Who Should Lead Southern Baptists

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Who should lead Southern Baptists? Answer: those who fully support the Cooperative Program and have demonstrated their support through the percentage giving of the church they serve and lead. My assertion’s explanation and argumentation is this:

In round numbers, Southern Baptists churches contribute approximately $690 million annually through the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon International Missions Offering and the Annie Armstrong North American Missions Offering. Approximately $475 million is contributed through the Cooperative Program and $215 million is contributed through the two major mission offerings. These numbers vary year-to-year by several million dollars. In addition, many millions more are given through State Convention annual missions offerings, Disaster Relief, World Hunger Offering, and associational mission gifts.

I share these numbers because I fear the average “Brett and Brianna Baptist” SBC church members have little idea of the impact Southern Baptists make because we cooperate financially to send and sustain missionaries, educate pastors, start churches, train leaders, and so much more. Moreover, “Brett and Brianna Baptist” probably do not understand the scope of our cooperative work and the manner in which it is funded.

The largest and primary funding strategy for SBC churches is the Cooperative Program (CP), a unified effort for local, regional, national and international ministry and missions. Most churches allocate CP mission dollars as a percentage of their annual budget, though some budget a set dollar amount. According to a report of the SBC Funding Study Committee, issued on September 23, 2003, SBC churches maintained a percentage giving to missions through the CP in the 11 percent range from 1930 to 1980. By the 1980s this average had dropped to 10.5 percent, and by 2002 it was 7.39 percent. In 2017 that number had fallen to 5.16 percent. As a percentage of the church budget, SBC churches are giving less than half to CP missions than they did just 30 years ago.

Various suggestions have been offered as to why CP missions giving has dropped so dramatically. These suggestions range from rising health insurance costs, to more emphasis on local ministry, political infighting, and the desire of churches to do missions directly. No doubt these have all contributed to our decline in CP supported missions. But I want to suggest something different – I firmly believe that the single biggest factor in our decline is the selection of leaders who do not fully support CP as the major way to fund Southern Baptist missions. Thus, they do not – and, really, cannot – share passionately with others a vision for the impact such a unified effort makes.

If a church chooses to support missions directly, and gives a small percentage or zero through the CP, that is their right as an autonomous church. Some pastors and churches may believe they can better allocate their missions dollars than can state conventions and the SBC. Often these are megachurches with huge budgets. I get that. But remember, there are less than 200 SBC megachurches (average worship attendance of 2,000 or more), and a total of 51,000 SBC churches and mission churches. Half of the churches in the Northwest Baptist Convention, where I serve, average 50 or less in worship. Nationally the median number is probably closer to 70, but the normative SBC church has far fewer than 100 on Sunday. That’s partly why CP missions has worked so brilliantly over the years. It makes possible a cooperative missions strategy that strengthens the abilities of the typical church to play a part in the far-reaching responsibilities of the Great Commission. Sure, if your church has 200 or 500 or 1,000 on Sunday, you might have the staffing and finances to do some larger mission projects. But even a large church finds it difficult to have a fully-orbed Acts 1:8 missions strategy.

Recently I visited with the pastor of an independent church that has 3,000 in weekend worship attendance. He was amazed to learn our church planting efforts in the Northwest include Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Korean, Spanish, Burmese and many other non-English language churches. He quickly understood that even given the resources of a large church they cannot penetrate lostness like our 500 smaller churches do through a cooperative strategy. CP missions is just such a cooperative strategy and we should choose leaders who understand it, believe in it and have supported it over the course of their ministries.

Presently, the International Mission Board (IMB) of the SBC is seeking a new president. In addition to the necessary spiritual qualifications, experience, and gifting, the next president should have a background that demonstrates a strong commitment to support missions through the CP. Remember, international missionaries don’t fall off angel’s wings onto the mission field! They are discipled and educated and called out through the ministries of our churches and through CP supported state camps, college ministries, seminaries, and the like. The SBC is a system of missions, ministry, training and education, and we need each part of the system for the global enterprise to remain healthy. Key leaders like the president of the IMB should understand this and support it. If a particular leader doesn’t support the SBC system of CP support (and you will only know he supports CP by what he led his church to do), he should not lead a CP supported SBC entity.

