Any entity as large as the Southern Baptist Convention will have inevitable times of contention, and the recent controversy at the International Mission Board is certainly an example of this. During those times, worthy debate must take place in order for iron to sharpen iron. Things that matter must be discussed, and debated. These are not unneccesary arguments. They are conversations that will no doubt define our Convention of churches for years to come.
Yet in the midst of such discussion, there is the temptation to miss the forest for the trees. We need to remember why some issues are worth a fight so that we don't end up fighting merely for the sake of fighting. Moreover, we need to remember why God has placed us at this juncture in history, and the contribution Southern Baptists are called to make in these critical times.
I was reminded of this today as I was preparing for an upcoming Missions Emphasis during which I will be speaking next week. It is that time of year in which our churches participate in the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Named for the native Marylander who championed early missions involvement and giving among Southern Baptists, this offering will supply 44% of NAMBs operating budget for the coming year. Part of my role as a North American missionary is to travel to churches promoting this offering, and thanking them for their support of the Cooperative Program and their prayers for our mission efforts.
This year, such promotion is taking place within the context of skepticism regarding the trustees of our sister missions organization, the IMB, and a scathing critique of NAMBs effectiveness by Georgia's Christian Index. Such scrutiny is always hard to hear, especially when you are on the inside of the organization being taken to task. Yet scrutiny should be welcomed, especially by the churches that support our ministries.
At the same time, I realize that the present context of controversy could very well affect our overall missions efforts in Southern Baptist life. And while I find the current debates refreshing to some degree, I also feel the need at this juncture to remind us that there is much that is right about Southern Baptist life:
-We currently support over 5300 NAMB missionaries, and over 5500 IMB missionaries, who are spreading the Gospel and planting churches all over the world.
-Since the inception of the Annie Armstrong offering in the early 20th century, Southern Baptists have generously given over $1 billion to North American mission efforts.
-NAMB, along with state conventions, associations, and local churches, are working together toward the common goal of doubling the number of Southern Baptist churches by the year 2020.
-Over 30,000 people came to faith in Jesus Christ last year as a result of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, literacy missions, week day ministries, and hunger ministries operated by Southern Baptists.
-NAMB disaster relief volunteers served literally thousands of meals every day in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and SBC Disaster Relief continues to be the most effective relief organization in that region. All in all, over 10 million meals were served in the gulf region by Southern Baptists in 2005. Spend some time in Misissippi and Louisiana. The folks there will tell you that it isn't the government that is providing the greatest help. It is the churches, and more particularly, the Southern Baptist churches.
-Strategic Focus Cities emphases have resulted in over 48,000 conversions and over 420 new churches since 1998.
-World Changers and PowerPlant involved over 25,000 youth and adults in evangelism and church planting respectively last year alone, leading to over 1500 conversions.
-Aided by NAMBs support, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware continues to aggressively plant churches in a state convention where less than 20% of the population has a relationship with Jesus Christ. As an associational missionary who works closely with this state convention, I am proud to say that the church planting process at the Maryland-Delaware Convention is second to none!
-In central Maryland, the area over which I lead church planting efforts, we saw God work through us to plant four new churches in 2005. And as I type, three of between five and seven churches planned for 2006 are already taking shape!
-Baltimore has just been named a Strategic Focus City, and this initiative will begin next year. Plans are already underway for community development and revitalization that we hope will serve as a model for how the church can transform the city through the power of the Gospel!
Southern Baptists are not perfect people. But there is much that we are doing right! Heated discussion on many issues is bound to be forthcoming, but let us not allow such discussion to divert our attention, or re-direct our prayerful and financial support away from the mission of God as it is accomplished through gifts to both the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings.
Greensboro will no doubt be an interesting Convention. But the debate that will likely grow larger during that time should remind all Southern Baptists that our approach to missions and evangelism is worth it! To those of you who continue to give generously and pray passionately, please accept my heartfelt thanks, and may God continue to bless the churches of our Convention by allowing us a continued place in His Kingdom's advance!
(*UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, I have received many requests to have it published elsewhere. As a result, I am granting permission for anyone desiring to publish this article in its entirety in another forum to do so, provided you alert me prior to publication. Also, anyone desiring to publish only parts of this article may do so after allowing me to review any proposed changes or deletions.)