Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What's Cooperative about the Cooperative Program?

In our propagandizing about the Cooperative Program (and I use the word "propagandizing" in its noblest sense), we've always landed heavy on the word "Cooperative" and left the "Program" part as the unaccented syllable. Our very good reason for that emphasis is the fact that programs inspire nobody while cooperation is a noble and uplifting concept. I also note that, in our expositions on cooperation, we tend to emphasize the concept of people cooperating with other people and churches cooperating with other churches. These are worthy emphases, and certainly the Cooperative Program does represent the cooperation of people with people and churches with churches. Normally, those doing the propagandizing are denominational employees trying to recruit people and churches to engage (or engage more fully) in the Cooperative Program.

Nevertheless, we must admit that EVERY funding system by which more than one person or more than one church fund joint ventures is, by its definition, just as "cooperative" with regard to people and churches as is our Cooperative Program system. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, although it is not a part of the Cooperative Program, is a fine example of people cooperating with other people and churches cooperating with other churches to reach people for Christ.

The true genius of the Cooperative Program—the novel aspect of cooperation that it introduced like a soothing balm—was that, in addition to the cooperation of people and churches that had always been present among Southern Baptists, it introduced an unprecedented level of Southern Baptist entities cooperating with other Southern Baptist entities. What had theretofore been a competition to see which entities could tap most effectively the pool of Southern Baptist charitable funding became a cooperative effort to solicit Southern Baptist funding in harmony. The loss of the Cooperative Program would not constitute the end of Baptist Christians and Baptist churches cooperating with one another, but would certainly endanger the cooperative relationships of our Southern Baptist entities.

I submit as my thesis for this post the following idea: The greatest danger to the Cooperative Program today lies not in the idea that churches will cease to cooperate with one another, but in the threat of the various constituents of Southern Baptist life not dealing with one another cooperatively. In specific, several factors pose dangers to our forward movement together.

  1. A weakening of the cooperative relationship between the various state conventions and the national Southern Baptist Convention.

    Technically, our Southern Baptist family is non-connectional. In other words, the conceptual relationship between my state convention (the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention) and my national convention (the Southern Baptist Convention) is one of disconnected partners. The Southern Baptist Convention is not a subsidiary of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The SBTC is not a subsidiary of the SBC. Each could conceivably exist apart from the other, although neither could exist apart from the churches.

    Practically, however, the state and national levels of our convention are intricately interwoven. The boards and committees of our national convention and entities, for example, often are structured to require proportional representation from the various state convention areas. The Cooperative Program is one factor that increases this enmeshed relationship between state conventions and national convention. Because of the Cooperative Program, the national convention is dependent for its funding upon the decisions of state conventions regarding how much CP money to keep for their own operations and how much to forward. Sometimes it is apparent that these decisions have been made in ways very favorable to the state convention and very unfavorable to the national SBC, while in some cases the state conventions have labored very sacrificially to give greater funding to national and international missions. The national convention needs the state conventions to do well and to be in a position to practice good stewardship of CP funding.

    Conversely, Cooperative Program funding is generally solicited by an appeal to the Southern Baptist love for missions in general and international missions in specific. The states, therefore, have a vested interest in the health and success of the Southern Baptist Convention not only for their spiritual reasons (as people who love the Lord and want to spread the gospel), but also because the number of CP dollars coming into state convention coffers will be determined more by local church buy-in to the SBC's program of missions than by any other one factor.

    State conventions and the national convention, then, are like partners in a three-legged race. Each needs the other for the success of the Cooperative Program.

    Starting in 1979, the national Southern Baptist Convention took a dramatic turn to the right in its theology and practice. If any state convention partners were out-of-step with the pre-1979 SBC, the change in the SBC may have made the intricate dance between state convention and national convention a more graceful one. However, if any state convention partners were well matched with the pre-1979 SBC, then the dramatic changes in the SBC posed a threat to their cooperative relationship. One of two things had to happen: (a) either something like the Conservative Resurgence needed to happen in those state conventions to facilitate greater cooperative agreement between the two tiers of SBC cooperation, or (b) the cooperative relationship between the two bodies was inevitably going to weaken, eroding the foundation of the Cooperative Program (or, theoretically, (c) state conventions could hunker down and try to wait to see whether the SBC meanders back left again after leaping to the right).

    Evidence of both outcomes among the various state conventions could likely be presented, although decorum prevents me from giving examples or naming names. My point is simply this: We employ the name "Cooperative Program" alike whether state and national convention are working at cross-purposes or laboring in harmony. No matter how much a state convention keeps for its own uses and no matter how little a state convention forwards to national or international causes, we indiscriminately refer to the system as the "Cooperative Program" and treat these various systems as though they are all equally "cooperative."

    This is a farce.

    What is needed is not a season of recriminations or attacks between state and national tiers of our Southern Baptist family, as I am in danger of provoking with these words. My goal is simply for Southern Baptists to acknowledge that state-national relationships within the SBC vary in their levels of cooperativeness, and that these variances have implications for the health of the Cooperative Program as well as upon the actions of local churches and other partners in the CP family. I pursue this goal not in the quest for some sort of blame-game, but because the Cooperative Program cannot, in my estimation, be strengthened by cultivating denial of this reality. The Cooperative Program can never be stronger than the cooperative nature of the relationship between the state conventions and the national convention.

    Not that the state conventions alone contribute to problems in the cooperative relationship. I confess that I have, in the past, allowed my exasperation over specific examples of financial hostility toward the national SBC by specific state conventions to provoke me into intemperate and categorical language speaking of the stinginess of state conventions. Such language on my part, as well as GCR-related statements critical of our state conventions, are no solution prone to bolster the health of the SBC or the Cooperative Program. Rather, they are more likely to make the problems worse by heightening tensions that need to be relaxed. And obviously, any past statements I have made about state conventions have not been meant to apply to ALL state conventions—I do not apply any of those characterizations to my own state convention, which is a model of cooperativeness, IMHO. I need to speak and write more carefully in the future, for the cooperative and collegial spirit between state conventions and the national SBC is too important a feature, and often too fragile a feature, for reckless talk to be allowed to endanger it.

