Do not give to the Cooperative Program
Do not, under any circumstances, give your money to the Cooperative Program (CP). Seriously. I mean it. To many, I guess, this might that seem odd since Frederick Boulevard, the church I pastor gives 8% of our undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. Ahhh, but there is the difference. Giving TO the CP, I think, is something entirely different thing than giving THROUGH the CP.
The CP is undeniably an impressive vehicle to take our church’s money and help disperse it to missions causes all over the US and the world. It really is genius, if you think about it. It allows our church to partner with 40,000 other Southern Baptist churches across the country to support a massive mission enterprise together, without ever being required to give a dime. Lately we have heard much about the need to generate more and more commitment and giving to the CP. The percentage that the average SBC church gives to the CP continues to go down, and today it appears to sit somewhere around 6%, down from 11% in 1927 (see here & here). In response to this declining percentage we hear an increasing volume level from those who would exhort Southern Baptists to give a greater percentage. There are multiple state convention efforts across the SBC to increase CP giving and currently, on the national level, there is a push to ask each church to give an additional 1% towards the CP. While I applaud the desire to see increased CP giving, and I think each of these attempts are well intended, I think our process of encouraging increased giving may ultimately be flawed, and it relates to the distinction I attempted to make at the beginning of the article.
The CP is not our goal. It is not our aim, nor our purpose, as Southern Baptists. We partner together, not to promote and expand the CP. Instead, we partner together for the purpose of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations. As such, when I get publications in the mail filled with advertisements asking our church to give at a greater level to the CP I often find the argument to be less than compelling, and I am probably more committed to the CP than the majority of pastors my age. Growing the CP by simply appealing to increased CP giving often sounds like little more than a plea to further facilitate an organizational structure. To be fair, I doubt that anyone thinks they are simply "selling the CP". I think most assume they are pushing our cooperative mission. However, the message coming across over and over sounds much more like "give to the CP" and much less like "let us do mission together through the CP".
What is most frustrating to me about this is that it could be entirely different. The CP is enormously important because it is a mechanism which finances one of the greatest Evangelical missionary enterprises the world has ever known. If we understand it rightly, not as the goal of our giving, but as the means through which we finance Kingdom advancing enterprise, the CP is a beautiful thing of genius and I am convinced that many would find themselves more and more committed to it.
So, I am advocating that we talk less about the CP, and more about what the CP is helping to accomplish. State conventions, national entities, SBC Executive Committee, if I could offer a piece of advice, stop appealing to us to give more to the process and start spending more time telling the stories of those whose lives have been radically changed by the power of Gospel – lives which might never have been transformed if it were not for missionary activity financed through the CP.
Giving follows vision. Every time. Without fail. What is more, as Bill Hybels is prone to say; vision leaks. Like a bucket with holes in the bottom, vision is something that we must constantly pour into those we serve. What we need in SBC life is not a refreshed vision for the CP. That will, in my opinion, lead to the continued demise of the CP. Instead we need a refreshed vision for our cooperative efforts to transform the world with the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The CP, while a brilliant concept, is not a biblical one. Partnership for gospel advance, however, is a thoroughly biblical concept. The Great Commission Resurgence, which we recently approved as a convention, will not be effective because it helps to generate more emphasis on our structural mechanisms, or our giving streams. It will only be successful if it helps turn our focus more squarely on the task at hand, which in turn will lead to greater commitment to whatever it takes to fulfill that vision (i.e. the CP).
This is why I say that you should not give TO the CP but as a Southern Baptist, you absolutely should give THROUGH the CP. Make no mistake; I am a big fan of the CP. This article is not intended to be derogatory to the CP, but rather to plead for a biblically faithful, and compelling vision that will lead to CP growth. There are precious few things in life worth dying for; even sacrificing for. Funding mechanisms are not among those things that are worth dying for. However, gospel advancing, Kingdom promoting, God exalting mission, financed through a funding mechanism, is always worth sacrificing for.
May we as Southern Baptists not care if we are ever known for having the greatest funding mechanism the world has ever seen. May we instead be known for a radical abandonment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. A commitment that, in SBC life, is funded through the Cooperative Program. This may seem to be a simplistic alternative, but I am convinced this is the only way to see a revival of commitment to the CP. Stop making the CP our goal. Quit judging faithfulness by one’s commitment to CP giving. The CP cannot be our goal. An ever growing commitment to the advancement of God’s kingdom must be. Drive that point home, and paint the picture of our cooperative efforts to advance Christ’s gospel, and watch as Southern Baptist’s giving follows that vision.