INDIANAPOLIS—Just as people facing death evaluate their priorities for what remains of life, it’s time for the Southern Baptist Convention to do its own “death check” and become better stewards of “the mysteries” with which they are entrusted, said North Carolina pastor Al Gilbert in the 2008 annual sermon.
Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, and a former administrator at the International Mission Board, faced his own death in recent years with a terminal medical diagnosis that turned out to be “life altering, but not life threatening.”
“I went to the bottom and found it was solid,” said Gilbert.
“The denominational doctors have told us we’re sick,” Gilbert told messengers. “Some said we’re dying. … We cannot do business as usual. We must face how we shall live.”
Preaching from 1 Corinthians 4, Gilbert said the Apostle Paul presented some standards on how he wanted to be remembered, and a word to Christians about, “How should I live as though I’m a dying man.”
The SBC faces a challenge of evaluating denominational priorities, he said, because just as his generation is about to “pass the baton to the next generation, they’re telling me they don’t want it.”
He encouraged pastors especially to consider themselves as servants in the manner of “under rowers” as Paul pictured them, those chained to the oars in the bowels of a ship. “You’re not the slave driver, not the slave master, you are the under rower,” he said.
He emphasized Baptists’ role as stewards of the “mysteries of God,” and reminded the audience of those who went before, whether in a church or those who established the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Don’t we realize what we’ve been given?” he asked. “For what we’ve been given, we’ll have to give an account.”
To be good stewards, Southern Baptists may well have to reorder their priorities to include significantly more funding for international missions, he said.
He said the 1925 action that created the Cooperative Program method for funding missions intended every church to give a percentage of its receipts to missions through the Cooperative Program and every state Baptist convention to forward 50 percent of those gifts for cooperative work in the U.S. and among the nations.
Agreeing with a term used recently by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin, Gilbert suggested a “bloated” SBC structure creates “bureaucratic barriers” rather than enabling ministry.
“If we were to do a death check, could it be that we would say we must radically reorganize this convention if we are going to win the world for Christ?” he asked to a round of applause.
The most recent reports show Southern Baptists gave $10.4 billion to their churches, he noted. Those churches claimed to have dedicated $1.3 billion, or 12 percent, to missions. That included just five percent to support the global mission outreach of their denomination, through the Cooperative Program.
He said it would be “absurd” for him to try to tell a pastor how that pastor is to lead his church to give. Instead, he said, “We need to be more efficient and effective so churches would want to give more to the Cooperative Program.”
Recognize stewardship responsibility
With current standards of giving Baptists struggle to pay professors and missionaries. “Come on Southern Baptists,” he said. “Go back to your state conventions and recognize your stewardship.”
He implied that people are asking, “What’s the most effective way to give my money?” when some major international cities have as many people as some U.S. states.
He said if Baptists do not make God known among the ethos, the nations, the peoples, “We have no relevance.”
The message of Christ “is not just for America,” he said. “We have a global messiah. He deserves to be preached to all the peoples of the world.”
To make that world vision possible, Gilbert said, Baptists must move beyond a conservative resurgence to a Great Commission resurgence. To fund that, he said “We must find a better way to fulfill our stewardship.”