Thursday, May 13, 2010

GCRTF - Part 3 "The Most Dangerous Component of All"

The June, 2006 Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC will always be a memorable experience for me. That was the year my son, Jay, a pastor in the New Orleans area was nominated for Second Vice President along with North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear, Bob Bender of Colorado, and long time SBC gadfly Wiley Drake of California. I honestly expected Greear, a well known up and coming young pastor to probably win the post. However, due (I think in part) to one of the most hilarious nominating speeches in the history of the SBC, Wiley Drake won the election on the first ballot! It is an experience Jay would probably like to forget.

The bigger surprise of the Convention, however, was the election of Frank Page to the office of SBC President. I had made the tip to Greensboro fully expecting Ronnie Floyd, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas to be elected to replace the outgoing President, Bobby Welch. After all, Floyd was a very popular SBC pastor with a national reputation. He was pastor of a two campus megachurch in Arkansas and his name would be placed in nomination by Johnny Hunt, pastor of the great First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. This convention saw five men actually nominated for the position. This was the first highly contested SBC Presidential race since Jim Henry had defeated Fred Wolfe in 1994. Also in the mix in 2006 was the Jerry Sutton, highly respected pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.

Now, I do not consider myself an expert on all things SBC, but since coming over from another Baptist denomination in 1980, I had tried to stay aprised of the goings on in SBC life. Frank Page was a relative unknown to me. I only knew that he was pastor of a large church in Taylors, South Carolina. In my humble opinion, at that time, I thought the race would come down to the wire between Floyd and Sutton. Perhaps there would even have to be a second ballot runoff. However, the messengers to the convention seemed to be stunned when the results of the first ballot were reported:

  • Page had won with 50.48% of the vote

  • Floyd was a distant second with 24.95%

  • Sutton, third with 24.08%

The reason for the upset? I believe it was twofold. The first factor in Page's favor was the tremendous nominating speech given by the late Forrest Pollack, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Florida. Pollack's speech not only revealed much about Page, but also emphasised what I believe to be the most important factor in Frank Page's election over the other two well known candidates. Page pastored a church that gave more than 12% of its undesignated receipts to the SBC Cooperative Program. The other two churches led by Floyd and Sutton gave much lower percentages. Granted, these churches gave tremendous amounts of money to various mission works (as did FBC Taylors) but the Cooperative Program giving was woefully low in comparison.

Cooperation has long been the key word in Southern Baptist work. The giants of our Convention of the past understood the simple truth that we can all do more together than we can do individually. That is why local autonomous churches voluntarily join together to cooperate in local associations, state conventions, and the world wide work of the SBC. 85 years ago, the Cooperative Program of giving came about for the same reason. The concept was simple, but powerful in its scope. Each local church would give its own determined amount (usually a set percentage) of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. That offering would be sent on to the respective state convention. The state convention would keep a self determined percentage for the mission work of that convention, and send the remainder of the local church's Cooperative Program gifts to the Executive Committee in Nashville, to be distributed among the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. The amounts sent to each entity, would be budgeted as determined by the local churches duly elected "messengers" to the SBC Annual Meeting.

Presently, here is how the Cooperative Program monies are divided among the various SBC entities in the SBC Allocation Budget:

  • 50% to the International Mission Board for world missions

  • 22.79% to the North American Mission Board

  • 22.16% for theological education (with 21.9% being divided among the six SBC seminaries - in a formula based on full time enrollment and 0.24% supports the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives

  • 3.4% for the SBC Operating Budget/Facilitating Ministries

  • 1.65% to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

(LifeWay Christian Resources and Guidestone Financial Services are self supporting)

Part of the monies that go to the North American Mission Board are sent back to some of the state conventions as set up in cooperative agreements between NAMB and the state conventions to help with church planting, collegiate ministries, etc. The Cooperative Program has served this Convention well for 85 years as arguably the greatest mission funding program ever known to Christendom. It allows churches such as my own to support more than 10,000 missionaries at home and abroad as well as helping keep theological education affordable for the students in six seminaries!

Our church is larger than some SBC churches and smaller than others. Our Annual Church Profile for 2009 shows a total of $41,766. in total mission expenditures. Of that amount, $25,673 (10% of our undesignated offerings) go to the Cooperative Program. The rest is given to other causes such as 3% to our local association; along with designated offerings to "those three women" - Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Ola Cox (State Missions); SBC Disaster Relief; regular support for two national pastors at SBC churches in the Philippines; as well as local mission projects in our state and city.

Let me say loud and clear that I do not believe that 10% Cooperative Program giving should be a litmus test for what should be considered as a "cooperating" SBC church, but I think it is a good place to start. In our personal giving, Linda and I start with 10% to our local church, and then add designated amounts for offerings for other projects or ministries. I share that vision in any church that I lead, and I believe it is a good pattern for our SBC giving as well. Baptist churches are indeed autonomous and can give however and wherever they choose to outside causes, but for my money there is much more "bang for the buck" through the Cooperative Program.

To me, the most odious (and I believe, dangerous) part of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Final Report is the language on Component Three- "Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving". While the Task Force gives lip service to the Cooperative Program in this article (and also in Component Six) it coins a new moniker, "Great Commission Giving". This Great Commission Giving would encompass the Cooperative Program, but also ALL mission giving into the same category - for the purpose of "Celebrating" the amount given by local churches.


Pardon my cynicism, but to this pastor the only reason for such language is to divert attention from the paltry percentages given to the Cooperative Program by some huge churches, whose pastors often seek and hold high offices in our Convention. That is precisely what happened in Greensboro in 2006. The messengers looked at the Cooperative Program giving of the churches whose leaders were running for President, and Frank Page won overwhelmingly. As someone recently pointed out in a Baptist Press article, "What has changed since 2006?" Do we as a Convention of more than 40,000 churches think any less of the Cooperative Program than we did four years ago? I think not! As I pointed out in an earlier post, I am not qualified to judge motives, but one has to wonder. If it looks like a duck...etc.

Furthermore, "celebrating" the dollar amounts of "Great Commission Giving" is, probably unscriptural in it's very language. Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount regarding the dangers of flaunting our giving. Again, I don't believe that 10% to the Cooperative Program should be a litmus test as to who is a "good" Southern Baptist, but I do think it is a telling statistic, when churches with budgets 5 times larger than the budget of my own state convention give less than 5% to the funding mechanism which best exemplifies our historic commitment to cooperation.

At the Annual Meeting in Orlando next month, I will be listening closely as to how these recommendations will be presented to the messengers for a vote. It they are considered separately I will cast my ballot against Component Three. If taken as a whole for a vote, I will reluctantly vote against the entire report, and urge my friends and fellow messengers to do the same. I believe the Cooperative Program is THAT important to the continued success of the Southern Baptist Convention in carrying out the Great Commission. That is one pastor's opinion "For What It's Worth".

(I will address my concerns about Components Four and Five in an upcoming post)

1 comment:

pastorleap said...

Good thoughts C.J. I appreciate you sharing your opinions and thoughts as a concerned pastor. While I embrace the spirit of the GCR and really like a lot of what I read in the final report, I too share some reservations and concerns. I haven't yet decided exactly how I will vote, but I continue reading, praying, and trying to understand so that I can make an informed vote rather than merely voting for personalities or rhetoric.

You do know though, that there will be many who are not happy that you have voiced your thoughts on this matter. I have learned that the hard way. To have a voice and to make it heard is really not that popular in SB life today. So I appreciate your boldness to share. Hope all else is well in the booming metropolis(es) of Ashland/Huntington! And hope your health is still well!