CP Evasion Fails the Great Commission

September 2, 2014

Dr. Rick Patrick

Dr. Rick Patrick, Pastor
First Baptist Church
Sylacauga, Alabama

 

While I celebrate the autonomy of each Southern Baptist Church in directing their mission gifts however they feel led, I nevertheless believe that the Great Commission is best fulfilled by churches who freely choose to contribute through and not around traditional Cooperative Program channels.

My reasoning is partially grounded on the concept of Cooperative Program superiority championed most clearly in the language of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report of 2010: 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.

No, Southern Baptists have not declared that the Cooperative Program is the only way to support missions. We have simply declared that it is the best way.

Churches directing their gifts around the Cooperative Program and toward a specific ministry do so for one of two reasons. Their CP evasion may be positive in naturein order to increase support for a particular entity they value. On the other hand, it may be negative in naturein order to avoid supporting a particular entity they devalue. In both cases, they forfeit our most effective means of Great Commission support.

If the Cooperative Program is not the only way to support missions, then how is a church failing the Great Commission when they redirect their mission gifts through a strategy of CP evasion?

1.  CP evasion ignores the SCOPE of the Great Commission. 

The Great Commission is much more than international missions. Churches who direct their giving away from CP channels in order to “get more money to the nations” have taken it upon themselves to prioritize reaching “the uttermost” at the expense of reaching “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria,” as described in Acts 1:8. Jesus did not say, “and most of all” to the uttermost. We sometimes fail to consider that as the fourth largest mission field in the world, we are the uttermost where many other nations are sending their missionaries. The work we do through NAMB and our state conventions is absolutely Christ honoring Great Commission work worthy of our full support.

2. CP evasion ignores the SCHOOLS of the Great Commission.

The Great Commission exhorts us to continue “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Our seminaries receive Cooperative Program support without which they could not operate. Our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission educates Christians regarding morals and ethics and advocates in the public square as salt and light before a watching world. Directing gifts toward our mission boards or specific mission agencies bypasses these important ministries, which are fulfilling the Great Commission as well. What kind of missionaries will we be sending overseas without academically rigorous and spiritually inspiring seminaries to train them?

3. CP evasion ignores the SUPERVISION of the Great Commission.

Two days a year, the Southern Baptist Convention is in session. The rest of the time, the Executive Committee handles the day to day operations of our denomination. Administration is admittedly not an exciting spiritual task. However, it is naive to assume our denomination could exist without it. When churches engage in CP evasion to bypass the business office in order to give directly to the missionary on the field, they simply fail to appreciate the complex necessity of infrastructure. In the United States Air Force, for every pilot, there are roughly twenty-four support staff members on the ground. Everyone favors the exciting jobs, but paying the complete operational cost is necessary.

4. CP evasion ignores the STRATEGY of the Great Commission.

The Cooperative Program strategy can be compared to the unified budget of a church. As long as church members are faithful in their tithes and offerings, there are resources available for every line item in the budget, but when church members designate for specific causes of their choosing and bypass that budget, it creates a financial disaster. The popular items like music, children, youth and missions eat up all the money because everyone wants to feel like they are paying for life changing, spiritually transforming ministries. But the unpopular items like air conditioning compressors, toilet paper and routine maintenance are then left unfunded. In a quarter century of ministry, I have never seen anyone designate a special donation for the boring stuff. But just try to have church this Sunday without toilet paper and see what happens!

The notion that CP evasion is a new and improved way to support the Great Commission may seem admirable in its passion and idealism, but it is unfortunately fraught with naïveté and grounded in the presumption that one’s individual program will work much better than our cooperative one. Unfortunately, CP evasion always leads to CP erosion, thus reducing our Great Commission efforts as long as the Cooperative Program is indeed our “most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.”

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William Thornton

Rick, I always enjoy your articles and appreciate your thoughts. Are you saying that prior to 1925 the SBC failed the Great Commission?

While I would find considerable grounds for disagreeing with several of your points, I will only object to your choice of terminology. “Cooperative Program evasion” is unnecessarily incendiary and imputes ill motives. Perhaps you love alliteration a bit too much. Also, “naïveté” completely misses as a description of the growing numbers of SB churches who are making more deliberate and carefully considered uses of their scarce mission gifts.

    Rick Patrick

    William,

    I am always grateful to hear your perspective as well. While our pre-Cooperative Program Great Commission failures are well documented, the societal approach that produced them was unfortunately all they had at their disposal. Like a small child before they reach the age of accountability, they just didn’t know any better. Today, however, we have no such excuse. We do know that societal missions does not work as well as cooperative missions. We must simply act on that knowledge.

    “Evasion” barely beat out “circumvention.” I’m open to another single word that describes this “directing around” activity. Regarding motive, my final paragraph hints at “admirable idealism and passion.” These are not pejorative. I’m not criticizing motive. I’m criticizing strategy. Unfortunately, alliteration affection is an occupational hazard. Finally, my point is that the most deliberate and carefully considered use of scarce mission gifts is to apply them toward the “most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.” To do otherwise is a mistake, in my opinion.

