The following is a corrected version of the original*
As we move toward the annual SBC meeting in Phoenix, Southern Baptists should be ecstatic with the rehabilitated and entrepreneurial spirit of missions which is passing through our ranks. Indeed, there is a new wind blowing deep and wide across the Southern Baptist Convention and, like the Santa Ana winds of Southern California, you cannot help but notice its presence or escape its effects. Across the country and at every level in our Convention there is what could be described as a fiercely-held, shared allegiance to the high calling of missions among SBC pastors, churches, associations, state conventions, and entities. It feels like a constant wind, gusty at times, breezy at times, but always welling up, always reminding us that change is in the air.
At its February 21-22 meeting, the Executive Committee adopted three recommendations to be considered by the SBC in its annual session this June that use the phrase “the entire Cooperative Program”—��support for the entire Cooperative Program��; ��promoting the entire Cooperative Program��; and ��to promote the entire Cooperative Program.�
At last year’s annual meeting, the SBC adopted a restatement of its one overarching mission: “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations” (www.sbc.net/missionvision.asp). Clearly, this recommendation of the Great Commission Task Force, in God’s timing, assumed a sentinel’s position—vigilant, watchful, standing guard over Southern Baptist ideals, values, convictions, purposes, and methodology. At the end of the day, the Convention collectively and overwhelmingly encouraged Southern Baptists at every level to align themselves behind this vision statement.
This means, ideally, that pastors will align themselves behind this missional vision by leading their churches to impact the world through every means possible, including synergistic cooperation with Convention efforts. It means, ideally, that state conventions, following the lead of their cooperating churches, will align themselves behind this vision to reach their respective states for Christ while participating in and supporting the missions and ministries of the national Convention. It means that the SBC will align itself with the state conventions as equal partners in the harvest, working together to reach the nations, both domestically and internationally, for Christ.
How do we align ourselves to do this? The assembled messengers at the 153rd session of the SBC this past year overwhelmingly gave this answer: �[We] continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach. We affirm that designated gifts to special causes are to be given as a supplement to the Cooperative Program and not as a substitute for Cooperative Program giving� (www.baptist2baptist.net/PDF/ PenetratingTheLostness.pdf, recommendation 3, p. 13).
Historically, the state conventions and the SBC have recognized the need to collaborate in their appeals to the churches to underwrite support for the various state and national ministries. Each appealed to the same set of contributing churches. In order to minimize the number of times the churches were solicited for financial support, the SBC and the state conventions each agreed to promote a unified plan—the “whole” Cooperative Program—to support both state and national missions and ministries.
So, what is the whole Cooperative Program, and how does promoting and supporting it effectively move every SBC church forward in missions, evangelism, and church planting? From the time the Cooperative Program was created, the Southern Baptist Convention and the state Baptist conventions recognized the strategic interdependence required to work together for Kingdom purposes.
The SBC looked to the state conventions to assist the SBC by providing “field” agents for promoting the Cooperative Program. The SBC, in turn, recognized its duty to provide resources and funding to the states in order that the states not bear a financial burden as they worked with the churches on behalf of the Convention to promote �the whole Cooperative Program��support for both state and national ministries. From then until now, the SBC has undertaken to identify and validate the mission and work of each state convention as well as each SBC entity.
From the outset, the SBC recognized its obligation to compensate the state conventions for their partnership in promoting the entire Cooperative Program—state portion and national portion. The First Annual Report of the Future Program Commission (later named the Cooperative Program) made the following provision:
That the state treasurers be asked to take out of the total distributable receipts all expenses before the funds are divided, and remit the amounts due according to the percentages of distribution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention and the State Conventions (1925 SBC Annual, p. 37).
Fast forward to the 2011 annual meeting of state convention Executive Directors, February, 15-16, 2011, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Two pivotal matters were discussed, which, upon their implementation, will move the missional vision of the SBC forward at an astonishing rate!
First, the state executive directors discussed guidelines for “shared ministries.” Historically, state conventions have deducted shared ministry expenses for promoting and receiving Cooperative Program funds prior to dividing CP gifts with the SBC. Based on this historical pattern, they agreed to begin moving toward a 50/50 split of Cooperative Program receipts, after shared ministry expenses have been subtracted, between the respective state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.
This means that each state, after deducting shared ministry expenses, will strive to retain no more than 50% of the Cooperative Program receipts it receives to support state convention missions and ministries, while forwarding the remaining 50% to the Executive Committee for distribution to the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries. In some states this move will take place immediately; in other states this move will take place over time.
Second, this group discussed and voted unanimously to engage a unified, national Cooperative Program theme, logo, and plan of action—a plan to promote the entire Cooperative Program. This means, upon inception of this action, every state convention will “fly under the same banner” in its efforts to promote confidence in and support for the Cooperative Program. This initiative will engage for at least a ten-year period of time. Again, in some states this will take effect immediately and in other states this will unfold over time.
The language “the whole Cooperative Program” or “the entire Cooperative Program” is about alignment! It is about aligning every strategy, every initiative, every pastor, every church, every church planter, every missionary, every associational missionary, every state convention, every entity, every dollar and every Southern Baptist behind the singular missional vision of presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world, making disciples of all the nations, working together in obedience to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus!
Our advances in fulfilling the Great Commission, moving forward as a “convention of churches,” will hinge upon the alignment and stewardship of Cooperative Program dollars behind our missional vision to reach our world for Christ. The common thread at every level and in every vital component of SBC strategies and goals is the ever present Cooperative Program. The final report of the Great Commission Task Force contains this observation:
A Great Commission Resurgence will require a new level of sacrificial giving from Southern Baptist church members and congregations. At the center of our funding stands the Cooperative Program, which, since 1925 has served to mobilize the stewardship of Southern Baptists for worldwide missions and ministry.
We call upon Southern Baptists to reclaim our core identity as churches on mission, working together to take the Gospel to the nations and to fulfill our mandate as a Great Commission fellowship of churches. Our work together must be undergirded by cooperative investment in these tasks. We call upon Southern Baptists to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.... The greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program” (www.baptist2baptist.net/PDF/ PenetratingTheLostness.pdf, component 3, pp. 6-7).
Are new winds blowing across the SBC? Yes they are. You can’t help but feel it. You can’t help but hear it as well. Southern Baptists are saying, We want to do more! More in missions. More in evangelism. More in church planting... at home and around the world... as our Lord commands! Lord willing, we will do more—as we align ourselves with His missional vision, as we commit ourselves to be His hands in going, in giving, and in praying. Let us covenant with one another to provide, through the Cooperative Program, the financial fuel necessary to impact our states, our nation, and our world—together for the Gospel.
*In the original print edition of this article, the authors incorrectly stated that the state executives had agreed to a limit on the percentage of shared ministry expenses the respective states would set aside in their budgeting process. Historically, the SBC has recognized the right of each autonomous state convention to determine the percentage of shared ministry expenses that best fits with its particular ministry context. The state conventions are diverse in terms of the ministries they provide to their respective churches and in the size of budgets they administer. Given these variables, the state convention executive directors concluded that each state must continue to be afforded its right and duty to determine its own percentage of shared ministry expenses.*
Ashley Clayton, associate to the president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship, is a member of The Fellowship at Two Rivers in Nashville, Tennessee; Roger S. Oldham, vice president for Convention Communications and Relations, serves as interim pastor at First Baptist Church, Greenbrier, Tennessee.