    Lackluster participation in the Cooperative Program by the local churches is a problem in our generation. Does the root of the problem lie in some dissatisfied angst not properly addressed by the SBC? In some cases, probably so. Does the real problem concern an isolationism and self-centeredness among churches that increasingly seek to become an empire unto themselves? Again, this is likely at least partly to blame in some cases. But let us not forget that in some cases churches are circumventing the Cooperative Program not because they are upset with the missions program of the SBC, but because they are delighted with it. They perceive an uncooperative relationship between their state convention and the SBC. From their vantage point, the Cooperative Program is already broken, and not by their own hands. They are acting, as they perceive it, not in violence to the Cooperative Program so much as in self-defense on its behalf.

    I know whereof I speak—once upon a time it was me. I'm thankful that it is me no longer, but I am sympathetic toward those who claim that these factors shape their Cooperative Program giving (or lack thereof, as some would count it).

    For this reason each and every state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention should, if it has not already done so, adopt the Baptist Faith & Message in its latest revision. The national Southern Baptist Convention and the various state conventions should labor hard to reconcile any differences in methodology or any age-old tensions that might be present. A sincere and united front among the state conventions and the national convention would bolster local-church participation in the Cooperative Program, for it is this kind of cooperation among the tiers of Southern Baptist life that either is or gives rise to the most winsome features that commend the Cooperative Program over all other approaches. This is also one of the reasons why the Georgia Baptist Convention's proposed strong constitutional stance on the authority of the Bible is such a splendid idea. The GBC's action demonstrates that Georgia Baptists are in theological harmony with Southern Baptists across the nation. Such demonstrations, whenever they occur, strengthen our cooperative work with one another.

  2. A weakening in the cooperative relationship among the individual state conventions. Today we witness the divisive phenomenon of congregations seeking affiliation with state conventions other than those headquartered in their home states. A few years ago the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was solicited along these lines and very wisely demurred. The creation of a climate of state conventions competing with one another for the same churches is injurious to the fabric of cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention. For any state convention to accept into its membership churches from another state is nothing less than a declaration of war against a neighboring state convention. An ecclesiological Anschluss makes a poor foundation for cooperation at the national level.

    Such actions necessarily further heighten tensions between any offending state conventions and the national convention. The state convention admitting churches beyond its state is, by definition, no longer a state convention. It is, at least, a regional convention. It may be a group coveting the status of national convention—an incipient schismatic competitor to the national convention. Cooperative trust, particularly as the division of funds is concerned, is difficult to maintain in such circumstances.

  3. Any increase in designated giving. People have the freedom to designate their gifts. Churches have the autonomy to designate their gifts. I affirm this liberty as an important one. Nevertheless, designated giving is not Cooperative Program giving, and is indeed injurious to Cooperative Program giving.

    Any pastor of any church ought to recognize the truth of this matter. When we consider making the jump to designated giving and societal missions, we ought first to ask ourselves, "What if the members of my church were to follow this example in their giving to local church ministries?" Who is going to designate money to pay the electric bill? Who is going to designate money to purchase insurance? In budgets, like in churches, sometimes the "dishonorable members" turn out to be quite important after all! All of our churches receive designated gifts, but none of us would be comfortable will allowing this "dessert" of designated gifts to become a substitute for the main course of undesignated gifts.

    Our ultimate motivation for preferring undesignated giving over designated giving is not greed or megalomania or a desire to suppress freedom. We encourage undesignated giving because we realize the hidden inefficiencies of designated gifts. The causes for which we designate money could not function apart from the health of those causes to which nobody ever designates anything. The beautiful building built by designated gifts is rendered useless when the Electric Company shuts down the power for lack of payment.

    For this very reason, perceptions that mechanisms other than the Cooperative Program are more efficient are often illusory. My church can engage an unreached people group directly and cut out all that is in the middle, but as we do so we take advantage (mostly for free) of strategies and the identification of UPGs developed by IMB personnel, partnerships fostered by state convention relationships, staff members educated by SBC seminaries, and laypeople educated and inspired by decades of SBC mission emphases. If our churches could not parasitically feed off of these CP services, could we really participate directly in a worldwide strategy for evangelization at a lower cost?

    At all costs, the Southern Baptist Convention must avoid the confusion of designated giving with Cooperative Program giving. To make this mistake will be to lose the capability of developing any overall convention strategy and will be to goad our entities at every level of the SBC family to take individual fundraising initiative. The end result of any growth or encouragement of designated giving will be a return to 1900. SBC family entities will be incentivized to forsake the Cooperative Program methodology and make direct appeals to churches for designated gifts. Work to develop an overall strategy for convention ministries will be undermined, and the advantages of the convention method will be lost.

Yes, the Southern Baptist people will cooperate for missions. Yes, Southern Baptist churches will reach out to one another to cooperate upon a wide variety of important ministries. These things are so natural as not to be fragile. Like the grass underneath your nearest sidewalk, the sprouts of intercongregational cooperation among Baptists are indefatigable even in the face of the most cumbersome of barriers.

However, let us not take for granted, and let us not place into further jeopardy, the great Pax Baptistica by which our entities have come to lock arms with one another and work in harmony with one another rather than in competition. This formal cooperation among entities is the great jewel of our denominational life. And if the Cooperative Program is weakening at all among Southern Baptists, then I suggest that we look in this area of how our various institutions get along with one another first for the causes as well as for the solutions. Not that no causes exist elsewhere, but because these factors are most within our grasp and control and because they have great power to motivate and influence the participation of Southern Baptists at other levels.


Tom Parker said...


You said--"For this reason each and every state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention should, if it has not already done so, adopt the Baptist Faith & Message in its latest revision."

How will this bring about greater cooperation for the CP?

Bart Barber said...


