David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, at lunch on the field with an international missionary, listened as the man began to weep when speaking of trying to reach 65 million people with a budget of $3,500.
“It really just broke my heart, to be quite honest,” Uth said.
In a Feb. 17 telephone interview, Uth told Florida Baptist Witness that his five years as a member of the board, and his travel to the mission field, served to “open his eyes” to urgent needs and softened his heart in a way that has caused him and the leadership of his church to look at how they contribute to Southern Baptist mission causes.
Uth also serves as the chairman of the search team for the president of the International Mission Board, a position he assumed last month after Tom Elliff, the current president, announced he would step down when a replacement is found.
Elliff, at a press conference following his Feb. 26 announcement, said one of the greatest challenges to the next president will be to address funding for the missionary force at a time when the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ traditional mechanism for funding missions, has declined rapidly.
“We have recognized and realized that if our only funding mechanism to missions is CP, we’re in deep trouble,” Uth told the Witness. “It cannot be the only funding mechanism. In other words, we must open up the windows and doors so that funds can flow to the mission on the hearts of the people of the Southern Baptist Convention from every possible place. And as long as we restrict the giving to the CP, we will face one of the greatest challenges ever because of what we know to be true over the last 30 years.”
Last May, IMB trustees “overwhelmingly” approved a resolution calling on the SBC Executive Committee for an “aggressive, proactive and prompt” response to the challenges of missionary and mobilization and support.
A Baptist Press story reported that the resolution calls on the Executive Committee to begin providing proposals for a change related to the resolution as early as the SBC’s 2014 annual meeting.
Uth, who was elected as the president of the Florida Baptist State Convention in 2010 and re-elected in 2011, and whose church was a leader in giving to the Cooperative Program at that time, told the Witness he and his financial team have met with key SBC leaders this past year as they have “re-evaluated” all of their giving—inside and outside of the church—including giving through the Cooperative Program.
And the “best option,” Uth said he and church leaders decided on, was to separate the amount formerly earmarked and sent to the Florida Baptist Convention to be distributed through the Cooperative Program—and instead disburse two checks—one that is sent to the Florida Baptist Convention to be used in Cooperative Program ministries supported by the state Convention; and another check disbursed to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to be used to send funds to Southern Baptist entities supported by the Cooperative Program at the same percentage provided for in each year’s SBC annual meeting budget.
Uth said First Baptist Orlando will designate these gifts received in 2013, totaling more than $900,000, as “Great Commission Giving,” a designation that was provided for in the report of the Great Commission Task Force and approved by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in 2010.
“I just think it was a wise move on the part of our Convention to say ... we need to recognize Great Commission Giving,” he said.
“Great Commission Giving” is a category listed on the “Annual Church Profile,” a document voluntarily filed by churches each year that collects statistical data (based on the Oct. 1-Sept. 30 church year) such as church membership and contributions to various Southern Baptist causes.
The Florida Baptist Witness and most other state Baptist newspapers do not currently carry a report of Great Commission Giving or other ACP data, but instead rely on actual financial reports of CP giving (based on the calendar year) provided by state conventions when reporting on CP giving. The Florida Baptist Convention anticipates at some point listing Great Commission Giving along with other ACP data, in the Florida Baptist Annual produced by the Florida Baptist Convention and provided yearly to each Florida Baptist State Convention church, according to a Convention spokesperson.
The percentage breakdowns reported for what each Florida Baptist-related ministry receives, such as the Florida Baptist Children’s Home and administrative support related to partnership missions in Cuba and Haiti; and the percentage of resources allocated to Southern Baptist Convention entities such as the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the SBC seminaries and the Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission—are “what we felt like was very appropriate and very fair,” Uth said.
Although it was a “culmination of a lot of things” that finally prompted First Baptist Orlando to make a decision for how it supported missions in 2013, Uth said, it was the entire formula of what his church was giving to SBC causes that created a desire to “see movement and to see a greater increase” in what makes it out of the state and to the mission field.
“That doesn’t mean Florida doesn’t need the money,” Uth said. “We all need the money. But I’m living in Florida. I’m doing everything I can to affect the state where I live and the community where I live and the area where I live—but I’ve got to find a way to help somebody who is half a world away, who is living in the greatest concentration of lostness on the planet and is dealing with such limited resources—I just think my heart, my theology, what I believe about the call today to make disciples of all nations will not let me keep doing what I’ve always done.”
Uth said this decision for this particular period of time in the life of his 16,000-member church is not a one-size-fits-all solution for a nearly 90-year plan for mission support. He suggests churches in Florida and other states “approach this very, very carefully.”
“For some churches, Cooperative Program is great. It’s perfect. It’s the perfect vehicle for them. And that’s why each church must consider carefully what they do, and they’ve got to wrestle with the question and they have to involve their leadership,” Uth said. “I would never recommend to another church to leave the Cooperative Program. I would recommend to a church to take a careful look at how their giving is impacting the world.”
Each church is autonomous, Uth said, and should pray through its decisions and make decisions with good information, regardless of its size.
Defending the decision to support various ministries in ways other than giving directly through the Cooperative Program, Uth said as one who used to pastor churches of 100-200 members, he well understands “the services” offered by associations and state conventions and appreciates them.
“If I didn’t feel that the state convention was legitimate, or that it offered any services that were of value, why would I be sending the amount that I am going to send in the coming years? Because the amount that we are going to send is a strong amount, and I would think that if I don’t see the value of the Convention, I’d just send that money on to the IMB as well,” Uth said. “We are going to do everything we have been doing. It just won’t be at the same levels we have been doing because right now we feel like there’s an incredible opportunity to touch lostness, and we feel compelled at this moment that God has called us to do something and we’re trying our best to do it.”
First Baptist Orlando, according to the ACP report, gave $1,656,530 to Great Commission Giving in 2011; $4,119,119 in 2012; and $986,450 in 2013. Those numbers are reported by the church, according to ACP instructions that vary by state and may or may not reflect a total or partial listing of giving in other categories on the ACP such as Cooperative Program giving, international and domestic mission offerings; giving to various “Great Commission” causes, etc.
According to the ACP report, First Baptist Orlando had undesignated receipts of $15,850,294 in 2011; $16,295,446 in 2012; and $17,340,601 in 2013. The Florida Baptist Convention reported Cooperative Program receipts from First Baptist Orlando of $1,029,999 in 2011; $1,060,000 in 2012; and $83,333 in 2013. The accounting department of the Florida Baptist Convention verified March 17 they received an additional check on March 10 from First Baptist Orlando in the amount of $81,250 that was designated “Great Commission Giving” and will be counted as “Florida only” funds to be disbursed to Florida Baptist State Convention only supported ministries for 2013. These additional funds are not counted as Cooperative Program funds.
Thinking into the future, Uth said he believes serving the International Mission Board has changed his perspective.
“We have as a church, greater resources, because it’s a larger church. To whom much is given, much is required,” Uth said. “We just came to a point where we just said, this may be appropriate for us, and let’s do it. We weren’t mad, we weren’t angry, we were just so compelled to figure out a way: How can we get the funds because the need is so great and the opportunity’s now?”
Uth said he is motivated by the need to take the Gospel to the still unreached, unengaged people groups—and the urgency that if more resources are not available there could be missionaries who are waiting to go who will never make it to the field.
As the chairman of the search committee for the next president of the IMB, Uth said he welcomes prayer for the process.
“Right now the search is the biggest thing and the most important thing on my heart,” he said.
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