Yesterday, Nathan Finn and Micah Fries, in their joint post on Between the Times, made a call for Southern Baptists to commit to make the sacrifice to support the Cooperative Program for the sake of the gospel as it is served by the various churches and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention. Please, please, if you are a Southern Baptist or have been a Southern Baptist, please read their important and impassioned post.
Their emphasis on sacrificial giving is well-placed.
I want to share something from the 1930s that may help us mature in our views of sacrificial giving. The SBC struggled financially for several years following the establishment of the Cooperative Program. The SBC had overcommitted itself in light of the shortfalls of the Seventy-Five Million campaign. The Foreign Mission Board found itself in crippling debt. Then, boom…the Great Depression. As a result of these factors, the FMB’s budget of just over$1.3Million in 1930 was reduced to around $660,000 (or more than 50%) by 1933. New missionaries were not being appointed, others were being retired, or dying off, and the missionary force quickly dwindled (is it surprising this was a time of revival in many places around the world? But I digress). The missionaries on the field, though wanting more funds and more missionaries to join them, were very understanding and themselves up to the sacrifice. In addition to contributing portions of their salary to either field ministry funds or to various fund raising endeavors of the FMB, they expressed their willingness to do whatever it takes to support the Board. They shared a spirit of sacrifice with their brothers and sisters back home.
From stories I hear from friends on the field, this spirit of sacrifice under current imb missionaries is just as strong. May we back home learn from our fellow Southern Baptists serving all over the globe. The following is a transcription of a petition signed by all the members of the North China Mission of the FMB, which served the Shandong Province during the tumultuous ’30s. I have a photocopy of this hand-signed document hanging in my office. I came across this gem in my last foray into Missionary Correspondence archives held at the SBHLA in Nashville, TN. I reproduce it here that we may be inspired by the sacrificial spirit of the missionaries of yesteryear. May we learn from their Spirit and commit to sacrifice in like manner!
Because the debt on the Foreign Mission Board is so seriously hindering the work of Foreign Missions, And because we missionaries share the responsibility for having incurred the debt., we, the undersigned missionaries of the Southern Baptist Convention cheerfully agree to cooperate with the Board and our home constituency in whatever plan may be adopted for payment of this debt.
Moreover, we are of one mind that the Scriptures forbid us to incure debt, (Rom 13:5). In this we have grievously sinned, and we confess it. We therefore earnestly implore the Board to adopt, and announce as its future policy, that it will not borrow money for any purpose. We humbly believe that God will provide the funds necessary for the work and the workers which He approves, if we ask Him in Faith. We therefore obligate ourselves to become intercessors, with the Board and all others who love His Kingdom, for whatever may be needed, and we cheerfully agree to accept a due proportion of whatever funds the Board may receive for its work.
True, the current situation is different than what those missionaries faced. Micah Fries argued so well earlier that the current problem with the CP is not just the result of a poor economy. However, the attitude exhibited by these missionaries, who faced the brunt of the financial downfall, is exemplary for us all. While both Finn and Fries rightly identify that a failing CP affects all of SBC life, the ones who are most dependent on those funds are the missionaries. It’s their salaries, their medical care, their retirement, their welfare being affected the most. It’s some peoples remaining unengaged, some churches not being planted. Some missional partnerships not materializing. I’m not trying to throw a guilt trip. Not at all. Missionaries today have standards of living that are much higher than many rural pastors in the US and certainly much higher than missionaries of a century or so ago and in most cases well above the people to whom they minister. This isn’t the case of please support the poor, poor missionary. Nonetheless, who among all are the most affected by drops in CP funds? It’s the missionaries. And they gladly contribute to one another’s needs and put money back into pot. They accept the cutbacks in co-workers, salaries, retirement funds. What local pastors would ever do the same? Seriously, try taking 1% of a pastor’s salary and give to the CP!!! You’d pull back a nub! But missionaries don’t make a public outcry when much, much more is taken from them! Finn and Fries point out that its more complicated than any one thing, such as just pastor’s salaries. Still, Pastors lead their congregations best in sacrificial giving when its in both word and deed. Look again at the letter above from 1930s and be inspired. Your missionaries today are making these same sacrifices without grumbling and many with the same cheerfulness! May we emulate them.
Let us likewise repent and commit to support the Baptist global mission.