Lingering theological disagreement over the issues encapsulated in the BF&M constitute the major bone of contention that muddles state convention / national convention relations in the SBC. Either the SBC needs to abandon the 2000 revision of the BF&M, or the states need to adopt it. I am not in favor of the former; therefore, I am advocating for the latter. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Because we are non-connectual, one can make a theoretical case that the national convention and the state conventions need not share a common theology. But we've seen the practical outworking of how these differences undermine such cooperative ventures as the Cooperative Program. When state conventions have blackballed specific SBC entities in their CP forwarding, they have done so because of differences over the issues involved in the BF&M revision. This fact alone is evidence that the two matters (viz., the content of our statement of faith and the health of the Cooperative Program) are not unrelated matters.

Andrew said...

Excellent post!

1) "A weakening of the cooperative relationship between the various state conventions and the national Southern Baptist Convention." -- This more than anything is why every three or four years we run out of IMB money and have to have special offerings or "double-your-goal" years -- and that is only the most apparent shortfall since the IMB is the largest recipient of CP monies....

2) "A weakening in the cooperative relationship among the individual state conventions." -- Is the point also served by the fact that inter-state partnerships (say Texas and Maine) are/seem less promoted and less followed by the churches?

3) "Any increase in designated giving" -- two points:
a) we are still suffering from this holdover of the CR change-up or the states' version of the CR
b) 2006 is the banner year for the downfall of the well-known pastors with token giving in favor of the lesser known, but CP-faithful church leader

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Andrew.

Steve Young said...

I have been following your discussion of the Cooperative Program with great interest. I recently moved from a church in Arkansas to one in Montana. Our church in Arkansas was a strong supporter of the CP and the missions offerings. The churc i now serve is only a dozen or so years old in a pioneer state. I have already told our deacons and finance committee that when we work on the new budget we need to drastically increase our percentage, and with a plan to continue to raise it annually.
I have been on both sides of SBC funding. I was a church planter/pastor in Wyoming, partially funded by NAMB. In Arkansas we started a HMONG mission in our church, partially funded by the Association and Arkansas Baptists.

I recall describing the difference between SBC and Independent Baptists to a prospect family in Wyoming. We agreed that doctrinally we were very similar. I then described how we funded missions. The wife said "Wow, that sounds a lot better than how we do it!" All I could do was agree.
Thanks again and keep 'em coming.

Steve Young
Montana City, MT

Matt Brady said...


I'm really enjoying this series. I have a few questions below, but don't feel like you have to answer them. I'll just throw them out there for thought.

1. Relationship between state and national conventions

“Because of the Cooperative Program, the national convention is dependent for its funding upon the decisions of state conventions regarding how much CP money to keep for their own operations and how much to forward.”

That is true unless you could devise a way to skip the state conventions altogether. I know that would be terrible for a state like Texas where you have the wonderful option of the SBTC, but not everyone is so blessed.

“For this reason each and every state convention in the Southern Baptist Convention should, if it has not already done so, adopt the Baptist Faith & Message in its latest revision.”

You were absolutely correct in your response to Tom, but what if conventions don't adopt the BFM 2000? What if state convention employees and powers continue to refuse to allow even a vote on the BFM2000 using every imaginable parliamentary procedure to block it? What if their lobbying efforts toward the messengers win the day and there remains no doctrinal standard other than, “We believe the Bible,” which, by the way, is a statement even the Mormons could say with a straight face?

2.Competing state conventions

You are probably right, but competition between state conventions might force weak ones to shape up or face being replaced by more faithful conventions.

3. Designated Giving

I agree with you concerning the danger of designated giving to particular projects, but I see less of a problem with giving straight to the national CP and its allocations while eliminating the state CP funding. Good stewardship might preclude some churches from supporting their state convention.

Could it be that SOME state conventions are doing little that is worthwhile that could not be accomplished more efficiently by local associations and the national convention? After all, 60-70 percent of the CP could go a long way if it were freed up from funding liberal state colleges and other such ventures.

OK, I know that last statement was perhaps over the top and scandalous. I’m now wide open and ready to be set straight :-) Seriously though, I think there ought to be something to spur discussion out there as to the importance or lack thereof of the various state conventions and their work. Are they always a help or can they sometimes be a hindrance to our national cooperative efforts, and IF they are a hindrance, what solutions might be in order that would not hurt the solid state conventions.

Tom Parker said...


You said to Bart:

You were absolutely correct in your response to Tom, but what if conventions don't adopt the BFM 2000? What if state convention employees and powers continue to refuse to allow even a vote on the BFM2000 using every imaginable parliamentary procedure to block it? What if their lobbying efforts toward the messengers win the day and there remains no doctrinal standard other than, “We believe the Bible,” which, by the way, is a statement even the Mormons could say with a straight face?

I can not believe you compared those that do believe the Bible in the SBC but unwilling to sign off on the 2000 BF&M to Mormons. That is extreme!!

Just a thought but if everyone that is still a member of the SBC is made to sign off on the 2000 BF&M look for lots more to refuse to do this.

Tom Parker said...


You said to Bart
--"You were absolutely correct in your response to Tom, but what if conventions don't adopt the BFM 2000? What if state convention employees and powers continue to refuse to allow even a vote on the BFM2000 using every imaginable parliamentary procedure to block it? What if their lobbying efforts toward the messengers win the day and there remains no doctrinal standard other than, “We believe the Bible,” which, by the way, is a statement even the Mormons could say with a straight face?"

In other words some one who will sign off on the 2000 BF&M believes the Bible and those who refuse to sign off do not believe the Bible and are Mormons.

Is it just that simple?

Is it really going to come to the day where someone has to sign off on the 2000 BF&M to remain in the SBC?

I wonder why we are so divided in the SBC but surely it has nothing to do with the 2000 BF&M.

Matt Brady said...


You take my point much too far. It is quite a stretch to infer that I am calling everyone who refuses to sign the BFM 2000 Mormons. My point is that there are many groups that claim to believe the Bible, such as the Mormons, that we would not consider cooperating with for the cause of missions.

Mormons say they believe the Bible, the KJV no less, but we aren't going to plant churches with them.

Cooperative missions is not as simple as two groups saying they believe the Bible and that's enough. At some point we have to clarify not only that we believe the Bible, but what we believe about what the Bible teaches. The more we agree on what it teaches, the more we can cooperate together for kingdom work. If we disagree on what the Bible teaches, a wedge is created that hampers our cooperative efforts, thus I agree with Bart's response to you.

