The Florida Baptist Convention’s (FBC) unprecedented decision to begin giving more of its Cooperative Program (CP) dollars to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) than to the state signals a sacrificial commitment to the Great Commission, newly elected executive director J. Thomas Green told Baptist Press.
Green, who began serving June 8 as executive director/treasurer of the FBC, has pledged beginning in 2016 to send 51 percent of CP gifts to the Southern Baptist Convention for international and national causes, and to keep only 49 percent within Florida for Baptist missions and ministries.
“I believe we are in the midst of an amazing moment of ministry for the church and we must respond in a sacrificial manner,” Green said. “The Great Commission and the Great Commandment compel us to respond with generosity in order to reach the world for Christ.”
If 2016 CP gifts received in Florida mirror the 2015 budgeted amount of $28,800,000, the funding shift would spell an additional $2.88 million in gifts to the SBC Executive Committee, with $1,445,000 of the increase going to the International Mission Board, and $656,000 to the North American Mission Board, according to state figures.
“The importance of our unified efforts as churches in missions defines us as Southern Baptists,” said Green, whose pastorate First Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., gives 10 percent of undesignated gifts to the CP. “The critical nature of this hour cannot be missed and the tremendous opportunity needs to be embraced. The scriptures teach us that unto whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).”
Green plans to accomplish the change by steering the FBC toward “regionalization and personalization” in ministry, he said, while remaining “deeply committed to reach Florida and beyond with the gospel.”
The funding redistribution “will lead us to downsize our convention staff,” Green told BP, but will not decrease the emphasis on state ministry and missions.
“This decision does not cause our State Convention work to cease or be weakened,” he told BP. “The resources that remain in Florida will by majority be reinvested in our local churches. The Florida Baptist Convention supports local churches in their mission of making disciples of all the nations. We are deeply committed to reach Florida and beyond with the gospel.”
Southern Baptist Convention leaders have applauded Green for the move, which goes beyond the CP’s 1925 founding recommendation that states divide CP receipts equally between the states and the SBC.
“Those of us on the national level know that such a move will come with great sacrifice, but hopefully with great support from the churches,” said SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page. “We are hoping and praying that Florida Baptist churches will respond in increased support of this new and exciting direction. We believe that they will and that we will see great days ahead for God’s kingdom.”
Florida is not the only state convention making sacrifices for Kingdom building, Page said.
“Our state convention partners have been working hard in these last decades to become even more relevant to their churches and involved in doing Great Commission work. Many have strategically reduced their own staffing and ministries,” Page said. “In fact, the overall number of state executive employees has dropped from over 1,700 to 1,350 in just a few years. They are working diligently to become more focused and responding to the churches’ desires to see even more funds released to reach the nations for Christ.”
The change will have an even greater impact on national and international funding, because the state will no longer retain four percent of CP gifts to cover shared expenses, but will establish a true 51/49 split, said Florida Baptist Convention President James Peoples.
The 51/49 funding redistribution will give churches in Florida confidence that their CP gifts are being used wisely, said Peoples, who pastors Trinity Baptist Church in Keystone Heights, Fla.
“I believe this step of sacrifice and generosity will speak clearly to the churches of our state and national convention,” Peoples said. “I think this move will strengthen the desire to give through the Cooperative Program because it will raise people’s confidence that those funds are being wisely utilized to make the deepest impact for spreading the gospel and making disciples of the nations. Everyone wants their investments to be the most effective, and this move will strengthen people’s confidence.”
The move can also encourage other states to follow suit, Peoples noted.
“The impact of this move will have huge ramifications, not only in Florida, but across the SBC as a model for ministry,” he said. “If a true 51/49 split (with no shared ministries offset) can be accomplished in Florida, it can happen in any State convention.”
North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell praised Green for his leadership.
“I’m grateful for this bold step Tommy is leading Florida Baptists to take and I think churches in Florida will respond positively,” Ezell said. “This kind of leadership challenges all of us to think about how we can make greater sacrifices so more people can hear the gospel. I am looking forward to working with Tommy and continuing to partner with Florida Baptists as we make the most of every opportunity to push back lostness in North America and around the globe.”
International Mission Board President David Platt called Green’s leadership “courageous and visionary.”
“His heart for the local church on mission from North America to the nations is evident not only in the past, but in his present commitment to move Florida Baptists to give over half of Florida's state convention budget to national and international SBC ministries and mission by 2016,” Platt said. “I praise God for his courageous and visionary leadership that I trust will mobilize thousands of Florida Baptist churches and over 1 million Southern Baptists in that state to be more involved than ever in the spread of the Gospel around the world.”
R. Albert Mohler, president of both Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the SBC Council of Seminary Presidents, expressed excitement at Green’s initiative.
“I am particularly excited about Dr. Green's plan for the future of the Cooperative Program for Florida Baptists and for Southern Baptists around the world,” Mohler said. “I know that Southern Baptists at large, and Florida Baptists in particular, will be very excited about his vision and committed to his leadership.”
Mohler praised Green as a “pastor’s pastor,” and a faithful “Baptist statesman.”
"Dr. Green served so effectively as chairman of the board of trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I know I speak for the entire Council of Seminary Presidents in expressing our commitment to his leadership in Florida and our encouragement to him as he takes on this massive new responsibility,” Mohler said. “Personally, as a Florida native whose life was so greatly shaped by the Florida Baptist Convention, I find particular encouragement in this news."
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, offered similar praise.
"From years of knowing him, I knew that Tommy Green was a bold, wise, courageous leader. But even I was surprised that anyone was able to accomplish such a forward-looking move in less than a day in office,” Moore said. “Florida Baptists are a model to the rest of the nation, and this move is a great encouragement for Southern Baptists of all sorts all over the country."
Green was elected as FBC president in 2003 and 2004 and is completing a three-year term on the State Board of Missions, where he also served from 1999-2005. During his first tenure he was twice elected board president, holding the office from 2000-2002.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)