The Cooperative Program: More than a game
June 6, 2006
“Follow the Leader” is a game that most children play. The oldest three of the Tolliver boys, as we grew up, were no exception. Phillip, because he was the oldest and therefore the biggest, was usually the leader. Of course, the object of the game was to simply do whatever Phil, the leader, did. And to the best of our ability, Steve and I, the younger and smaller brothers followed the leader. Now, Phil was just trying to win the game. He wanted to be the best. He didn’t realize that, at the same time, he was making his younger brothers better. He didn’t know that his challenge caused us to stretch ourselves physically—and we became stronger.
For more than 150 years in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) we have followed our leaders to great heights in evangelism and missions. Through the years, great men of God have challenged us to reach farther and accomplish more together than we could possibly accomplish separately. The SBC was organized in 1845 for the specific purpose of “…eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination for the propogation of the Gospel.” Southern Baptists are forever blessed to have that strong missions foundation. We are indebted to those early leaders.
Since 1979, our leaders have led us through a much needed and very effective conservative resurgence. Southern Baptists needed – and should deeply appreciate – the leadership of the many men who led us to doctrinal integrity in our SBC institutions and agencies. We are eternally grateful to them.
But now a new kind of leadership is needed in the SBC. The principle of biblical inerrancy has been firmly established in our churches, agencies and institutions. The time is now for new SBC leadership to resemble the early leaders who taught us to cooperate together to reach the world for Christ.
George McDaniel, president of the SBC in 1925, the year the Cooperative Program (CP) began, urged Southern Baptists to “… join heartily in the Cooperative Program for missions, it represents the combined thought and judgment of Southern Baptists, not my thought, not your thought, not that of any one man – but the combined thoughts of many.” Where are the George McDaniel’s of today in the SBC? Why is CP missions not the primary issue in the upcoming SBC presidential election? I submit that the combined thought and judgment of the average Southern Baptist continues to be that together we can reach the world for Christ. But is that the thought and judgment of those who lead us?
Lately a different kind of leader has emerged in the SBC. Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark., and one of two announced candidates for SBC President is a very capable leader. He is an extraordinary leader. But what kind of leader and in what direction will he lead Southern Baptists? Some are of the opinion Floyd will lead us further away from CP missions. Under Floyd’s leadership, the Springdale FBC gives .26% – approximately 1/4 of 1% of their undesignated receipts to worldwide missions through the CP.
Suppose that all Southern Baptists followed Floyd’s leadership in CP giving. From Oct. 1, 2005, through April 30, 2006, the SBC Executive Committee received $117,595,665.30 for missions through the CP. Sadly, the average Southern Baptist church currently gives 6.6% of their budget through the CP. But, what if all Southern Baptist churches gave at the same rate as First Springdale? If that were the case, rather than $117,595,665.30, we would have given only $4,629,956.51 to missions. Some $112,965,708 would be missing from the treasury of SBC missions. What ministries would we decide to cut? Which missionaries would have to cease their Gospel ministries and come home? Why are we even asking these insane questions?
A far better question is this: Why not follow SBC leaders who will lead us to reinvigorate the CP? There are other SBC leaders who will encourage and challenge us to do more in missions. To be sure there are some great mission-minded leaders with cooperative spirits in the SBC.
Recently, a CP champion has emerged. Frank Page, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church, Taylors, S.C., is a second announced candidate for the SBC presidency. Page and the church he serves gives more than 12% to worldwide missions through the CP. Beyond that, First Taylors is involved in direct missions. Page says, “Our church gives over 12% to the Cooperative Program and we have a huge missions program on top of that, so we believe that one can do both.” If all SBC churches followed the leadership of Page, rather than $117,595,665.30, the CP would have received $219,155,558.05 for worldwide missions in the designated time period. If all of us follow the lead of Page, we would have more than $100 million additionally for missions.
The numbers mentioned above are staggering and ought to cause cooperating Southern Baptists to think about the future of SBC missions. The report of the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee reveals that in the last 20 years, CP giving has decreased by almost 5%, from 11.5% to 6.6%. That same report will lay some of the responsibility for the decline on SBC leaders who do not significantly support the CP. A vital question for those who will be messengers to the 2006 SBC is this: How can we, with integrity, adopt the report of the committee and, in the same annual meeting, elect a president with a dismal record of CP giving?
The CP has been correctly defined as the glue that holds Southern Baptists together and enables them to stick to The Great Commission. The fact is, all Southern Baptists require the cooperation of every other Southern Baptist to reach the world. And the world is the assignment of all Christian churches.
Follow the leader? (David Tolliver is Missouri Baptist Convention associate executive director.)