Dr. Rick Patrick, Pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Alabama
Exec. Director, Connect 316
In 2010, even as Southern Baptists admitted that all missions giving is worthy of celebration, we clearly affirmed the superiority of the Cooperative Program over against every alternative method for the financial support of missions:
We call upon Southern Baptists to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach… The greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program. We call upon Southern Baptists to recommit to the Cooperative Program as the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding, without which we would be left with no unified and cooperative strategy and commitment to the Great Commission task. (Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, 2010)
The time has come for Southern Baptists to decide if we truly meant these lofty words concerning the Cooperative Program that we adopted in June of 2010 or if we only truly meant the lofty words about celebrating rival forms of missions support. While it makes sense to celebrate any and all support for missions, it is only logical that we reserve our greatest passion and excitement for the one strategy we deem most effective, most exemplary of our greatest stewardship, and unquestionably the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding.
Either we have a Cooperative Program or we don’t. When churches diminish the importance of the Cooperative Program to “do their own thing” under the banner of Great Commission Giving or any other competing approach, it cannot help but weaken the most effective missionary sending channel in world history. Certainly, whenever anyone gives to missions, we celebrate this fact, regardless of their approach, but if they reduce their Cooperative Program support in order to fund a little something on the side, we are right to identify such reallocations as clear threats to our mutual Southern Baptist missions work. The leadership principle used to make this evaluation is the simple time honored notion that the good is the enemy of the best.
Taking the Temperature of the Cooperative Program
Measuring the health of the Cooperative Program can be compared to taking the temperature of a patient. A healthy human body requires a temperature reading of 97.3 – 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures are considered life threatening when they fall below 95 degrees or rise above 104 degrees. The same human body that flourishes at one numerical reading will die at another. There is no magic in the thermometer itself. Any numerical reading will not do. The temperature must fall between a certain range or the physical body will die.
Similarly, the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention flourishes when the temperature readings are strong, but fails to survive as the readings sink lower and lower. According to a 2003 study, Southern Baptist Churches gave an average of 10.5 percent of our undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program in the 1980’s. That number declined to 7.39 percent in 2002. Our most recent data indicates that this number has now dipped to 5.16 percent for the reporting year 2016-2017.
It makes sense that there is a certain threshold below which our ministries simply cannot function. It is a simple fact of arithmetic that our reduction of international missionaries by 25% over the past three years could have been avoided if Southern Baptist Churches had not cut our Cooperative Program giving in half since the 1980’s. We must understand the problem is not the Cooperative Program itself. Our thermometer is working fine. The problem is that our readings on this thermometer have dipped below the level required to sustain life and health. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we have a strategy historically proven to be both feasible and successful, unlike our decade long experiment with alternative giving options, which have proven to be both infeasible and unsuccessful. All we must do is bring our numbers back within their appropriate ranges. This is a plan every Southern Baptist Church can embrace—unlike the strategies of some SBC churches today who utilize Great Commission Giving. In so doing, they fund their own special projects on the side while giving less through the Cooperative Program.
Smaller churches simply cannot afford this “do it yourself” strategy. Thus, if we are all going to be in this thing together, then the Cooperative Program is the only game in town. It is the greatest system for the support of missions that the world has ever known—but it needs a little medicine to bring up our body temperature.
The 10-3-10-50 Strategy for Southern Baptist Cooperation
This is not merely a hypothetical plan for cooperation. It represents the precise formula I am presently putting into practice in my personal finances and in the financial choices of my church family and my state convention. It does have one very specific advantage. If everyone did this, Southern Baptists would be in excellent shape financially to support our mutual missions work at every level of our denominational cooperation.
Here’s how the plan works. There are four areas of cooperation—individual, association, state, and national.
This is a simple and proven strategy. It works. Frankly, it works even if the numbers are approximately at these levels. As long as we are in the vicinity of these benchmarks, Southern Baptist missions will thrive financially.
