Sometimes new days depend on old ways
A few weeks ago Dan Carlton replied in his blog (A 1950′s Argument in a 2012 World) to an editorial in which I took exception to some comments I’ve heard in various quarters around the Virginia Baptist Resource Center and, not coincidentally, in an earlier blog by Dan himself (See EDITORIAL: Forward to the past?). While I have no interest in challenging our own bloggers, I do believe discourse that clarifies and even challenges is a sign of a healthy organization—as long as the comments do not become adversarial in nature. In that spirit, I think it is necessity to take issue with a few of Dan’s comments and to affirm others.
First, I think his comment that the Cooperative Program created distance between the person in the pew and the missionaries and institutions they supported is right. Through communicating the mission essentials and successes of our missionaries and institutions, however, people in the pews were generally kept informed about the needs on the various mission fields. Because of this, they were willing to give sacrificially to support missions, missionaries—and even to plant churches. To state the obvious, the Religious Herald played a key role in this communication process during those successful Cooperative Program years the loss of which Dan mourns (as I do).
For many of those years, churches understood the inherent potential disconnect between the church member-giver and the mission agencies, institutions and missionaries being supported. To counteract this tendency, the Herald was regarded as an essential part of the local church budget. While it would be too simplistic to maintain that commitment to the CP began to waver because churches took the state Baptist papers out of their budgets, the diminished communication as a factor cannot be dismissed lightly.
Dan and I will agree to disagree, I suppose, on the value of the Religious Herald to Baptists in the Middle-Atlantic, the BGAV, the VBMB and their ministries—including efforts to start new churches. Dan has a commendable passion to see new churches planted. But, in my judgment, he has not asked how others will catch his passion. How will they come to see the need? How will those offering-givers be challenged to give? For that matter, how will the hundreds of pastors who view new church starts as unwelcome competition gain an understanding of the necessity?
Dan seems to falsely assume that others are as well informed as he is. To fail to see the need to communicate both the need for new churches and our successful efforts in starting them seems counterproductive to say the least. This is what I meant in saying in my editorial the decision to not send the Religious Herald to pastors, woman’s missionary union directors and deacon chairpersons was short-sighted. The very key leaders to whom we need to communicate the need for new churches (and other mission needs as well) are the very ones to whom they decided we can no longer afford to send the Herald. Thank heaven they at least decided to send the Herald to PASTORS!
I am neither inexperienced enough nor arrogant enough to believe that the Herald is the only way needs are communicated. But neither am I myopic enough to believe that the Herald, is not a major ally to the cause of church planting—to name Dan’s passion. On our webpage online, in our electronic version of the paper (which we offer at the incredibly low price of FREE!), in our news summary, Front Line, which is emailed to our distribution list, in our social media contacts of Facebook and Twitter and in our bi-weekly paper, the Herald speaks to the mission needs of the mid-Atlantic region. (Did Dan accuse me of thinking it is 1950? Believe me, if anybody in Baptist life knows it is NOT 1950 it is an editor!!).
Dan says he simply doesn’t feel that it was worth the $15,000 investment to send the Herald to pastors when the money could be used to plant a church. In my opinion this should not be an either/or proposition. The need to broaden the base as one builds upward is a sound principle both in economics and in construction. Agriculture affirms it as well. A farmer who says “I would rather feed people with my corn than put it in the ground!” is guilty of short-sightedness. He will feed more people if he sells his seed for food; but only for one year. He needs to feed people AND keep seed to ensure future harvests. I think we need to plant churches AND support those existing ministries that will help our efforts succeed.
Another point of disagreement between Dan and me is whether Baptists should support institutions, boards and agencies that promote the Kingdom of Christ with offering dollars. Apparently, he does not, and I do. His is not an unreasonable position, but in my opinion it becomes untenable. Would Dan take this logic to the extreme? Many denominations expect their missionaries to raise their own funds. Would he advocate this? It sounds so. Half their time is devoted to developing financial support. CP-supported missionaries were spared this distraction from their missionary call.
And, despite Dan’s assertion that it is not a problem for him, most givers seem not to possess his powers of discernment. Missionaries with the best fund-raising methods get the most money while those who may be excellent missionaries but poor fund-raisers often have to come home because they can’t support themselves.
I do not contend that we should maintain the status quo in all respects. We need to examine those causes on which we spend Kingdom money, and we need to evaluate their effectiveness. But to decide beforehand to eliminate every ministry that does not raise money enough to support itself fully seems prejudicial in the extreme. I do not advocate keeping, out of some spiritualized sentimentality, anything that has outlived its usefulness. But in some cases, things have been around for a long time simply because they are necessary.
I agree with Dan that it is a new day. To some extent we are being swept along by a tsunami of cultural, economic, social and denominational forces beyond our control. But some parts of this new day will respond to our attempts to engineer the future as God guides. Those parts of yesterday that were beneficial should not be discarded simply because they are part of the past. Rather, we should we wise enough in the present to preserve what is good to the extent we can even as we discover new and innovative ways to advance the Redeemer’s Kingdom in this new age.