Recently, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship announced, rather painfully, that they would be “right-sizing” (which is HR for “uncomfortably eliminating several human persons from a budget at one time”) their organizational structure due to an almost catastrophic budget shortage.
One area that is receiving a disproportionate amount of this “right-sizing” is the Global Missions arm of the CBF, which according to a few reports, has experienced a “25 percent decrease in gifts to the Offering for Global Missions” over the past few years. This shortfall has resulted in the “transition” (read: “elimination”) of five “field personnel” (which is moderate Baptist for “missionary”) from their posts effective Sept. 30, the cessation of a home office Global Missions position, as well as the rolling back of other supportive infrastructure that provides ministry funding, pastoral care, and, not to mention, a living wage for field personnel and their families. While four new field personnel will be commissioned at the CBF General Assembly in Atlanta this week, they will do so under a new funding model that only covers a small salary, housing, benefits, and a few administrative expenses while the rest of their ministry budget is to come from individuals, families, and churches cultivated by the field personnel themselves.
Necessary questions about budgetary management, fiscal responsibility, and institutional culture aside, the elephant in the room is that moderate to progressive Baptist churches are not financially supporting the work of CBF ministry partners globally. CBF Global Missions coordinator Steven Porter said as much recently:
“We have a relatively small number of churches in the Fellowship that contribute disproportionately to global missions. I simply wish more congregations would experience the joy of sacrificial giving to advance the gospel beyond our own communities.”
A recent piece in the New York Times by Charles Duhigg, entitled Why Don’t You Donate for Syrian Refugees? Blame Bad Marketing, spent time with Charity:Water CEO and Hipster-in-Chief Scott Harrison in order to figure out why exactly so few people have been donating to relief efforts during the Syrian conflict. According to Harrison, the thing keeping most of us from connecting the Syrian conflict to our wallets is two-fold: a fundamental lack of hope and a profound lack of clarity as to how we can help.
Commenting on Charity:Water’s fundraising success with Millennials (an estimated 47 percent of their donor population compared to 10 percent for most other non-profits), Harrison notes a concerted effort at Charity:Water to provide hope and clarity to a complex problem:
“When we started, the biggest problem was that my friends said giving to charity was really depressing. So we came up with some rules: No pictures of crying children or people with flies in their eyes. No using guilt or shame. Only use mottos that people would want to wear on T-shirts. … Our approach is that water is binary. People are either drinking clean water, which is good, or they aren’t, which is bad. We want to present an easy choice.”
Denominational mission work (just feel the life drain out of you when you read something like that) is a complex, nuanced, and extremely difficult concept to brand. This is especially true when you consider the always contentious implications like colonialist expansion, white supremacy, and being confused for Southern Baptists anytime “mission work” bubbles up in ecclesial conversation. I get that.
But you know what isn’t hard to brand?
The work of Joshua and Jessica Hearne in Danville, Va., who have tirelessly walked alongside some of the most vulnerable populations in Southern Virginia, not only partnering with them to provide housing advocacy, food, job training, a community garden, but an actual worshipping community comprised of both housed and homeless individuals collectively trying to put flesh and blood on the resurrection of Jesus one meal at a time.
Send them your money immediately by going here: http://graceandmain.org/donate/
But you know what isn’t hard to brand?
The work of Pastors Trey and Jennifer Lyon who are just two of the chief architects behind the bold, inclusive, multicultural, and justice minded work of Park Avenue Baptist Church in Central Atlanta. By entering into relationships across ethnic, denominational, sexual, and identity barriers, Park Avenue is bearing witness to a brand new way of putting flesh and blood on the resurrection of Jesus during “the most segregated hour in America” one “four-hour praise dance” at a time.
Send them your money immediately by going here: http://parkavebaptist.com
But you know what isn’t hard to brand?
The work of Missy Ward-Angalla who has given her life to empowering, educating, partnering, and liberating refugee women in Uganda by founding a program called Amani Sasa. Amani Sasa features a shelter recovery program for young women who have faced severe trauma and exploitation; a school sponsorship program for vulnerable children; two vocational training programs for women at risk; self-help community groups that assist women to save, support and disciple one another, as well as a social work ministry for refugees in crisis. Amani Sasa is putting flesh and blood on the resurrection one empowered vulnerable Ugandan woman at a time.
Send her your money immediately by going here: https://www.classy.org/campaign/missy-ward-angalla/c91933
Friends, these are just three of our missionaries (I refuse to say “field personnel” because it makes them sound like CPAs who don’t work in the office) all of whom are doing incredibly thoughtful, necessary, and redemptive work both here in the states and abroad.
You can find out about and give all of your money to them here: http://www.cbf.net/fieldpersonnel/
At some point, we in the CBF have to move past the fear-based, milquetoast moderatism that has defined our identity since being booted from the SBC so many years ago. I know I didn’t fight those battles, attend those seminaries, or duck and cover during the “dark days” of the “hostile takeover” or “conservative resurgence” or whatever we’re calling it now, but I do know that when your identity is rooted solely in not being someone or something else (whether it’s your father or your mother or the largest denomination in America), eventually the fumes of righteous indignation give way to the realization that you never became anything at all like you once believed you could.
Negation never creates; it only survives until it can’t anymore.
However, when a person or a whole group of people band together as best we can, taking the messiness and baggage and bald spots of our pasts, and instead of dwelling on what we can’t change, endeavor to finally ask: “In light of what we’ve gone through and the moment in front of us, what’s the next right thing?”, I would argue the world becomes a far more interesting place, even when we’re talking about “denominational mission work.”
For most of us the next right thing means simply partnering with and exploring the ongoing work of people at the bleeding edge of the resurrection and redemption of all things in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth. When we give people who are going out ahead of us what we need ourselves as churches struggling to make our budgets, as pastors confused about how to navigate complex cultural and political climates, as prophets attempting to find our voice in a sea of opposition, and as parishioners looking for ways to actually be a part of something meaningful, we mysteriously discover that there always seems to be a little more to give than we first thought, and a little more after that, and a little more after that, and a little more after that.
It’s almost like the giving, especially when it hurts, is the getting — both for them and for us.
When we sacrificially partner with the passion of others serving the world in breathtakingly creative ways, their work gets to be our work as well, even if we’re too old, or scared, or young, or busy, or moderate, or poor, or anxious. Rather than bankrupting our budgets and cash-strapping our local congregational work, I’m convinced this this kind of partnership might just save all of us from slowly and painfully bleeding out over our final years together, quietly muttering about how, “well, at least we aren’t those kinds of Baptists anymore.”
I’m pretty sure even Jesus said something about losing lives and finding them, but that just seems a little too “on the nose” at this point.