This June Southern Baptist will also elect a new SBC president. The man elected to this position should likewise be someone who has a track-record of strong CP support. How can a person effectively lead Southern Baptists if his church doesn’t support CP with a minimum of the 5.16 percent that the average church gives? Indeed, shouldn’t our leaders come from churches that give above the average percentage? This seems like common sense, but such sense seems less and less common.

Southern Baptists are at a critical crossroad. One road leads to the continuation of decline in CP missions giving and the continuation of the decline of the SBC (that is a subject for another article, but yes, we are in serious decline by most every measure). The other road will lead us to growth in our cooperative missions strategy. Which road we travel will depend not only on what we do individually, but also on those we choose to lead us. As for me, I will do all I can to encourage Southern Baptists to select leaders who generously support missions through the Cooperative Program and have a long history of doing so.

We are Family

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If you’re over 50 the phrase “we are family” might bring the Sister Sledge 1979 pop song to mind. But recent events have reminded me that Baptists really are family. For example, when Jimmy Stewart of the Alaska Baptist Convention received devastating third degree burns in July, he was flown to a Seattle hospital. Upon arrival NWBC persons and pastors were onsite assisting the family with transportation and housing needs. A similar request came when a mission team member from Alabama was flown to a Seattle hospital in September. Staff at the Puget Sound Association responded to a request from his Alabama pastor who knew that his Baptist family in Washington would minister to his church member.

Requests like these are not unusual. Recently a Baptist family member in the south requested that we find an Oregon church to help a friend in crisis, and we did. Another shared that when their child moved from Oregon to Massachusetts they contacted our Baptist family in Boston who helped this young couple move into their apartment.

In August our Northwest Baptist family sent 163 from 32 of our churches to minister to 1,100 family members (missionaries) serving in Asia. Our missionaries depend on us to support them through the Cooperative Program, but they also need their Baptist family to pray for them and join them on their mission field. They invited us to help them in their training retreat because we are their family. Twenty-two of these same missionaries will spend nine days with us in early October, helping us know better how to reach Asian peoples living in the Northwest, among other things (details on our website at http://www.nwbaptist.org).

This summer we received an application from a church that wants to affiliate with the NWBC. This church has a large ministry, with thirteen members attending seminary and several serving in international missions. Their small group ministry includes learning Old Testament Hebrew and others studying biblical theology at a very high level.

So why do they want to affiliate with the NWBC? They are looking for family. They are a church without the extended family that Baptists have. They don’t have associations, conventions, seminaries, mission boards, and a support system beyond their own town. As Baptists, we even have an insurance and retirement system for our pastors (GuideStone).

Like all families, we have our disagreements, crazy uncles, loudmouthed cousins, and dysfunctional branches on the family tree. Sometimes these things frustrate us. But where would we be without our extended family?

In November the NWBC family will gather in Spokane for our annual meeting. We will celebrate what God is doing in our Northwest family with abundant testimonies and worship. Our family will even gather around tables Tuesday, Nov. 15, for a prime rib dinner (details on our website at http://www.nwbaptist.org). It will be a sweet time of fellowship. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Northwest Baptist Mission Team Returns from Asia

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The following is an email I sent to the volunteers who served several hundred missionaries and their children living in places throughout Asia. The Northwest Baptist Convention constructed a team of 163 individuals from 32 of our churches to do this good work.

Dear Asia Mission Team,

Well done! Remarkable really. When you consider that 163 of us travelled to Asia to minister to hundreds of missionaries and their children, that we all arrived safely, remained quite healthy, and got home in good shape, and left our missionaries with profound gratitude for our having served them and their children so well, it is most appropriate to call it a work of God’s grace in our lives.

I don’t think our minds could have conceived of a better or more consequential mission trip. As a good ball coach might say, “You left it all on the field.” You gave everything of yourself, all of your energy, all of your love, and then you gave some more. The days were long, and there were 10 of them in a row for most, not counting travel and prep days. But you did it. I trust that in the days to come you will get to share some of what you experienced. I also know that we will never fully understand what this retreat meant to our field missionaries. You gave their children a gift more profound than we will possibly understand this side of heaven.

