Before I get to the actual point of this post I need to be clear about something. I do not intend this as a polemic. I am not writing to unite myself with any movement or to denigrate any movement. I am merely writing about a trend I see that I am not quite certain how I feel about. Also, I hinted at my feelings on this topic with a post at Christmas. In 1925 the Southern Baptist Convention put in place the cooperative program (CP). This simple and brilliant concept has allowed us to become the greatest mission sending organization on the world with about 11,000 Southern Baptist missionaries. It has made the Southern Baptist Convention the third largest relief organization in the US. It funds 6 theological seminaries providing solid conservative theological education, and it funds countless other ministries done through state Baptist conventions.
The beauty of the cooperative program is that we can do so much more as a group of cooperating churches than any of us can do alone. Who has not heard the story of an independent Baptist missionary who had to leave the field and find new funding after his sponsoring church split or simply changed leadership?
Are there problems with the CP? Sure. Alvin Reid said it well in his blog:
The Cooperative Program still matters. But simply giving because one is "supposed to" has passed. Momentum is gaining for real accountability and much more effective stewardship. I meet no one who wants to take away from the support of missionaries or the training of ministers. But I meet plenty who say something like these words from one of the brightest young men I know: "In the Conservative Resurgence, many pastors and churches expressed frustration when their giving supported liberal professors in our schools. Now, many I know have the same frustration over giving to a bureaucracy that wastes precious money that could be more focused on the gospel." I remember as a young minister thinking that if the average person in the pew knew some things being taught in our colleges and seminaries, they would want a revolution. Recently, one of the most recognized leaders of our time commented that if the average Southern Baptist knew how every penny of their money was being spent, they too would want a revolution. The category has changed, but the sentiment of dissent is the same.
I agree with the need for much better stewardship of the funds. I'm especially talking to you, BSCNC. Only 37 cents of every dollar goes out of the state. Really; is that the best you can do? I would strongly support a motion to move the BSCNC to a 50/50 split. I would even consider making that motion from the floor if I had the proper help and encouragement. (Sorry, I got a little distracted there)
Churchill famously said "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried." This is very much how I feel about the CP. Even though there are some problems, it is the best method of funding missions.
Having said all of that, there is a trend I have noticed in the last few years. This trend is the fragmentation of giving. I see it most in new church plants, but it can be seen in other places as well. Most new church plants have missions giving at the forefront of their plans. However, it seems that very often this giving is in the form of specific projects. Some have goals of planting a certain number of other churches, some say that they will accomplish some project in a place where the gospel is not known, or they will build church buildings in places where believers need the financial support. All these are things that the CP does, but these will be done through some avenue specific to the particular project.
I know that churches have to have other mission projects besides just the CP. Recently I attended a meeting in which we talked about a specific ministry project in Bihar India. This project is part of a partnership with NC Baptist Men and the Transforming India Movement. I believe in this ministry and will be proud to support it. I think it likely that our VBS offering will go to this ministry. (Hopefully our VBS students will be able to drill a well in Bihar.)
Does this make me a hypocrite? Again, I know that churches have to have other mission projects besides just the CP. Virtually all local ministries fit this category. The problem is when they are done as a replacement to the CP. I am not even saying that these other projects are not worthy or good, but when they replace CP giving we all become less effective. Why does this fragmentation make us less effective? Because regardless of where missions funds go, there will be a need for administration. The more fragmented the giving becomes, the more administration is needed.
One of the things I learned from Baptist history is that one of the reasons our Southern Baptist ancestors separated themselves was a rejection of the mission society model. The society model was inefficient and overly fragmented. I do not know why our churches would willingly return to this.
I have one theory on the cause. I believe it is an easier vision to cast to say, let's raise $5,000 to provide 2 clean-water wells in India, than to say let's give $5,000 to the LMCO when it's unclear exactly what that money will do. People wonder when Lottie will ever be paid off. The goal in this type of giving is less clear and more nebulous. There is no denying that people work harder toward a goal that is reachable. (Tomorrow I will write about how my church, as small as it is, gives so generously to the CP)
I support church planting but I believe we can plant more churches through the CP.
I support missions giving but I believe we can support more missionaries through the CP.
I would like to hear from some of you whose churches practice this. Do you think I am wrong? Is my theory about vision wrong? Am I just too old-school and beholden to the cooperative program because of how cheap my M.Div was?