Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Long Road to the Cooperative Program

Farmersville, Texas, sits adjacent to U.S. Hwy 380 in Collin County. Ours is the final remaining section in our region of this major highway to remain in a two-lane condition. The asphalt through this area is pockmarked with potholes and patches and is one of the worse highway surfaces in our area. The highway has not been resurfaced because it is supposed to be entirely redesigned and replaced with something better. That process has taken place first to our east and west because the redesign inside Farmersville is so much more difficult and expensive than the roadway projects in the more rural surrounding areas. In Farmersville the highway proceeds through a small "canyon" of underpasses past an active railway line and Farmersville's Main Street. The embankments are rather narrow and the widening and improvement of the highway will require substantial work. Also, the highway in Farmersville is crowded with residences and businesses sitting right on the highway. The location of those businesses and homes right on the highway spelled convenience for people when they were erected, but now the proximity that was once convenient has become a problem.

Follow the same highway approximately 650 miles to the West, and U.S. Hwy 380 couldn't possibly look more different. There are no gas stations, no local eateries, no houses, and very few intersections. There is one very significant attraction in the area—a very important site where a defining moment of our history took place—but visiting is difficult because there is no lodging available and the driveway to the attraction is 20 miles long. Inconvenient? It sure is. But since the attraction in question is the Trinity Test Site in the White Sands Proving Grounds—the site where mankind first detonated an atomic bomb—a long, inconvenient road to this radioactive hotspot has probably been a blessing instead of a curse.

Two points on the same highway illustrating in very different ways that efficiency and convenience and brevity are not always the best outcomes or the most important variables in the equation. Long roads can be beneficial and short roads can be disastrous, for sometimes things happen on the journey that are as important as whatever happens at the destination.

The road to the Cooperative Program was a long, good road.

In the nineteenth century, Southern Baptist churches large and small generally did not have budgets for their support of missions. Fundraising for cooperative projects took place through the collection of special offerings. Speaking of highways, along Bus U.S. 641 in Murray, KY, you'll find a historical marker at the First Baptist Church in that town. There in 1900, "under leadership of H. Boyce Taylor, First Baptist Church, Murray, began in 1900 a new approach to church finance. Taylor, pastor 1897-1931, avidly promoted this unified budget plan." Here began the road to the Cooperative Program.

As late as 1917 the SBC was taking official action to encourage Southern Baptist churches to adopt and follow budgets. Truly, the adoption of the Cooperative Program amounted to the adoption of a radical new way of operating financially from up at the local church level through every stratum of Southern Baptist life down to the entities of the national convention.

Radical changes are difficult to make in a voluntaristic union. The careful patience and deliberate inclusiveness of the process is worthy of note. Before proposing a permanent structural change to the operations of the Southern Baptist Convention, the leadership of the SBC embarked upon a one-time trial run called the Seventy-Five Million Campaign. The campaign name was no mystery—Southern Baptist were attempting to raise exactly $75 million dollars to be distributed among various Southern Baptist causes. The time period from the launch of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign to the adoption of the Cooperative Program was a full six years, from 1919 to 1925.

These six years were filled with a truly inclusive and thoroughgoing effort to involve and inform every Southern Baptist of the benefits to be gained by moving to such a plan. The Seventy-Five Million campaign recruited people to assist the effort at every tier of the Southern Baptist family from the local churches to the national campaign. Southern Baptist laypeople across the South enlisted to give "four-minute speeches," mimicking a successful grassroots fundraising campaign by the United States Government during World War I.

Both in its successes and its failures, the Seventy-Five Million campaign was time well spent in determining the future path for the Southern Baptist Convention. It succeeded in demonstrating that Southern Baptist entities were better off financially to join in cooperative fundraising than to continue in the internecine solicitation rivalries that are unavoidable in systems that rely upon designated gifts in special offerings. Yet the campaign also failed in ways. Its high pledge total ($92 million) seduced SBC agencies to go deeply into debts that its far lower actual collections ($58 million) could not possibly retire. The progress of the campaign also revealed how delicate and intricate a process it would be to craft an agreement that distributed costs and proceeds of the campaign in a manner agreeable to everyone involved. By exposing these difficulties in the trial run, Southern Baptists better prepared themselves to minimize or avert them in the final form of the Cooperative Program.

