Posted on : Monday December 5, 2011

By David Lee, BCM/D Executive Director

David Lee, BCM/D Executive Director

I am one of those who liked school. I am indebted to great teachers who invested time with me, often beyond their call of duty. As a result of their investment, I love to learn and I love to teach.

The one part of the education process I did not like was test day. I understand the need for tests, but I still don’t like them. If it wasn’t for the tests, I could easily have become a professional student.

I will admit that some tests are more tolerable than others. I am not a fan of the true/false test. I know you have a 50 percent chance of getting it right each time, but I tended to “overthink” the questions, exerting too much effort trying to figure out if each question contained a subtle attempt to trick me.

“Fill in the blank questions” were ok, but required way too much recall of details. I am not a detail person by nature. I like the freedom to wiggle or waggle a little to the right or to the left instead of having to recall an exact date or an exact word.

I tended to do well on discussion questions. Because I could write, there were times when I was able to “communicate” that I knew what I was talking about even when I didn’t. (I soon discovered that such a talent could come in handy!) But discussion questions were hard work. I usually felt drained when I finished a discussion quiz.

I guess if I had to choose a favorite or a “lesser of the evils,” it would be the multiple-choice test. Those kinds of tests required less recall of detail. There were usually enough hints in the choices given to at least give you a fighting chance, even if you had not been diligent in your preparation.

Now the desired multiple-choice quizzes were those where the answers were obvious. For example . . .

Which of the following is not a part of the animal kingdom?

A.    Horse
B.    Giraffe
C.    Lion
D.    Apple
E.    All of the above
F.    None of the above

I know some of you are still working on that one, but my time is short here. So I will help you. The answer is “D. Apple.” An apple is not an animal.

The college prep tests often required you to read a paragraph or two and then answer multiple-choice questions about what you read. For example . . .

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Here’s the question.

In this Great Commission from Jesus, which part is most strategic for us to accomplish?

A.    Go and make disciples of all nations
B.    Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
C.    Teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded
D.    All of the above
E.    None of the above

It is often good strategy to work your way logically through each possible answer. There is no journey in discipleship without A. Every journey has to start with a first step. Going public is part of the deal and connecting with others who have gone public is also important. Baptism enables the new believer to do that. So we can’t eliminate B. We leave them as “babes in Christ” and short-change the Commission if we skip C. Even though Baptists have tended to emphasize A and B and have not always done such a good job with C, the correct answer here is “D. All of the above.”

We are called to get the gospel to everybody—no exceptions. Once one commits to live as a disciple, we are instructed to baptize that person as a visible symbol of his commitment and connect him to a body of baptized believers. We also have the responsibility to join that individual as instructors in the life-long journey of discipleship development. We cannot afford to leave out any part of the commission. Agreed?

Good job. At this point we all are sitting on “A’s” for the test.

The next question arises out of Acts 1:8.

Luke in Acts 1:8 records more instructions about how to carry out the commission of Jesus philosophically, strategically, and geographically.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Here is the question.

To be faithful to Acts 1:8, which of these is a “must do?”

A.    Witnessing in Jerusalem
B.    Witnessing in Judea
C.    Witnessing in Samaria
D.    Witnessing to the ends of the earth
E.    All of the above
F.    None of the above.

If we are completely transparent, this one is not quite as easy for us in practice. At every level of our denominational system, we wrestle with it. You at the local church wrestle with it, too. Don’t you?

Some of us would quickly respond, “D. witnessing to the ends of the earth.” “D” no doubt occupies the priority spotlight for Southern Baptists these days. And rightly so! The world population reached 7 billion on Halloween. There are billions of people around our world who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In fact, it is estimated that more than a billion (closer to two billion) of these have not even heard the name of Jesus. We hear almost daily about the need. We read and listen carefully when we receive something from the International Mission Board, because we care.