Few Southern Baptists have ever gotten “up close” to so many of our international missionary families. We were privileged to experience some of the result of our Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon International Mission giving. We have great field missionaries and they have many precious children.

We also demonstrated what cooperation looks like to our NWBC and the greater SBC family. To pull individuals and groups from 32 churches together, and to gain the support and prayers of our other 430 churches, was a work of faith. Regarding the work part of it, I must say that Project Coordinator Sheila Allen did an outstanding job in every way. Our sub-coordinators Lance Logue, Sara Eves, Dan and Laurie Panter, and Nancy Hall, were equally outstanding in the leadership they provided. I hesitate to mention others because each of you deserve special mention and each of you has a story to tell about your experience. I hope you get to share your story with many. At our NWBC Annual Meeting on Nov. 15, 2016 in Spokane, we will celebrate our East Asia partnership and this trip. If you can be present that will be truly special.

Perhaps the most affirming thing of all is that our mission leaders want us to serve them again in 2018. They gave you a “10” for your service and I would certainly concur.

Jesus is worth all that we can do and more, and the peoples of Asia need to know Him like we do. Thank you for helping 1.7 billion people have a chance to hear the good news of Jesus Christ through the missionaries into whom you poured your lives.

It’s a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest, and from the Northwest to the world beyond!

Randy

Northwest Baptists are Heading to Asia

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Tomorrow Paula and I will leave for Asia, joining 163 Northwest Baptists from 32 churches, to serve hundreds of missionaries living throughout Asia. Most of our mission team will serve several hundred missionary children, teaching them VBS, among other things. For example, Paula and six others will have 41 second-graders for nine hours each day.

There are a large number of kids in each age group, from newborns through high school. The volunteers from our churches have been preparing for several months to serve them, teach them, and love on them. This is the first such retreat these missionaries have had since 2009.

Each day we will have a worship service in which the missionaries will gather to pray and sing and study God’s Word. For many this will be their first time to worship in English, and to worship together, for three years or more. I will preach at some of these services. I will also lead a morning Bible study the first five days and would appreciate your prayers, not only for myself but for all our team. Other team members include a medical doctor, three nurses, security persons, technology persons, and two licensed Christian counselors.

Our volunteers are taking vacation from work and they are paying their own way. We have several mothers going who are leaving their children with their dads, grandparents or friends. Just yesterday I learned of one mother who is leaving four children with her husband, the youngest just two years-old. It’s humbling to see God’s people do such things because they love the Lord and they love our missionaries.

Also of interest is that 17 of the missionaries are from the Northwest or have served in the Northwest. These are men and women that our churches sent overseas, some 30 years ago, others more recently. We look forward to seeing them and encouraging them.

This mission effort of our churches is one more step in a partnership that the Northwest Baptist Convention of churches has with missionaries in Asia. Over the past two years, many of our churches have sent short term teams to serve alongside our long-term missions personnel. Most of these teams have sought to share the love of Jesus Christ in remote cities and towns in Asia where the name of Jesus is not widely known. For several weeks this summer one of our churches had 20 university students serving in an Asian university city, sharing Christ with college students there.

Words cannot express the gratitude I have for our pastors and churches. I believe that the growth in baptisms, church attendance, and Cooperative Program mission giving that we are seeing in the Northwest is due in part to our churches becoming more outwardly focused.

Churches that do evangelism and missions locally and globally tend to be more effective in reaching their neighbors with God’s love. Christians who are confident that Jesus Christ can save any person from their sin are more likely to tell others about Jesus. Believers who say with the Apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day,” are a powerful force in the world (2 Tim. 1:12).

Our team will return Aug. 11-13. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your support.

Collaborative Ministry Vibrant in the Northwest

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In the past few weeks we have witnessed the abundant fruit of collaboration among our Northwest Baptist churches. It’s been very encouraging! On April 12 the semi-annual meeting of the Central Washington Baptist Association focused on missions. Wapato’s First Baptist Church was nearly full as pastors and church members gathered to share stories of new church plants, collegiate ministry, and various mission trips that Central Association’s member churches are doing. One thing I learned is that Wapato, a town of about 5,000 souls, is 76 percent Hispanic. Spanish is so dominant that the menu of the restaurant in which Paula and I ate was in Spanish – with no English translation. Who would have guessed it?

