I want to begin by pointing out the heart of Southern Baptists at their core, a heart that I argue needs to be regularly remembered and acted upon. Dr. Elliff truly has a heart for the lost. In his assessment speech he states:
“But today it is not the billions who are without Christ -- helplessly, hellishly lost -- to which I would direct your attention. I presume they are always on your mind and that, on occasion, your days have been spent weeping and your nights tortured as you contemplated that vast assembly and the task that is ours.”
Unfortunately, I think this is one of the problems that faces the Church today as it relates to evangelism and missions, it has lost this broken heart for the lost.
One of the problems with the Church as a whole, not just the SBC and its churches, is that it has lost its zeal toward the lost and fulfilling the Great Commission. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Chuck Lawless when he explains, in his book Nobodies for Jesus, that the church has lost its amazement at Christ and His work and has lost its compassion for the unbeliever. He states, “Lukewarm believers who fail to see people as lost will not be Great Commission believers” (Nobodies for Jesus). He explains that the church must regain its amazement at Christ and the Gospel and regularly remember and be heartbroken for the lost.
Not only has the Church lost its push towards Great Commission fulfillment, it has also lost its connection with missionaries on the field. Often, the church sends missionaries and sees this practice as its part in reaching the ends of the earth. However, the Church can’t simply stop at sending. It must be involved in partnering, which includes continual support, encouragement, and relationship building.
I have long seen that there is a disconnect between the sender and the sendee. I have especially seen this in Southern Baptist practice. I will be the first to concur that the SBC has an outstanding model to best use resources to get the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Having grown up in Southern Baptist life, and having served both as a layperson, deacon, and ministerial church staff, I have a love for the SBC. I regularly give to its ministries, especially through the special offerings of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. But, even Elliff sees the disconnect and makes it two of his three main imperatives that need to be addressed.
Elliff explains that IMB missionary personnel must do a better job of and be more intentional at connecting and communicating with SBC churches as they are the sending and giving entities for missionaries to be on the field. SBC churches give toward the big pot of sending missionaries, but there is not a personal connection with the missionaries or their work. While churches can have a larger hand in sending through the Cooperative Program than they would on their own accord, they lose the relationship and connection with those whom they have a hand in sending.
Also, Elliff rightly assesses the giving situation of churches. Too often, they simply give to the major offerings and expect one time gifts to be enough. I understand that budgets are tight, but there is a direct correlation between such budgets and the very grasp church members have on their money. The statistics of tithing are astounding enough, not to mention the lack of actual offering that is above and beyond the tithe. This lack of giving and support is tied both to the lack of heartbreak for the lost and connection with Great Commission work.
While I understand I have a somewhat vested interest in this topic as one who is in process of raising support to get to the mission field, I believe the matter is very important to discuss and move toward a more God-honoring sending solution. In no way am I hinting that one should not be giving toward offerings such as Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. Neither would I go as far as some and have you consider not giving your full tithe (assuming you are already following this biblical concept) to the local church. What I am asking you, the Church, to consider is how you can support missions outside the box of general convention offerings or major agency giving. Even large churches with outstanding missions budgets, generous giving options, and strategic sending plans, don’t have outlets for giving to those who are not active members of their church or agency.
There are other avenues and missionaries who need your support. We need the church to move past its one-way thinking of how to do missions and support those who have a God-given calling to go, even if it’s not with the church’s convention. We need the Church to get behind us, pray for us, give to us, support us, keep us accountable, work with us, and send us. In doing so, I believe churches and supporters will find a whole new return on their investment that they’ve missed for years. Supporters will gain relationships with missionaries and feel a part of the work being done on the field. The disconnect will lessen and the awe and amazement that once was felt when people came to know Christ will be had once again. To be a part of God’s work, even in the smallest of ways, can rejuvenate and revive us towards a stronger walk with our awesome God. It will push us towards spiritual development and a lifestyle of Great Commission giving and going.