I hope that helps to bring a little more clarity to what I meant. Sorry for the confusion.

Tom Parker said...


Thanks for the clarification. Do you believe all SB need to sign off on the 2000 BF&M to be considered a cooperating member?

Matt Brady said...


No, but I do believe that anyone receiving CP funding should be able to sign the BFM 2000 without caveat. I say that, because churches should have a reasonable expectation that their missions dollars are funding missions that they could in good conscience support. The BFM is the only objective tool we have with which to gage doctrinal agreement.

Matt Brady said...


The reason I contend that one can cooperate through giving but cannot cooperate through receiving without the BFM, is that I find no trouble in supporting missionaries that go farther in their standards than I do, but few will support missionaries whose standards fall short of their own.

Tom Parker said...


I disagree. I really would be interested if there was a private vote on how many SB would be willing to sign off on the 2000 BF&M without a caveat. I also would be interested in what the SBC would want to do with the non-signers. Would they be fired as some of our missionaries were? Would they be told we do not want your charitable donations.

I continue to be suprised that we have reached this point in Baptist history where a man made document is the only gage for doctrinal agreement. I always thought it was the Bible.

Were has the SBC that I knew and loved so much gone to?

IMO if we keep going down this road the SBC is going to get smaller and more divided and the CP is going to receive few and fewer funds.

Matt Brady said...


At face value, I understand your point when you say, "I continue to be suprised that we have reached this point in Baptist history where a man made document is the only gage for doctrinal agreement. I always thought it was the Bible."

The problem is that every Christian and even most cultic groups claim to believe the Bible. Sadly, we don't all believe the same things about the Bible. Many groups who believe the Bible also accept doctrine that we cannot in good conscience support. If just saying we believe the Bible is enough, then our convention is completely irrelevant. We could all just join in with the Episcopalians, United Methodists, Roman Catholics, Penetecostals, or other established groups who also claim to believe the Bible. If claiming to believe the Bible is the only standard for cooperation, then we would have to link arms even with the cults.

David R. Brumbelow said...

Tom & Matt,
The big difference I see in the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith & Message is that some theological liberals saw the 1963 statement as containing two huge loopholes. The 1963 statement said the Bible “has” (not “is”) truth. While not intended, some liberals interpreted this as meaning that they could sign it while still believing there are errors in the Bible.

Also, the 1963 statement said, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Christ.” Some liberals interpreted this to mean that if Jesus did not directly speak to an issue, you could take any view you wanted, regardless of what other Scripture said.

The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 cleared up these “loopholes” or questions by deleting the “criterion” statement and adding, “all Scripture is true and trustworthy.” So someone who believed the Bible contains errors could sign the 1963 statement on the basis of his interpretation of those “loopholes.” He could not do so with the 2000 statement.

Baptists want to know that their mission money goes to those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. At least most do.
David R. Brumbelow

Matt Brady said...


One other thought and then I'm off to prayer meeting.

In regards upholding the doctrinal standards of the BFM you say: "IMO if we keep going down this road the SBC is going to get smaller and more divided and the CP is going to receive few and fewer funds."

I contend that the opposite is true. Organizations draw support specifically because they do take a stand on issues. When they do, they garner the enthusiastic support of those who agree with them. People are drawn to an organization for what it stands for, not for what it doesn't stand for. Birds of a feather flock together, but a bird who gives up all her feathers can't flock with anyone.

Matt Brady said...


I agree.

David R. Brumbelow said...

Thanks. And I agree with your comments. That's got to count for something :-).
Have a good prayer meeting.
David R. Brumbelow

Tim G said...

YOu have raised some questions that have been swarming in my head and some of them being asked by others in the SBC. I think some discussion of the possible solutions would be great but also could be dangerous.

"Good Stewardship" is a key phrase in this whole scenerio. When one is in a state where 70+% of CP stays in the State, it difficult to call it "good stewardship" to continue with the path.

You mentioned that a change could create a scenerio where the entities develop their own funding plans. This is already occuring at levels never before seen. In fact, most entities have their own special offering promotions.

Just a thought.

Matt Brady said...


Your agreement counts for a lot. It shows your brilliance. :-)

Matt Brady said...

Tim G.,

I agree with you that change can be dangerous, but it appears we are going to have change of some sort. The SBC cannot tell state conventions what to do or how much money to forward, but the SBC can open up other avenues whereby to fund the CP. I think dual conventions in every state would be great. If churches want to support the more liberal/moderate bloated bureaucracies they will have that option, but other churches who want to see more of their CP money getting to pioneer mission fields should have an option as well. It's worked in Texas and Virginia. AS we look at avenues for change, we might be able to learn from the experience of those states who have already accomplished change. Change, I might add, that has indeed made missions giving more efficient and effective.

Tom Parker said...


You said:"If churches want to support the more liberal/moderate bloated bureaucracies they will have that option, but other churches who want to see more of their CP money getting to pioneer mission fields should have an option as well."

Is the purpose of having SB sign off on the 2000 BF&M to rid the SBC of "the more liberal/moderate bloated bureaucracies."

After 30 years the SBC has not rid itself of all liberals and moderates. How can that be? Almost 11,000 days to get rid of them and they are still here.

Where does all of this end?

Tom Parker said...


Sincere question. Does the CP program accept money from any in the SBC who are "liberal" or "moderate". If yes, why?

Matt Brady said...


I didn't exactly call any state conventions moderate/liberal although in some cases I think that point could be made. The key word is "more." Would you not agree that the BGCT is more moderate/liberal than the SBTC? Would you not also agree that the the SBTC is far more streamlined as far as staffing and programming than their older counterpart? Would you not agree that at least 35% more CP money which goes through the SBTC reaches the SBC CP than that which goes through the BGCT?

I'm just saying that choices are good. In Texas, those who like the BGCT way of doing missions can keep right on supporting that convention, but those who see the SBTC as doing a better job, also have a convention which they can support and see more of their mission dollars getting to the pioneer mission fields.

