This post is a continuation of  an exercise in which students articulated some decisions that future leaders of the SBC might want to consider -not that seminary students know anything.   In this post, let’s look realistically at the most sacred and successful mission giving plan of the last century. A question is, why is the Cooperative Program struggling, particularly among young church leaders? Let’s speak the unspeakable and just innocently ask some questions about a tweaked version of CP.

Cooperative Program Plus – Please Don’t Kill The Messenger- I’m Just Asking Some Questions

There is a strong likelihood that even raising this subject could result in thirty lashes (to me) – so let me be very clear – I’m Just Asking Questions (have I said that enough yet?)

Could it be that for the Southern Baptist Church of Tomorrow, our insistence on Cooperative Program Giving alone and a demand for singular loyalty to the CP will accelerate a downward trend in SBC mission giving?  I’m not sure about this, but I am simply asking the question. The correct SBC position on this subject is that if we allow direct giving to specific SBC causes, we will undermine the CP which will lead us to that old, heaven-forbid, societal mission giving system that we baptists rejected years ago.  Maybe we should stop the conversation right now and agree not to discuss this further because even talking about it could erode our Cooperative Program?

Let’s just remember that most of our churches not only give to the CP but we also give to those, heaven forbid, mission societies that support some of our children and grandchildren who are serving through some of those societies.  In fact, many of our pastors have created their own 501.c3’s which are appealing directly to us and to our churches for support just like those old mission societies that we were supposed to have left behind for the Cooperative Program.  So maybe the question should stop here because any church that gives outside of the CP, Lottie, and Annie are actually undermining the Cooperative Program?

Let me raise another question, maybe the CP has already been undermined? Maybe it has already been undermined NOT by SBC churches giving directly to the IMB or NAMB or a particular SBC church plant, or a particular Missions Project?  Maybe it has been undermined rather by our giving to other well marketed NON-SBC causes, eg.:  Compassion International, Gideons, Samaritans Purse, Awanas, Child Evangelism, Pioneers, YWAM, etc?  I’m just asking the question.   Maybe we need to look at the giving habits of all of our churches and accept some realities, such as the idea that Southern Baptist churches give out of more than one mission pocket?  Maybe we should consider the unspoken reality that even our most loyal Southern Baptist churches DO NOT GIVE EXCLUSIVELY to the Cooperative Program? Don’t most of us give to Gideons once per year at least?  Maybe that’s too bold of an assertion?

It just seems to me that no matter how much we call some churches disloyal, an awful lot of First Baptist Churches and Podunk Holler Baptist Churches give to non-SBC entities.  Maybe, just maybe our own churches have already undermined CP in the dark of the night during those late budget meetings at churches throughout the country?  When Aunt Sallie’s niece is going on a mission trip with Campus Crusade, don’t we quietly donate to it even though it is not a Southern Baptist Mission Trip falling under any SBC agency.

Assuming that might be true, why do we make the multiple-channel giving reality a forbidden subject within our own house? People like to give to specific projects and to missionaries, and to causes but officially we cannot encourage churches to give to specific SBC missionaries, church plants or projects on the mission field. That highly personalized giving would undermine CP, even though it is what we do outside of our in-house SBC world. I’m confused aren’t you?

Since we tell SBC churches that there is only one way to give (CP), maybe all we have done is close the conversation?  Maybe by shutting off communication on the matter what we have actually done is to open church budgets to every other non-SBC entity which says, “You can give to us and here is why you should.”  So in essence, perhaps even our strongest SBC churches who give more than 10% to CP might also be found to be giving to Child Evangelism, or Awanas, or Campus Crusade, or some other worthy non-SBC entity?   I’m not saying they should not give to those good causes but if you think about it, that is money that could have been sent to the Cooperative Program, isn’t it? So any time a church gives outside of the “Walmart” of the SBC are they not undermining the CP?

What if we were to free churches, as the GCR Task Force suggests, by supporting the concept of churches giving directly to Southern Baptist-specific causes in addition to CP?  What if we were to tell them, give to the CP because it is the bread and butter of missions for the SBC, but also, if you see a missions need that is going unmet, by all means please fund that directly through gifts to that entity?  Instead, we tell people to give ONLY to CP, as well as to the two nice ladies (Annie and Lottie.)  But even regarding gifts to Annie and Lottie, aren’t there strong executive mandates on how often, how loudly, and under what circumstances we can promote them?  Isn’t it against the rules for IMB and NAMB to just go out and blatantly market a particular need?  Would the IMB be sending 600 missionaries home right now if they were freed to market Lottie Moon in the same manner that Compassion International markets to SBC churches and individuals?  What if every missionary were freed to raise one tenth of his or her support due to the financial shortfall?  Would such personalization enable those 600 missionaries to remain on the field? I don’t know if its true or not. I haven’t done the math. I’m just asking the question.