The part that tugs at my heart most is that we have missionaries and missionary families that are serving in dangerous places, risking their lives daily to tell the good news that “in Christ we are new creations.” I believe that they and their ministries deserve our support. So do your BCM/D elected leaders. That is why the General Mission Board will propose in the 2012 budget that we adjust our ratio to send more resources beyond our multi-state region to reach the uttermost parts of the world with the gospel. We also want to be good partners with our SBC brothers and sisters in working toward the 50/50 target suggested by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. If our churches respond to the accompanying challenge in the GCR report, to increase CP giving, we anticipate that by 2020 we could reach our goal of 49/51. At that point we will actually forward more beyond MD/DE than remains here to reach our region. They say a journey begins with the first step. My prayer is that BCM/D churches will embrace the challenge from Frank Page of our SBC Executive Committee to consider taking the step of increasing CP by an additional 1 percent of your total budget in 2012.

Others of us would say, “I certainly think D is important, but what about A?” “After all, the New Testament church is the center of operations. “Put the priority focus here,” some say, “and all else will be taken care of. It all starts in Jerusalem. Reaching my community is first priority.”

I could make a good case for A. I came into this position eleven-plus years ago singing the song that “this convention exists to serve local churches, not the reverse.” I believe that. I believed it long before I starting working for the Convention. I still believe it, because it is true.

I have heard some leaders say, “Invest your priority time and resources in your local church and the resulting growth will have a ripple effect to all of the other parts of the system.” Some have actually pulled back from B, C, and D to more greatly resource A with that objective in mind. Unfortunately, what sounds good on paper does not always work so well in practice. I don’t know of many examples where that strategy has significantly advanced the Great Commission effort. There is truth to the old saying that God blesses us richly when we reach beyond ourselves. The same is true in local church ministry.

Here is the rub for us. I heard it explained so well the other day by Jeff Christopherson, the North American Mission Board’s Vice President for the Northeast. He was explaining the rationale for NAMB’s major shift in giving priority to church planting. He drew a continuum similar to this on the board.

Advocating for the Lost _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _X _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Serving the Church

I have come to the place of deeper understanding and appreciation for the efforts of our North American Mission Board in trying to shift the focus to being a greater “advocate for the lost.” We wrestle with it, too. How much of our effort as a state convention should be directed to serving the needs of our churches and how much of our time and entrusted resources should be directed toward cooperative efforts to tackle lostness in our region? That is not an easy question.

Your church wrestles with it too, don’t you? How much of your efforts should focus on those who are already part of the family of faith, and how much should be directed to reaching those who have not yet discovered gospel truth?

Then there is C. Samaria. The first century Jews had figured out ways to justify skipping C altogether. To me, in the mind of Jesus, Samaria was less geographical and more heart-related. Samaria represented the hard places where people did not really want to go because to do so was messy and unpleasant and costly. Going there made you examine your heart. It often seems convenient to rationalize looking beyond Samaria. It was in the First Century. It still is!

To the same degree that C is hard, B lacks the glamour of A or D. The familiarity of Judea often causes us to move it to a back burner or remove it all together. Because there are so many of us in Judea, we tend to assume that the work in Judea will be cared for by others. But if we diminish or turn off the resources to B, what happens to the tens of thousands of students who are lost without Christ on the campuses of our colleges and universities? What about the poor and the disenfranchised in our cities who are often off the radar of local churches’ ministry screens? What about the open doors for the gospel here and now that represent challenges too big for any one church to enter alone? What about the behind-the-scenes infrastructure that few people see, but from which many benefit and some deem mission critical?

I believe if we asked Jesus what he meant in Acts 1:8, he would respond with, “choose E. all of the above.” All are important to the successful implementation of the Great Commission.

Now, take a look at Question 3.

Which matters most to God?

A. the soul of the 12-year-old boy riding his skateboard two blocks from Ocean City Baptist Church
B. the soul of the 12-year-old boy walking in his suburban neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan
C. the soul of the 12-year-old boy selling drugs on the streets of Baltimore
D. the soul of the 12-year-old boy running down a street in Beirut, Lebanon
E. all of the above
F. none of the above

You know the answer, don’t you? Every soul is important to God. Here is the deal. You don’t have to be a theologian to understand that Jesus was commissioning us to do it all. It was not pick and choose, either/or. Again the answer is “all of the above.” We are to give priority focus to penetrating lostness in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, AND the uttermost parts of the earth. Degrees of involvement and priorities may shift from time to time, but none can be excluded. All deserve our best effort.