Tim G said...

I have even heard a few DOM's discuss with Pastor a "how to" without a major change. Simply send a designated amount to the state (if your state convention is keeping more) and then send the rest of it to the Executive Committee of the SBC so that the Seminaries, and Mission Boards get the majority of the money.

True the discussion can be dangerous but as you have mentioned, there are many things in the area Stewardship that need to be addressed. The changes that are coming will reveal the danger or not!

That is one that we all have to wait and see on!

Matt Brady said...

Tim G.,

Thanks for the input.

The idea you mention would work fine except that we would have to go back and undo the definition of cooperative program giving which we adopted just a couple of years ago. The messengers were persuaded (mainly by a CP committee filled with state exec's) to vote that in order for monies to be considered CP giving they had to go through the state conventions. Any portion that is designated to go directly to Nashville to the national CP is not considered CP giving. Many churches who would like to avoid funding CBF church plants and liberal colleges or other such things in their state convention are indeed already doing what you suggest, but those churches are then cut out from having any members or their pastor serve on any committees or elected positions of the convention, because by definition they are not supporting the CP, even though they are actually supporting the national CP at a MUCH greater level. It doesn't look good for a nominee's church stat's to show that their church is giving .001 percent of their budget to the CP.

Therein lies much of the change I think we need. We need to change how we define and collect CP dollars at the national level. I'm all for undesignated gifts to the national CP, but how do we get more of our money to that level? We need better giving options to get it there.

volfan007 said...


There are always liberals lurking around. They are wolves in sheep clothing. They are termites seeking to get into the wood of your house. The Devil always raises up a spy army of lost, Bible hating, sin loving liberals who seek to shipwreck the faith of others.

And, if they want to send money to help fund our missions...then hurray. More power to them.


Tim G said...

I agree BUT I think the purpose of the post is to point us into an understanding of COOPERATIVE giving. I think this is difficult in states where the money stays. It is easy for Texans to support the normal plan - they have a great % breakdown. Others do not - thus the big problem!

A point of interest - CP giving did not seem to hurt the national elections these past two years. And when it did - we got watered down leadership in many ways.

Matt Brady said...


I think you are exactly right as to the problems of cooperative giving.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that the Great Commission Task Force will focus its efforts on the structure of the mission boards and the EC and ignore the giving issues. Again, I hope I'm wrong, but it's just too controversial to say out loud that some state conventions aren't where they ought to be whether it be doctrinal (BFM 2000, liberal colleges, etc.) or financial (% of CP forwarded). Nobody wants to start an internecine war.

I fear, however, that if we don't find an amiable solution then our more left leaning state conventions will eventually fragment or just fade into irrelevance as churches choose to stop supporting the left leaning ventures, and that in turn would hurt the national convention as well.

In the last few years we have seen some high profile examples of mega churches trying to get their missions dollars around their state conventions and to the pioneer mission fields. Whether they were right or wrong, we ought to acknowledge the underlying issue. There are a lot of smaller churches who feel the same way and are already giving directly to Nashville. If we don't fix the problem now, it will only get a whole lot worse.

The task force now has a quarter of a million dollar budget and a lot of minds working. I hope some of that effort goes into finding a way for conservative churches in left leaning states to be able to increase their support of the SBC.

Steve Young said...

As I read these posts I still come back to the name "Cooperative Program." If you want to "Cooperate," then give "Cooperatively." If you want to do direct giving - then do so after you have "Cooperated." When I pastored a new church start in Wyoming, we facwed a certain dilemma. There was a pastor/missionary doing good work on a Reservation. He had been married/divorced/remarried. NAMB (with ample warning IMO) defunded the missionary, a decision I agreed with because i knew what most Baptists in the South who gave the money expected. I knew that by experience and by Convention Resolutions. Our church decided to send some funds to the work, but only in addition to our Cooperative Program, Lottie moon, and Annie Armstrong giving.
Cooperate. It isn't a perfect plan, but it is the best around. I know that in Arkansas some large churches sent there dollars to the EC. What a shame. They missed supporting the Hmong mission in Waldron. They missed helping this pastor go on a mission trip to Thailand (ABSC gave $500 to any Sr. Pastor taking first international trip). They missed being a part of the State Camp - one of Arkansas best evangelism tools. Cooperate.

Steve Young

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

Matt Brady, I have enjoyed reading much of what you have written here. I don't agree with the prescription you suggest, but your analysis of why we can't just say, "I believe the Bible" is enough. Churches that are going to run theological seminaries and send out missionaries better have a common understanding about a lot of issues.

I just finished reading the History of Southern Seminary. It gives a pretty good recounting of the first BFM - 1925, which was drafted primarily by E.Y. Mullins. It is pretty clear that Mullins intentionally set out to draft a confession that sounded conservative but would intentionally leave loopholes for the professorial class at Southern and other areas of Southern Baptist life. Mullins believe that the Bible was religiously true, but not necessarily true in other regards, though he did not think that affected the religious truth of the Bible.

The 1963 and 2000 revisions to the BFM were done to address issues and to improve the statement. But in my view, we would have done a lot better starting over. The older confessions (London, New Hampshire) are actually better. But I realize the historical and political realities, so we did the best that could be done.

I will say that the removal of the language, "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ" is the worst sentence in the entire thing. I like the sentiment, but it is so vague that it has multiple meanings. The most liberal people I know (who have not abandoned Christianity) completely affirm that statement because it allows them ignore obvious scriptural history, admonitions, commands etc. because it does not comport with what they believe Jesus is or wants.

Others see in the statement, however, a simple recognition of the supremacy of Christ and that all scripture testifies of Him, which we all agree with.

The point is, surely we can do better and come up with a statement that is more clear but preserves the supremacy of Christ.

A major stumbling block on this point, however, is many people's insistance that this language cannot be touched. They say that they are "anti-creedal." But then they treat this one statement with more regard than the text of scripture, which means that they, of all people, are the MOST creedal.

We have to get beyond a love affair with phrases that are subject to multiple meanings and therefore obscure good communication and true "cooperation."