Overcoming the Two Most Common Objections
1. Don’t these voluntary benchmarks threaten the principle of autonomy?
Not in the least, and here’s why. In Southern Baptist life, every individual, every church, every association, and every convention is completely autonomous. They can do whatever in the world they want. No single goal at any level of the money trail can threaten autonomy because no one is being forced to do anything at all. Having said that, I can certainly ask Christians to tithe. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. I can also ask churches to support their local association with donations in the vicinity of 3%. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. I can ask churches to support the Cooperative Program with donations in the vicinity of 10% through their state convention. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. And I can ask the state convention to forward Cooperative Program receipts in the vicinity of 50% to the Southern Baptist Convention. They have the autonomy to say no but I have the autonomy to ask. Because every action is voluntary and everyone involved is autonomous, I endanger no Baptist principle by recommending these reasonable, attainable, and worthy goals.
2. Isn’t it true that percentages do not pay for missions, but dollars do?
This observation is often credited to Adrian Rogers, whose ministry and legacy I profoundly appreciate. Nevertheless, the statement presents a false dichotomy, since any level of funding can be stated in terms of either percentages or dollars. I fully understand the gist of this argument that a large church’s small percentage often translates into an amount most people consider an enormous sum of money. This is simply the way percentages work. Ten percent of nothing is nothing while ten percent of a fortune is a fortune. Which would you rather have in your missions fund—one billion dollars or ten percent of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ net worth? If you chose the dollar amount, on the theory that dollars pay for missions, you would have one billion dollars. However, if you chose the percentage amount, ignoring this adage about dollars paying for missions, you would have 13 billion dollars. Clearly, percentages can be thirteen times more effective than dollars in financing expenditures! Not only do percentages pay for missions, but higher percentages pay for more missions than lower percentages.
However noble its intentions, Great Commission Giving has neither improved Southern Baptist missionary work nor Southern Baptist cooperation. It has left us with a house divided in our missionary funding strategy. We have been challenged to celebrate societal missions, but why? Why celebrate the embrace of a missions funding approach that is neither most effective, an example of our greatest stewardship, or the promotion of our central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding? Why celebrate the second best option when the best option is readily available? Let us quit playing around with rival approaches that have only gotten us lost in the woods. Let us stop abandoning the Cooperative Program on the false assumption that we have discovered a better way. There is no better way. The Cooperative Program, when supported at sustainable levels like those described in the 10-3-10-50 Plan, remains the greatest channel for the support of missions that the world has ever known. It is not too late for Southern Baptists to administer CPR—a Cooperative Program Resurgence—that will bring us back to life again and restore our missionary heartbeat.
Dr. Rick Patrick, Pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Alabama
Exec. Director, Connect 316
Then their eyes were opened and they knew they were Baptist; so they covered their name on their church sign, website and letterhead—for they were sore ashamed of their own denomination, despite its provision of generous funding.
In the history of the world, the Southern Baptist Convention may be the single largest institution that has ever attempted to thrive while simultaneously striking its name from every form of public display, promotion and advertisement. Businesses and politicians pay billions of dollars for name recognition. Organizations want people talking about them. The advertising proverb most frequently cited is, “All publicity is good publicity.” It is a first-order principle of public relations and advertising that one’s name must be presented before the world.
If the world does not like the name, then by all means, do what is necessary to change their opinion. But never remove your name from the eyes of a watching world. No successful company, government, business, or charity has ever done so. Having elaborated upon this subject in an earlier article entitled Bringing Baptist Back, the present essay offers additional lines of evidence, revealing that this self-defeating practice has negatively impacted not only our church planting efforts, but also the ministry philosophy that prevails at stealth SBC churches where the members of the congregation do not even realize they are Southern Baptists.
Stealth Southern Baptist Church Planters
The affiliation of our church plants with our Baptist denomination is consistently hidden. Below is the complete list of the 42 church names found in the 2018 NAMB Prayer Calendar. These churches all receive Cooperative Program funding from the Southern Baptist Convention. Only two of these churches (listed in blue) are openly forthcoming about their Baptist affiliation. Both happen to be reaching international populations. Everyone else apparently believes the questionable theory that admitting to prospects they are a Baptist Church will interfere with the process of evangelism, either by hindering the Spirit’s power to draw them through the gospel or by poisoning the free will of people whose only reason for rejecting Christ is that they dislike the name on the church sign. Inexplicably, leaders firmly opposed to pragmatism in other areas of church life nevertheless swallow this approach. Only five percent of the NAMB Church Planters listed on the prayer calendar are openly identifying as Baptists.
