Why We Believe the GCRTF Report Is Good for the Future of the SBC (6): Promoting the Cooperative Program and Elevating Stewardship

By: Danny Akin & Ken Keathley

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report cites some disturbing statistics (p. 4 of the report). It observes that the average Southern Baptist gives only 2.5% of his income to his local church. In turn, that local church on average gives only 6% to the Cooperative Program. And then as the CP monies pass through the state conventions, the typical state convention keeps 63% of the amount received, and this does not include the $50 million sent back by NAMB to the state convention through the various cooperative agreements (one-third of NAMB’s annual budget). Only a tiny sliver of a typical Southern Baptist’s income is used to send the Gospel beyond US borders. To determine whether or not this reflects a passion for the Great Commission one merely needs to remember the words of our Savior: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).

Southern Baptists find themselves at a crossroads. The IMB has more qualified candidates for the mission field than it can currently fund. Scores of young Southern Baptist men and women have answered the call of God to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to the nations. We have the privilege, as seminary professors, of interacting with these future missionaries on an almost daily basis. They are the cream of the crop; God has called the best and the brightest for this task. In terms of access to the unreached portions of the world and laborers willing to work in the harvest, this is a time of unprecedented opportunity. Southern Baptists must rise to the challenge of this situation by responding with a radical commitment to sacrificial giving and biblical stewardship.

Component Six of the GCRTF Report calls upon the state conventions to take the leadership responsibility for promotion of the Cooperative Program and encouragement of stewardship in general. The report affirms the continuing role of the Southern Baptist Convention in these tasks, and calls upon the Executive Committee to work closely in concert with the state conventions. But the Task Force argues that the state conventions should be assigned the leading role. The logic for this move is straightforward. The state conventions are the entities that receive cooperative program funds from the local churches, and are strategically positioned to promote the CP.

Roger Oldham wrote a white paper in response to Component Six. (He wrote his response to the GCRTF’s initial Feb 27 progress report. In that report, Component Six was listed as Component Four). Oldham argues that the SBC has always taken the primary role in promoting the CP, and that generally that role has been fulfilled by the Executive Committee. His article provides a great deal of historical information concerning the development of the Cooperative Program and how it has been promoted through the years. But the thesis of his paper misses the point being made by the Task Force: from the very beginning it was understood that the state conventions are in a unique position to promote the CP, and therefore they should take the lead role.

In fact, the disagreement about which entity should take the lead in promoting the CP highlights once again that the Executive Committee is probably misnamed. Perhaps it should have been called the Disbursement Committee, or something similar, because its primary function is to disperse the funds collected by the Cooperative Program. It is certainly not the executive branch of the SBC, and its director should never have been viewed as a CEO. It is unfortunate that this is currently the case.

Stewardship involves seeing one’s life, dreams, and ambitions through the lens of the Great Commission. It means understanding that everything about us belongs to Christ and that we are His possession. He has entrusted us with certain gifts, abilities, resources, and opportunities in life which we are to utilize and exercise for the Gospel and God’s glory. Stewardship is about expressing our love and devotion to the Savior with a steady, consistent commitment to His Kingdom. It means operating with the keen awareness that a day of reckoning is coming at which we will all give an account for how we managed that with which He entrusted us.

Southern Baptists have never hesitated to emphasize stewardship, and historically we are known for our commitment to honoring the Lord and advancing His Kingdom through the giving of our tithes and offerings. But the statistics cited in the opening paragraph indicate that something has gone awry. Component Six of the GCRTF calls for Southern Baptists to greater faithfulness in the area of stewardship. This is a call we are obligated to answer for the glory of King Jesus and the good of the nations.