All things considered, the journey from budgetless churches and special offerings to the Cooperative Program took a full twenty-five years. Many would not consider it a very efficient process that takes so many years to accomplish its goal. Southern Baptists, however, have historically been a people reluctant to sacrifice the sole Lordship of Christ over His church in the name of efficiency. Dictatorships are incredibly efficient. The most efficient system for Southern Baptists would be to appoint one man as pope and let him make our decisions for us. We have resisted such a system because we believe that Christ is already Head of the church, and that we have no authority to go about making vicars for Him, lest we depose Him from His rightful throne.

So, this twenty-five year process was not very efficient, as some people measure efficiency. And yet, viewed another way, it was an incredibly efficient and productive process. It not merely secured the compliance of Southern Baptists but actually accomplished the wholehearted buy-in of a national organization of volunteers. Indeed, it accomplished it so well that a full fifty years later people were referring to the Cooperative Program as a "sacred cow" in Southern Baptist life.

How long has it been since the Southern Baptist Convention has proposed or adopted anything that has been as popular and beloved among grassroots Southern Baptists in the pew as the Cooperative Program has been? It seems to me that there is something about the long road to the Cooperative Program that is helpful to all of us.

It commends to us pastors the value of patience in leadership. Brash and forceful bullying may win short-term victories, but it is no good foundation for lifetime ministry. I agree with Stan Norman that our decision making can be as much discipleship as administration—that the winsome and longsuffering work of securing consensus within the church reaps as many spiritual benefits as it reaps practical and secular benefits. Such changes last.

It also provides, I believe, a clear pattern for our present Southern Baptist leaders to examine and emulate. The SBC in 1900 stood at a moment in which dramatic changes were appropriate to help the convention realize a better cooperative ministry future. The need for those changes became persistent and clear enough that they spanned multiple SBC presidencies and numerous SBC annual meetings. Rather than ramrod their changes through and browbeat Southern Baptists into submission, these visionary leaders took the time and made the sacrifices to win Southern Baptist support from local churches, associations, state conventions, the national convention, and the various entities at every level. Although this made their work slower, it also made it more long-lasting and more effective.

Such leadership is more rare today in our nation. We live in a day in which Congress authorizes the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars without even bothering to read the legislation that does so, all because we have leaders who don't want to waste a good crisis and who drown out opposition by declaring that the sky will fall unless changes are made immediately.

I am hopeful that our reorganization task force will not follow the example of President Obama. The task force needs to take at least a year after they have adopted and published specific recommendations for our convention. They need to send emissaries to each and every state convention annual meeting and hold Q&A sessions open to all Southern Baptists. In some larger states, the task force might even be well advised to augment the Q&A at the state annual meeting with a series of regional meetings along the same lines. Only after Southern Baptists from the local church level to the national meeting level have had ample and lengthy opportunity to examine the proposals on their merits should our leaders expect us to be ready to vote.

Highway engineers have recently been examining the Dallas North Tollway in the aftermath of a spate of terrible accidents to determine why drivers are getting on the Tollway and traveling in the wrong direction (e.g., Southbound on the Northbound lanes). Several fatalities have resulted from these accidents. Last night one of our local news anchors reported on the engineers' progress. They have looked at some possible enhancements to make the Tollway safer, but they have noted that every wrong-way driver considered in the recent sample was driving while intoxicated. Alcohol begins to impair judgment from the very first drink. As concentrations of alcohol grow in the bloodstream, people start to turn onto the roadway without giving much thought to their choices. The results can be disastrous. Whether in driving or in decision making, it is impossible to devise a system that will work well even for thoughtless, rushed, or distracted people.

Southern Baptists certainly sit at an intersection. We must choose a route. Let us not be afraid of the long road. Let us be a people of careful deliberation rather than high-pressure rushed decisions. Some voices are pressuring the task force to "blow [the SBC] up" in a hurry. Let us take a good look around before we push down the plunger and detonate the TNT. The members of our task force will spend hours in meetings and will work hard to bring before us what they believe to be their very best recommendations. We honor their work when we take the time to read and consider their thoughts carefully. Let us not be a people who reflexively adopt sweeping legislation that we haven't even read carefully or submitted before the Lord in fervent and lengthy prayer.