The view that CP, the IMB and NAMB are the greatest instruments for local and global evangelization may be true but for how long? Perhaps CP is in a losing battle for the hearts and minds of future generations of Southern Baptists?  How many young pastors struggle to passionately promote CP?  And for those who do promote it, how easy is it to communicate to your congregation, especially when you try to explain the breakdown of distribution?   Perhaps a result of our steadfastness on this matter is that we never succeed in transferring our parents’ zeal for CP mission support plan to the children and grandchildren of Southern Baptists?  If that is the case, perhaps the end result is that we lose those children to other churches which, by the way, live by that old forbidden societal mission support plan?   In my mind and heart, I don’t want to lose my children to other churches. So what can we do that will make sense to our children?

Thanks to the Lord if our children have learned from us to be people of the Bible; but does the Bible insist that our children remain Southern Baptist?  I want my three girls and their families to be Southern Baptists because I think we have such a rich biblical heritage and I believe in our missions plan and I want my children to value what I value.  Perhaps my children stumble over this CP alone concept as they search scripture for evidence?  Simply but, the Bible does not demand that churches give exclusively to the Cooperative Program?  But the fire in our eyes when we talk about this subject would indicate that someone is committing heresy. Our children just don’t get that.

Honestly, my heart is crying out for the future of the SBC but somehow CP just isn’t resonating as the thing that will get my children excited. Perhaps SBC young adults value Christian community and body life more than CP?  It seems that they value community so much that if they can’t find what they call transparent and authentic community at their parents’ First Baptist Church, they feel compelled to leave our denomination to join a small inner-city church, in spite of leaving CP behind?  Perhaps when they leave our churches the thing that bothers them most about leaving is not the fact that they are abandoning CP?  How many of us grandparents have seen our children and grandchildren go beyond our denomination in order to find something other than what we have to offer? So I’m asking the hard question even though it hurts me to do so, perhaps the hope of our denomination is not found in CP? Please future leaders, ask these hard questions.

Perhaps, our attitude toward the Cooperative Program (and everything else theologically non-essential) is worthy of examination? Maybe, just maybe, some of us died-in-the-wool Southern Baptists have stepped over the line into the veneration of the Cooperative Program and our insistence on it as the exclusive giving mechanism could contribute to our own decline?  Wouldn’t it be just like God, to take the thing that we see as the glue to all that holds us together and take it away from us?  I don’t want that to happen.  But isn’t that just the kind of thing God might do?  Then where would we be as Southern Baptists?

I’m just asking the question, because I know that when I cling too tightly to one thing, there is usually a lesson waiting for me around the corner.  I am not sure if any of this applies to our SBC attitude toward Cooperative Program, but perhaps, maybe?

Perhaps our children in great numbers are attending other congregations because they struggle to see the direct connection between:

CP and God’s Word (because as an exclusive giving method it is a stretch biblically);

CP and global missions (because the percentage that gets to the mission field is so minimal – see Rankin’s posts on this);

CP and missional living (because they perceive us to be saying, “let us do missions for you”); and

CP and winning North American lost people (because if that’s true why are the SBC and her churches in a steady decline?)

I’m convinced that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is not actually the force that is behind change in the SBC.  In my view, they are simply articulating the issues that are burning in the hearts of SBC adult children, our young pastors. The children and grandchildren of Southern Baptist are forcing the questions by voting with their feet and calling our hands on the true purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention. Perhaps the denomination is not only in decline for lack of evangelism, baptism, church planting, and doctrinal integrity?  Perhaps we are also in a decline because we can’t even maintain the interest, much less the passion of our own SBC children.  Maybe all of these declining markers are an indication of our spirituality?  At the same time, the decline in retention might be an indication of the the SBC’s unwillingness to adapt?

So as the new leaders of the SBC work out the new look and feel of the revised SBC, perhaps they should be encouraged, in spite of ridicule and berating from others, to be willing to speak the unspeakable and put any and all non-essential issues on the table?  Perhaps what we need is to find a way to support the Cooperative Program Plus direct giving to our own SBC causes that are suffering for lack of funds?

Perhaps it is not direct giving that will undermine the CP, especially since we’ve already undermined it by giving so generously to non-SBC causes?  Unleashing the restraints on Cooperative Program PLUS giving might enable us to fairly market our own commodities freely – not over against CP, rather in healthy apples-to-apples comparison shopping with other non-SBC service providers.

Stay tuned for the final post on this topic about the IMB and NAMB being the key to winning the hearts and maintaining the interest of the next generation of Southern Baptists.
See Dr. Rankin’s April 19 post which advocates a similar direction.