I’ve noticed a growing verbal trend that makes me uncomfortable to the point that it deeply concerns me. Someone will toss out the Cooperative Program’s unofficial motto, “We can do more together than we can do apart,” but with a mildly sarcastic tone. My concern is with the veiled attitude behind the sarcasm that guts the statement of meaning and reduces it to a cliché.
Well, we really can do more together than we can do apart and we’ve got 90 years of history to support the reality of that statement. The success of cooperative giving is a fact, not a cliché.
For 90 years, Southern Baptists have depended on the Cooperative Program to be the financial engine that fuels our Great Commission vision. As a result, together we’ve generously given to extend the gospel around the world. Together, we’ve ministered to millions of the world’s suffering people through benevolence ministries. Together, we’ve prepared untold thousands of ministers for gospel ministry through Christian education. Together, we’ve seen God accomplish through us more than we could have ever imagined or dreamed.
But then again, should we be so surprised? God receives the greatest glory when His people work together to magnify the name of Jesus. I believe that is the spirit behind Hebrews 10:4 when it reads, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”
Tennessee Baptists have overwhelmingly affirmed the Five Objectives, the fourth of which states: “Realizing an increase in annual church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024.” Yes, that is a monumental shift from where most of our churches currently are in their giving, and yes, I believe it is going to take a movement of God to see us reach all five of our objectives — and especially that giving level. However, I also believe we have a responsibility to join God in this work.
I talk to people every week who tell me returning Cooperative Program giving back to 10 percent per church will never happen. But why not? Why can’t we get back to those giving levels? Why can’t we have a 50/50 giving model that accomplishes an Acts 1:8 vision?
I get that the economy has sputtered the last few years but lets face it, our economy has been no where nearly as stressed recently as it was through the 20s when we were recovering from WWI, through the 30s and the Great Depression, or in the 40s when our nation directed every available resource to support a global war effort. Southern Baptists and their churches gave generously at 10 percent and well beyond through those decades to support a cooperative missions effort that reached across towns, states, America and the world.
I cringe when people hint that the Cooperative Program is dated, not effective or is broken. Frankly, the problem with the Cooperative Program doesn’t lie within its proven structure. The problem is a lack of passion to reach the world with the gospel that causes us to diminish our financial stewardship, and as a result, we’ve backed away from our commitment to funding missions through the Cooperative Program.
Consider, the idea of churches having a total missions giving of 10 percent is ludicrous. Spending 90 percent at the Jerusalem level is pretty near-sighted, don’t you think? I’m going to rob an analogy from Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board. Kevin talks about their apprentice program in terms of being a “farm system” for getting future church planters in the pipeline. What a great concept, but guess where a lot of those in the farm system responded to a calling? Many were exposed to missions and ministry while a member of Baptist Collegiate Ministry on a college campus. Tennessee Baptists help support BCMs on 24 Tennessee campuses where missionaries and ministers are being raised up, internationals are coming to Christ and young adults are catching a vision for missional living.
International Mission Board President David Platt told me just last week that he is grateful for, “The Great Commission minded churches throughout the Tennessee Baptist Convention who are praying relentlessly, giving sacrificially, and going willingly for the sake of God’s glory in this nation and among all nations. By God’s grace in the generous giving of Tennessee Baptists to the Cooperative Program, the gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading not only to people across Tennessee, but also to peoples around the world who have never heard it.”
David Platt gets that Cooperative Program giving addresses all points on the Acts 1:8 map, if people will cooperate. Fortunately, there are some shining examples of generous churches committed to a cooperative missions effort that see the value in reaching Tennessee and reaching the nations. We have hundreds of churches across our state giving at 10 percent – and many way beyond that. We have others working hard to increase their giving levels toward 10 percent because they see the value.
And you’d be wrong to think it’s just the larger churches increasing their giving or giving at a level beyond 10 percent. It’s smaller churches too. Lots of them like Bethel Baptist Church in Greenfield. This modest congregation of 150 contributes more than 20 percent to the Cooperative Program, and has been at that level or way above for decades. I believe Bethel’s pastor, David Worley, nails it when asked why.
“These are generous people who love missions and love giving through the Cooperative Program,” he said. “We aren’t a very large church, but we know that by working together with other Tennessee Baptists churches we can have an impact across our state and around the world that we’d never have otherwise.”
With all my heart I agree with David and I believe it is worth our every effort to move our churches toward 10 percent Cooperative Program giving, even if it is an incremental 1 percent per year over several years.
The Cooperative Program doesn’t need “fixing,” it needs embracing. Let’s not take our eye off the ball here. The goal is not getting Cooperative Program giving to 10 percent, period. The goal is reaching Tennessee and reaching the nations for Christ. The Cooperative Program is a proven means to that end; and if Southern Baptists will commit to participating, then we will once again enjoy the financial resources needed to expand our Great Commission endeavors locally and around the world.
And that’s a fact.