Thursday, June 4, 2009
The Cooperative Program
At the outset, I am fully prepared to be corrected for any misunderstandings I may have on how the Cooperative Program works within our Convention. I believe I understand how the money "flows" from a local church, to the state convention, and then to the national convention itself. But, if what I present below is incorrect, I encourage comments correcting my misunderstanding.
I am a Southern Baptist minister and fully support the Cooperative Program as one of the best approaches devised by man to financially support missionaries here and abroad. Based on their budget allocations, portions of the contributions made to Southern Baptist churches are sent to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and, from there, to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) where they are pooled with contributions from churches around the world to support missions.
While my statement is true, it does not tell the entire story. Every year the SBC publishes its Cooperative Program budget such as this one for 2009 displayed at the top of this article.
When you read this breakdown, you learn $72.79 of every $100 given to the SBC is allocated to missions, $50 to international missions and $22.79 to North American missions. In addition, $22.16 is being allocated for Theological Education, most of it at the Southern Baptist seminaries. So, almost $95 out of every $100 is set aside for missions and theological education of ministers and missionaries.
Unfortunately, this is not actually true. As I noted earlier, the money a church designates to the Cooperative Program is sent to the MBC for distribution. What many Missouri Baptists do not know is how the MBC handles this money. The MBC has budget allocations for all incoming funds. For 2009, here is how every $100 received is distributed:
$36.25 is sent to the Southern Baptist Convention.
$42.75 is budgeted to the Missouri Baptist Executive Board
$2.60 is set aside for SBC Annuity and Insurance
$1.60 is set aside as Reserved funds
$3.30 is given to the Missouri Baptist Children's Home
$13.50 is budgeted for Christian Higher Education
In other words, for every $100 a church gives to the "Cooperative Program", $63.75 remains in Missouri; only $36.25 is sent to the SBC.
Such a distribution changes the picture when it comes to "mission giving". What this means is for every $100 a church sends to the MBC, only $18 plus change goes to the international missions and only $8 plus change goes to North American missions. If you throw in the theological education ministries line item, a total of less than $35 goes to missions out of every $100. That is quite a contrast to the $95 we thought was being allocated!
Furthermore, the line item which has the largest budget allocation in the MBC and SBC combined is the Missouri Executive Board Budget. They receive $42.75 out of every $100. While I do not know all this Board does for us (and I am certain there are many good things it does), such an allocation sounds "bloated" in my mind, especially when we are giving the people in the pew the impression their donations are supporting mission work.
I believe Dr. Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is correct in calling for a Great Commission Resurgence within the SBC. One of the articles documented as part of this resurgence is Article IX which I quote here in its entirety:
IX. A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure.
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.
At the midpoint of the 20th century the Southern Baptist Convention was a convention characterized by impressive institutions, innovative programs, and strong loyalty from the churches. But the convention has too often failed to adapt its structure and programs to the changing culture. We are frequently aiming at a culture that went out of existence years ago, failing to understand how mid-20th century methods and strategies are not working in the 21st century.
Some of our convention structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them. We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present. We are grateful for God’s gift of Cooperative Program dollars to both state and national entities. Both state and national entities must be wise stewards of these funds, and closely examine whether the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars genuinely contributes to Kingdom work or simply maintains the status quo. We are grateful for those churches and state conventions that are seeking to move more Cooperative Program dollars beyond their respective selves, and encourage this movement to continue and increase in the days ahead.
We must take steps toward simplifying our convention structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission priorities. We should ask hard questions about every aspect of our Convention structure and priorities and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we pursue wise answers to those questions. We must be willing to make needed changes for the good of our churches and the spread of the gospel. We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education are three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite. Our Convention must be examined at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities.
The Great Commission, missions and theological education is the responsibility of the local church. As a convention of churches, we cooperate together to support theological education so that we can continually train competent shepherds who will lead churches through teaching, love and example, and who will see to it that the churches they lead are Great Commission churches that are promoting missions and advancing theological education. We are blessed as Southern Baptists to have such an avenue to serve the local church. Furthermore, we are grateful for the impact of the Conservative Resurgence that has given us seminaries committed to the inerrancy, infallibility, and the sufficiency of the Bible.
We believe the local church must be “ground zero” in a Great Commission Resurgence, and that our associations, state conventions and national agencies exist to serve and assist the churches in their divine assignment. We are convinced that as our people see our entities in this light, they will respond in even greater support of the Cooperative Program.
I agree with the call to reexamine how Missouri Baptists allocate the gifts of God's people and the structure of our MBC to see if we can, perhaps, reduce the amount of money remaining in the state and send more to the SBC for missions work. Surely such a need is critical in our present day as revealed by the International Missions Board's inability to send out some missionaries due to the lack of funds.