Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is bigger always better?

SBC Voices bills itself as "Just another Southern Baptist blog." Despite the humility, it appears to me to be one of the most active Southern Baptist Convention blogs and engenders some lively and interesting discussion. From Calvinism to racism, politics to philanthropy; one week they may deride Tribalism and the SBC, noting that "Tribalism can become destructive when we isolate from one another, when we start viewing the other Baptist tribes as our enemies, or worse..." then next week extol the SBC system as the best in the history of the church, for the propagation of the gospel.

I intended to make some comments in that thread, but its discussion sort of died on the vine before I got a round tuit. So I'm posting the comments here instead. First, I will paste a few excerpts, then will comment.
As a Southern Baptist, I am part of perhaps the most extensive world missions program in the history of the church.
According to the IMB website, there are currently 4867 IMB missions personnel, 4206 of those being career missionaries. That is down considerably from the days before the recession and the recent financial issues, but it is still a stunning fact. The old phrase, "we can do more together than we can do separately" is not a cliche. It is a fact.
By pooling our resources as a convention, we are able to support nearly 5000 missionaries around the world. 
Can you match that on your own?
Why should I have to match this on my own? We are not in a competition, are we? In the true spirit of the gospel should I not rejoice per Paul that "Christ is preached" (assuming He is preached) rather than rejoice over how much better my "program" is than yours? Years ago I heard Brother Lavelle Knight say that he and Brother James Broome "preached 52 revivals last year." After a pause and a chuckle, he explained that he had preached two and Brother Broome had preached 50! Bro. Knight wasn't jealous that Bro. Broome preached 50 revivals, and Bro. Broome didn't expect Bro. Knight to have to "match that on his own." If it is true that one plants, one waters, but it is God that gives the increase, jealousy and comparisons should subside with the realization that "he that planteth and he that watereth are one," as each servant answers to the Lord and not to the other servants, and we ask "Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?"

When one lives by the numbers he must also die by the numbers. I looked up some other missions organizations online to compare with the 4867 IMB/SBC missions personnel mentioned in Dave's post. I checked six organizations that I could think of quickly and found that four of those six -- ABCUSA, BBFI World Mission Service Center, BMA of America and CB America World Venture -- seem to support quite a few more missionaries for the number of churches that they have than does the SBC. Now this was by a quick search of their web sites, and more detailed study might find some problems with the numbers I found and these comparisons. This comparison is solely number of missionaries per number of churches, and does not compare overhead costs per missionary and other variables. But, for example, the SBC has approximately 45,000 churches. CB America has only about 1200 churches and they support about 500 missionaries through their CB America World Venture. If my math is correct, for the SBC to support the same number of missionaries for the number of churches in the convention, the IMB would need to have over 18,000 missionaries. Yes, the SBC would need to increase their total missionaries nearly 4 times to equal the Conservative Baptists. I don't own any stock in CB America -- don't intend to -- and am not sure how their system even operates. This, nevertheless, gives pause when we look at and compare these numbers as numbers of missionaries supported per number of churches.

Dave mentioned that his church gives somewhere around $45,000 through the Cooperative Program on an annual basis, and that it could be possible to support one full-time missionary on their own. Assuming that just 1/4 of the churches of the SBC could support one full-time missionary "on their own," that could add up to support of over 11,000 missionaries. Would that be better or worse than the present system? Would God get more glory or less from it? Or are these even valid questions? I am not sure that it is any different in the grand scheme of things that one church gives $10 to 4800 different missionaries or 4800 churches each support one missionary. The same number of 4800 missionaries would be supported and the same people to whom they are preaching would hear the same gospel. The general mindset, though, is that it is better for one church to have a little part in paying for the gospel in 100's of places all around the world than for 100's of churches to each support the gospel in one place of the world.

This post only compares numbers. It does not consider the question, which must be considered, of whether God's organization, or men's organizations, or both, or something else are the best way or ways to carry the gospel to the world. Since the 1700's Baptists have disagreed and debated over the propriety of missions boards and missionary societies. I come down on the side of the local churches being the kind of organization God planted in the world for the propagation of the gospel. That subject must wait for another post.

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