On April 21 the semi-annual meeting of the Inland Empire Baptist Association also focused on missions. Dayspring Baptist Church in Rathdrum, ID hosted the meeting which nearly filled the church. Several churches set up displays highlighting their mission’s involvement. Reports were given about associational camps and ministries, demonstrating that when churches work together we can accomplish ministry that has far-reaching impact.

On April 23 we had a truly historic one-day training event at our NWBC building in Vancouver, WA, in which 160 mission team members, from over 30 Northwest Baptist churches, gathered to prepare for our East Asia mission trip this summer (July 28 to August 11). Our convention of churches will serve all of our East Asia IMB missionaries and their children. This is their first such retreat since 2009, and with all of the changes at the IMB (1,132 missionaries and staff leaving the field in the past few months), this retreat is extremely important. More than 140 missionaries in East Asia have left the field, but still we expect about 1,200 missionaries and children at this retreat. The response of our pastors and churches to this unique opportunity has been overwhelming and truly humbling. No one church could do something like this, but together, collaboratively, it’s amazing what God can do with us. Even if your church is not sending a team member, your prayers and Cooperative Program missions giving make you a part of the team that will minister to our East Asia missionaries.

On April 25-27, 268 church planters, spouses, children, and a wonderful group of volunteers (who provided VBS to the 105 children of our church planters), gathered at Cannon Beach for our annual Church Planter’s Retreat. The focus was on evangelism. It involved both training and inspiration, reminding each of us that new churches are intended to be gatherings of new believers, not new gatherings of longtime Christians. We are grateful to God for leading these families to plant their lives in communities and neighborhoods that are underserved with gospel witness.

On April 15-16 our annual NWBC Women’s Summit hosted 153 women from 48 churches. Twenty-two breakouts were provided, focusing on the theme “Go Deeper with God.” Nancy Hall leads our women’s ministry as a volunteer and provides outstanding service to our churches and our women.

In addition to all of this, Riviera Baptist Church in Eugene hosted a Region 4 leadership training event on April 9 in which 61 preschool and children’s workers received training, as did several others. A similar training event will be hosted by Airway Heights Baptist Church on May 14 for churches in Region 5.

April ended with our annual Student Conference, in which more than 400 young people and their leaders, from 31 churches, gathered at Greater Gresham Baptist Church. About 30 made decisions for Christ!

As I think back over the last month, gratitude fills my heart for the pastors and leaders of our churches. They are doing the frontline work of ministry. They are walking by faith. And they are walking together with their ministry brothers. Their churches are cooperating associationally and within the convention to do missions and evangelistic work.

Which reminds me – on May 23-25 we have our biennial “Oasis Retreat” for pastors, staff and wives in Seaside, OR. Over 200 have enrolled, which we believe is our largest group ever (though it goes back 40 years so we aren’t certain of that). Paula and I have been preparing for the past couple of months to minister to our pastors and wives during these days and we are praying that each participant will experience true spiritual refreshment. Please pray for our Northwest pastors and spouses. They are godly people who love Jesus, love His Church, and want to hear from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant” on a day soon to come.

Update on IMB Missionaries Returning to the Northwest

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In September of this year, all IMB missionaries and staff age 50 and above, with a minimum of five years tenure, were offered a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) from the IMB. IMB leaders determined that our international mission force must be reduced by 600 to 800 in order to bring the IMB budget into balance.

Apparently, IMB leaders a number of years ago intentionally grew our mission force beyond what the income could support. The additional missionaries were sent and sustained by selling property overseas and drawing down the IMB reserve funds. But with reserve funds significantly lower, the time has come that the IMB must operate within its budget. Current IMB leadership determined that the first step in reducing our mission force would be to ask our most senior missionaries and staff to consider the VRI. The deadline to make their decision was in early November, but they were allowed to change their mind as late as early December.

While we don’t have the complete picture as to how this affects IMB missionaries from the Northwest (the IMB has not reported on this, as of Dec. 8, 2015), I want to tell you what we know. I do this so that you can pray for the men and women affected by the VRI, and also so that you might know who could be available to serve in our Northwest Baptist churches.

