Another practical consideration is the matter of efficiency. Where there is a lack of unity among Christians, there is a duplication of efforts. Every local congregation feels that it must have certain structural and procedural components, just as do every mission board and every Christian college and seminary. The result is a great waste of resources of the kingdom of God. Consider as an extreme example a town square in the Midwest. On each side of the square stands a church building. All four of the buildings are old, inefficient to heat, and in need of repair. The size and budget of all four congregations are modest. The pastoral salaries are small. Consequently, the congregations are habitually served by either young, inexperienced pastors or older men well past their peaks. Mediocre programs in such areas as Christian education are the norm. But what is most distressing is that the services, messages, and programs of the four congregations are virtually the same! A visitor would find few significant differences among them.I, for one, (and I believe Erickson would be in agreement) am not in favor of organizational ecumenism. Doctrinally, we would have to make too many compromises with the essentials of the Gospel. However, whenever working more closely with other Christian groups does not obligate us to compromise on essential doctrine, and it would help us to be better stewards of Kingdom resources, I think we have a duty before God to do what we can to help this become a reality.
An efficiency expert would regard this situation as a great misuse of resources. Instead of four small struggling churches, it would make better sense to merge them into one congregation. The four properties could be sold and the new congregation relocated to an efficient structure. A staff of competent specialists could be engaged at appropriate compensations, and missionary giving could be increased as a result of the reduced overhead. What we are advocating on the local level would be highly desirable on broader levels as well. While some people may regard this suggestion as an application of the General Motors mentality to the work of the church, it is in fact a matter of good stewardship of Christian resources.
The problem is we are not all in agreement as to just what constitutes compromise on essential doctrine, nor on what are the best ways to be wise stewards of the resources with which the Lord has entrusted us. Some studies, for instance, seem to indicate that small churches many times are more effective at reaching new people than big ones. Working with other groups, with different traditions, and core values, can get messy, and often causes us to lose more in overall “efficiency” than what we gain by joining efforts.
The easy solution, in the light of such obstacles, is to just “close our eyes” and keep on with the “same ole same ole”: what we already know and is familiar to us. But I do not believe the Lord would have us opt for the easy way out. The Cooperative Program is a way of being good stewards with Kingdom resources with which most all Southern Baptists feel quite comfortable. Inasmuch as it indeed helps us to be better stewards, I believe we should continue to support the Cooperative Program.
But, by the same token, much cooperation with other groups outside of strictly Southern Baptist circles, also helps us to be better stewards of Kingdom resources. This is a principle that IMB leadership has recognized in New Directions and the emphasis on working with other Great Commission Christians.
I believe this general principle has many implications for the way we do ministry. In future posts, I would like to comment on several of these. What do you think? Are there ways in which this principle affects the way you do local ministry? What about the way the SBC, through the IMB, NAMB, and other agencies, does ministry?