Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cooperative Program missions and the Patagonian Toothfish

I was attending a state convention event recently when the leader introduced himself to the assembled group by saying, “I am your state convention missionary.” He did a good job handling the event and, though I don’t know him personally, I’m sure he is a dedicated servant that provides skilfull assistance in his area to the churches in my state; however, he is certainly not a missionary by any reasonable definition of the term.

Sure, no one has a copyright on the term “missions” and may apply it to any and every task and to any and every denominational employee that they wish. Southern Baptists at every level have long understand that “missions” is a money word. Pastors are fond of classifying as much of their church’s budget as “missions” spending even if it strains credulity. Associational “missions” may not include anything but the usual Associational Missionary or Director of Missions, secretary, meetings, and the like but chances are it will still promote itself as a “missions” endeavor. State conventions keep about 64 cents on each Cooperative Program dollar for generic “missions” and Cooperative Program promotion is saturated with “missions” terminology even though only nickels and dimes on the dollar eventually make it to the North American and International Mission Boards.

I understand all this but as a pastor I also understand that if everything is “missions” then we have defined the term out of any meaningful definition.

I understand that Lottie Moon dollars that put people in World A countries where their job is to work with people who have little opportunity to hear the Gospel are vastly more valuable in Kingdom work than Cooperative Program dollars that fund a skilled specialist in a narrow area of work with established churches in the Bible belt. There is a need for both but in the light of the Great Commission the former should be seen as a much greater priority.

But what do I know and what’s all this have to do with Patagonian Toothfish? Well, some clever trade association executive pondered the fact that no matter how delicious that fish tasted, no one is going to sit around and say, “Hey, let’s go out to eat and order some Patagonian Toothfish!” So, the idea arose to rename the fish “Chilean Sea Bass.” Smart move. The fish became so popular that it has been just about killed off.

Find a term that sells and great things may happen. “Missions” sells to Southern Baptists but with churches sending less of their offering plate dollars to the Cooperative Program we may have oversold it.

1 comment:

foxofbama said...

I thought your Patagonian Sea Fish was gonna turn out to be a Great White Whale, but it was a Chilean Sea Bass instead.
Had it been the Great White, then you were in sync with a most interesting PBS American Experience last week on the Great White and Melville's Moby Dick.
And from that, our friend Marshall Frady found a metaphor for Billy Graham.
Hope things otherwise are well