Those Northwest IMB missionaries who are accepting the VRI, and leaving their overseas assignment are: Andy and Kaye Martin, Susan Vessey, Al and Ann Rodriquez, and Ian and Sherri Buntain. There may be others, and probably are, but we don’t yet have information on any others. In addition to these, David and Nora Gass have accepted the VRI, after serving 13 years with the IMB, and David will join our NWBC staff on February 1, 2016 as a church health strategist, serving in Regions 1 and 2. David will also help lead our East Asia partnership. He served as the partnership strategist in East Asia for the IMB and has a relationship with hundreds of East Asia missionaries.

In addition to these, the couple that many of you know as “Leon and Kay” (pseudonyms), have accepted the VRI, but are choosing to remain in the country and city where they have served for many years. This summer they received a mission team from the Northwest, and though no longer officially IMB missionaries, they will continue to relate to IMB personnel, and they will continue to work with Northwest Baptist mission teams.

As we receive further information on IMB personnel from the Northwest, we will update you. Also, feel free to contact me if you receive information regarding one of our missionaries. If you would like to contact one of these that I have mentioned here, please contact Marsha Gray (marshag@nwbaptist.org) or myself and we will put you in touch with them.

There are dozens of IMB missionaries from the Northwest who will remain on their field of service. Those remaining need our earnest prayers. Many are losing their field leaders and mentors due to the VRI. In addition to praying for them, the NWBC is taking 200 volunteers to Pattaya, Thailand in August, 2016 to serve about 1,300 IMB missionaries and their children during a time of retreat. We will minister to their spiritual, physical and emotional needs in an unprecedented opportunity for our convention of churches (contact Sheila Allen for more information at Sheila@nwbaptist.org).

Also, thank you for your support of mission work by giving through the Cooperative Program. This is also the season in which many of our churches support the work of the IMB by giving through the Lottie Moon Offering. Last year our NWBC churches increased their missions giving through the Lottie Moon Offering by 25 percent, with total NWBC giving of slightly more than $500,000 in 2014. We anticipate another great year of giving to support the work of more than 4,000 IMB missionaries.

Here they come! IMB Missionaries Returning to the Northwest

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Susan Vessey is a Northwest Baptist who has served with the International Mission Board for about 25 years.  Recently, I received an email from her that she will take a “voluntary retirement” offered by the IMB.  The agency’s leaders, in recently announcing severe revenue shortfalls over the last several years, have created incentive packages aimed at reducing personnel by up to 800 people. Those staff and field personnel over 50 years of age and with at least five years of service are eligible for the “voluntary retirement” packages.

I met Susan in South Asia in 1993 where she was sharing Christ with an unreached Islamic group, displaced by the Afghan war in the 1980s.  She is a single woman whose entire life has been dedicated and spent for Christ’s cause amongst a poor people, hopeless without Christ.  Some of you might know her sister Tina, wife of Brian Duffer who is the long-serving pastor at Sequoia Baptist Church in Kent, WA.  In her email Susan writes:  “While the package may be called ‘retirement’, I am not going to do that.  Now at 61, I doubt that I will be able to find other employment, Christian or secular, but I know that there is no limit to the amount of opportunities there are to be used of God and that’s what I intend to do.”

The planned IMB staff reduction of 600-800 missionaries impacts every Northwest Baptist and Southern Baptist personally.  For over 150 years the IMB experienced steady growth in the number of missionaries sent and sustained by Southern Baptist Churches.  Beginning with our first missionary, Samuel Clopton, who was commissioned and sent to China in 1845, SBC churches exceeded 5,000 field missionaries for the first time in 1995, the 150th anniversary of SBC international missions.  From our peak of more than 5,600 missionaries in 2009, we are expected to have 4,000 to 4,200 IMB missionaries under appointment when the reduction is complete.

Many of these international missionaries were and are from the Northwest. A mission field ourselves, with about four percent attending church on a given Sunday, Northwest Baptists have dozens, perhaps 100 or more serving with the IMB. The exact number is difficult to define because the numbers can include those who connect to the Northwest through previous ministry, place of education, or origin of spouse.

