Donald M. Poundstone and Larry Wilson
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) encourages each of its members and congregations to offer the Lord ongoing prayer for, and financial support of, Worldwide Outreach. Each November, the OPC encourages a denomination-wide special offeringthe Thank Offeringto help support Worldwide Outreach. But what is Worldwide Outreach? Why do we support it?
Worldwide Outreach is part of our responseon the denominational levelto our Lord's Great Commission: "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'" (Matt. 28:18-20). The heart of King Jesus' marching orders to his church is that she make disciples. The church corporately pursues her mandate by going, baptizing, and teaching. She goes by sending preachers (Rom. 10:13-17) and helpers. She baptizes converts into the church (Acts 2:41-42, 47; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). This implies, by definition, that she must plant and build up churches. And since our Lord wants disciples (and not just "decisions"), an integral part of her mission program is providing resources in order to help train and nurture them.
The OPC is committed to fully pursuing our Savior's mandate. One of the ways we do that is by means of our "combined budget," which is set each year by our General Assembly. We have a full-orbed ministry that we call "Worldwide Outreach." Worldwide Outreach is a three-dimensional ministry; it is spearheaded by three distinct program committeesForeign Missions, Home Missions, and Christian Education. The General Assembly elects the members of each committee and holds each committee accountable. Each committee has a small staff to help implement its ministry. We join as fellow workers in participating in this full-orbed mission program by praying for and giving to Worldwide Outreach.
When your church sends money to the Worldwide Outreach ministry of the OPC, what happens to it? The Committee on Coordination (COC) divides it among the various program committees. The General Assembly established COC to support its Worldwide Outreach program. COC distributes contributions according to percentages that the General Assembly has previously set. Each year the General Assembly reevaluates and approves new percentages.
Let's trace the path of a dollar donated to Worldwide Outreach according to this year's percentages. The General Assembly mandates that both COC and New Horizons be funded "off the top." That means that each month COC and New Horizons receive 1/12 of their annual approved budget. This assures both COC and New Horizons of adequate funding. The reason for this is that both are support ministries for the other ministries, and each has relatively fixed ongoing expenses. COC handles finances, does administration, and helps promote the Worldwide Outreach ministry of the church. Even though New Horizons is a ministry of the Committee on Christian Education, it also serves the other committees. It exists to propagate the Reformed faith and to keep people informed of the OPC's ministries and the needs of its program committees.
If giving matches the budget, COC would receive 11 cents of each dollar donated to Worldwide Outreach, and New Horizons would receive 8 cents. COC would then divide the remaining 81 cents of the dollar among the three program committees. It would dispense 36 cents to the Committee on Foreign Missions, which uses the money to serve the OPC in its ministry of sending missionaries around the world to preach the gospel of the kingdom. It would give 34 cents to the Committee on Home Missions, so that it can help OP presbyteries plant biblically Reformed churches throughout North America. And it would assign the Committee on Christian Education the final 11 cents, to use the money to provide biblically Reformed resources and training to help equip members, officers, ministers, and prospective ministers to serve the OPC in its mission of making disciples.
It sounds relatively simple. But what if giving to Worldwide Outreach falls short of the budget? (That happens all too often.) What if contributors designate their gifts just to one committee or just to a favorite cause? (That often happens, too.) Those contributions are of course received and their specific intentions are honored. But how do they affect the combined budget?
Suppose that enough churches and individuals designate gifts to Foreign Missions that it reaches its total annual budget by November. When COC divides the next undesignated dollar, Coordination and New Horizons will get their regular amounts. However, Foreign Missions will have to wait for additional funding out of undesignated giving until the other committees meet their budgets. COC will divide the remaining funds between Home Missions and Christian Education until they reach their budgets, too. The General Assembly has adopted rules or "instruments" for itself, and this procedure is prescribed in the General Assembly's "Instrument E." It is nicknamed "the cap." "The cap" is designed to help all the committees advance together financially, so that the full-orbed mission program of the Church is not crippled. Once everyone has met their budget, any remaining giving to Worldwide Outreach is distributed to the three program committees according to the same percentages as before.