But force is not the way to get there. We are really dealing with a most precious "creedal" point that many embrace, perhaps until their last day.


Anonymous said...

On the point of state conventions I will give my usual line.

If you are in a state that has a convention that has not funded controversial things and whose employees did not work to derail the CR at every turn and provides really good services, AND you are in an older, historic congregation, you will love your state convention.

However, in our situation, we have a state convention whose leadership is not strong. It supports colleges that we like, but honestly can say ought to be held up on Sunday morning as the reason people should put money in the offering plate. And it does other things that we, as a congregation, are not that interested in.

The national agencies, however, - the IMB, NAMB, the seminaries, the ERLC, our congregation is genuinely excited about those things and wants to give to those.

So, we give a lot of money directly to Nashville, and a much smaller percentage to the state.

I believe that will be a continuing trend. In fact, if the state conventions had not preceded the SBC, I believe that the state conventions would not even develop in today's world. There would be regional fellowship groups and perhaps some cooperation on church planting etc. But it would be much less formal and much less bureaucratic.

I believe that churches that give directly to Nashville are not engaging in designated giving. They are just giving their money so it will have a more direct impact on the national ministries and entities.

I would not want to force other churches to do it our way, but I would hope that other churches would be open enough not to condemn us for what we do, and that we would be seen as full participants in the SBC. The SBC constitution and bylaws allow for this, and I hope it will stay that way.


Matt Brady said...


I have great empathy for what your church is doing. I only wish that all of the money you were giving through the EC to the national CP could actually be counted as CP giving. If you were to designate it directly to the IMB then I would understand not counting it, but for SBC purposes, money given to the SBC CP ought to be counted as SBC CP giving. The states don't have to count it, but the SBC should.

You mention not agreeing with my prescription, but to be honest with you, I don't know that I really have a good prescription. I just think we need to be praying and studying the matter even if it is a little dicey.

I'm certainly not for forcing anything, but I do think that choices are better than monopolies, and monopolies are what we have in many states.

Tim G said...

One major thought in all of this is "who cares what is called or who counts it?" We give a specific amount to the State and send a CP amount to the SBC EC. They can call is whatever they like but, we wanted the money to get out of the state and into the SBC main functions and missions. It was the only way to make it happen. When our older members saw the breakdown, they were appalled and voted unanimously without any questions. I was shocked. Our retired missionaries where in shock. All the years they thought that the money to CP was getting out of the state and then to learn it was not was almost more than they could imagine.

Matt Brady said...

Tim G.,

You ask, "who cares what is called or who counts it?"

For starters, I'd guess the man who lost the presidency a couple of years ago because of it. :-) He happens to be in a very key place now to suggest some changes. I hope he can suggest some good ones.

Seriously though, I agree with your sentiments and think more churches will follow the same course as yours unless we do something. The sad part is as you mentioned earlier, it results in watered down appointments and nominations. Good men will be passed over, ironically, not because their churches are giving less, but because they are actually giving more, but it just can't be counted. Something seems wrong about that to me.

Tim Rogers said...

Brothers Matt & Tim,

I find myself in a precarious position--one of disagreement with you. The thesis of Brother Bart's article is that we have focused so much on "cooperative" that we have missed "program". The "Cooperative Program" was established with the state conventions in mind. To bypass the state convention and give directly to Nashville and call it CP giving misses the intent of the CP.

I agree that state conventions have some issues that should be worked on. I agree that some state conventions hold more than they should of the CP funds. I also agree that churches should have the freedom to decide where they desire to send their funds. However, I disagree that giving money directly to Nashville should be considered CP giving. It should not because of the historic relationship between the state conventions when the CP was first established.

The "program" of the CP is just as important as the "cooperative".


Matt Brady said...

Tim R.,

I knew I'd find something you were wrong about eventually. :-)

Yes, there is a historic relationship between the state conventions and the SBC, but I also had a historic relationship wih my appendix. I was uniquely attached to it, and it to me, ever since we came into being, but when that appendix became deadly, I gladly welcomed the surgeon's knife.

Really, I'm not even going that far with the state conventions though. I'm not for cutting them all out, but I think there a need for options in states that do not have them. Some state conventions are detrimental to the SBC by keeping far too many missions dollars and using them for ventures that many of us cannot rightly stomach. If the autonomy of the local church to send its money directly to the EC were to be cut off, then churches will send money directly to the mission boards and further erode the CP.

I guess my point is that until the state conventions get their houses in order, all the reshuffling of the national entities will amount to very little. I don't know what the best solution is, but I wish we could be more open to talk about it. I know it's dicey, but ignoring it, like ignoring an inflamed appendix, can be deadly.

Bart Barber said...

I've followed the discussion with interest, but have refrained from joining you guys while I was trying to meet a deadline on another assignment.

Here's my take on things:

1. The purpose of this series of posts is to try to discuss the theory of the Cooperative Program and to give an exposition of the ideal...the way that things ought to work.

2. With that in mind, the ideal is that each state has one and only one state convention of Southern Baptists and that every congregation gives through a unified Cooperative Program budget reflective of sound priorities from Jesus' point of view and reflective of a good, healthy, cooperative relationship among the state conventions and between the state conventions and the national convention. That's the Cooperative Program the way that it ought to work.

3. That's obviously not the way things are everywhere. I live in a state where we have two state conventions. I'd rather there were only one. But, the situation being what it is, our solution is as good a solution as we could manage to accomplish in Texas. And God is using it.

4. It is a worse thing to bypass the state convention. It is also a worse thing to fund a state convention that is working at cross purposes with the national convention. it is also a worse thing to spend thousands of dollars on Sunday School to teach the inerrant word of God and then send thousands of dollars to a religion professor somewhere to undermine what your church is teaching. Sometimes you have to choose the least-worst thing.

5. Thinking together about the ideal way that the Cooperative Program should work might challenge or inspire us as local church folks to do something different, yes. But this piece is not being written by a denominational employee and should not be read in that tone, either. I'm not scolding local churches. This essay should convict, challenge, and inspire denominational servants in various tiers of our Southern Baptist family as well as those of us serving in local churches.