Dios Con Nosotros, Chicago, IL
Eden Church, San Jose, CA
Focus Community Church, Plainfield, NJ
Revolution Church, Miami, FL
The Neighborhood Church, Philadelphia, PA
West African Church, Cincinnati, OH
Palm Vista Phoenix, Phoenix, AZ
Northfield Community Church, Northfield, MN
Mosaic Boston Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, MA
The Heights Church, Denver, CO
Hopelink Community Church, Airdrie, Alberta, Canada
Christ Covenant, Atlanta, GA
Group 99 Church, Fountain Valley, CA
Mile City Church, South Lyon, MI
Fellowship Church Rouge Park, Pickering, Ontario, Canada
Level Ground Community Church, New Orleans, LA
Milestone Church, Natick, MA
Journey Church Mount Clemens, Mount Clemens, MI
WALK Church, Henderon, NV
Phares International Evangelistic Church, Somerset, NJ
Grantwood Community Church, Parma, OH
Filipino International Baptist, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Iglesia Bautista Gracia Eterna, West Valley, UT
Heart and Soul Community Church, Detroit, MI
Graffiti Church, New York, NY
Flourish Church, Seattle, WA
Nations Be Glad Forefront Church, Minneapolis, MN
Lightcast Church International, Jamaica, NY
Multiply Church Calgary, Calgary, Aleberta, Canada
Dwell Church, Edgewater, CO
Metairie Korean Church, New Orleans, LA
Christian Liberty Church, Baltimore, MD
Neighborhood Church, Overland Park, KS
Valley Life Church-Camelback, Phoenix, AZ
Seven Mile Road Church, Malden, MA
City of Joy Fellowship, East St. Louis, IL
City of Blessings, Covington, GA
Disciples Assembly, Lenexa, KS
Clarkston International Bible Church, Clarkston, GA
Renaissance Church, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Lightcast Church International, Woodside, NY
Ignite Church, Breese, IL
Is it wrong to suspect that the primary reason these church planters are technically Southern Baptist might have something to do with the money we give them? Would you understand it if I told you this notion makes me feel like we are being used? It feels like they do not particularly associate with us or identify with us, and yet they still cash our checks when we send them. I’m thinking of the teenager embarrassed to be seen in public with his grandparents who nevertheless receives a hundred dollar bill from them on his birthday. It feels like the SBC is more committed to our planters than our planters are committed to the SBC—at least when it comes to openly and honestly admitting they are denominationally and doctrinally Baptist.
What if we were to incentivize Baptist loyalty and identity? What if we donated twice as much money for those SBC church plants willing to claim their Baptist roots, doctrine and heritage by placing the word “Baptist” on their sign, website, bulletin and letterhead? Maybe we could do better than 5%. Maybe publicly loyal Baptist affiliation on the part of our church plants would begin to extend beyond those of Hispanic and Filipino culture.
Stealth Southern Baptist Church Pastors
Never assume that the only people ashamed to identify with Southern Baptists publicly are the church planters. Increasingly, Pastors of fully established Southern Baptist Churches do not bother to teach their members about their affiliation with our convention. They do not mention it from the pulpit, on their website, on their sign, on their letterhead, or in their bulletin. The members of their congregation are kept completely in the dark about the fact that their church is a Southern Baptist Church. They have no idea they are Southern Baptists.
Listen to the words of one such Stealth Southern Baptist Pastor as he explains to his congregation that they are part of the SBC. To put the matter in context, his explanation was necessary due to questions arising from his announced candidacy for an office in the Southern Baptist Convention:
The third question some of you just asked is, “Since when did we become Southern Baptists?” (Laughter) I get that. It’s not something we wear on our sleeve here. There are obviously parts of the SBC that we’re not excited about and we don’t feel like really represent who we are as a church…*
What I appreciate about this statement is its brutal honesty. There are parts of Southern Baptist life that this Pastor really wishes he did not have to explain to his flock. He’s not exactly proud of the entire Southern Baptist Convention. In his own words, there are parts of the convention that do not excite him. These parts of the SBC do not represent the identity of his church and thus he does not really wish to publicly associate his church with the SBC by wearing such an affiliation on his sleeve. As an autonomous church, his congregation has every right to take this approach, although I consider this the very definition of a Stealth Southern Baptist Church.