Here is another question that needs an answer.

Which of the following is strategic to accomplishing the Great Commission?

A. The missionary who has moved his family to a dangerous mission field
B. The pastor who faithfully leads his church to be on mission
C. The senior believer on a fixed income who gives sacrificially through her local church so that God’s work can be done
D. The secretary in the insurance office in Richmond who makes sure that medical care is readily available to the missionary and his family
E. The state convention worker who works diligently to help plant churches or uses his gifts to help strengthen churches, all the while promoting missions and helping mobilize people to be involved in the work of Acts 1:8.
F. All of the above.
G. None of the above

Missionaries are my heroes. I place them on a pedestal. I have also been back stage. They could not be there if there had not been pastors who often at the point of personal sacrifice encouraged their congregations to faithfully give through the Cooperative Program.

I have known those saints of God who undergirded the work of missions by their faithful praying and giving, saints of God who took seriously the call to faithful stewardship by giving their “widow’s mites” through their local churches.

I have seen the value of a functional infrastructure. The missionary could not be effective for the long term if there was not a network of support to provide the “stuff” they need to operate in a challenging place.

I have visited the International Mission Board building in Richmond. There are compelling murals and maps and pictures and artifacts in the halls, but once you get to the offices and the cubicles there is little glamour.  Instead, you find faithful individuals punching computer keys, filling out forms, making the phone calls, and doing the day-by-day stuff of building and maintaining infrastructure to make the missionary’s work possible.

And I also believe that if it were not for state convention missionaries and associational missionaries who help plant churches, strengthen churches, and persist in raising the banner of cooperative missions, there would be many of those missionaries who would be on their way back home due to lack of resources.

Those who helped build the missions infrastructure through the Cooperative Program in 1925 were geniuses. They were inspired—not biblical-level inspiration—but as inspired by God as much as he inspires anyone to serve through a human-based system. The Cooperative Program enabled an infrastructure to be built that undergirds our Great Commission work in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It works best when all the parts work effectively.

The correct answer is “F.”

At times I am asked, “How much of the budget of the BCM/D is spent on staff and administration?” The tone implies that it is waste or superfluous spending. In my “darker moments,” I am tempted to ask in return, “How much did you spend at your church on your power bill? How about your copier? Did you pay anything to the phone company? What percentage of your budget is spent on salaries?” But rather than wax defensive, it is better just to issue a caution to all of us. Some things are higher profile and seem more strategic. Yet, the less glamorous parts of the infrastructure are still necessary to accomplish the mission.

Paul tried to remind us just how strategic each part is to the total and effective function of the body. I may be a “toe,” but you will know it if I am not functioning!

So what if I ask the question, “Which of these are important to the mission of your church?”

A. your pastor’s salary
B. your church’s light bill
C. your church’s rent or mortgage payment
D. your church’s phone bill
E. your church’s missions giving
F. all of the above
G. none of the above

The answer is also “F. All of the above.” I am not saying that each has equal value. But I am saying that each is important.

Many of my teachers would combine types of questions into a test. For example, there may be several multiple choice questions followed by a discussion question. There was often a high degree of subjectivity in how a teacher graded a discussion question–except in Dr. Stewart’s classes. Dr. Don Stewart was one of those teachers who really shaped my life. There were always discussion questions on his quizzes. And when he graded, he looked for specific things. No matter how many pages you wrote, your answer was not correct unless you included what he was looking for. He was a bottom line kind of guy. He would, in fact, literally underline the wording he was looking for in your answer. No matter how many words you wrote on the test paper, you would be graded down if the words or statements he deemed important were missing.

In the spirit of Dr. Stewart, I am going to ask the final question and give you how I would respond to that question.

Here is the question.