6. There are indeed liberals still serving in state conventions. Tom Parker's exasperations with the ongoing defense of the truth are understandable, yet wrongheaded. One might equally say, "After 2000 years Christianity has not rid itself of all hypocrites. How can that be? Almost 731,000 days to get rid of them and they are still here." No kind of spiritual struggle ends until Jesus ends it. That doesn't mean that it isn't worth maintaining the struggle.

Anonymous said...


Some are suggesting bypassing the state conventions and sending money directly to the SBC. This might create a class of churches that relate to the sbc but not to a state convention and possibly not an association. I'm trying to remember whether it is possible in our current structure to relate to the SBC apart from being first related to a State Convention. I'm also wondering whether or not it would be a good thing to allow churches to relate only to the SBC while not relating to state conventions and local associations. Accountability might be an issue. Part of the fight over the definition of cp seems to be about messengers to the sbc which seem to be allocated by the State conventions based on a forumla based on cp giving which by definition is touched by the State first. Do I sense a move afoot to have the SBC allocate SBC messengers based on SBC giving not cp giving? Any comments? Thanks.

Bart Barber said...


I haven't heard anyone say anything about messenger formulas. That's not really germane to this discussion, for several reasons:

1. The formula for computing messengers for a church makes no mention of the Cooperative Program. Remember, the SBC existed for a long time before we even had a CP.

The monetary portion of the formula awards messengers based upon money "paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting." By the plain reading of that wording, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong would count, as would any other contribution made to the convention. I once briefly served a church that gave nothing through the CP (I tried unsuccessfully to change their minds, and then I left). They still had messengers to all of the meetings because of their designated gifts.

2. Most churches easily max out their messenger allocation, no matter how little they give.

Any contribution to the SBC at all makes the church a bona fide contributor. That earns the church one messenger. Total Count: 1

Next, the church gets another messenger for every 250 members of the church. The average Southern Baptist church adds one other messenger right there. Total Count: 2

Next, the church gets another messenger for every $250.00 contributed to the convention's causes. This number has not been indexed for inflation. In 2006, the average SBC congregation sent $11,768 through the Cooperative Program. That level of contribution alone would qualify a church to have 47 additional messengers. Total Count: 49

But, the constitution explicitly limits each congregation to no more than 10 messengers. Total Count: 10.

Every church that contributes at least $2,250 in a fiscal year will therefore hit the maximum number of allowable messengers. That's a church giving 10% who has a $22,500 total budget. How many SBC churches could not hit that number? Not many. A lot of churches qualify by their LMCO offering alone, without giving any CP.

3. Churches don't send the full number of messengers that they've earned, by and large.

Even if there are churches out there that don't quite hit the right number to earn 10 messengers, those are also quite likely to be churches that have no intention of sending 10 messengers to the annual meeting. Most churches that earn 10 messenger slots send no messengers at all. The next largest category probably sends 2 (a pastor and his wife). A church with a $250 LMCO gift qualifies to send a pastor and wife to the convention.

So, the allocated messengers are one of the most underused resources in SBC life. Nobody is motivated to try to do anything to change that formula, because nobody is harmed by the formula as it presently stands.

CONCLUSION: The messenger formula is no political hot potato.

However, you're talking about another matter entirely when it comes to the election of officers, trustees, and other committee members. The SBC has no official guidelines requiring any percentage of CP support for election to serve the national convention, but in recent years we have heard a louder and louder drumbeat for electing people from churches that give 10% or more.

When I served on Committee on Committees, we had to submit paperwork that included, among other things, the CP percentage giving of the home church of each and every nominee. People might want to change the formula to have more acceptable nominees and candidates.

Also, SBC preachers sometimes succumb to the temptation to brag and compare. There may be people embarrassed to cite very low CP dollar amounts or percentages. A change in the formula might enable crowing where once it was not.

Now, I don't have any direct knowledge of anybody trying to do either of those things. My purpose is not to speculate. Rather, having shown you what a change in the CP formula would not accomplish (a resolution of somebody's messenger-count problem), I felt an obligation to try to indicate to you anything that it actually would accomplish.

Thanks for joining the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Anon and Bart:

Good question. Good answer.

The SBC founding/governing documents do not set high goals for giving to be a full participant in SBC life.

And they set no requirement that a church participating in the SBC also participate in some other Baptist organization, state convention or association.

This is the way it was set up and has been for decades.

This set up does 2 really good things:

1. It makes SBC participation about SBC participation. This is a straightforward way of dealing. There is nothing worse than to be told, "To participate in our group, you must also participate in some other group that is legally separate and distinct, but we are going to make you do it anyway."

This also eliminates the problem that may occur from time to time when the SBC and a particular state convention may be on different tracks.

2. It actually encourages participation. Keeping the giving requirements low encourages churches to get involved. They can become full particpants with a small investment. That's the way to attract participation. I believe that the mandatory percentage giving efforts (whether official or unofficial) actually turn people off. They are legalistic sounding and don't take into account a church's history, budget, and other things that the church might want to do. I have dubbed these type of efforts "CP legalism."

CP legalism, if that's the direction the convention wants to go will only turn people off further. Many people are not into denominations these days anyway. The way to attract people to a denomination is by good programs and to help the church see the kingdom benefit to participating.

If you want to make the SBC unfriendlier, adopt a percentage giving requirement and see what happens. Even though it may not be intended that way, requiring certain CP giving percentages is about the most hostile thing we could do for involvement in SBC life.

Also, I hate to think of the good leadership that we would have lost over the years - Adrain Rogers, Charles Stanley etc. if the SBC had those requirements. I don't think that these men's churches gave 10%. And it was good that the SBC governing documents did not require that. For it allowed them full participation, allowed them to actually serve as officers, and allowed them to say why they did not give more - which allowed for reform.

I was part of the CR. I was at Dallas and other conventions during those pivotol years. As I recall, it was the moderates then who were seeking to mandate a certain percentage of CP giving as a requirement if not for participation, for leadership. I am glad the convention resisted those efforts.

