The Future of the Cooperative Program

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I love the Cooperative Program because I have seen it at work. My first paycheck as a Southern Baptist pastor consisted of combined funds from my church, the local Baptist association, the state convention, and the Home Mission Board (now NAMB). Cooperative Program funds made it financially possible for me to earn three degrees at a Baptist university and seminary. As an employee of two Southern Baptist seminaries and the International Mission Board, I have seen the Cooperative Program at work every day. Students and missionaries are engaging lostness around the world, and the Cooperative Program makes that possible.

Like many others, though, I am concerned about the future of the Cooperative Program. Here are the thoughts of one loyal Southern Baptist.

First, something must change. I’m sure that statement sounds simplistic, but even those of us who love the Cooperative Program must admit the direction we have been heading is not a positive one. I see glimmers of hope, but glimmers will not suffice when churches are still plateaued, cities are still unreached, and 1.7 billion people still have little access to the gospel.

Second, all Southern Baptists, beginning with me, must make sure we are wise stewards of the dollars God gives us. I must budget well and spend wisely in my home, prioritizing funds for God’s work. So must my local church, the local Baptist association, and my state convention. So, too, must the Southern Baptist organizations for which I work. None of us should be threatened by an honest call to prioritize the Great Commission in our spending.

Third, we must admit what approaches to promoting the Cooperative Program will not suffice; that is, we must recognize that some approaches by themselves will not fix the problem. Seminary classes—and I write as a seminary dean—will not by themselves produce Cooperative Program advocates. Denominational programs by themselves will not work. State convention and associational promotions by themselves will not accomplish the task. Frankly, many of those who need to hear the call to Cooperative Program support have already tuned out denominational voices.

I make no claim that this proposal is the answer, but I do believe it is one answer: we who have been have seen the Cooperative Program at work must intentionally teach others about its value. I am not talking about pastors “preaching” the CP to a congregation, or state convention leaders promoting the Program to convention attendees. I am speaking of individuals who strategically invest in other individuals, guiding them to see the value of the CP and challenging them to get on board—a type of “Great Commission mentoring,” if you will.

And, there are many of us who could take on this challenge. Every Southern Baptist educated at a Southern Baptist seminary has been the recipient of Cooperative Program funds. Those of us who have volunteered alongside International Mission Board missionaries have seen the value of cooperative giving. Many state convention employees, associational directors of mission, and church planters have received Cooperative Program funds through the North American Mission Board. If you have met a young leader who is investing his life in a major city to plant a church, you have likely seen those funds at work. Many of us—like me—would not have had a livable wage as a young pastor were it not for Southern Baptists giving through the CP. Even now, the young people in our churches can receive an education and fulfill their ministries because of the Cooperative Program.

We have an obligation to share with others the gift we have received. The needs of the nations demand our attention. You may have your own plan, but here is mine:

  1. I will take some responsibility for a lack of commitment to the Cooperative Program. As a pastor, I assumed too much—that everyone would automatically know about and support the CP simply because the CP was a portion of our budget.
  2. I will choose five young church leaders and invest the time and energy necessary to introduce them strategically to the Cooperative Program. My plan is to begin with three seminary students and two local pastors.
  3. I will tell them how much the CP has contributed to my life. I am privileged to do what I do because Southern Baptists have given through the years.
  4. I will connect them with Convention leaders, state leaders, associational leaders, missionaries, church planters, and pastors who receive CP support. I want these five young leaders to see the CP as faces and ministries—not as a program.
  5. I will willingly hear and respond to any concerns and questions these young leaders may have. The Cooperative Program is not perfect, and young minds can help us strengthen it.
  6. I will not be defensive, but I will challenge these leaders to support the CP even while we work together to make it stronger.
  7. I will pray weekly for our Convention and state leaders responsible for promoting the Cooperative Program, as well as for the young leaders I am teaching.
  8. I will expect these leaders then to tell others about the Cooperative Program.

This proposal will not fix everything, but it is a starting point. It is something I can do to encourage support for the Cooperative Program. One to one. Person to person. Pastor to pastor. Face to face. Changed life to changed life, for the sake of those who have not heard the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

What to Expect at the Houston Convention

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Next week, the Southern Baptist Convention will gather for its annual meeting in Houston. We will conduct business, hear reports from our various ministries, adopt resolutions about various topics, and listen to sermons and “preachy addresses” from some of the better-known preachers among us. I’m particularly excited about that last point, since my friend and boss, Danny Akin, is preaching the Convention sermon this year. We’ll also spend time hanging out with friends that we rarely see outside of the Annual Meeting. (Don’t let anyone fool you–this is the highlight for almost everyone in attendance.) I this post, I want to offer my thoughts about what to expect at the Houston Convention.

