Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (3b): Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving

By Danny Akin and Nathan Finn

In his white paper opposing Great Commission Giving, Dr. Chapman’s fourth concern is that GCG will result in a diminished motivation for Southern Baptists to cooperate. He states that he cannot understand why a pastor would not lead a church to support all that Southern Baptists do through the Cooperative Program. Dr. Chapman seems to imply that differing levels of support among autonomous churches is inappropriate and that some unmentioned benchmark must be met before a church is considered supportive. He also ignores the concerns that numerous churches have raised about stewardship of CP funds by some of our state conventions and denominational ministries. He then repeats, yet again, a version of his incorrect argument that SBC churches have only funded their ministries through the CP.

The claim that Southern Baptists were “societal” prior to the adoption of the CP in 1925 is historically inaccurate. Southern Baptists have embraced the convention method since 1845 because the SBC provides oversight and raises funds from a common pool of likeminded churches. The Cooperative Program is not the equivalent of the convention method; it is rather a specific strategy within the convention paradigm. Concerns that Southern Baptists will become “societal” are unfounded, unless one is concerned that all of our denominational ministries will become independent of SBC oversight. Ironically, it is Dr. Chapman who led the charge for the Executive Committee to retain sole membership of all SBC ministries in recent years, a change which effectively prevents the SBC from becoming truly societal.

Dr. Chapman also criticizes an unnamed GCRTF member for desiring “greater recognition for designated gifts to SBC entities,” quoting several biblical texts to demonstrate how unspiritual he believes this individual is. This is a rather weak argument, particularly in light of his own contention that the SBC currently recognizes a church’s degree of cooperation based upon its percentage of CP support. In other words, what he alleges Great Commission Giving will do could just as easily be applied to the CP and the recognition it now receives. It seems as though Dr. Chapman has latched onto the word “recognition” and interpreted it in the worst possible light to make a point he cannot otherwise sustain. The goal of the GCRTF is to recognize both CP giving and Great Commission Giving. It is not an either/or. It is a blessed both/and!

Dr. Chapman’s fifth concern is that the mere reallocation of funds creates no new money. He notes that no proposals for greater missions funding will be successful without increased giving by the members of local churches. We agree completely, as does the GCRTF, which directly addressed this very issue by challenging all Southern Baptist to give at least 10% of their income to their local church and to consider estate planning and planned giving as further ways of supporting Great Commission ministries.

We believe Dr. Chapman inappropriately assumes that churches that do not meet his preferred level of CP support evidence some sort of selfishness or lack of faithful stewardship. Candidly, it is this very type of rhetoric, which assumes the CP is the only way to fund missions, that leads many churches to choose other means of supporting denominational ministries. Dr. Chapman has elevated Cooperative Program support to a level bordering biblical mandate, even if inadvertently. This attitude is far too pervasive among some denominational servants, and we believe it is a hindrance to our Great Commission faithfulness because it makes our strategies sacred rather than focusing attention on the lostness against which our strategies are supposed to be pushing back through gospel proclamation. We would do well to remember the words of Adrian Rogers, as repeated in Baptist Press on May 14, 1982: “Southern Baptists have made a golden calf of the [Cooperative] Program. . . . It’s almost easier to be against the Virgin Birth than the Program.” The context of these remarks was different, to be sure. The warning, however, is still valid today!

Dr. Chapman also expresses concern that the GCRTF calls for individuals, state conventions, and the SBC to commit to specific giving percentages, but fails to call upon churches to do the same. We believe there is a valid reason for this. In our understanding, the call for individuals to give at least 10% of their income to their local churches is biblical. As for the call for the state conventions and the SBC to adjust their budgets, this represents the desire of the GCRTF and countless other Southern Baptists that our entire denomination commit greater resources to reaching the underserved and unreached peoples of the world. But it is not the place of a denominational task force, or any other denominational representative, to recommend the level of giving expected of autonomous local churches. It is, however, the place of local churches to instruct denominational ministries how they should use the money those churches give.

