Most Baptists have an opinion about the Cooperative Program (CP), and most of us are convinced that our opinion is the correct one. For decades we have discussed its value, what percentage (or amount) churches should give and where the money should go.
The conversation has grown a little strained recently when we talk about the ratio of CP giving through state conventions and how much of the money should go to the international mission field.
It’s easier to talk about it than it is to apply the basic principles of cooperation in a balanced strategy in our congregations, state conventions and national entities. Again, the abundance of opinions tends to complicate the matter. Add to the equation the fact that some speak to the issue before they have all of the facts in hand.
In his book, Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, David Dockery said, “The Cooperative Program is a cooperative partnership whereby churches across the Southern Baptist Convention combine gifts, given to and through state conventions and passed on to the national convention, for the purpose of supporting missions, education, benevolence efforts and other ministries. These gifts are employed to send and support missionaries, equip pastors and church leaders, enable educational entities, and address benevolent, social, ethical and moral issues. The Cooperative Program is the glue that pulls together 44,000 Southern Baptist congregations for the purpose of advancing the [g]ospel around the world.”
Following this definition of CP, Dockery’s next paragraph presses for the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17. How appropriate! CP is a unity thing! It is a partnership; an act of cooperation; a team effort. He said Jesus prayed that His followers will experience a spiritual unity that exemplifies the oneness of the Father and the Son.
“We must work, pray, give and go – and do so together in the spirit of Christian unity,” said Dockery. CP is designed to build a platform for workable unity in our calling.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president Ronnie Floyd joined the conversation recently with his column, “Where’s the money?” He said, “Each of our churches must evaluate continually what we are doing to partner with our Southern Baptist Convention in reaching the world for Christ. We do this through our gifts through the Cooperative Program. How much a church gives through the Cooperative Program is a church’s decision. Each church is autonomous, and we honor their decision.
“However, since we are Southern Baptist churches, we also believe in the value of partnership. I believe each church can do more to fund the vision of reaching the world for Christ. What we give through the Cooperative Program is important.”
Floyd added, “If we devalue the Cooperative Program, then we undermine the financial engine that impacts our work together statewide, nationally and internationally.”
That raises a question. How would we devalue CP? I can think of a dozen ways this might happen. We might trivialize the power of CP by approving a token gift through our annual church budget. We might devalue CP by putting the focus on ourselves and lose the vision of CP’s potential. Or we might elevate only one CP ministry partner and minimize others.
As a pastor for 34 years, I admit my prejudice. I believe strongly in CP. Most of the churches I served gave at least 10 percent to missions through CP, and they gave very generously above that to many special offerings that supported state missions, national missions and international missions.
I believe in the value of CP in the ministries of the states. In the interest of full disclosure, the Biblical Recorder receives CP dollars in support of our ministry to the churches. However, I fully supported CP before I began serving as editor of the Recorder.
I suspect that many Baptists do not know the breadth of Baptist ministries in their state. They may have no idea how much value our state convention staff adds to the ministry of churches, pastors, staff, Bible teachers, secretaries, youth, children, volunteers, treasurers, committees, missionaries and musicians.
State convention staff are not desk huggers. By necessity, there are some who serve us administratively from the confines of a computer and office desk. However, most of them give face-to-face time and generous amounts of telephone time to share from the wealth of their experience or to point us to others who have earned trophies from the “school of hard knocks.”
I am not in a position to address what is happening in other states, but I know first-hand what God is doing in North Carolina. The Baptist Children’s Homes of N.C. is the best and largest ministry of its kind in the nation. They now have a five-year track record of success with a new ministry that serves senior adults through the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry or NCBAM.
The dozens of ministries of N.C. Baptist Men make it the largest of its kind across the SBC. They set the pace for disaster relief in North America. Fruitland Baptist Bible College continues to make a powerful impact on church leadership in the Southeast with overwhelming numbers of pastors and staff serving the churches of N.C. and S.C.
Baptist conference centers like Caswell, Caraway and Truett are reaching children, teenagers and adults in powerful ways all year long. The church planting and church revitalization ministries in our state are second to none in the SBC. We support a retooled campus ministry that is making great strides in impacting college and university students. Smaller amounts of CP dollars assist in the work of the Baptist Foundation, Baptist Hospital and the Biblical Recorder.
All of these ministries are worthy of CP support. Weighing the valuable investment they make in Kingdom work, we really can’t afford to minimize their assignment in the Great Commission. We cannot underestimate the men and women who lead these ministries and serve us with their unique ministry skills or pretend we can grow in ministry without them.
There are important mission tasks and ministry functions that state conventions do that are not fulfilled by the any other SBC entity.
Floyd’s column raises a valid question, where’s the money that is needed to support ALL of the ministries that Southern Baptists are passionate about? He said the money is in the pockets of God’s people and in the pockets of the churches. It’s that simple. This is not a time to cut ministry budgets. It’s time to step up and fund Great Commission ministries.
We cannot with integrity call for state conventions to move CP gifts to a 50-50 ratio without also calling Southern Baptist churches to budget 10 percent of the church’s undesignated receipts for CP. Churches must get on the team. Unity is valuable in the advance of Christ’s Kingdom.
There was a time when the desired standard for each church was 10 percent. No requirement is placed on autonomous churches, but the hope is that the desire to work together for the sake of the Great Commission will be stronger than the temptation to sustain an inwardly focused local church ministry.
I believe CP giving makes a profound statement about the value of teamwork. The team player is not making a statement about individuality. The team player unselfishly looks at God’s big picture.
Goals are reached when we set high standards. We need to aim for our best – generosity is the standard of our Lord. Let’s not aim below it.
At the 2015 annual meeting in Greensboro, messengers will vote on a 2016 CP budget. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) has increased CP allocations that are sent to the Southern Baptist Convention by one-half percent each of the past 10 years. This year the increase is a strong three percent jump. This is possible because state ministries have been trimmed as sacrificially as possible without completely collapsing important ministries.
The BSC staff and volunteer leaders are to be commended for their hard work on the 2016 budget. They are leading us with passion for the Great Commission. N.C. Baptists should pass the budget and move ahead to call our church members and attenders to give obediently to the ministry of the local church.
Then pastors and church leaders must call their churches to step up CP giving. Everybody wins when generous, obedient giving is our standard practice.
I pray that N.C. Baptists will be a model of cooperation, generosity, unity and passion for reaching the lost in the mission field called “my neighborhood,” in the mission field called “North Carolina,” the mission field called “North America” and the mission field called “the nations."