Our nation has been brought to its knees financially. Now the question is, "How shall we respond?" What, if anything, will we do differently?
So many in our generation have tried and tested many gods only to discover none of them has the answer to the emptiness in their hearts. If the financial collapse in the United States has reverberated to every nation on earth, could not the fresh wind of God's Spirit reach every continent in the world? It can happen but only when we are serious enough about the things of God to abandon all of self for all of Christ. It can and will happen only when the church is ready to provide real spiritual leadership, to teach Kingdom values to the newborn in Christ, to do ministry, and to fulfill the Acts 1:8 imperative.
The general tenor of our country is one of fear and panic. If people don't find an answer for their panic, these dire predictions can actually become self-fulfilling.
First, we need leaders with the courage of a Joshua to challenge their communities to replace fear with faith. Three times in the opening verses of the book of Joshua, God challenges Joshua to be strong and courageous. Remember, difficult circumstances are the platform on which God reveals His supernatural activity. When we hold nothing back in the face of difficult circumstances, our response will allow God to demonstrate His supernatural power through us. We must take our eyes off the crisis and fasten them on Jesus. Christ alone can bring calm to the fear of the human heart.
Second, our response to this financial crisis provides a wonderful opportunity to saturate ourselves daily with a fresh word from God, praying that He will raise up an abundance of new spiritual leaders whose purpose has not been lost in personal goals, but hunger and thirst to be empowered by God's Spirit. Then and only then will we be prepared to guide the newborn in Christ to an understanding of how to live a holy life where righteousness prevails over godlessness and desperation.
Third, we must keep our ears tuned to the ministries God would have us undertake in order to witness to the power of God to answer prayer and shine light where there is darkness. Will Hall, vice president for news services at the Executive Committee, is a deacon and spiritual leader in his local church. Last month, God gave the pastor of the church, the College Heights Baptist Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, the idea to post a message on the sign in front of the church asking people to text their prayer requests to a cell phone. God even provided the cell phone. The pastor discovered that the church had a cell phone unassigned due to a vacant staff position. They listed that number on their sign and were flooded with text messages from all ages of individuals requesting prayer. And they keep coming. Here's one example of a text message:
Can you please pray for me? My name is ______________________. My 37-year-old son attempted to commit suicide last June. He lived for 12 hours on a machine and I had to make the decision to take him off life support. Now I feel like I have murdered my son. He left behind a daughter and a son. My mother passed away 9 weeks later. My father lives in my home now and is on hospice, suffering from congestive heart failure. My husband is looking at the possibility of closing his business due to the economy and health reasons. We have bills piling up. We have a home in a near-by town that we are trying to sell to pay off our debt. PLEASE PRAY!!
This church has seized the hour by delivering the message of hope through the latest technology. This open door for ministry we are experiencing in our country may not occur again in our lifetime. Whatever you do, take advantage of this crisis by hanging out a sign: Open for Business. Start a prayer hotline, restock your clothes and food closet, offer financial counseling, and share the Gospel with boldness and abandon.
Fourth, we must focus on the Acts 1:8 imperative. We all should have a spending plan that prevents us from spending money we do not have, and budget based on our solemn commitment to accomplish the Acts 1:8 imperative. In a recent seminary class taught by Ken Hemphill, the students were discussing how churches should approach ministry unselfishly. Someone mentioned a church that already had radically cut missions support through the Cooperative Program. Ken said the students became visibly and vocally upset that any church would drastically cut mission spending that had been going beyond its Jerusalem. Ken responded by saying, "Had the church taken a bold stand in support of our missionaries who were pushing back the veil of darkness around the world, the church would have given with sacrificial generosity regardless of the tough times." He later raised the question, "Can you imagine what would occur if multiple churches adopted such severe cuts in supporting our missionaries who go to the ends of the earth?" The financial cost of having to bring missionaries home from the field would only be exceeded by the loss of opportunity to see the Great Commission completed in our generation.
Maybe you are wondering what your church should do now. Here are a few suggestions.
1 Let's replace fear with faith. Don't miss this opportunity. Pray with expectancy. Allow God to demonstrate His power to provide.
2 Base your budget on your mission. Make every line item in your budget essential to the purpose and vision of your church. No item in your budget should be nonessential.
3 Have a spending plan to follow in the event of a lengthy recession. The integrity and wisdom with which the church handles its resources will be a testimony to our people and to the world.
4 Call on everyone to give. If data is accurate, the church doesn't have a spending problem. It has a giving problem. Twenty-five percent of the church attendees give 85 percent of its resources. Too much is at stake in today's Kingdom opportunity to fail to call everyone to the table.
5 Challenge people to exercise "grace giving." Paul's statement that the churches of Macedonia begged for the privilege of giving to the offering for the saints in Jerusalem is a word we need to hear today. We are facing a "financial famine" not unlike that of the first century. I pray that it will be said of us all, during a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).
6 Exercise boldness when it comes to critical components of our cooperative work. We could undo in a few years what it has taken years to put in place when it comes to the deployment of missionaries here and around the world. If we believe we need more missionaries and not less, we must remain the missionary-minded people our forefathers led us to become.
7 If your church has already reduced your budget for this year, reconsider based upon the challenges of Kingdom advance. I'm afraid we have squandered the bountiful resources that God gave us during the last two decades of prosperity. We spent more on ourselves than we did on missions. We consumed God's blessing rather than conveying it to others. The crisis of a lifetime is here.
One final question we have to ask ourselves: Are we willing to miss the opportunity to model what it means to be a child of the King and a citizen of the Kingdom?
Morris H. Chapman is a member of Thompson Station Baptist Church in Thompson Station, Tennessee, and is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee.