Listening was the order of the day for the Executive Committee while in Phoenix for the SBC annual meeting, June 13-15, Phoenix, Arizona. Over the three days, a wide variety of SBC leaders passed through the exhibit hall and stopped at the CP booth to give their opinion about CP. Frank Page, EC president, approached this year's convention with two overriding objectives: engaging in conversation about CP and expressing gratefulness for it. The "listening" portion was addressed through panel discussions and one-on-one interviews in the CP booth, as well as through flip video interviews, which were conducted by seminary students on behalf of the Executive Committee. The following are condensed comments from one of several panel discussions which were videotaped and are now available for viewing in their entirety at www.talkcp.com. This discussion included: Jeremy Roberts, minister and church relations associate, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Grapevine, Texas; Ben Brammer, lead pastor, Northwest Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Eric Thomas, pastor, First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Virginia; and Johnny Hunt, pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia.
JEREMY ROBERTS: Now that the GCR has begun implementation—what's next for Southern Baptists?
JOHNNY HUNT: Let me take it back to CP. When I looked at the potential, I so believed in what I saw that we doubled our giving to CP; I venture to say, we may have given the largest increase in Cooperative Program giving in one year in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. As president, I obviously saw the need for GCR. But, I also thought, "If we tweak this, it will be what Kevin Ezell said: 'the most envied church planting mechanism on the planet.'" So, if I believed it could become that, I realized that I needed to step up to the plate. I began to believe what I was challenging our denomination to embrace. Dr. [Ronnie] Floyd did the same thing—his church gave a phenomenal increase. We did this even though we were struggling [financially].
JEREMY ROBERTS: What is the most strategic way that you can communicate the Cooperative Program to your congregation and pastor friends?
ERIC THOMAS: In my church, CP makes sense when they see a face and a changed life. That's what motivates. When we emphasize the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, or the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, or adjusting our CP giving, it has to be tied to the changed life. So we focus on how the Cooperative Program influences changed lives locally, nationally, and internationally.
JEREMY ROBERTS: As baby boomer pastors are starting to retire, as younger pastors are starting to assume more and more pulpits, how can we encourage them to embrace this new vision for the Southern Baptist Convention—in keeping with the Great Commission Resurgence—of increasing CP giving and literally buying into this new vision? How can we get the younger pastors to buy in?
JOHNNY HUNT: We hear a lot about the Kingdom, but whose kingdom? My kingdom? His Kingdom? We say we can do more together than we could ever do alone, but young pastors are going to have to prove that—and many of them are. Some might think that it takes away from their own missions. But look at the churches First Woodstock has started. We've been involved in starting over ninety churches now. We've put 130 families on the field in the last twenty-five years, mostly with the IMB. But the question still remains…we could say, "Well, we don't have any money to give to CP." But yet, we've increased. I am hearing a lot about what they are doing individually, but are they willing to say, "This is the best way…we can do more together than we did alone!"
BEN BRAMMER: I see guys my age who are doing stuff together, but the question is—are they doing it through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention? That is something that challenged me. I'm the kind of guy who believes in it, and I want to do my best to recruit my peers to the point where they say, "I'm excited to give to the Cooperative Program. I'm excited to be a Southern Baptist"—because I am. And I want guys to be out there who multiply that.
ERIC THOMAS: I have four daughters and there is a pair of jeans that all four of those daughters want to wear, because that's what their friends are wearing! There is that peer factor that takes place among teenagers, but it's there among pastors and among our network of friends. For us who believe in CP—like Ben and Dr. Hunt, and you, Jeremy, and myself—for us who believe in being a Southern Baptist and seeing the value of the Cooperative Program, I think it is imperative that we communicate that same kind of passion. I believe because of what we saw last year, and I believe because of the steps that we are taking with the GCR, it really does give us a greater passion and conviction to be able to tell our friends, "Yes, this is going to work. Yes, this is going to lead to changed lives. This can change the world. It can make a difference." I think that is going to be an important part of how we lead the next generation of pastors in churches to embrace it.
JEREMY ROBERTS: What would you say to a pastor who says, "We don't give very much to the Cooperative Program because instead of just outsourcing our missions, we do missions. Since we go on mission, we don't need to give to the Cooperative Program." How would you respond?
ERIC THOMAS: I would point them to a couple of passages of Scripture. In the New Testament church, there was a cooperation that took place, whether it was famine relief for Jerusalem, or churches partnering together to help Paul go on mission, there was a cooperative effort. I believe in that kind of cooperation. So it's not just about me telling our churches, or my church, or our pastor friends, "Hey, this is what we do." It's encouraging us to work together. We have churches of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds that are accomplishing things that we cannot accomplish by ourselves.
JOHNNY HUNT: I'm grateful that when I preach on Sunday that there are more than 5,000 missionaries that we support, working in more than 150 nations; that we're one of the first ones there in disaster relief—whether in Indonesia following a tsunami or following 9/11—people need to be aware of that. I couldn't do that; a [small] network of churches couldn't do that; but that type of fellowship with 45,000 churches that choose to work together on some level can—what a tremendous difference. It's a great investment and the best return on our dollars.
BEN BRAMMER: The key, to me, it seems is crafting a vision that says, "We are better together, that we can obey the Great Commission together." I remember when I first came to Northwest, we were a multi-site church. And it was a challenge at first because there were two different visions and we started promoting an idea, a vision, that we are better together around the Great Commission, and we focused on the Great Commission. There were some other issues that we did not always agree with, but that's okay. We decided to be in unity over the Great Commission. Now they are a church plant, and we are excited about that, but it just is another reminder to me as a pastor, as I see a vision that we don't just communicate the vision, but it needs to be lived out in every way possible. We need to craft a vision that says we are better together to reach the Great Commission, and that's what I say to them.
JOHNNY HUNT: And I don't see it as outsourcing, because we go and join them in the different places around the world. That's true with the 3,800 unreached people groups we are asking Southern Baptists to get serious about adopting. When our church adopts a group, we will begin to pray for that region, that God will raise someone up in our own fellowship who will be called to serve in that group of people, or to be the networking person with First Woodstock to the missionaries when they do get boots on the ground in that particular area. So, I am involved with them; the same thing with the church planters. We plant a church somewhere and then we send our teenagers, like in Denver this year. We had 125 of our teenagers over their spring break raising their own money, giving that week up in order to try to make a difference in the life of our church plant in Denver.
JEREMY ROBERTS: One last question: What are you most looking forward to seeing at the SBC this year?
JOHNNY HUNT: I would like to see unity. The nations are crying aloud for the Gospel, the great need, and we are still talking. We've talked enough. It is time to do, and so I pray there will be unity.
Additional Live CP Panel Discussions Include:
Ed Stetzer, Tanner Turley, Ronnie Floyd, Sam Rainer, Bruce Ashford, Jimmy Scroggins, Micah Fries, Jon Akin, Tony Merida, Russell Moore, Quincy Jones, and others.