By Bob Allen
The head of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s global missionary enterprise asked the CBF Governing Board Sept. 17 to pray for Southern Baptists after the news they are cutting their international mission force by 600 to 800 jobs due to budget shortfalls.
“The current crisis facing the International Mission Board is nothing less, in my mind, than a terrible loss for the Kingdom of God that we should mourn,” CBF Global Missions Coordinator Steven Porter said in his report to the governing body that oversees day-to-day operation of the moderate Baptist group formed over disagreements within the SBC in the 1990s.
“We need to pray, not only for those missionaries, but for the convention and for their churches and look for ways and opportunities we can actively support them,” said Porter, former director of CBF-affiliated Touching Miami with Love who was named global missions coordinator last year. “We might disagree about things now and again, but we still can lock arms with brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we share a passion for the Great Commission, and passion to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Porter commended similar thoughts expressed by the current CBF moderator, Matt Cook, in an Aug. 29 post on Facebook.
“I’m going to say something that might surprise you, but it shouldn’t,” began Cook, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C. “I’m sad about the news coming out of the IMB in Richmond with their recent announcement of a cut in the Southern Baptist missionary force due to shortfalls in giving.”
“There was a day when moderates might have been tempted to gloat over such news, but hopefully such days are long gone,” said Cook, a graduate of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, one of several new theology schools birthed after the six SBC seminaries purged their faculties of moderate professors they viewed as too liberal.
“Despite significant differences over certain issues, the Southern Baptist Convention is made up of godly men and women who are trying to carry out the Great Commission,” Cook said. “They might do that differently than some of us would, but such differences shouldn’t be enough for us to do anything other than pray for their success.”
Cook said another reason not to take pleasure in bad news affecting their former foes in the SBC holy war is that both CBF and the SBC face challenging days.
“The ways that congregations are doing mission is different today than it was a generation ago, and while much of that is a good thing, it does create challenges for organizations like the IMB and the CBF,” he said. “In a day of flat and shrinking budgets and increased opportunity for local mission engagement, congregations haven’t been sending as much to support global mission efforts.”
As the CBF gears up for its 25th anniversary celebration June 20-24 in Greensboro, N.C., a task force is in the process of evaluating the 1,900-church network’s own global missions program. The Fellowship oversees 125 field personnel in more than 30 countries, but due to contributions not keeping pace with commitments to veteran missionaries those commissioned in recent years raise their own support.
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter said in her report to the Governing Board that the Fellowship’s complex system of funding its work through multiple pathways to service helps safeguard the CBF from some of the pressures facing older missionary-sending organizations.
“Over the years, the last 24 years, we have built a missions organization that has been right-sized to our funding,” Paynter said. “In this season where there’s a lot of talk about debt and decline, we are operating a complex mission enterprise, but we are not doing it at great deficit spending.”
“We’re not trying to do more than we have the resources to do, but we are dispersing our work across a great mission enterprise, and we do not intend to go back to some paradigm of missions that would try to funnel all funding through one channel,” she added. “I believe that the Kingdom of God and the leadership of God in our congregations has led us to a more congregationally based and more diverse mission model for this great mission enterprise.”
Cook said the coming reorganization and strategic analysis will no doubt benefit the IMB in the long run, “but bringing missionaries home will be hard regardless.”
“Let’s pray for everyone involved: the missionaries, the IMB administration, and the churches that support them,” he urged.
“Let’s also rejoice that despite the coming down-sizing, the IMB maintains one of the largest bodies of missionaries in the world,” Cook said. “We want as many people around the world as possible to hear about the love of God in Jesus Christ, and missionaries help make that happen. Southern Baptist missionaries, Cooperative Baptist missionaries, Methodist, Anglican and Catholic missionaries all help make that happen. We need more missionaries figuring out how to love people across cultural and linguistic lines, not less.”