Historic juncture envisioned for SBC Cooperative Program
“... [T]oday ... we have the privilege of looking to a historic step forward as Southern Baptists in the work of the Cooperative Program,” Anthony Jordan, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, told the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee Feb. 21.
“... [I]f we follow all the way through with it, it will be a historic breakthrough for the Kingdom [and] for Southern Baptists,” agreed Morris H. Chapman, president of the Executive Committee.
Not since the Cooperative Program was founded in 1925 -- as Southern Baptists’ primary channel for supporting state-by-state, national and international missions and ministries -- have state and SBC leaders joined together in “a definite focus ... and a vision,” as Chapman described it, to strengthen the outreach facilitated by churches’ gifts through the Cooperative Program.
Jordan reported to the Executive Committee that state convention executives during their annual meeting the previous week had adopted a set of recommendations, objectives and strategies to underscore the Cooperative Program, or CP Missions, as vital to Southern Baptist efforts to carry life-changing, life-saving faith in Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
The Executive Committee, in turn, voted to commend the state executives’ report “to all Southern Baptists” and to “respectfully request the state conventions act upon those recommendations” later this year during their respective annual meetings.
The recommendations note, for example, that a “commitment to biblical stewardship” must be promoted, including tithing by church members; Cooperative Program gifts provided by churches to their state conventions; and CP gifts provided by the states to global SBC causes.
“At the heart of everything that is connected to the Cooperative Program,” Jordan noted, “is carrying the Gospel through where we live, through our state, our nation and our world....
“It is going to take us joining together as churches, as pastors and leaders, to tell the story of the Cooperative Program and to put it again in the position of being at the front end of everything we do in missions,” Jordan said, noting that church allocations for CP Missions have fallen from an average of 10.6 of the offerings they received in the mid-1980s to 6.64 percent today.
“We believe it is essential that we re-educate and reposition and re-strengthen and tell the story again and again so that our people understand what the Cooperative Program is able to do,” especially because many who join Southern Baptist churches “come out of backgrounds that have no understanding of the history of what we have done together and what we do cooperatively” through the Cooperative Program, Jordan said.
The Executive Committee, in addition to endorsing the state executives’ report, voted to add stewardship education to its ministry assignments, pending messengers’ approval during the SBC’s June 13-14 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.
The stewardship ministry -– to “produce, develop, publish and distribute products that help Southern Baptists to grow in commitment to Jesus Christ by applying biblical principles of stewardship” -– would be transferred to the Executive Committee from LifeWay Christian Resources, which fielded the assignment as part of the SBC’s restructuring in 1997.
Since then, Chapman told the Executive Committee during its Feb. 20 session, a consensus had emerged that “the Cooperative Program and the issue of stewardship work better when they’re coupled together....
“If we are right with the Lord in the area of stewardship,” Chapman noted, “we will be right with the Lord in the area of the Cooperative Program, and we will become a giving people by biblical standards.”
Chapman also reported that the Executive Committee has leased the name of Convention Press from LifeWay for a five-year period for the publication of books on the Cooperative Program and Baptist history, heritage and beliefs. The first publication will be “When Saints Go Marching In: How Southern Baptists Responded to Katrina” by David E. Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and Norm Miller, a freelance writer and minister in Richmond, Va.
The cover of the book recounts that Hurricane Katrina, which has been called the worst natural disaster on U.S. soil, “presented an overwhelming challenge to public and private relief efforts. Southern Baptists’ Disaster Relief organization, the third-largest in the nation, proved its worth as thousands of yellow-shirted volunteers and hundreds of local Baptist churches ministered to the hurricane victims throughout the Gulf Coast region. This brief account tells how and why Southern Baptists made such a difference.”
The recommendations embraced by the state convention executives and, now, the Executive Committee include:
-- “That every segment of SBC life be encouraged to reaffirm our commitment to biblical stewardship and to our cooperation in the Great Commission/Acts 1:8 mission,” reflecting evangelism that stretches from a church’s community to people who have yet to hear the Gospel throughout the world.
