking you to do it. I'm unashamedly asking you to set aside 10% of your gross income each week to give to this church, and thus to the work of God, and I want you to trust me and the other leaders in our church to handle that money once given.

He continues, "I want you to tithe at least 10%, undesignated, no strings attached. You may think I don't trust you to decide how your money is spent, but you voted for the budget, so now you've got to trust me and our church leaders to spend your tithe wisely. So sign this card and commit to giving as God expects you to do."

But then the pastor says, "Now, mind you, I don't tithe 10%, but I still give a large amount of money, and I want you to look at all the other ways in which I give. I want you look past percentages when it comes to me, because I help so many people in so many ways. You must take all of that into account because I'm your pastor and I not only give money to specific causes, I give so much of my time and effort to this church. That should count for something. Look at how many baptisms we've had this year. Look at our attendance. Look at all the people I tirelessly minister to each week, and understand that my giving should be counted differently from your giving."

Can you imagine a pastor using that approach? Ask that same pastor what he thinks of a member who claims that he is tithing by giving his time to ministry and his money to designated offerings and parachurch organizations. In honesty, is that not what task force members are doing? I wouldn't have said so if they hadn't started out by moaning over the lack of Cooperative Program dollars, but since that was the come-on, I hear them saying, "You need to give more money to CP, but ignore the fact that we don't." They claim they give "large amounts," and that their gifts have increased by "(whatever) percent." That's wonderful, but if I give one dollar this year and two the next, my giving has increased by one-hundred percent. Do I win bragging rights for that?

I prefer to bring the parable of the talents into play: it's not so much how much you give to God, it's how much God has given to you and what you have done with it. To whom much is given...

I fear that many large churches and their pastors are like many wealthy church members for whom, when their income reaches a certain level, tithing is too great a sacrifice. They can't stand to see that amount of money going to any cause over which they have no control. Thus, they still contribute large amounts, but they designate where it is to go. They retain control, so to speak. Many large churches (and many small ones, no doubt) do the same. They can't stand to see such a huge amount of money go to any agency, organization, or ministry over which they don't have complete control. So they designate. They dole out money to the causes they support, causes which most often originate from and reside in their own churches. They are basically giving to themselves so they can ensure the money is "spent well."

Is that bad? Maybe not, as long as those same pastors don't stand in positions of leadership within our denomination and cry about the lack of funding, and that all you people out there need to give more money (but please ignore the fact that we don't).

Here's what this is all about: we heard from the task force that the Southern Baptist pie is shrinking. They said that outright. Beneath the surface is the underlying implication that "we've got to do something to be sure the right people get the biggest slice of the pie in days to come." It's all about who is going to be in charge of dividing up the pie in coming decades.

What else is there to discuss?

So what should the task force be saying? Here's what my dream leader might say in such a situation:

"Dear people, I've been charged to lead a task force on recommiting to the Great Commission. Southern Baptists have traditionally and effectively shown their commitment to this charge by giving sacrificially and generously to our Cooperative Program. Now, I am fully aware that nowhere in Scripture is it mandated that churches give a certain amount to some greater cause, but the beauty of Southern Baptist history is that we have all joined hands to do that very thing, realizing that there is are needs around the world that my church alone cannot meet. My candle alone is too small to light the darkness, but together, as a cooperating fellowship, we can all light our candles and break into that darkness.

"My church has been blessed of God. We have always given substantially to the Cooperative Program, and we feel God has added blessing upon blessing to our church partly due to that. The gratitude we show for that blessing is that we continue to give (5, 6, 7, 10, 15)% to this cooperative effort. Not only do we give it, we give it without strings and without designation. I believe God blesses that kind of giving. It's like what you ask your church members to do when they tithe, even though a church's CP giving is not really a tithe in a strict Biblical sense.

"So why am I standing before you? I can only figure that I've been asked to lead in this effort because my church has set a good example of giving to the Cooperative Program and trusting that God will bless that gift. Sure, we give in other ways. Sure, we support specific mission projects from our own church body. But we consider that to be gravy on top of what we are able to do through the largest, most effective mission-sending organzation the world has ever seen.

"We give without strings and without designation because we are trusting the people God has put in place to lead and structure the agencies involved, that they will use the money wisely and appropriately. It's the same kind of trust your people place in you and your church leadership when you ask them to tithe without strings and without designation. We, as a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, had a voice in placing those leaders and structuring the organization because we gave, so now we continue to give and we trust God with the results.

"Our church is going to increase our Cooperative Program giving as we are able, but today I stand before you with boldness and ask for you to do the same. I can say it with boldness because my church has given with boldness. No one can point a finger at us and accuse us of not putting our money where our mouth is. I'm leading this charge, and I do so with confidence because I'm swinging the same sword that I'm asking you to carry against the enemy."

The Cooperative Program needs more funds. Are they handling their funds appropriately and efficiently? I don't know. Do the IMB and NAMB need restructuring? I don't know. Do the states need to get less of our CP gifts and IMB and NAMB more? I don't know.

But I do know this: if the Southern Baptist Convention is going to launch a study into how to get more missionaries to the field and more dollars to the effort and more people committed to the Great Commission, choose leaders who can be seen as the best examples in each of those areas.

Give me pastors and churches who can say "follow our lead" rather than "listen to our excuses."

We don't have time for excuses any more than we have time for the accusations that prompt them.


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