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 nature—in order to increase support for a particular entity they value. On the other hand, it may be negative in nature—in 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.”