A 1950′s Argument in a 2012 World
(I do want to acknowledge upfront that Robert Dilday and Jim White invited me to the Religious Herald blog platform. I’m grateful for the freedom and the trust they have given me.)
Jim White’s May 11 editorial is a wonderful and reasoned argument for 1950’s denominational life. Unfortunately it is 2012. Before I get much further, let me pledge my loyalty to the Cooperative Program. It has been a wonderful tool for advancing the gospel for nearly 100 years. I am saddened that “my generation” of Baptists are seeing the dismantling of cooperative work. We have sown discord and distrust and we are reaping what we have sown most notably in the Cooperative Program.
I believe there were two fault lines in the Cooperative Program that have been exposed in the last two decades. One was that it disconnected the person in the pew from the dollars they were giving. We were supporting thousands of missionaries but the average person couldn’t name four of them. The second is like the first in that it disconnected the institution/agency from the person in the pew. Jim believes that only when money gets tight do we examine every dollar under a microscope. I would say most churches pull out that microscope at least once a year regardless of how tight the money is. Just because every dollar is under a microscope does not mean that hasty decisions are made.
Jim believes a hasty decision was made by the budget committee several years ago to eliminate sending copies of the Religious Herald to pastors and key lay leaders. He cites his appeal to the committee as the key moment that reinstated sending the Herald to pastors. I served on that budget committee. I speak only for myself but the reason I voted to reinstate that funding is because I was led to believe that the Herald could not survive if we cut all of that in one year. I did not feel then or now that it was worth the $15,000 investment to send the Herald to pastors. In an era of declining income, tough choices have to be made but this seemed like an easy one to me (would I rather send a free copy of the Herald to a church leader or plant a church???)
I was excited to hear that North Carolina WMU went off on their own and have been “successful.” Maybe we should study them and figure out what they have done!
Jim then refers to the fact that the VBMB has other sources of income (NAMB and LifeWay) as well as rent from space at the Resource Center. That is all true. He then makes a gigantic leap of reasoning by writing, “Obviously, the VBMB is not going to support itself on what it gets in rent! But neither is the Religious Herald going to be supported by what it receives in subscriptions!” Of course, the difference is that the VBMB’s primary mission is not to be a landlord. The Religious Herald’s primary mission is to inform Virginia Baptist and if people aren’t reading/subscribing then you are ineffective in your primary mission.
Jim does raise very valid points about whether the VBMB should be self supporting. Unfortunately he dismisses them as things that are completely unreasonable. I don’t know if our campus ministries should be able to raise part of their funding, but I do know that there are some very effective campus ministries (IV, Campus Crusade, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, YoungLife) where the staff does raise a portion or all of their funding. I don’t know if we should charge for our Field Strategists, but I do know that a lot of our churches have paid church consultants to help them think about their present and future. The churches I have been a part of have always “subsidized” some ministries that didn’t “break even,” but common sense tell us we can only do that if we have ministries that are “making money.”
Let me address Jim’s three arguments against self support. 1. “Churches will become stressed by the sheer volume of requests for money from worthy ministries.” I currently get large amounts of literature, e-mails, phone calls from worthy ministries asking for my support. I’m not stressed about this. I either throw it in recycling, say “I’m not interested” or am willing to find out more. 2. “Ministries with the most adept fundraisers and heart wrenching appeals will succeed while other essential causes languish.” There seems to be a tone to this one that the “slick ones” will win the day. I feel fully capable of discerning who is doing a great job and telling their story well and who is not. 3. “Pastors will become alarmed because church members will divert their tithes and offerings from local churches to support other appealing and worthwhile ministries.” As a pastor I acknowledge that I have a lot of things to be “alarmed” about but I assure you that my church members’ generosity is not one of those things.
Virginia Baptists (as well as 95% of all denominational groups in our country) have been in financial decline for a long time. That does not mean we have to “fold our hands, close our eyes and wait for the inevitable.” We need to be exploring all kinds of ways to increase giving and funding to effective causes that are making a Kingdom impact. This will require creativity, faith and vision. It isn’t 1950. It is 2012 and God is creating a vibrant future. Will we move towards it or languish in yesteryear?