With three boys in our home — ages 11, 9 & 5 — there is one question that continually gets asked this time of year. If you have young children or grandchildren — or if you remember when you were a kid — you know what that question is: “When is Christmas?”
Christmas always arrives on December 25. When I was my boys’ age, it seemed like it would never get here. As I have grown older, Christmas (and the end of another year) comes much more quickly. It was just last year that I spent my first holiday season in New Mexico. Actually, it was three years ago — time flies when you’re having fun!
As a pastor, the holiday season also offers the mores: more busyness, more stress, and more food! From Christmas musicals to holiday parties to Chrismas Eve Candlelight Celebrations (two this year), every weekend in December is jam-packed with Christmas activities. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that all of this busyness (at Christmas and throughout the year) contributes to the burn-out of so many pastors, but that’s a post for another day.
As if the normal Christmas-time activities were not enough, December also brings with it new church budgets and an annual missions offering. This Sunday, we will vote on our church’s 2011 church budget and we will begin in earnest to emphasize the SBC’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (100% which goes to support our missionaries in the field).
Like most Southern Baptist churches that still practice some form of congregational polity, our entire congregation will vote to approve the budget. And, like many of our sister SB chuches in New Mexico and throughout the country, the coming year’s budget will reflect the economic conditions that have affected our members and, by extension, their giving.
In the midst of an economic downturn, it would be easy to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” We could, like some other churches (larger and smaller) in the SBC, scale back our support of missions and ministry by lowering the percentage of our undesignated receipts in 2011 that we give through the Cooperative Program.
That approach would certainly “free up” more money to “invest” in our church’s ministries and missions, even allowing us to fund and support our “own” missionaries, as is common among some of the largest churches in our convention. However, it would, at the same time, “divest” from our church’s cooperative ministries and missions, as we have witnessed from some of the largest churches in our convention.
I have always thought that the money that our church and thousands of other Southern Baptist churches give through the Cooperatative Program was being used to fund and support OUR ministries and missionaries. When the churches of the SBC give through the Cooperative Program, we are supporting ministries and missionaries throughout North America and the world. My church may not be as affluent and independent-minded as some churches that have called and sent their own missionaries outside of the SBC mission boards, but my church cooperatively funds thousands of its own missionaries each through NAMB and IMB.
How can that possibly be the case? It’s called the Cooperative Program! It may not sound as glamorous as “Great Commission Giving,” but, as one former SBC President said,
“The Baptists’ best bounce for their Baptist buck is through C.P. [the Cooperative Program]. With the Cooperative Program, everyone can. Your dollar works seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, all around the world, non-stop — even when you’re snoring, asleep, it’s still working.”
I think Bobby Welch is right! By giving through the Cooperative Program, our church — and thousands like it — are being good stewards of the financial resources that God has entrusted into our care. Just because our church gives through CP does not mean that we can’t participate in other Great Commission opportunities (we do), but why try to go it alone when we can do much more together with our fellow Southern Baptists through our cooperative missions endeavor?
Those who have followed my blog know that I support the Great Commission, but continue to oppose what has come to be known as the GCR. It would be easy during these hard economic times to use opposition to the GCR or to the “vision” (we’ve been told that people give to “vision”) of NAMB, IMB or their leaders to cut back on giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong mission offerings. Even though others have taken that approach in the past, in a word, that would be wrong!
You see, our church is not supporting a vision. Bethel Alamogordo, through CP and the mission offerings, is partnering with thousands of other Southern Baptist churches to continue funding and supporting the current (and future) missionaries who are fulfilling the Great Commission in our own backyard and around the world.
These are OUR missionaries. Some are serving in dangerous and remote places. Regardless of who is casting the vision in Nashville, Richmond, or Alpharetta and, regardless of whether our church personally supports the GCR, we will not abandon those on the mission field. Now, more than ever, our missionaries need our help to penetrate the lostness in North America and to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth! Sounds like the Great Commission to me.