By Barry Howard
Multiple mission partnerships seem to be the new norm among many churches, and especially those that network with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. A quick survey of the list of CBF churches indicates that fewer than 10 percent are exclusively identified with CBF. More than 90 percent of churches who partner with CBF are networking with multiple mission partners, and the vast majority support missions through both CBF and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Is it worth the hassle of additional meetings and extended conversations to develop a missions portfolio that supports these multiple missional partners? A growing number of Baptist churches are re-visioning what it means to be “cooperative” and reconsidering exactly who needs to be in our portfolio of partnerships.
The concept of multiple mission partnerships is not a new reality, just an expanded one. All of the Baptist churches I served early in my ministry had multiple mission partners. Back then, however, the largest portion of a Baptist church’s mission budget went to one central clearinghouse called the Cooperative Program. Partners receiving additional mission gifts included the local Baptist association, the Baptist children’s home, campus ministry organizations, the Gideons and the American Bible Society, only to name a few.
Across the years, the number of partners requesting to be in the church’s missional budget has grown dramatically. There are at least four reasons for that increase:
— The number of missional organizations, institutions and societies has grown exponentially.
— The Cooperative Program has undergone a significant process of reallocation. Agencies that were important to many Baptists were defunded. For example, for many years the Baptist World Alliance was included in the Cooperative Program budget. A few years ago the BWA was eliminated from the unified portfolio, but not without considerable dissent. Therefore, those churches that choose to send missional support to the BWA now must do so through an additional partnership. This is one of many examples of reallocation.
— The economic recession has compounded the requests for partnerships. For example, more missionaries in cooperative networks — including SBC and CBF — are required or encouraged to raise a portion of their financial support independently from churches and individuals.
— There is a growing sense of independence and autonomy among Baptists that is reflective of American culture. For example, individual Bible study groups want to choose “their” curriculum and individual churches want to choose who is in “their” missions budget.
After serving churches with a growing number of mission partners for the past few years, here are a few insights that could help those navigating the course:
— Have strong laity-led committees and teams, especially the missions and finance committees, and keep them informed about the work of all mission partners.
— Invite representatives from your major mission partners to speak to your congregation. For example, at our church we intentionally invite speakers from BWA, CBF and SBC, since those are our major partners.
— Establish accountability with all mission partners, learning their missional objectives up front, and requesting reports of how funds were used to evaluate and determine future support.
— As a pastor, show fairness and balance to all partners, accenting the strengths of each partner, while realizing that each partner will also have weaknesses.
— Determine which partnerships are short-term (annual) and which partners will be long-term (multi-year commitments).
— Lead the congregation to provide prayer support, financial support and ground support through short-term mission trips. Those who work with our missionaries on site become our strongest advocates for missions.
— Create a culture of call wherein teenagers and adults are challenged to consider whether they are called to “go” to the mission field or to “support” those on the mission field.
The process for creating and assimilating the mission portfolio of a local congregation has changed across the years, and in some ways is more complex. However, what has not changed is Baptists’ love and passion for missions.
To advance the kingdom, Baptists must learn to network in a world where communities of believers have a common core faith but diverse understandings and practices. A spirit of cooperation propels missions. A re-hashing of tired conflicts subverts missions.
In the movie Field of Dreams, the thematic phrase about the construction of a baseball field is, “if you build it, they will come.”
When it comes to Baptists and missions, if you provide the information and the opportunity they will “give” and they will “go.”