And certainly, if we would consider any major changes to the Cooperative Program, let us remember that a great many godly and intelligent people spent a quarter of a century arriving at the plan that we call the Cooperative Program. We honor their work if we pause longer than 1/50th of the time that they put into creating the Cooperative Program before we make any radical changes to it.


Anonymous said...

I have a few random thoughts and questions.

1. Wade also had a post about roads recently and the Castaway movie. SBC bloggers must have some gene in common.

2. I was watching a TV show about the Manson killings in 1969. I was 8 when they occurred. Tex Watson (one of the Mason family) was from Farmersville. He played on the High School football team in Famersville. I have wondered if it possible that he or his family were members at First Baptist? I would not make any judgments about that. I am just curious.

3. I believe that the CP is a good thing. I cannot imagine the competition that would ensue between the IMB and every other mission board in the US for dollars, let alone the competition between the seminaries. I do not see the wisdom of routing gifts through the state conventions. Our church does not route all of our gifts through our state, where 65% or so is taken before forwarding to the SBC.

4. People give to what they are excited about. I believe that the SBC needs to be talking less about decline, and just focus on doing what God has called us to do with the resources that we have. It's fine to examine how the SBC may be finally seeing the same thing that other denominations have been facing for 40 years. But they way to improve things is to have good churches, good programs and a unified vision for ministry. Spending too much time talking about decline, or saving the SBC etc. is not inspiring.


Bart Barber said...


1. It is common knowledge that my blog simply exists to regurgitate Wade's stuff. :-)

2. Farmersville has the blessing and the curse of being historically the larger town in the vicinity of smaller ones (and therefore the one often identified as the "home town" of people who lived close to here).

The curse comes in the form of Tex Watson (although I hear that he has perhaps converted to Christianity...haven't researched that at all and make no claims either way), who is actually a native of the small community of Copeville, TX, about 5 miles south of here. If any family members are or were members here, I do not know about it, although they certainly would be welcome here.

The blessing comes in the person of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in World War II. Murphy was actually born in the rural areas around the hamlet of Kingston, TX, but his enlistment papers gave Farmersville as his hometown of record, I think. When he perished young in a tragic plane accident, Murphy was memorialized in two funeral services—one in Hollywood, CA (he had embarked upon an acting career of sorts) and another here at First Baptist Church of Farmersville.

If he or any of his family were members here, I do not know about it, although they certainly would be welcome here.

3. In one of my upcoming posts I will address the state convention issue. Suffice it to say that, as a member of an SBTC church, I am as enthusiastic about the minority portion of CP funding that spreads the gospel in Texas as I am about the majority portion that we forward to the SBC for national and international causes. I think that, for those who are less enthusiastic about the state portion of CP, their reservations may have less to do with the funding plan and more to do with their relationship with their state convention and their assessment of its nature and activities.

4. I could not agree more.

Writer said...

Bart & Louis,

Pursuant to number 4 of Louis' list, do you think Lifeway Research has been helpful or hurtful in their focus on the negatives of the SBC?


Bart Barber said...


All of the SBC entity trustee board members are asked to refrain from making individual assessments of the effectiveness of other specific entities or departments thereof. I want to honor that commitment, and therefore I will not make any observation about whether Lifeway Research's work could or should be characterized as primarily offering or dwelling upon a negative assessment of the SBC.

We've probably ALL said something negative about the SBC at some point, just as we've probably all said something negative about our own churches or about our own family members. It goes too far to say that "familiarity breeds contempt," but I do believe that familiarity necessarily involves a closer look at the imperfections of other people and of groups of people like the SBC.

What is harmful is when negativity (the attitude) pushes negative information (the data) so far into the spotlight as to keep all of the positive information (other, equally valid, data) into the shadows. Wherever that happens, it is probably self-defeating.

Anonymous said...


Wow! Thanks for the info on Audie Murphy. I have heard the same thing about Tex Watson's conversion several years ago.


I have not really followed all of the results of the LifeWay research dept. In the abstract, it seems that research is a necessary and good thing. Kind of like keeping stats at the church. It's how one reacts to that research that counts.