Max

Thank you Dr. Patrick for your thoughts in this regard. I am still trying to process a few things in your article as I reflect on the past and future of the Cooperative Program. I was young and now am old. I have been a Southern Baptist for 50+ years. During my early years in the SBC, my family were members of a church in a rural area – in an association of a dozen churches separated by miles. Individual church memberships ranged from 25-100 folks. I have memories of the Body of Christ from these churches coming together to pray, worship, rejoice, and grieve. We shared resources, with pastors sometimes doing double-duty when a pastor at a neighboring church was ill. Churches provided finances and labor for building programs at their sister churches. We united for Vacation Bible Schools, youth church camps, spring/fall revivals, and various training events. That little association of churches raised numerous preacher boys to become men of God who are still in the ministry at home and abroad.

With limited finances, we knew that our giving could be multiplied via the Cooperative Program … a dozen little churches linking arms could make a difference on world evangelism! We could not go, but we could send … we could enable the preaching of the Gospel in remote corners of the earth from our own speck of real estate! Perhaps, I was just young, rested, and revived … but the system appeared to be working well. Since those years, I have been associated with both “micro” and “mega” ministries. It has been clear to me that churches (whether big or small) have the blessing and favor of God resting on them when they are united as one man for the cause of Christ. There is power in unity and cooperation.

Bob Cleveland

One might wonder at the focus on missions in other countries, when here in Alabama … in the 6 biggest population centers … attendance is 33.28% of membership, for Baptists, whereas it’s 53.97% for other reporting denominations. I don’t think we could blame churches for wanting to focus more on causes local to us, since we already are the “uttermost part of the world”.

    Max

    Brother Cleveland – If we hang around long enough, we may very well see America turn into a third world country. It’s clear from the statistic you cite (also common to other states), the SBC ain’t scaring the devil much these days. Apathy of my generation + theological drift of new generation will soon make SBC churches one of the greatest mission fields on the planet.

Ron F. Hale

Rick,
Baptist Press reported on June 15, 2010 – concerning the GCR vote at the SBC:

“A final messenger, Jonathan Jenkins of Calumet Baptist Church in Patterson, La., rose to speak against the recommendations before the vote on the whole report was taken.

Passage of the recommendations “will have unintended consequences,” Jenkins predicted. “When you start to designate money out of your tithe, the church as a whole gets less and has to do what it’s already been doing with less…. The limited funds that go to all of our entities will only be drained down by saying it is OK to designate specific money to what has become — and I hate to say this because it sounds wrong — the most popular movement at the time. Missions should always be the most important movement but it should not be at the expense of all other causes.”

We are living out the “unintended consequences “of our actions. Mr. Jenkins prediction came true it seems.

Blessings!

Greg Lawn

I have a very different take on missions and mission boards. I grew up Methodist in NH and in the early 80’s we broke with the UMC mostly because of their missions policies and the attendant bureaucracy. As an non-denominational evangelical church we always “budgeted” a minimum of 10% of our gross budget to missions. We supported missionaries of our own choice. There were local missions – crisis pregnancy center, food bank, domestic violence – regional/international missions: YWAM, Wycliff, Operation Mobilization, an Inner-city Newark couple,Scripture Union (which has since changed its name), and an individual couple who were tent makers ministering in Turkey. It was exciting! Every year we had a Mission Weekend. Two or three of our missionaries would minister, exhort, encourage, challenge us. During the year we always received newsletters about their ministries. If one of them was in the area we would have a special night at the church where they could address the congregation. These events were always, ALWAYS much anticipated and well attended. All this to say, these people were “family”. We heard from them regularly, we got to listen to them, visit with them, pray with them, rejoice with them and, occasionally, weep with them. They belonged to us and we belonged to them. It was wonderful. Maybe I have a blind spot. Maybe it’s my Yankee “independence” rearing its ugly head. But, I much prefer that kind of missions outreach as to a system that collects your money and from whom you may never hear again except when they need more money.

    Rick Patrick

    Greg,
    Thanks for sharing. I think it’s a “both/and.” My article addressed the “mission support” aspect of our work, but we are also involved in many “hands on” projects locally and abroad, and we have several missionaries speak each year, just as you described. The difference, I think, is that many missionaries on the field are envious when they hear about the beauty of the SBC Cooperative Program–our missions mutual fund that allows them to focus on ministry rather than doing all that fundraising. Historically, it has worked quite well when churches give close to 10%. Today, however, we are averaging more like 5-6% and experiencing problems. Some believe the solution is to abandon the cooperative approach in favor of societal missions. I believe the solution is to get back to 10%.

      Greg Lawn

      I can live with a “both/and” as long as the SBC Missions Board(s) make a concerted effort to have (require?) missionaries have speaking engagements during furlough time. Is there a Speakers Bureau as part of the SBC Missions Board? Nothing is more important to making missions “personal” than getting to meet and greet those whom you support. I believe that could bump up the 5-6% giving significantly. If there already is a Speakers Bureau, shame on us (locally) for not accessing it.

Greg Lawn

In the interest of full disclosure, I neglected to point out in my first post that I am now semi-retired and my wife and I live in north-central Georgia and are members of a SBC body that consistently is ranked in the top tier of SBC churches in their giving to the Lottie Moon and………I forget the other one…..missions outreach.Although, in the 4 years I have been a member of this particular church, I don’t recall having an SBC missionary ask to address our congregation. Maybe that’s a Missions Board problem or maybe it’s a local leadership issue. I don’t know.

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