-- “That we strongly encourage each believer to tithe of his financial resources to his local church and encourage all Southern Baptist churches to adopt a missional mindset as they contribute at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program to local and global missions.”
-- “That we encourage the election of state and national convention officers whose churches give at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.” Jordan added: “Our point is simply this: We believe that those who make decisions and those who are involved in the process of leading the work of Southern Baptists ought to be those who are committed to the very things that we’re about. And that is evidenced by their commitment through the Cooperative Program.... [T]hey are the kind of people we want to stand up and lead us and encourage us.”
-- “That each state convention have a plan for forwarding an increasing percentage of receipts to SBC mission causes through the Cooperative Program, with the Cooperative Program Advance Plan being one possible model” as a way to give more through CP.
-- “That the development of quality stewardship training materials with an emphasis on tithing should be given highest priority....”
-- “That the stewardship and Cooperative Program emphases be recognized as integral parts of the compelling SBC vision known as Empowering Kingdom Growth.”
-- “That the 2006 SBC and state convention annual meetings be used to launch an SBC-wide celebration of and emphasis on the Cooperative Program.”
-- “That the Executive Committee in consultation with state convention executive directors develop a definition of what is meant by Cooperative Program monies which would be adopted by the SBC in annual session.”
Among various strategies set forth in the state executives’ report:
-- Teaching stewardship not just in churches but also in SBC seminaries and Baptist colleges and universities, including “financial freedom” from excessive debt and poor spending habits; developing stewardship materials for various cultural groups and for children and youth; creating a stewardship-oriented website for pastors and church leaders, along with an e-mail database for delivering CP updates; and incorporating biblical stewardship into the process of planting new churches.
-- Mobilizing high-profile pastors as “CP Champions” and recruiting churches to pilot a year-long stewardship/Cooperative Program emphasis to build awareness of the impact a church can have via CP Missions in fulfilling the Great Commission. A key CP resource cited by the state execs is the book “One Sacred Effort,” by Hankins and Chad Brand, assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
-- Encouraging state and national publications “to actively include CP stories and information as regular features in every issue.... The CP connections must be clearly stated in each article; we cannot assume our people know all that is accomplished through their participation in the CP.”
-- Linking mission trips with the Cooperative Program: “To help churches understand that volunteer missions should be built on the foundation of their giving through the CP, not in place of it.” Jordan added: “You would say, ‘Well, that ought to happen naturally,’ [that if] somebody does a state mission project or does something nationally or internationally they will immediately understand that the reason the work goes on when they get on their plane and go home is because our missionaries are serving because of our gifts through the Cooperative Program.” Jordan noted: “I wish that were always the case.... [W]hat we want to do is to challenge all of us to make that the essential factor of our mission trips -- that they see that the ongoing work ... is done because of their giving through the Cooperative Program.”
Jordan said the state executives “from the very beginning challenged ourselves that we would do more in extending the dollars that we receive at the state conventions ... to the work that is done beyond our states to the ends of the earth....[O]ur kingdom is not simply our state, but the Kingdom of God is the ends of the earth.”
A seven-member group initiated the process in December 2003, adopting the name Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee. They subsequently invited Chapman and Hankins, then the Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program, to join in. Bob Rogers was added to the group when he assumed the Cooperative Program vice presidency last year after Hankins became the Louisiana convention’s exec.
The Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee report joins two other recently released CP reports:
-- the SBC Funding Study Committee, an 11-member group created by the Executive Committee in 2002, which issued one of its ongoing reports to the Executive Committee Feb. 20 with several recommendations by which SBC entities could give greater visibility and promotion to the Cooperative Program.
-- the Task Force on Cooperation, an eight-member group of four state executives and four SBC entity heads created jointly by the state execs and the SBC Great Commission Council of SBC entity heads in 2000, which issued a report last September, with a number of recommendations paralleling the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee’s report.