First, there is Calvinism. Over the past year, much of the chatter in the SBC has focused on this issue, especially on the internet. (This is all some blogs seem to talk about.) SBC president Fred Luter has offered his thoughts on the debate. Other SBC leaders chimed in from time to time, including Dr. Akin. Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, formed an advisory committee to help him think about how Southern Baptists on all sides of the Calvinism discussion can better cooperate together to advance the gospel. Late last week, the committee released their report, titled “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.”

Thus far, it seems that most of the responses to the Calvinism report have been positive. For what it’s worth, I was highly encouraged by the balance, clarity, and charity of the document. You can expect Dr. Page to address Calvinism in his Executive Committee report. It could also come up at other points in the program such as resolutions, motions, sermons, or the Q&A following ministry reports. I would expect Calvinism to be directly addressed by several SBC leaders, in the hopes that it doesn’t have to come up as often in future Convention meetings. Most folks seem ready to move on.

Second, there is the transition at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Richard Land retired this past week after a quarter century of leading this ministry and its predecessor, the Christian Life Commission. In the age of 24-hour network news, Dr. Land has been the public face of the SBC for most Americans. His successor is Russ Moore, former vice president and academic dean at Southern Seminary. I expect some sort of formal passing of the baton at the SBC as Southern Baptists honor Dr. Land for his leadership and perhaps hear some initial thoughts from Dr. Moore as he begins to carve out his vision for cultural engagement and advocacy of religious liberty. If you haven’t heard, Dr. Land is now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC.

Third, there is the re-election of Dr. Luter as Convention president. As most readers know, last year Dr. Luter became the first African American and only the second ethnic minority to be elected as SBC president. He will almost certainly not be opposed as he runs for the traditional second term as president. You don’t mess with history. There will likely already be some chatter in the Convention hallways and at the restaurants about who will run for the Convention presidency in Baltimore in 2014. Feel free to offer your suggestions for the next president in the comments.

Fourth, there are the cultural issues. I’m anticipating Southern Baptists will discuss and, in some cases, directly address several cultural issues via reports and resolutions. One issue that looms large is homosexual marriage, arguably the most hotly debated “social issue” in America right now. Another perennial topic is abortion, which will likely be addressed in light of the Gosnell trial. The potential threat posed by new healthcare laws to religious liberty will almost certainly come up. So will the revised membership policy recently adopted by the Boy Scouts of America, a topic I’ve addressed elsewhere. Other possible topics include immigration reform, the morality of unmanned drone strikes, and the way Southern Baptists and other evangelicals should think of Mormonism.

Fifth, there is the Cooperative Program (CP) and the larger question of missions giving. It is no secret that Cooperative Program giving is in the midst of a steady decline. According to recent reports, the average church now designates 5.9% to the CP. Last year, Frank Page issued a “1% Challenge,” calling upon local churches to increase their giving by one percentage point in their 2013 budgets. The early reports seem positive, but most folks I talk to are still nervous about the future of the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptist entities and state conventions are scrambling to re-educate uninformed Southern Baptists about the CP while assuring others who are concerned about the Cooperative Program that it remains the best strategy for funding our denominational ministries.

The future of the Cooperative Program was, of course, a hotly contested issue within the larger discussion of the Great Commission Resurgence, a movement that some interpreted as being anti-CP or at least tepid toward the Cooperative Program. It would be fair to say that Southern Baptists are still divided about the GCR, especially those in certain state conventions. I expect there to be some candid, but potentially hopeful discussion of the present state and future prospects of the CP at this year’s Annual Meeting. You can read my thoughts on CP giving in a post titled “Is the Cooperative Program Worthy of Sacrifice?” I co-authored that essay with my friend Micah Fries.

Finally, there is the name debate. Last year, Southern Baptists voted by about 53% to approve “Great Commission Baptists” as an alternate designation for the SBC. The idea was that churches, especially those outside of the Deep South and Southwest, could distance themselves from the name Southern Baptist if that name is deemed a hindrance to outreach. It would be difficult for me to exaggerate my own ambivalence about this particular debate. (Just being honest.) Apparently, lots of other folks are also ambivalent, since thus far we haven’t witnessed mass numbers of  churches rushing to change their name to Great Commission Baptists. However, for some folks, this is a REALLY BIG DEAL, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an attempt by some messengers to reverse last year’s vote.