Understanding that we are a people under a Great Commission, and accepting the reality that Acts 1:8 is an “all of the above” directive, and acknowledging that all parts of the body are important to the work, how do we accomplish the “Judea and Samaria” parts of the mandate from Jesus?

I call it the “Mission M/D” (Maryland/Delaware) question. In my thinking our cooperative work in reaching Maryland and Delaware with the gospel fits in the Judea/Samaria parts of the Great Commission. But how do we do that together?

With little amplification, (like a good Maryland crab cake with just enough filler to hold it together) here is how I would respond to the question.

•    We need to take advantage of the new emphasis by the North American Mission Board on Church Planting in general and planting churches in the Northeast in particular, and dream boldly about starting all kinds of churches all over this multi-state region while this level of help is available. This could be and should be our finest hour in MD/DE Church Multiplication.
•    To accomplish this effort and expand our disciple-making influence, we need to greatly lift our focus on church revitalization. With the denominational shift, helping plateaued and declining churches will become more and more a state convention and local association responsibility. We have already taken steps in that direction. We must do more. Healthy churches of all sizes and shapes are important to the work of the kingdom.
•    We need to maintain our focus on reaching our cities. Baltimore and Washington, DC, are “Send America Cities” and will receive priority attention in church planting with the NAMB emphasis. We are strategic partners in both of those efforts. We will continue our focus on Embrace Wilmington through 2012 with some of the initiatives there lasting well into the future. We will officially launch Embrace Silver Spring in our Annual Meeting a year from today. Church planting and church revitalization are both keys to impacting our cities.
•    We must continue to push the envelope on ways to reach one of our largest pockets of lostness—those who are in poverty. We have partnered with Baptist Family and Children’s Services, with Open Door Community Development Corporation, with our WMU, and directly with our local churches to find ways to transform lives and transform communities through the power of the gospel and the power of genuine Christian compassion. There is significant progress in many areas, but all represent only first steps. We can and must do more.
•    We must expand our outreach in our college and university communities. There is more lostness on these campuses per square mile than in any other area of our region. We are making good progress on the campuses that we serve. We added more work on more campuses this year. But we need to reach further.
•    We need to respond to the open doors that God has provided to BCM/D churches as the world literally comes to us. We need to expand our ethnic church planting. We must continue to build an infrastructure that will support the growth and ministry of our language churches like our new Hispanic Training Center that graduated its first class in 2011. We need to continue the support and involvement of MD/DE Baptists in the resort ministry work in Ocean City. The lives of thousands of influential young men and women from 49 countries were touched by this ministry in 2011. We know that it is having impact beyond just what we do while they are here. (A note–This ministry at the end of this year will become the sole responsibility of the BCM/D due to shifts at NAMB. We must keep it going.)
•    We must expand our support of our church leaders in MD/DE. The challenge of the Great Commission grows daily and so do the stresses and pressures upon those who serve here. You know that developing and supporting our ministers and their families has been a priority for us. It will continue to be, but the challenging demands on our leaders and their families demand that we take our strategy to the next level.
•    We must amplify our efforts at assisting in mobilizing Maryland/Delaware Baptists to be Acts 1:8 missionaries. We should learn from the effective outreach that has come about in Southern Maryland through our Disaster Relief teams. As I heard a leader among us say recently, “We must move beyond our understanding of Acts 1:8 Missions as a one week mission trip to viewing it as a lifestyle—a calling to be lived out daily.

We as Maryland/Delaware Baptists are at “test time.” Interestingly enough, you as leaders who sit in this room will make out the tests for your congregation. How you ask the questions is important. You will help prep them for the test. What they hear you say, and what they see you do, will go a long way toward determining how they will answer the questions on the test. Many of the same questions I have asked tonight, hopefully, you will ask them. How you present the questions is important. But how your congregations answer these questions—that is the key to our Great Commission future.

And by the way, I’m not the one who grades the test and neither are you. I think all of us know and understand who will assess our answers and who will give us our grade! Jesus is the Master Teacher. And may his name be glorified in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the ends of the earth.