The OPC does this in order to submit to biblical principles. First, our Lord gives us a full-orbed Great Commission, which involves preaching the gospel, planting churches, and training disciples in the whole counsel of God. Second, our Lord calls us to do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40). Third, when the Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle Paul, appealed to the Corinthians for gifts to relieve distressed believers in Jerusalem, he stressed a concern for all parts of the body of Christ: "I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness" (2 Cor. 8:13-14). The combined budget, including "the cap," is intended to sustain each of our ministries so they can reinforce each other as we pursue the entirety of our Lord's Great Commission as a church.
The OPC always honors the wishes of donors to support particular missionaries or ministries that are close to their heart. Instrument E says that designated contributions are to be "allocated to the causes designated by the donors." At the same timegiven the importance of the church, given the oneness of the body of Christ, given the responsibility and authority of the officers of the church, given the full scope of the Great Commission, and given the importance of doing things decently and in orderit is desirable that individuals give through their local churches. And it is desirable that local churches support the ministries of Worldwide Outreach as a whole.
In addition to this ongoing support of Worldwide Outreach by the churches, the OPC encourages a denomination-wide special offering each Novembercalled the Thank Offeringto help support Foreign Missions, Home Missions, and Christian Education. The Thank Offering began years ago to give an added boost to our ministries (beyond the budget). But the Lord so prospered it, and it proved to be such a blessing to the church, that the General Assembly decided to make it an annual event. It really does help the committees to be able to make a strong start in their ministries as a new year begins. Local churches also find it to be a great opportunity for mission and outreach emphasis and education.
Each year, the churches in the OPC contribute to Worldwide Outreach. That is each congregation's "regular giving." The Thank Offering is intended to be "special giving," voluntarily donated over and above that amount, to encourage and enable the expansion of ministries. Regrettably, however, regular giving has often lagged behind budget, turning the Thank Offering into a "catch-up" offering, but ideally this would not be so. When Thank Offering gifts are sent in, COC distributes them according to the same General Assembly-set formula described above.
We don't usually think of money as spiritual "fruit." But in Romans 15:28, the Holy Spirit uses that very word. Paul writes that he has collected money from Gentile converts to help their impoverished brethren in Jerusalem, and that after he has "made sure that they have received this fruit" (niv), he hopes to visit Rome. Jesus Christ rescued these Gentiles, these wild olive branches, and grafted them into his church, the good olive tree. Vitally united to Christ, they bore fruit by his graceincluding the fruit of generous giving.
You see, when the Lord converts someone's heart, he converts his wallet, too. The money Paul carried to Jerusalem was a fruit of Christ's triumph by his Word and Spirit in the hearts of these Gentiles to whom Paul preached. It truly was a "thank offering."
Paul was deeply concerned to make sure that he delivered the money safely and promptly. It was the Lord's money; handling it was a grave spiritual responsibility. The apostle Paul took it very seriously. Similarly, faithful servants of God today will handle God's money efficiently and responsibly, as the apostle did. Church treasurers really help the ministries of the church when they send in their congregation's Worldwide Outreach support in a timely manner. They really help the ministries of the church when they send in the Thank Offering funds for the year by early December. This faithful service, too, is a "thank offering."
God's Word is going forth todayto our covenant children, to our own continent, and to all the nations. God is using Worldwide Outreach as a vital component of his work of gathering his elect and building his church. How can we be anything but generous for the sake of the One who has saved us?
The Rev. Donald M. Poundstone, regional home missionary for the Presbytery of Southern California, is a former member of the Committee on Coordination. The Rev. Larry E. Wilson, a church planter in Indianapolis, Ind., was until recently the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education. Reprinted from New Horizons, April 2004.