If you are at the SBC Annual Meeting, drop by the Southeastern Seminary booth to learn more about how SEBTS is equipping students to serve our churches and fulfill the Great Commission. I will be at the booth off and on throughout the day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; I hope to see some of you there. Also, there is still time to sign up for the SEBTS Alumni & Friends Luncheon at the SBC on Wednesday. Our speakers at this year’s luncheon include our own Dr. Akin and Johnny Hunt, a distinguished SEBTS alum and past president of the SBC.

The Cooperative Program, Seminaries, and the Future of Their Financial Success

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This is a guest post by Ryan Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson serves as the Executive Vice President for Operations at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC. We believe his article is deserving of a very close reading by all those interested in the Cooperative Program and the future of our six Southern Baptist seminaries. It is our prayer that his post will serve as the starting place for a healthy family discussion among Southern Baptists about this important topic.

The Cooperative Program, Seminaries, and the Future of Their Financial Success

By Ryan Hutchinson

Recently, there was a blog post published at the Chronicle of Higher Education website entitled “Outlook for Nonprofit Education is ‘Volatile’, Report Says.” The post refers to a recent report by Standard & Poor’s regarding this outlook. The point of this post is not to rehash or to critique the Chronicle’s post or the S&P report, but to apply the concepts to our Southern Baptist seminaries as well as offer some additional thoughts. The blog post highlights some of the challenges raised by the S&P report to which nonprofit educational institutions need to respond.

  • Dealing with deferred maintenance
  • Balancing access and affordability for students
  • Preserving their investments
  • Managing a turnover in senior leadership positions
  • Handling the uncertainty of state and federal appropriations

The last point does not fully apply to the SBC seminaries, but there are some limited implications. The Chronicle’s post concludes by noting that the outlook for higher education looks strong.

The outlook for the future training of God-called men and women at our six Southern Baptist seminaries also looks strong. However, like all other institutions of higher education, challenges are in front of us. What are some of the ways that Southern Baptists must prepare to meet these future challenges?

  • Celebrate the diversity that characterizes our six seminaries, since each school has a unique identity within the boundaries provided by the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.
  • Have a fruitful discussion about the future of theological education and the impact of multiple delivery systems.
    • We need to realize that no one can really answer how educational delivery will look in 15–20 years, but we must plan and seek God’s wisdom.
    • The future could potentially include doing away with some of the historic territorial restrictions upon the six seminaries.
  • Determine how we can better communicate and solicit support for theological education.
    • One obvious answer is “give more”, but the seminaries must justify why more should be given when approaching individuals and encouraging support of the Cooperative Program.
    • When promoting the Cooperative Program, we must communicate its impact upon individuals and communities, which will work against the perception among some that the Cooperative Program is impersonal.
    • We must be open to changing the name of the Cooperative Program or even its design in an effort to capture the hearts of those from whom we are trying to solicit more support. This sort of change could benefit all SBC agencies receiving Cooperative Program dollars, not just the seminaries.
  • The seminaries must engage the local church more in the process of theological education. We are a servant to our local churches, and are here to come alongside them and provide help.
    • A way to make theological education personal is not to simply provide training for the paid minister, but the minister in the pew. One example is Southeastern’s MOOC course, which is a free class that is open to anyone interested in learning how to interpret the Bible more faithfully (www.sebts.edu/mooc).
    • Another way to engage the local church in the training process is what SEBTS is doing through our EQUIP program (www.sebts.edu/equip). We are doing what we can to push theological training to a hands-on environment in the context of the local church.

There are surely other ways to meet the challenges we face, and your comments related to this post are an important part of this discussion.

Consider partnering with your six seminaries in three ways. First, please pray for the work we do in training God-called men and women for gospel ministry. Second, pastors in particular, please talk to your people about the seminaries so that they do not see us as distant concepts where training occurs for some theological elite. Finally, please invest in the six seminaries both through the Cooperative Program and through individual financial gifts as God’s leads.

Our six Southern Baptist seminaries are the envy of many denominations and networks around the world. However, we must avoid two dangers. First, we cannot become prideful about what we have in our seminaries. The Lord is responsible for these blessings. Second, we must not convince ourselves that business as usual is enough when it comes to a secure future for our seminaries. It would be a shame if we find ourselves scratching our heads twenty years from now, wondering what happened to all that we once had.

The Lord does not need us, but He graciously uses us for His glorious purposes. We should be thankful this is the case with our Southern Baptist seminaries. As we look to the future and begin this conversation, we must rely solely on Him for wisdom and sustenance. To Him alone belongs the glory.