America’s “Lostness”

Our regular quarterly business meeting at Richmond’s First Baptist Church was irregularly well attended last week, mostly because we were going to be voting on proposed changes to our mission giving plans. 

It’s kind of a long story, but once upon a time we gave all our missions support through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Then, beginning around 1979, we went through a 25-year upheaval in the denomination alternately known as the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC or the “fundamentalist takeover” of the SBC, depending on which side you sympathized with.  First Baptist had sympathizers on both sides, and as a way of keeping everybody in the big tent the church created alternative giving plans, so that those who didn’t want to give to the “new” Southern Baptist Convention could give through the recently constituted Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and those who didn’t want to give to the CBF could continue to give through the SBC.  

So, for some twenty years now the members of First Baptist Church—all brothers and sisters in Christ—have had the freedom of choosing which boards and agencies they want to support.  Some have given to the boards and agencies of the SBC; others have supported the mission efforts of the CBF; most have not made a choice, and their gifts have been distributed through the “First Baptist Plan.”

That plan gave about two thirds to the SBC and one third to the CBF.  It made sense in a way: the SBC was a much larger organization than the CBF, with many more missionaries.  But in another way it didn’t make sense.  I heard someone put it like this: “If we decided that, because there are more Republicans than Democrats in our church, we should send twice as much money to the Republican Party, that wouldn’t really be bipartisan.”[1]  So our Deacon Advisory Council came up with a plan that splits our support down the middle, giving an equal amount to the SBC and the CBF.  As a former deacon chair said, “We don’t want to play favorites.”

That motion carried. 

But then we talked about the North American Mission Board, which will not employ ordained women as part of its exempt staff.  The Deacon Advisory Council proposed that we exclude NAMB from our shared plan for that reason. First Baptist Church is very supportive of women in ministry, and ordains women as both deacons and ministers.  But someone came to the microphone to say that, while they didn’t like that policy, they did like NAMB’s concern for the “lostness of America,” and appreciated the efforts of those 5,000 NAMB missionaries who are out there right now trying to make a difference. 

I got excited at this point, because we weren’t just talking denominational politics anymore: we were talking about people, and about what we could do to reach them.  You could see our members leaning forward in their chairs, perhaps fully engaged in this conversation for the first time.  We discussed some possible options, but eventually voted on the changes as proposed and that motion, too, carried.

One of our members wrote to me after that and said she was “sad” that we had gone forward with the changes, without making the North American Mission Board part of the shared giving plan.  I told her not to be sad, that there were plenty of ways to support those 5,000 missionaries if she wanted to, and that one of the best ways is to give directly to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, all of which goes to those missionaries.[2]  

My hope is that our discussion last Wednesday night raised the awareness of everyone who was there, and that those who have thrown their envelopes in the plate without making a choice might take the time to check a box, to make sure their mission money goes just where they want it to.  As someone said at that meeting, “We have several good options.  We can give in just the way we want to.”  That sounds truly Baptist.

But I also have this hope: that we will take our mission giving more seriously than we have before, and be much more generous than we have in the past.  If the truth be known, we are probably squandering every day more money than we give to missions in a month, maybe even a year.  If we can develop a real concern for the “lostness” of America, then maybe we will start writing some checks, and saying some prayers, and spending time with people who need Jesus right here in Richmond…until God’s kingdom comes, and God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] Just so you’ll know: we don’t give ANY money to the Republicans or the Democrats.  We try to keep partisan politics out of the church.

[2] I also read recently that an additional $9 million dollars a year has been committed to the efforts of those 5,000 missionaries on the field, through reduction in personnel and reallocation of the NAMB budget.

7 thoughts on “America’s “Lostness”

  1. Thank you for encouraging FBCR to be people of integrity in all things. It is a refreshing change from partisan politics and religion!

  2. Before reading this, I was listening to a favorite Christian song “It’s Been Mercy All the Way” by John G. Elliott. In church politics, as in secular politics, every Christian needs to remember Matthew 25 and about what Jesus talks about as being the priorities in life He is concerned about. In the end time, what we did in service to Him by being of service to others will be the consideration. What did we do to be of mercy to others, in response to His mercy to us, will be the question. Speaking of political parties, I have felt that churches like First Baptist have the right idea of trying to have a “big tent” which includes, so to speak, if you can accept that image, for example, the “CBF party” and the “SBC party” and whatever else have you working together for the common good, for the glory of God in service to others as a church. I may “take a dim view” of one side or the other, but, like you say, I do like what the “other side” is doing to be of service to Christ, to serve others in His Name.

  3. What if someday the Lord confronts us and says, “Sorry, guys, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholics were right about women in the ministry and YOU were WRONG!” or if He says, “The Catholics were right and the Baptists were wrong!” And what if there IS a “purgatory” and we find ourselves there?! SIGH! Oh well! Guess we’d better hope we are right, huh, Jim! ;>

  4. I think in the end we will all discover that we were more wrong about most things than we could have dreamed, and yet God loves us anyway. There’s the miracle of grace.

  5. Too bad we’re not Catholics. I think that you’d have looked great in a clerical collar and cassock as you said Mass. ;> No doubt you’d have become a Bishop or Cardinal. And, you know, while Baptists don’t have cathedrals or Bishops, etc. I have often felt that if Baptists were organized like the Catholics and Anglicans, in terms of influence, First Baptist probably would have been a cathedral and the Pastor a Bishop or Archbishop. Also, I do agree, we probably will discover that, in this life, we were wrong about a lot and will be extremely grateful, as I already am, that God loves us anyway. Yes, that is the miracle of grace! Praise the Lord, AMEN! May God bless you “de facto Bishop Jim”! ;>

  6. Hello My name mrs Hilda…….friendly, humble,good tempered, believer in Christ. Attend a local congregation in <chimbote city. <i have read your website and comments. My best wishes and congratulations. Welcome to Peru and fraternize. Please feel free to. Dont hesitate to ask any question in trust. Thanks your attention God bless you Sincerely yours in Christ Hilda

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