From time to time, I serve on a board or belong to an organization that decides to build something, or requests a large amount of money from a donor or foundation for a special project. Invariably, a donor and/or the donor’s representative will ask if each of the board members gave something to demonstrate their private support.
In other words, they want to know if you are serious about the vision, or simply wanting to maintain existence. No one wants to give to something merely to maintain organizational existence.
That’s all being tested now by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders, virtual worship services (even on Easter), unemployment, hunger, personal protection wear, and social distancing are all terms describing our current dilemma. Our hope is that this microbe runs its course quickly and we return to normal (whatever that may look like, but normal likely is never to be the same).
In spite of on-line and text giving, churches are scrambling to receive contributions. It is easy to get into a survival mindset and to lose sight of the vision—a vision that reaches around the globe with the gospel.
The ministries that receive the gifts from Missouri Southern Baptist churches through the Cooperative Program exist to fulfill their respective visions. Not one of them is simply attempting to “just exist” or maintain.
Whether the vision is to train missionaries, care for foster/homeless children, train physical therapists to use their skills in a missionary context, provide one of those yellow trailers for a Disaster Relief team, network with church revitalizers, help a group of county-seat churches with an evangelistic emphasis, equip church planters, partner with people in a foreign land or northern state with a gospel outreach, open a new university outreach for students, provide full-time support for an international missionary family – on and on the list could grow – these are targeted ministries focused on the vision supported by churches giving through the Cooperative Program.
Perhaps the International Mission Board pulls at our heart strings more than others. Hugh Johnson, one of our IMB personnel, wrote this “thank you” note to Southern Baptists:
“I woke up confused on Sunday morning. The bedside clock read 6:00 a.m., but my iPhone said 7:00 a.m. I had forgotten it was Sunday. And I had definitely forgotten that in this part of Europe the clocks had “sprung forward” at midnight on March 29.
“In previous years my family has relied on the semiannual reminder in church to reset our clocks so as not to be late (or early) for the following Sunday’s services. But this year there was no local church service the week before, nor helpful reminders of the time change on the TV news the night before. Coronavirus has consumed the TV headlines just as it has almost every other aspect of daily life. Each day during the global lockdown has seemed like any other. No routine. No rhythm. No normal.
“As our family and millions of others around the world adjust to many more weeks or months of a new home-based ‘normal,’ we need to find innovative ways to connect with family, friends, work colleagues, fellow local believers and ministry contacts. Our circumstances challenge us to look outside our familiar patterns of life and to see opportunities to do things differently. We can let God use this global crisis to stretch and shape us. We can look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. In our weakness and loss of control over our daily lives we can put into practice the words of Philippians 4:19: ‘And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
“During this pandemic, we are forced to trust God like never before and to live the truth of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’
“Sunday started out in confusion, but quickly became memorable for the right reasons. We see how God is using you — our fellow Southern Baptist believers — to provide exactly the kind of encouragement and practical help that Paul writes about in Philippians 4.
“The coronavirus has caused our stateside home church to move to a live webcast format. So, for the first time in our 16 years of field service, we have been able to join our stateside home church for online Sunday morning worship services (even where we are), complete with a shared Lord’s Supper. The familiar faces and voices of these friends give us the spiritual refreshment and encouragement that we so desperately need right now. Like Paul we can say, ‘I rejoiced in the Lord greatly. You were indeed concerned for me’ (v.10).
“And even though your families are also suffering during this time of global fear and uncertainty, you continue to bless us in many practical ways by your generosity of spirit and your sacrificial gifts. Again, Paul’s words speak for us: ‘Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble (v.14)’ and ‘…you sent me help for my needs once and again’ (v.16).
“To our 15 million fellow believers in more than 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, and from my family to yours, I want to say ‘thank you!’ May these challenging days become an opportunity for each of you to know God’s peace as, with thanksgiving, you make your needs known to Him.”
We are grateful for the sacrifice every church makes to be part of the vision.
Thank you for your support of the grandest, most comprehensive missionary movement in human history. Let us not just talk about our vision, but support what God is doing through us by giving, praying and going.