The primacy of the local church cannot and must not be undermined in an effort to preserve the Cooperative Program status quo. The GCRTF unequivocally called for a greater commitment to CP giving among local churches. Though Dr. Chapman apparently desires a certain level of CP support from local churches if they are to meet his personal standards of cooperation, we believe this is not his prerogative (or ours) as a denominational servant. Local churches must be in the driver’s seat for missions giving. Dr. Chapman’s statistics about what higher CP percentages could accomplish are informative; we would indeed get more money to the mission boards if churches gave more to the CP. But we are curious why this is the only statistic Dr. Chapman chose to highlight. Why not show how much money would go to the mission boards if state conventions in non-pioneer regions adjusted their CP budget to a 50-50 split between the state and the SBC? Why not show how much money would go to the mission boards if one or more national entities were defunded? Why the selective use of statistics? Calls for increased CP giving without addressing concerns about CP stewardship seem myopic and short-sighted.

Dr. Chapman’s sixth concern is what he calls “a devaluation of cooperative efforts.” He argues that he is in favor of “direct giving and going” as a way to encourage churches in “doing missions.” By “direct giving,” we assume he means direct giving to local church ministry initiatives and not direct giving to state convention or SBC ministries. He also contends that the SBC “exists to promote cooperative ministries.” We disagree. The SBC exists as a network of connected cooperative ministries embraced and funded by autonomous Baptist churches. We think he is misguided when he implies that a church is only supporting the work of the SBC by what it gives through the Cooperative Program, since only the CP funds the ‘whole’ program.” A church is supporting the work of the SBC anytime it gives to any SBC ministry. This is the very reality that Great Commission Giving seeks to recognize. The Cooperative Program is not of the esse (“being”) of the SBC, but rather is of the bene esse (“well being”). We are thankful that the CP is in place to fund our ministries, but it is not intrinsic to the SBC since it did not exist for the first half of our history thus far. Dr. Chapman seems to consistently miss this point.rpg mobile online game

Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (3a): Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving

By Danny Akin and Nathan Finn

On May 7, Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Morris Chapman released a white paper titled “What’s In a Name? The Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving.” The paper is available online at Baptist2Baptist and through Baptist Press. The latter link includes an interview with Dr. Chapman conducted by Baptist Press executive editor Will Hall. This is the first of three blog posts written in response to Dr. Chapman’s document. We appreciate Dr. Chapman sharing his concerns. Some were unique in that we had not heard these concerns expressed by anyone else. Others have been raised by different people and Dr. Chapman provides a service in bringing them together in one place.

However, we believe his analysis is an inaccurate assessment of Great Commission Giving and the impact it will have on the Cooperative Program. We believe that Dr. Chapman is right when he argues that “Southern Baptists are moved more by principle than by public relations.” However, the public relations organ of the SBC, which is under Dr. Chapman’s oversight, is clearly and decidedly slanted against the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), thus we have chosen to respond through Between the Times so that our principles can be heard by Southern Baptists. We encourage our brothers and sisters to read all perspectives on the issues, and then make wise and informed decisions. Far too many are making their decisions based on irresponsible rhetoric and speculation and not the actual substance of the GCRTF report. We should all be more responsible than this.

Dr. Chapman’s white paper was written in response to the document titled “Penetrating the Lostness,” which is the final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF). Component three of “Penetrating the Lostness” calls for Southern Baptists to celebrate “the total of all monies channeled through the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, the state conventions, and associations” under the proposed name “Great Commission Giving.” The GCRTF does not argue for Great Commission Giving (GCG) as an alternative to the Cooperation Program (CP). Rather, the Task Force simply recognizes that our churches support SBC-related causes through funding strategies in addition to the Cooperative Program and urges Southern Baptists to rejoice over all financial support of Southern Baptists’ Great Commission ministries. Celebration rather than chastisement is a far more effective means of motivating sacrificial giving through all avenues.

In his white paper, Dr. Chapman raises nine “grave concerns” about Great Commission Giving. In these posts, we hope to respond to his arguments and, Lord willing, lay to rest his concerns. It is our prayerful hope that this paper will make a helpful contribution to the ongoing discussion about Great Commission Giving in particular, as well as the wider Great Commission Resurgence movement.

Dr. Chapman’s first concern is that the adoption of GCG will result in a devaluing of the Cooperative Program. He uses a couple of different diagrams to hypothesize the possible ways that Great Commission Giving would undermine the priority of the CP. His chief complaint is that the Cooperative Program will simply become one component of the new GCG paradigm, thus forfeiting its role as “THE cooperative means by which Southern Baptist churches support the whole program of Southern Baptist work.”

