The Dead Sea Syndrome in Church Life

Over recent weeks I watched closely the giving patterns of the churches of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I wish I had better news to report. Our financial struggles continue as noted below:

Cooperative Program Reports

June YTD:

Actual BGCT CP $17,242,761
YTD Budget $19,089,779
YTD Last Year $19,180,123

Comparisons

YTD Comparison to Budget = 90.32%
YTD Comparison to Last Year = -11.10%

As you can see the giving of our churches continues to decline at an alarming rate.  As president of the convention it is hard to see and accept. I had hoped and prayed that over the last two years we could turn the tide and that we would be making positive strides into the future.

The hardest thing about interpreting financial numbers is trying to unlock their meaning. Standard thinking would relate the decline in giving to the national charitable trends. During these difficult economic times people are giving less due to fear or due to loss of jobs and income. Without doubt there is truth to this to some extent. Before we panic and try to change course by seeking a silver bullet solution we must admit our ship floats in the same sea with other charitable organizations. We thrive together. We struggle together.

However, I believe greater forces work among us. As the world has gotten flatter, and churches have begun to embrace world-wide missions in a much more “hands on” way. I believe many churches have chosen to keep their mission dollars at home to fund their own mission endeavors. Since most of our churches have limited resources, this appears  a wise and prudent decision for many leaders. The recent struggles of denominations and conventions have also fueled this movement. One cannot argue with the logic of controlling your mission dollars by your own passions and priorities.  However as a pastor leader I have always tried to have a “both/and” attitude toward missions. I believe in the “hands on” approach, but I also believe in the value of cooperative efforts, especially when you think of the multiplication of your dollars through the work of the BGCT and its institutions and ministries.

My greater fear is for those churches and leaders who in these difficult times have chosen to keep their dollars at home and to make ends meet by cutting their mission giving all together. I believe mission giving is critical in the life of a local church. It helps  to keep the eyes of the church focused outward rather than inward. Over twenty-eight years of ministry I have known good times and lean times, but one thing I have never been willing to do in lean times was to cut back on mission giving. I believe this shows a lack of faith and vision. It is a risk worth taking to keep giving when everything around you screams to cut back. Remember every good and perfect gift comes from above.

Not far from the home of Jesus is a sea apply named the “Dead Sea.” This stagnate body of salty water receives but does not give. Fresh waters flows in but nothing flows out. I fear the Dead Sea is a parable of our day. We receive and receive, but we keep too much and pass on very little.

Where your mission dollars goes is a decision each of us must make, but please give so that the nations may hear, and that Texas can be shaped by the presence of Christ. I was challenged by this quote from Johnny Hunt former president of the Southern Baptist Convention–

“Will we give up the American Dream for the sake of the Great Commission.”

I pray we will. I pray each of our churches will be streams of living water to the nations–and I pray the LORD will help us do it together!

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4 Comments

Filed under BGCT, BGCT Presidential Journal

4 responses to “The Dead Sea Syndrome in Church Life

  1. Lee

    This is a comment coming from someone serving in a church no longer affiliated with the BGCT, and that might have some kind of affect on how it is taken, but I think I can offer a very realistic perspective regarding what is happening, and what the BGCT can do about it.

    This is the fourth year in a row in which budget receipts are running upwards of 10% below budget and of the previous year’s receipts, and that is a substantial drop that cannot simply be explained away by the economy, especially when you consider that, according to media reports, Texas hasn’t really experienced an economic downturn or a jump in joblessness like much of the rest of the country. Nor can it be explained away as the consequences of post-denominational malaise that affects traditional denominational support. That might account for three or four percent, and the economy two or three percent more, but we’re looking at a 25 to 30% difference over half a decade. I think it might be time to listen to someone who served a Texas Baptist church during its transition from the BGCT to the SBTC because that’s where the money’s going.

    I’ll give you four main reasons why there’s been a budget downturn. 1. The BGCT still has a substantial majority of churches which are uniquely aligned with the SBC by choice. The BGCT’s decision to continue to pass along Cooperative Program dollars at a default amount of less than 30% is a major reason why churches are giving less to the BGCT. I suspect that most of those who are reducing their BGCT percentage are increasing their SBC percentage. And in addition to their desire to fully support the SBC, most of these churches feel that the BGCT’s leadership is jamming partnerships and relationships down their throats that they are not interested in supporting, particularly CBF and the BWA. 2. Baylor University, which continues to receive a large share of BGCT support, is a continuing liability with regard to its theological stance. I know a lot of Texas Baptists who are not in agreement with the theological perspective exhibited by the Religion Department, and who are absolutely horrified by the stance of the science department. That is not helped by its apologists and defenders who insist that it must abandon a conservative, evangelical perspective in order to be credible in the world of academia. 3. There is an ongoing perception, in spite of the dissolution of TBC, that the leadership of the BGCT is narrow and exclusive, that there are too many hand-picked CBF and TBC supporters on the executive board and the trustee boards and committees, and that conservatives are deliberately shut out of the process. 4. The Baptist building is monstrously overstaffed, and there are a lot of people working there who influenced or string-pulled their way in, and are living relatively high on the hog on salaries provided from Cooperative Program funds. The work that is done there could be done efficiently and effectively by a professional staff half that size, instead of being a “rescue operation” for pastors who need to exit their congregation quickly.

    All four of those things were issues mentioned by the leadership of our church when it formed a committee to study state convention affiliation. The chairman of the committee couldn’t get a straight answer on questions related to Baylor, and didn’t get a satisfactory answer on the question of Biblical authority. I’d guess that those issues, and the convention’s relationship with the SBC, are at the bottom of the drop in CP giving, and that it will continue until the BGCT addresses those issues and does something about them.

  2. Pingback: Paradigm Shift: The Post-Denominational Affect on Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program « Deep in the Heart…

  3. Could it also be a symptom of the disillusionment of the committed with the church today? Certainly there are plenty of “Country Club” Christians who inhabit our halls, but they are the first to cut back on giving when an “excuse” is available — such as the economy. Those who are serious about their committment to Christ are looking for new ways to live out their committment. Sometimes, the church as we know it, isn’t that way. I suspect many of their dollars are going to programs and places where they are truly spent on the needy and not on buildings and staff.

  4. K Gray

    One of the key phrases hidden in Lee’s comment is “couldn’t get a straight answer.” That is as powerful a metaphor as the Dead Sea (a good and convicting metaphor!).

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