What we do know is this – some of our Northwest Baptist IMB missionaries are “retiring” early because those age 50 and above, with five or more years of experience, are being asked to consider “retiring” from IMB service. If this voluntary retirement initiative fails to net the needed numbers to balance the budget, the IMB will take other steps to achieve the staff-reduction target number. Some of those who retire, or return for other reasons, will be Northwesterners like Susan Vessey. Others will want to come to the Northwest because they are missionaries and they want to serve on a North American mission field. We have already heard from missionaries who want to come to serve with us.

What does this mean for us? How might we respond to the down-sizing of the IMB and the returning of hundreds of missionaries?

First, be open to returning missionaries. Many of these are in the prime of life and ministry. They have tremendous skills and giftings – linguistic, cultural, and biblical skills that would greatly bless our work in the Northwest. They have learned to live and serve effectively among a people different than them. Moreover, they have honed their missionary and ministerial gifting through perseverance in difficult circumstances. Missionaries know how to sacrifice, overcome adversity and work hard. Most importantly, they have lived by faith in an all-sufficient God and not by sight. Some are preachers and pastors. Others are able servant leaders who could help a church get to the “next level” in small groups, organization, missions and evangelism. Be open to these returning missionaries as you seek a pastor, staff member, or volunteer servant leaders. If you’re a business person, consider hiring a returning missionary. Many have real-world job skills, which combined with a large heart for God and for people, will make them great employees. Some of you might be in a position to give a car to a missionary, or provide housing for a period of time. Be creative, and generous, as you think of ways to bless these dear servants of God.

Second, and really first, pray for all of our IMB missionaries. Pray for those who are not contemplating early retirement (can you really call it retirement at age 52, or even 61?), and pray for those who remain on the field. There is great uncertainty and heartache among our missionaries. Some of our younger missionaries will be left without their supervisors and mentors. It takes seven years or more for an international missionary to acquire the necessary skills to be fully effective. With some of our most experienced missionaries leaving the field, younger, inexperienced missionaries will be the only ones remaining in some places. They need encouragement and prayer.

Third, consider raising the Cooperative Program (CP) percentage that your church gives to support missions. I wrote last week that if our churches gave the same percentage through CP that we did 30 years ago (10.5 percent on average), the IMB would have about $85 million more dollars annually. But not only would the IMB have more resources, our seminaries would have more, and could thus train more leaders and charge them far less money. NAMB would also have more resources, as would state and regional conventions, such the NWBC. The Southern Baptist denomination was built through sacrificial levels of cooperative giving that enabled us to support a “system” of missions and education. For example, in the Northwest we used to fund collegiate ministry in a much larger way. Now our college ministers must raise their own support, or work bi-vocationally. Only in the south do we still find state-convention supported collegiate ministers, and even there such ministry is declining. I believe this is a tragedy and it is a direct result of decreased missions giving through CP.

Could your church increase CP by one percent in 2016? Perhaps your church doesn’t have CP in the budget at all. Would you consider adding mission giving through CP to your church budget? If all churches increased giving by one percent the IMB would have $17 million additional dollars next year. And because CP lifts all boats in SBC life, increasing it will enable us to educate those missionaries and do the work in North America and the Northwest that is required to impact lostness in our own neighborhoods.

Remember, being a Baptist is about a biblical and theological conviction. But being a Southern Baptist, and a Northwest Baptist, means that we have a made a missions commitment that requires cooperation. There have always been those who liked to do things their own way and wouldn’t support what they couldn’t control. You’ve got people like that in your church. But the genius of the SBC system is that we bring a coordinated and comprehensive approach to missions that accomplishes what an independent approach cannot. In the Northwest, we see this in pastor-cluster training, church planting amongst multiple language groups, disaster relief, and the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Seminary, just to name a few things.

Would I change some things if I had absolute power in the SBC? O course! But do I withhold my support from the SBC system of missions because I would do some things differently? Absolutely not! I didn’t appreciate that response from church members when I was a pastor and I don’t agree when that approach is extended to our cooperative work.

We’re in this thing together, always together, never alone. Praise God!