Every four years, athletes from around the world assemble for the Olympic Games. One of my favorite events is the balance beam competition. I stand in awe that a person can even walk on a four-inch-wide beam, much less do twists, turns and flips without falling. Oklahoma’s own Shannon Miller was an all-time favorite of mine. Her balance was phenomenal.
The cooperative work of Oklahoma and Southern Baptists requires unique ability very similar to the equilibrium of a gymnast. Maintaining balance is extremely difficult. There are always strong forces seeking to throw us off balance. Determining the right balance in time, energy and funding requires diligent prayer and Holy Spirit direction.
Prior to and since the Southern Baptist Convention last June and the passage of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report, powers have been at play that would pull us off the beam. Some would declare that one part of the Great Commission deserves greater focus than the others. In fact, balance is needed to ensure that every point on the Acts 1:8 continuum is addressed. The Great Commission begins at the front door of the local church and moves to the ends of the Earth. Jesus did not call for us to jump past our Jerusalem to go only to the ends of the Earth. On the other hand, He was clear that we must keep pushing beyond ourselves so that people should hear the Gospel and have an opportunity to respond. The Matthew 28 statement of the Great Commission calls for reaching all people groups without respect to location.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, has stated that a church or state convention that focuses only within its borders is committing sin. Another way to express his thought is that such an entity would be out of balance. I agree. The question is not, “Should we seek to reach beyond our borders?” or “How far should we go?” or “Do we believe in the Great Commission?” The question is, “Do we believe we are responsible for all of the Great Commission, and can we find the balance points that give proper attention to both here and there?” It would be sin to ignore our work in Oklahoma or in our nation and go solely to the ends of the Earth. The opposite is also true.
A strong foundation in Jerusalem and Judea will enlarge the work we are able to do beyond our borders. The work we do in our state is no less Great Commission work than that accomplished in other parts of this nation and the world. In fact, strong ministries here provide a stronger foundation for the extension of the Gospel to points far and wide.
Let me share several pertinent illustrations. As we multiply churches in Oklahoma, the reaching and giving base of our convention work is multiplied. New churches reach pockets of people not touched by existing churches. In Oklahoma, we are behind the church-to-population ratio of the 1950s and ’60s. We have a rapidly growing ethnic population that desperately needs the Gospel. We cannot abandon the work of church planting in Oklahoma.
In the past, the North American Mission Board has been our partner in church planting. That partnership will end over the next few years, and the BGCO will be solely responsible for reaching our state. This will require $1.2 million of new money—not easy to come by in the worst economy since the Great Depression. To abandon our efforts to plant new churches to reach our population and produce churches that in turn take up the responsibility to give resources for work beyond our borders would create imbalance.
Each summer at Falls Creek, hundreds of young people are saved and well more than 1,000 each year surrender to missions and ministry. Jerry Rankin, immediate past president of the International Mission Board, has stated repeatedly that he knows of no place on Earth where more missionaries have received their call than Falls Creek. Our Falls Creek provides a vital foundation for national and international missions.
Young people reached at Falls Creek become students at Oklahoma Baptist University or participants in Baptist Collegiate Ministries on 38 Oklahoma college campuses. They become volunteers in short-term missions in America and around the world. At Christmas and spring break, hundreds of students encircle the globe carrying the Good News of our Savior. During the summer, students from BCMs and OBU impact lostness at home and abroad. GO Students and local church youth groups through World Changers touch dark places in America and East Asia. But that is not all. I just received from the IMB a list of universities with the most graduates serving as IMB missionaries. Number One on the list is Oklahoma Baptist University; The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are in the top 20. Of the CP dollars that remain in our state, one out of four is invested in reaching and discipling college students. The dollars spent in Oklahoma stretch to the endsof the Earth as these students are trained and discipled and sent to do the work of the Gospel.
I could write pages describing the remarkable work of training church leaders, disaster relief, prison ministry, hunger relief and church planting, all done through our cooperative ministries at a state level. Add to these the work of our affiliates in caring for children and the elderly. These are biblical ministries authorized by Scripture. I have recently been privileged to speak at our Hope Pregnancy Center banquets celebrating 25 years of ministry to women in crisis pregnancies and the effort to protect the unborn. These ministries supported by your churches’ Cooperative Program gifts, Mother’s Day offerings and donations from churches and individuals have had phenomenal impact. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa combined, nearly 100,000 clients have been served over these 25 years. Almost 15,000 children were given life because of these ministries. These are Great Commission ministries because each year, 100-150 clients come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Oklahoma Baptists comprise 1,798 congregations. As our churches give through the Cooperative Program, 60 percent of the dollars is retained in Oklahoma to support the Great Commission ministries done in our state. The genius of the Cooperative Program is that the 40 percent sent for national and international causes is pooled with the giving from 45,000 other churches, resulting in more than $500 million invested in national and international missions every year. Because of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists have become the greatest mission sending denomination in the world. In fact, 20 cents of every dollar given through the CP in Oklahoma ends up overseas. In 2011, the amount will increase to 21 cents. Add to this the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and you can see the tremendous impact Oklahoma Baptists are making.
Should we give a larger percentage of our dollars to national and international missions? Every person has his own opinion. Some voices in the SBC suggest that state conventions should slash their state ministries and send it beyond. That can be done in Oklahoma only if we want to defund many of the ministries I have addressed. I would suggest that the work of our state convention cannot and should not be abandoned—that the dollars spent in Oklahoma are for Great Commission work, which serves as a foundation for us to do greater work beyond our borders. No one else is responsible for Oklahoma. We must do it.
Without question, our state convention must continue to be strategic and focused on our mission. We are vigilant in our efforts to seek ways to operate efficiently and effectively. We continuously look for ways to save money that can be sent beyond for Kingdom impact.
The report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force that was approved by Southern Baptists was right in its focus and intent. The report called for greater funding and effort to reach the darkest areas in America and the nations beyond. Oklahoma Baptists will do all we can to participate. Our history reveals a people committed to partnership missions. We should rise to partner in reaching the large cities of our nation and world. We have—and as long as I lead and you follow—we will.
But for us to send larger amounts beyond Oklahoma, two things must happen. The economy must turn and the pie must get bigger. Much of the discussion in Southern Baptist life centers on redistribution of the existing pie (contributions). I am not opposed to that. However, the same scrutiny applied to state conventions should be applied to our SBC partners. A redistribution of dollars to focus on the unreached in our nation and world is right. But in the end, whether at the state or SBC level, the real need is for a larger pie.
The enlarging of the pie begins with the individual Christian. We must disciple the followers of Christ in our churches to give beyond the national average of 2.5 percent by giving a tithe and beyond. This is the key to a larger pie. Our local churches must also determine to give more through the Cooperative Program. By the way, Oklahoma Baptists average almost 9 percent per church—more than 3 percent above the SBC church average. As the pie is enlarged, state conventions must move more dollars beyond our borders.
Oklahoma Baptists have a proven track record. We have demonstrated a commitment to move more dollars beyond our state. In years when we enjoyed significant overages, our board invested those monies in missions beyond Oklahoma. Instead of enlarging our budget to take greater amounts for ourselves, we used the overage for missions around the world.
As the pie grows in Oklahoma and we are able to absorb the reduction in dollars from our partnership with NAMB, I am confident we will stretch ourselves to send a greater percentage to national and international causes. That is our heart.
The Great Commission is the core of Oklahoma Baptist DNA. We have worked through the years to stay on the balance beam of missions. We are committed to Great Commission ministry, whether in Oklahoma or East Asia. The Great Commission runs through Oklahoma to the ends of the Earth.