The GCRTF does call for Great Commission Giving to be the new overarching term that is used for all funds given to support SBC ministries. But “Penetrating the Lostness” also clearly “call[s] upon Southern Baptists to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.” Furthermore, the GCRTF calls upon all Southern Baptist churches to increase the percentage they give to the CP and calls upon all state conventions to increase the percentage of CP funds they forward to the SBC. Every member of the GCRTF is clearly and strongly supportive of the Cooperative Program. We believe the GCRTF’s recommendation will actually strengthen support for the CP.

We believe Great Commission Giving is not a competitor with the Cooperative Program. Rather, it simply is the recognition that Southern Baptist churches have always given to SBC causes through a variety of means, including special missions offerings, direct giving, and yes, primarily the Cooperative Program. Great Commission Giving is a better term and method to identify and rejoice in the level to which a local church supports SBC ministries because it includes every means a given church may use to help fund the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists. The CP stands at the center of those means for the vast majority of our churches, and we believe it will be supported to an even greater degree in the years to come.

Dr. Chapman’s second concern is that Great Commission Giving represents a devaluing of the Cooperative Program name. He correctly and rightly argues that Southern Baptists are not Independent Baptists because of our commitment to cooperative missions and ministries. But he then seems to strictly equate cooperation with the Cooperative Program, going so far as to claim that “the Cooperative Program IS our Great Commission Giving!” This paints a picture that is both incomplete and historically inaccurate. It is incomplete because, as noted above, while the CP is the primary strategy through which Southern Baptist financially cooperate, it has never been the only means of such cooperation. It is historically inaccurate because Southern Baptists were committed to cooperative missions for 80 years before the advent of the Cooperative Program in 1925. The CP simply became our principle means of pursuing cooperative missions. Let us again say, we believe it still is and should continue to be the principle means.

Contrary to Dr. Chapman’s allegation, the recommendation that Southern Baptists adopt the Great Commission Giving language is not a “bait and switch.” The Cooperative Program “brand,” which is embraced and championed by the GCRTF, remains intact. We believe Southern Baptists will continue to rally around the CP, and even increase their support of the CP, if a case can be made that the Cooperative Program is the best strategy Southern Baptists have for extending the gospel to all nations. The Cooperative Program brand will remain as strong as Southern Baptists’ confidence in the stewardship of CP monies by the ministries they fund. This is as it should be!

Dr. Chapman’s third concern is that Great Commission Giving will become a new metric for “cooperation” among Southern Baptists. He repeats the mistaken contention that the Cooperative Program is the only standard through which a church’s support of the SBC is measured. He also claims the CP “provides a sense of a church’s sacrifice for the sake of all the ministries in which a state convention and the SBC are engaged,” which is incorrect. Further, he argues that “well-known pastors of larger churches that give small percentages through the Cooperative Program” will further undermine the CP by arguing that Great Commission Giving should become the new benchmark through which financial cooperation is measured. Not only does Dr. Chapman impugn the alleged intentions of large church pastors, he also neglects the fact that several prominent large churches, including the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia and the First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas have significantly increased their CP percentages in recent years.

Dr. Chapman fears that Great Commission Giving will motivate pastors who give low percentages to the Cooperative Program to further decrease their support of the CP. We disagree, and believe just the opposite will occur. We believe that celebrating all moneys given to SBC ministries, coupled with a renewed Great Commission emphasis across the SBC, will motivate pastors of churches of every shape and size to lead their churches to increase their Cooperative Program support. Most churches that give low percentages to the CP are not unsupportive of the SBC. Rather, many are unconvinced that the CP is the best stewardship of their missions money or should be the only strategy they use to fund SBC ministries. We believe the burden of proof rests upon CP-funded ministries to prove they are worth the investment of Southern Baptist churches who desire to spread the gospel to the underserved and unreached places in America and the uttermost parts of the earth. If the burden of proof is met, we are convinced our people will rise to the occasion and give even more.

Guest Blog (Steve McKinion): Great Commission Churches and the GCR

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is provided by Southeastern prof Steven A. McKinion, blogging at www.stevemckinion.com.

As an observer of the discussions related to the SBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF), I hear regularly that the problem among Southern Baptists is “spiritual” rather than “structural;” that Southern Baptist churches and the SBs who comprise them need revival. The Task Force, some have contended, ought to concern itself more with “spiritual” rather than “structural” changes, therefore.

