by Rod D. Martin
November 11, 2015
The just concluded Florida Baptist Convention was historic, not just for Florida but for all Southern Baptists.
A few thoughts:
1. The 51-49 CP split is utterly unprecedented. The messengers’ unanimous decision to send a majority of Florida’s Cooperative Program funds to global ministry is unprecedented, anywhere in America. And Tommy Green’s vision to gradually move that to 60% or more was greeted with cheers.
Many younger pastors – and more than a few older ones – have long criticized our denominational entities for spending precious resources on too many bureaucrats and not enough ministry.
No one can say that now. And a lot of hard questions are about to be asked in every other state convention.
2. It’s actually a lot more than 51-49. By this I don’t mean just the deep staff cuts, or even the sale of the Baptist Building. I mean that Florida is now giving away much more out of far, far less.
The Convention had almost $40 million to work with before Barack Obama became President. Today that’s about $29 million. So the 49% being kept in-state isn’t really 49%. The FBC is keeping barely more than a third of the CP dollars it took in just eight years ago.
Even a couple of FBC leaders to whom I spoke were shocked by that statistic.
In the normal order of things, anyone would assume the Convention – or at least its staff – would be clamoring to increase the dollars kept in Jacksonville, if only “to maintain a minimum level of services.” And it would be hard to blame an organization for trying to stay even.
But from the outset of the Great Commission Resurgence, Florida Baptists have done the exact opposite, at least at the Convention level. It’s easy to talk about the Great Commission. It’s quite another thing to utterly remake your budget for it: what people pay for is the most reliable indicator of what they really believe. So all of this is truly remarkable.
3. In this lies a tremendous opportunity to preach the tithe. Some pastors are uncomfortable with this, and some will immediately point out that CP giving is not actually tithing. But with – among other problems – 96% of Miami unchurched, this is not the time for technicalities.
If CP giving is down $10 million in eight years, that’s not on Tommy Green, John Sullivan or even Ronnie Floyd: that’s on us. Tommy told me this week that everything he’s doing is rooted in his belief that you can’t out-give God. Oh that our pulpits would ring with sermons on 2nd Kings 4! And by the way, it would be a lot easier for our pastors to ask for 10% if they were setting the example, trusting God with 10% to the Cooperative Program.
If all Florida Baptists managed was to restore the $10 million we’re down from eight years ago, and if Tommy Green’s vision of a 60-40 split were enacted, the net would be that almost 100% of that $10 million would go to global missions.
Isn’t that worth an impassioned sermon or two? Or even some re-ordered church budgets? I surely think so.
4. We have to do a better job of connecting our people to the bigger picture. Yes, people should share the Gospel because they have received it freely by the grace of the Father, and gratitude should overflow from their hearts. But in reality, the urgent tends to crowd out the important.
So why don’t we do a better job of telling them the rest of the story?
Why don’t we take them to Conventions like this one, so they can see the sacrifices being made by their leaders, hear outstanding preaching, absorb vital statistics on the lostness around them, and feel connected to the work of other saints? Why is that not a greater priority?
Why don’t we connect the dots for them, showing them plainly how lostness drives degeneration of the culture their families have to live in, bad laws they have to obey, deteriorating schools, abandoned wives and children, and every manner of real-world evil? Why don’t we show them concretely how the Gospel – and their specific local actions – can make a difference, and how such action has made a difference before?
Why don’t we – in the greatest era of connectivity the world has ever known – help connect the body of Christ to the work of the Kingdom, to the Church Universal, to the Gospel as society-transforming power rather than mere weekly (weakly?) platitude?
I’m not a pastor, and these guys can’t give me anything, so I can say this: we are incredibly blessed to have the leaders we have in our Florida Baptist Convention.
Now it’s time for the rest of us to live up.
This article was originally published as part of my Beyond the Church Door series in the Florida Baptist Witness.