The church can decline in SS enrollment. The pastor can react in 2 ways. 1 - folks, our SS in declining. God is not blessing us. If we don't turn it around, our church will continue to decline. Then, he can start whipping people to work harder, go witnessing more etc. The better way might be to simply analyze the program, make the changes that can and should be made, but to spend public time emphasizing the positive.

Ed Stetzer has a good post today on the Between the Times blog (Southeastern's blog). He has a great heart for the SBC. So, I am not worried about that.

It's fixation on the results and gaging everything by that.

I remember the first night of this year's convention (it may have actually been Monday night) when I attended the IX Marks meeting after the larger session. Mark Dever did something that made an impression on me.

Mark was the first one to speak. Given what had been said in the larger sessions, one could have expected Mark to stand up and address the points made and give a solution to "the problem."

Instead, Mark got up and said something like, "I have heard a lot about decline today. What we want to do tonight is talk about ..." And from there the IX Marks meeting took off and went in a very positive direction. The room was filled with younger pastors, church planters and other people. And because the meeting did not fixate on decline and the SBC problems and how to "fix" it (and I can think of some people who would have been happy to organize a meeting like that), it had a positive result. Ironically, that meeting attracted the "young leaders" that have been so assiduously courted over the last few years.

My point is not that everyone has to agree with Mark Dever or IX Marks.

But I do believe that leading a positive movement involves talking about major themes enthusiastically. One doesn't need to ignore problems or challenges to do that. But fixating on them, hand wringing, worry, infighting and all the stuff that follows does more damage and causes more depression, in my opinion and experience.


Dave Miller said...

Louis' comparison between Wade's site and Bart's was fantastic!

This series has the makings of a good book (or at least booklet).

volfan007 said...

I do think that all the negative comments from certain people and groups in the SBC has led to negative feelings about the CP and SB's in general...when there's so much positive going on. But, you hardly ever hear of the positive.

All we seem to hear is how this is broken...that is bloated....this aint done right....SB are growing older....etc, etc, ad nauseum.


Matt Brady said...

"The Time for Change!" "Yes We Can!" Well actually, we can't unless we create a crises. The communists understood this and so do the current politicians rushing us headlong into centralized power and socialism. Create a crises, real or perceived, with dire, negative statistics and then ram through the desired changes.

We all want to be the most efficient at reaching people for Jesus, but I hope our Southern Baptist leadership's desire for change and their means to accomplish it is different than what we are seeing played out in the secular arena.

We ought to do it different. Let's slow down and be wide open about the changes that the predominantly mega church leadership wants to foist upon our convention. The change might be very good, but if so, it will stand the test of time and scrutiny.

Most all of us voted for the task force just as a majority of Americans voted democratic this past election, but let's not assume a carte blanche mandate.

The GCR change might be very good. There are certainly some wonderful, godly people on the task force, but it sure would be nice if we had more information as to what they want to change. Give the rest of us time not only to pray for the taskforce, but also to pray with some inkling of understanding as to what it is they want to change. Then, if it is good change, we will all rejoice and join in.

Tom Parker said...


You said--"I do think that all the negative comments from certain people and groups in the SBC has led to negative feelings about the CP and SB's in general...when there's so much positive going on. But, you hardly ever hear of the positive.

All we seem to hear is how this is broken...that is bloated....this aint done right....SB are growing older....etc, etc, ad nauseum.


Who are all these people and groups? Why not name names?

You have a Blog, why not you write Blogs about positive articles about the SB and the CP. Or you and your Blog buddies you all write some positive things. Ya'll can do something.

Your comment sounds too much like whining.

volfan007 said...


God bless you.


RKSOKC66 said...


You hit it out of the park with your idea that the recommendations from the task force be vetted for a year prior to voting on them.

I agree with you that the task force should:

(1) publish their draft report for review and discussion

(2) go out to the state conventions, and regional sessions and pitch their recommendations and get feedback

(3) break out their recommendations into separate planks that could be discussed separately and voted on individually either "up" or "down"

This would ensure maximum buy-in since many can't attend the annual meeting. It is especially difficult this time since it is in Orlando which is at the "edge" of the country. If it was in OKC or Dallas then that would make it much easier for people to attend.

Roger Simpson