Those who support the proposals coming from the GCRTF have responded that the report, at least in its interim iteration, does indeed call Southern Baptists to seek the face of God, to give sacrificially to missions, and to pursue the Great Commission both at home and abroad. It is, in the words of Danny Akin, “a challenge to Southern Baptists, to pastors, to churches, to associations, to state conventions, and to the agencies of the national convention.”

Both the supporters of the GCRTF and its objectors may in fact be missing the one, most important difference between them.

That difference is not a commitment to the Great Commission, as each group understands it. No one would expect to find SBs who would reject missionary efforts, or even spending more money on those efforts. No SB is opposed to cooperation or even the Cooperative Program (CP) as a means to achieve the common objectives of Southern Baptists and their churches. No one that I have heard believes that our association of churches is spending too much on international or North American missions.

The difference appears to lie in their respective assessments of the current spiritual health of Southern Baptists. One group is praying for God to send revival to the churches of our Convention. Another group believes those prayers are already being realized. In other words, supporters of the GCRTF believe that God is already awakening the hearts of Southern Baptists to the Gospel and the Mission of God it entails.

Like the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence (CR), those leading the push for a GCR are populists, not prophets. Prophets proclaim a message that is counter-cultural (in this instance the culture of SB churches). Prophets call the people to change, to repent, to pursue a different path. Prophets are called by God to reprove and to correct the people. Populists, on the other hand, proclaim a message that the people have already embraced. Generally, we can think of populists as those who rage against the machine (in this case, the bureaucracy of the SBC). Leaders of the CR claimed that the churches of the convention were conservative, but the agencies of the convention were not; the agencies needed to change, not the churches. It was argued that the collective voice of the conservative churches, which represented the majority of SB churches, were being sidelined and ignored. These populist leaders were part of a grassroots movement to impress the will of the churches on their agencies.

GCR leaders should be seen in much the same way. They contend that God is already moving among Southern Baptists in a way that has motivated them to a deep and abiding concern for the Great Commission. This spiritual awakening has prompted SBs to reassess their own individual lives, their church ministries, and the priorities of the agencies they support through the CP. Their assessment led them to personal repentance and corporate repentance. They have reordered how they “do church,” to be more single-mindedly focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sin to the nations (Luke 24:46-49). Rather than massive, expensive building programs creating huge edifices, they have redirected their funds to missions both in their own cities and around the world.

But they have also looked and found, in their opinion, their association of churches to be lacking as well. After being awakened to the Gospel, they have changed their personal priorities and have led their churches to change their priorities as well, to focus more directly and solely on the Gospel. To continue to give funds through a mechanism that operates contrary to their Great Commission priorities would be hypocritical. The facts are obvious, an obnoxious percentage of a church’s CP dollars remain in the southeastern part of the United States, where 2/3s of SB already live on mission. “Why do we need to keep so much here?” they wonder.

GCR-type SBs see little need for yet another conference on how to grow your church through Sunday School (or Bible study formerly known as SS). Why are CP dollars, they wonder, supporting local staff who consult with churches when networking is a much more relational, natural, and, it is argued, effective way to brainstorm, inform, and transform. If these SBs are already building organic networks with other SB churches that help them do the work of the Gospel better, then why give sacrificially to programs and initiatives that have outgrown their usefulness. Becoming Gospel-driven in their churches has led them to be Gospel-driven in their cooperation.

A movement is afoot among the churches of the convention. Christians have become consumed by the Gospel and are therefore consumed with the Mission of the Gospel to the nations. They will no longer support denominational efforts that do not reflect that priority, just as conservative SBs refused to continue to support a denominational bureaucracy that was inconsistent with their view of the Bible.

The GCR is a response to the demands of Great Commission Southern Baptists whose hearts have been awakened to the Gospel, in precisely the same way that the CR was a response to the demands of conservative Southern Baptists whose hearts had been awakened to the inerrancy of Scripture. The GCR is the outcome that those in the CR prayed for. Return to the Bible, they claimed, and Great Commission ministry would follow. Their predictions have come to pass and their prayers have been answered. And now, just as the structure of the convention required transformation because the churches of the convention were already conservative, so too does the convention now require change because the churches have already become spiritually awakened. The spiritual transformation has already occurred, and the structural transformation must now follow.