Thom Rainer’s blogsite had a podcast on why it is important for churches to ensure that the missionaries they support have commonality of doctrine, vision, and focus. Associated with that post was a comment by a listener that appeared to be asking (paraphrasing and reading into it): “Why should churches select and support individual missionaries when they can (and should) be giving to the Cooperative Program?” After all, the International Mission Board is more competent to select and oversee missionaries than any one church. For those not in the know, the Cooperative Program is a collection from Southern Baptist churches for common support of international missions, regional missions, seminaries, and more.
i thought about responding to that comment on Rainer’s site, but decided to do it here instead. I don’t normally focus on denominational missions, but I will this once.
Disclosure #1. My wife and I are Southern Baptist missionaries who are not tied to the Cooperative Program of the SBC. Relatedly, a lot of our support comes from non-Southern Baptist churches and individuals.
Disclosure #2. I believe that if your church is Southern Baptist, you really SHOULD be supporting the Cooperative Program. I really believe that. It is a good system, and the legacy of Luther Rice, Lottie Moon, and others, is worthy of admiration and continuation. Many of the best missionaries I know (or knew) are/were funded by the CP. That being said, I believe that every Southern Baptist church should directly support missionaries or mission organizations beyond the cooperative program.
Here are a few reasons.
- Churches that don’t directly support missionaries become disconnected from missions. The Cooperative Program, as good as it is in so many ways, insulates churches from missions decisions, missions partnering, and missionaries. When churches are taken out of the loop… except as a money source, it is hardly surprising if it is difficult for church members to feel connected to missions or motivated to see themselves as part of the mission movement. Churches, ultimately, don’t want to “Just Send Money.” And rightly so.
- Churches that don’t directly support missionaries or missions don’t understand missions. I remember talking to a missionary who came home on furlough. He was invited to speak at a church that has no connection to cross-cultural missions. He noted that he was presented to the church much like one might present a novel archaeological discovery. That’s understandable since they did not know much about missionaries except images of missionaries trekking through jungles and mountains in the 1800s. When a church doesn’t understand missions, they have trouble being effective if they decide to be involved in missions. I have seen churches all over the world who have repositioned their missions giving to short-term missions teams and projects. Unfortunately, they commonly don’t understand that short-term work is made effective through integration with long-term plans and connections. Few things are more frustrating than talking to church leaders who really don’t understand Christian missions (though most will mouth support for the concept of Christian missions).
- Sometimes the big organization is wrong. Sometimes, the individual church may have a clearer vision for missions that the top people don’t. A few years ago, the IMB decided to make drastic cuts of resources to the Philippines… especially in areas of theological education. This was horribly misguided. The Philippines has the potential to be one of the great missionary sending countries in the world. They need proper training, and empowerment. To remove Western missionaries from the role of training and empowering this potential mission force (something they are especially competent to do) and moving them mostly to cross-cultural pioneering (something they are less competent than locals in doing) was hugely flawed (yes… in my opinion). It was often other individual SB churches and groups that recognized this “error” and provided a well-needed corrective. A few years ago the IMB was “encouraging” missionaries to step aside who believe that women can be pastors. Since Biblically this is an uncertain (at best) issue… and the SB has a long history of “Bible women,” women serving in a pastoring capacity even if not embracing the title, it seems like a disturbingly arbitrary method of selection, and deselection, of missionaries. Ultimately, individual churches can SOMETIMES do things better.
- SB missions is able to leverage the dual benefits of collaboration and autonomy. Some denominations (and religious sects) tightly control and allocate resources for missions. This gives greater focus and ensures resources for priorities, but it also leaves a lot of gaps… areas that are not seen because those making decisions see the big picture, but not the smaller details such as local opportunities, and threats. Autonomy greatly broadens the vision by adding more people and perspectives to the mixture. However, it also can lead to a wasteful lack of cooperation, and failure to leverage the scale of the denomination. Ideally, bringing together both the cooperative program as well as state convention, local church and NGO missions brings the strengths of each, and compensates for each’s weaknesses.
In the end, SB churches do need to seek out missionary candidates and mission agencies in which they share doctrine, vision, and focus. They also need to collaborate through the Cooperative Program. Both are needed and neither should be ignored.