Could we be doing more to prioritise giving to Home Mission? Here's a plea from a Baptist minister
“They kind of shrug their shoulders and assume Home Mission will always be there for us.”
I was in conversation with another Baptist minister who, like me, is reliant on Home Mission. This is what he often heard about Home Mission from the many people in churches near him.
Yet will it always be there?
Home Mission started in the late 1700s to support itinerant preachers, firstly in Cornwall, but soon spread to other areas. We mostly know it as the element of Baptist life that supports small churches or pioneer ministry. It is a vital part of church life because it also supports our Associations and enables the Support Services Teams to exist. Our entire denomination depends on Home Mission, and there is an assumption that it will just always “be there” as my colleague suggested.
But Home Mission will not always be there if we do not nurture it and make sure it is prioritised in our church communities. Giving to Home Mission has been gradually declining for a number of years.
It is a sad fact that although five per cent is the recommended *minimum* amount, it is well known in Baptist circles that many churches are not even close to that, while some of the wealthiest churches in our denomination often pay next to nothing. Often the reason is that they have other things they give to. Worse still they say too much goes to Support Services and next to nothing on mission.
And yet we are a denomination that is based on interdependence, not independence. While no one from outside the church can tell us what to do - that's a matter for the members' meeting - at the same time we are in covenant relationship with other local and national (and through BMS, international) Baptist churches. So why do we not make this a priority of our giving?
As a pastor of a Home Mission church myself, I cannot always understand the pressure of larger church leaders with staff and a team to lead. The pressure I have is different. We are looking, despite a generous Home Mission grant, at a £3k loss in 2021, which we can just about cope with, but not for long. The pressure is that when our small savings run out, then the only thing left to cut is me! Ministry is the biggest outgoing in our church's budget. The pressure on me is knowing that unless Home Mission is maintained for next year (there is no guarantee) then redundancy is the only option. That may mean moving to a new house, school, social support group, which is a massive pressure on any family.
The stipend is meant to mean that I can work without worrying about money, but every month the financial report comes into my inbox and I check to see if we are on track, or often below, where we should be. It makes long-term planning almost impossible, and although we have no desire to leave, we are on the settlement list “just in case”, which never allows us to feel secure in our ministry.
The sad thing is while many Home Mission churches struggle to even cover the basic stipend there are many many more who are ready to pay way above stipend. Many cite the pressures of leading larger churches (listed above), but why do we think that ministers in smaller churches do not have equal pressures?
Covid has left many of our churches poorer, maybe through loss of giving or rental income. Some churches have finally had to tap into the rainy-day savings they have been storing up for years. But Baptist churches have been in decline for a while, and the rainy day is not Covid! If we are not careful smaller churches, urban churches and rural churches are going to disappear over the next decade, and Baptist churches will simply not exist outside middle-class suburbs. Is that really what we want to happen?
So, what could we do?
All churches should see 5 per cent as the minimum gift, but should aim to exceed that gift if they can
Churches which pay above the standard stipend could give an additional gift equivalent to the extra they pay (so if they pay their minister £4k above stipend - Home Mission gets £4k)
Churches with significant savings (rainy-day) could start distributing those funds to other local churches, rather than hoarding for themselves and “their” needs. The rainy day is here!
Legacy gifts to churches could be used to benefit other local churches (if the terms of the legacy allow)
Churches could add an item on the gift aid (standing order) forms for people to require a percentage of the money they are given to be go directly to other local churches
The question is - why should any church do any of these things? The answer is simple: the money given is not “yours”, it is God’s. Generosity is encouraged by Paul. We do not serve money, but Jesus, and that money is given to the church, first and foremost, as a method of blessing those who do not have money. It's how Baptists support each other and is enabling ministry and mission in many places. Please consider increasing your giving to Home Mission.
Image | Rafael Shiga | Unsplash
The author is a Baptist minister who submitted the piece for inclusion in The Baptist Times. The minister has asked to remain anonymous
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