And on the other side of that coin, mandatory percentage giving will usually result only in "company men" being appointed, serving in leadership etc. That often does not result in visionary leadership. People know vision and leadership when they see it. Requiring a 10% giving requirement as a threshhold may only insure that people who think everything is fine will get appointed or elected.

We should not add requirements to SBC participation, either directly or indirectly, that have never been part of SBC life.

I know it may seem to some like a good solution, but it is not.

The best solution is to maximize participation, to allow for diversity within the scope of our confession, and to regularly examine our programming to see if it is good and effective, and not get stuck serving the interests of a bureacracy.


Andrew said...

Bart and Louis,

I believe that I agree with your sentiments about "company men" and the potential disaster of percentage giving requirements. However, I think that this is the direction of change that will come.

I must admit that I had thought that the messenger allocation formula should be amended to change one per $250 to one per 1% CP...this to bring it in line with the modern high-budget churches.

Having read both of your comments, I conclude that this is not needed and not warranted.

But the question lingers: If Rogers and the other leaders of the CR and the modern leaders are so lax about CP giving in their own churches, why do we (the convention and the bloggers) make such a big deal about how much people give? Is it simply another metric (like 1000's of baptisms with no church membership growth) that we throw around to impress one another?

Anonymous said...



I don't really want to suspect bad motives for the reasons people or churches give. It may be out of pride, but I don't know.

I tend to think that giving money, or trying to get others to give more, is simply a reflection of a sincere desire to help the SBC agencies and ministries. If an individual church does that, it clearly reflects a great love for and commitment to the SBC. Or at least a historical commitment that might be continued for many reasons ranging from routine to a lack of creativity in seeing other opportunities.

Wanting others to give more is probably also motivated by wanting the SBC agencies and ministries to thrive.

Forcing people to give more, through either restrictions in participation for failing to give a certain minimum, may also be the product of good motives.

The problem I have is not the motives. Its the wrongheadedness of the proposed remedy.

You just don't motivate people in this context by being tougher on them. At least that's my experience.

People really get motivated when the see something good that they want to sacrifice for it.


Chris Johnson said...

Brother Bart,

I agree that the program should come through the state to the national. That allows more accountability and accessibility to CP funds. For instance, if the CP were to go national only , the SBC would then decline substantially IMHO.

To another point,...I cannot think that the BFM2000 could become any more ambiguous and remain believable. It has been enlarged to include a diverse theological scale of thought as it is....in other words, it would be almost impossible to have theological agreement when the document is prepared for the opposite. It has been expanded since 1925 to cover a diverse group, not a group that would follow a distinctive form of agreement. The mission for theological agreement has historically moved the other direction....granting more theological allowance, thus the expansion of numbers posted from 1930 and forward.


Tom Parker said...


You said to me:
"There are indeed liberals still serving in state conventions. Tom Parker's exasperations with the ongoing defense of the truth are understandable, yet wrongheaded. One might equally say, "After 2000 years Christianity has not rid itself of all hypocrites. How can that be? Almost 731,000 days to get rid of them and they are still here." No kind of spiritual struggle ends until Jesus ends it. That doesn't mean that it isn't worth maintaining the struggle."

Who are these Liberals? Why have you and the others in the SBC not removed them?

Yes, some might say I am wrongheaded. But no man can fix the mess that the SBC finds itself in today. For me it all goes back to 1979 when the takeover began.

I hope that you never get kicked out by those in the SBC, only then might you begin to understand what it must have been like for these real people.

But the CR fixed the SBC?

Bart Barber said...


I was not trying to remove your freedom to have your own opinion. I was merely demonstrating why it shouldn't convince anyone else to hold it with you. Neither of us are dispassionate in our analysis of the Conservative Resurgence.

The CR succeeded, but did not succeed entirely. If it had not succeeded at all, neither you nor others who share your theological vantage point would be so upset with it.

Joe Blackmon said...

The question is continually raised "How can there still be liberals in the SBC? Why haven't they been run out?" These questions are interesting and I'm sure someone somewhere cares about them and perhaps can even answer them. However, they are irrelevant.

Is FBC-Decatur still in the SBC? Yes
Was Broadway Baptist an SBC church until this past summer? Yes

Those are just two examples off the top of my head of liberal churches in the SBC. Why they are there (or in Broadway's case, why it too so long to kick them out) does not matter. Whether the SBC takes money from them does not matter. The fact is there are liberal churches in the SBC.

Further, any people who left during the Conservative Resurrgence and got hurt have only their own selves to blame. When you hold to unbiblical theological positions (women can be pastors, the Bible "contains" the word of God rather than it "is" the word of God) you should not expect to be welcomed with open arms in a body of churches that believes the Bible.

Tom Parker said...

Joe Blackmon:

How can you be wrong about so many things and yet believe that you are right? Remind me, did you not leave the SBC.

Joe Blackmon said...


Serious question--What was I wrong about? Is FBC-Decatur not part of the SBC? Was Broadway Baptist not part of the SBC til it was kicked out? Or is it your view that those two churches are not liberal?

The church we are visiting now is not part of the SBC. However, it is complimentarian, teaches eternal security, baptism is by immersion for believers only, the Bible is the word of God and is inerrant....yadda yadda yadda.

Tom Parker said...


You said:"Further, any people who left during the Conservative Resurrgence and got hurt have only their own selves to blame. When you hold to unbiblical theological positions (women can be pastors, the Bible "contains" the word of God rather than it "is" the word of God) you should not expect to be welcomed with open arms in a body of churches that believes the Bible."

I believe you are wrong in everything you said just above. You are free to believe that people do not believe the Bible because they do not interpret as you do, but that does not make you right.
But it is the perfect CR attitude. You are so young and yet believe the CR position unquestionly. How sad.

Joe Blackmon said...

You are free to believe that people do not believe the Bible because they do not interpret as you do, but that does not make you right.

Well, I do believe it related to the points I raised. Further, I've felt the way I felt before I ever heard of the Conservative Resurrgence. I was actually an adult before I'd ever heard of the CR.