One might reasonably wonder, “Why then does this congregation choose to affiliate, even secretly, with the Southern Baptist Convention?” The Stealth Southern Baptist Pastor provides the answer to this question, revealing six million motivations for their church’s involvement in the SBC:
…but I will tell you that on the whole we are very grateful to be a part of a network of churches that cooperate for the purpose of mission. I’ll give you just one easy example to get your mind around. There are 158 members of The Summit Church that are serving overseas as missionaries with the IMB which is the international missions arm of the SBC. For us to pay for our members, just our members, for us to pay for them overseas, would cost us in excess of six million dollars a year. It doesn’t cost us really anything. I mean, we give to the SBC, but…they’re able to go just freely because of the cooperative efforts of 46,000 churches across the United States so we’re very grateful to be a part of it.*
Once again, what I appreciate about this statement is its brutal honesty. A Stealth Southern Baptist Pastor does not have to love everything about the Southern Baptist Convention in order to collect the six million dollars needed to support the missionaries that his church considers to be “theirs.” One might reasonably argue that the 158 missionaries in question should truthfully be considered “ours.” They are missionaries of the entire Southern Baptist Convention since all 46,000 churches are paying that six million dollars. What is the “one easy example” used by this Pastor to explain his church’s secret SBC affiliation? To paraphrase his answer, “They give us a lot of money.”
Frankly, this kind of loyalty is tenuous at best—hanging on by a thread. Organizations doing things right attract members who are unashamed to affiliate with them openly. As the Southern Baptist Convention financially supports new churches and existing ones, it is not too much to ask that they embrace our Baptist name and denomination publicly and unapologetically. I am not at all embarrassed by the Southern Baptist Convention. My church knows we are Southern Baptists. We wear it on our sleeves. You don’t have to pay us to be in the SBC. In fact, you couldn’t pay us to leave. We are Baptist and unashamed. And we wish more Southern Baptists felt the same way.
* Greear, J.D. “Your God is Too Small.” February 4, 2018. summitrdu.com/message (0:43-4:01)
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at soteriology 101 and is used by permission.
As we approach the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, the political lines are being drawn. Recently, JD Greear was nominated to be the next SBC President. I can imagine that as the members of the Convention consider their options, foremost on their mind is that person’s theological alignment. Today, the most hotly contested theology is the realm of soteriology (doctrine of salvation), especially since the rise of Calvinism’s popularity over the last two decades among the “young, restless and reformed” within the SBC.
In 2009 a Time.com article proclaimed, “Calvinism is back…”. The article goes on to claim that its rise is due, in large part, to the personalities at the forefront of the movement.
…with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.
While Driscoll’s pugnacity was his undoing, Calvinism grew unabated. Calvinist internet behemoths like The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, GotQuestions, Stand to Reason, Christian Research, Apologetics Ministries (CARM) and Ligonier Ministries dominate Google search options for questions about theology proper and apologetics, not just soteriology. When it comes to the battle for internet supremacy in Christendom, there is Calvinism and then there is everything else.
This supremacy extends to the seminaries funded by the SBC. Albert Mohler, one of the leading figures of the New Calvinism, is President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship SBC seminary. Just after tweeting a promotion of Tabletalk, produced by Ligonier Ministries (an exclusively Calvinistic source began by the late RC Sproul Sr.), Dr Mohler gave his own hearty endorsement of JD Greear as the next SBC President.
In a recent article put out by The Gospel Coalition, a list of the top 125 most influential leaders in the “gospel-centered movement” was released. What was meant by the phrase “gospel-centered movement?” The author Jared Wilson explains,
“I tried to think keenly about all the folks whose voices have given shape to this still-developing movement, sometimes called ‘young restless and Reformed’ (YRR), ‘neo-Reformed,’ ‘gospel-centered,’ etc.”
JD Greear made the #52 spot on Wilson’s list of the top most influential in the rise of the “young restless and Reformed.”
Tom Ascol is executive director of the Founder’s Ministry, which unashamedly seeks to establish Calvinism as the core theological tenant of the SBC. From the Founder’s “About” page:
Founders Ministries is committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches. We believe that the biblical faith is inherently doctrinal, and we are therefore confessional in our convictions. We recognize the time-tested Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) as a faithful summary of important biblical teachings and the abstract of that confession known as the Abstract of Principles.
Much in the same way The Gospel Coalition implies “Gospel-Centeredness” requires an adherence to Calvinism, The Founders Ministry is asserting that without Calvinism the gospel needs “recovery.” Does Greear secretly support this “recovery of the Gospel” agenda? After all, the first point of his stated reasons for running is “the gospel above all.” One has to wonder if he means “the gospel” as defined by The Gospel Coalition and The Founders in the sources quoted above? What do you think?
Despite Greear’s Calvinistic associations, endorsements and even his own clear soteriological sermons on hotly contested passages such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, there are many who still insist he is not really a Calvinist, or at least he is not the type to promote one soteriological view over the other.
Really? How do we know that?
In the same way Calvinistic pastors often “go stealth” while being interviewed by a search committee so as to avoid detection, could it be that a presidential nominee may not be all that forthright about his own beliefs or agenda regarding this highly controversial issue? If you were a Calvinist with political aspirations within a convention that overwhelmingly rejects Calvinistic soteriology would you downplay and distance yourself from those beliefs so as to be a more likeable candidate? More importantly, would Greear?
So, is JD Greear really a Calvinist or not?
The notoriously staunch 5-point Calvinistic blog, Pulpit and Pen, headed up by controversial and contentious Podcaster JD Hall, certainly affirms him as a fellow Calvinist, writing:
“Greear holds to a more solid, Calvinist position on salvation. He authored a book titled Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How To Know You Are Saved, in which he states he struggled for many years with the assurance of salvation and repeated the “Sinner’s Prayer” many times during his life. He now rejects the concept of “asking Jesus into your heart,” and holds to a biblical doctrine of salvation. He has also spent a considerable amount of time defending the historical truth of Scripture.” […]
Greear is also a part of the New Calvinist Acts 29 network, currently under Matt Chandler’s leadership. Acts 29 is a network of (supposedly) independent churches whose primary purpose is to plant more churches. Their website states that they are characterized by “Theological Clarity, Cultural Engagement, and Missional Innovation.” Sounds okay, right?
Acts 29 was founded by the befallen pastor, Mark Driscoll. The network is comprised of churches that promote charismania, have a low tolerance threshold for discernment, and a general taste for popularity.” <link>
What does being a part of the Acts 29 network entail? As previously pointed out on the Soteriology 101 YouTube channel (starting at the 2:45 mark), according to the Acts 29 website one must affirm Calvinistic doctrine to be a part of this group. Here are screenshots from the Acts 29 website:
To be a part of the Acts 29 network JD Greear must affirm confessional Calvinism, despite how he may have tried to distance himself from the unpopular TULIP doctrines for political purposes. Once elected, will he work behind the scenes to fulfill The Founders’ mission to install a Calvinistic confession? Will he appoint committee members who will nominate new Seminary Presidents and other entity heads that are supportive of “the gospel recovery” agenda. If so, those appointees will certainly increase the influence of the so-called “gospel-centered” (i.e. Calvinistic) movement. Is this what the pastors and laity in the SBC want?
Given that The Founders Ministry has actually encouraged fellow Calvinistic pastors to avoid full disclosure while interviewing so as to gain leadership positions (see here), how can we know for certain that is not a strategy being employed to gain the national positions of leadership within the SBC? How else can you explain the blatant imbalance of Calvinistic leaders within a convention which overwhelmingly rejects Calvinistic soteriology?
The growth of Calvinism in the SBC is fine if that is what the Convention actually wants, after all, it is governed as a democracy. If the majority of the Convention knowingly supports The Gospel Coalition and The Founder’smission to adopt Calvinism as standard SBC theology; then that is the will of the Convention. So be it.
However, the democratic system of the SBC is warped if the members are not fully informed as to who they are voting for or what their goals for the Convention will be.
The President has the most influence over the direction of the SBC in his ability to make committee appointments. Here are some of the President’s powers:
The president appoints the Credentials Committee (Bylaw 8B), tellers (Bylaw 10D), the Committee on Committees (Bylaw 19), and the Committee on Resolutions (Bylaw 20). He is also a member of the Committee on Order of Business (Bylaw 21) and an ex officio member of the boards of the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, and GuideStone Financial Resources (SBC Constitution, Article V).
If the majority of SBC church-goers do not hold to Calvinism (as the polls indicate), then it is their right to fully know that the presumptive front runner for the Presidency believes and teaches Calvinistic soteriology. If a majority within the SBC trust a Calvinist to make appointments that will impact the future of the SBC’s theological education and leadership; fine, but they should go into that vote with their eyes wide open.