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"There should be an 'Abstract of Principles', or careful statement of theological belief, which every professor in such an institution must sign when inaugurated, so as to guard against the rise of erroneous and injurious instruction in such a seat of sacred learning."

James P. Boyce
from "Three Changes in
Theological Institutions"
- summarized by John Broadus, 1856


Cooperative Program Promotion, Stewardship Education, and the Southern Baptist Convention
An Historical Review

Roger S. Oldham
March 11, 2010; Revised, March 19, 2010

On February 22, 2010, the Great Commission Task Force issued a “Progress Report” on ways it hopes to assist Southern Baptists to “work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”  The 32-page report contains a brief sermon outline, eight core values, and six principal “components.”  This brief essay will evaluate its Component #4 in light of the 85-year history of promotion of the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Component #4 of the Progress Report states,

We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to move the ministry assignments of Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education from the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and return them to being the work of each state convention since they are located closer to our churches.  Our call is for the state conventions to reassume their primary role in the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship education, while asking the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to support these efforts with enthusiasm and a convention-wide perspective.  (pp. 24-25, emphasis supplied)

In the paragraph following this challenge, the report states,

While the Executive Committee has held the Cooperative Program assignment since 1997, and later received the Stewardship Education assignment, history shows us that we have struggled with where to place both of these assignments in order to serve our churches most effectively.  (p. 25, emphasis supplied)

Three phrases in this report are potentially misleading.  One could infer that “return them to being the work of each state convention” and “to reassume their primary role” (emphasis supplied) indicate that promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship education were once ministry assignments entrusted to the states on behalf of the Convention; were, at some point, given back to the Southern Baptist Convention; and now should be returned to the states.  Also, the phrase “since 1997” could be construed as the date at which these duties were relinquished by the states and given back to the Executive Committee.  These potential inferences are historically inaccurate, as the following will show.

Cooperative Program Promotion, Stewardship Education, and the SBC

From the time the Cooperative Program was created and adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention (usually dated to 1925 when it was officially named), responsibility for promoting the Cooperative Program has been a joint venture of the Southern Baptist Convention and the states, with the responsibility for strategy development uniformly assigned to the SBC, and the “field” responsibilities consistently shared with our state convention ministry partners.  At no time in its history has the Southern Baptists Convention failed to exercise its right and responsibility to promote the Cooperative Program and engage in stewardship education for the purpose of supporting the ministries of the Convention.

Timeline of CP Promotion at the National Level

Prior to 1925        SBC Future Program Commission promoted SBC Budget
1925–1927           SBC Commission on Co-Operative Program promoted CP
1927                     Executive Committee elects first staff; CP promotion transferred to EC
1927-1931            Executive Committee promoted CP
1931-1933            CP Promotion transferred to the SBC Promotion Committee
1933                     Promotion Committee dissolved; CP promotion transferred back to EC
1933-1960            Executive Committee promoted CP
1960                     SBC Stewardship Commission created; CP promotion transferred to it
1960-1997            SBC Stewardship Commission promoted CP
1997                     Stewardship Commission dissolved; CP promotion transferred back to EC
1997-2010            Executive Committee promoted CP

Timeline of Stewardship Education at the National Level

1920-1925            SBC Conservation Commission provided stewardship education
1925-1960            Stewardship education a principal component of the EC’s CP promotion
1960-1997            SBC Stewardship Commission provided stewardship education
1997-2006            SBC LifeWay Christian Resources provided stewardship education
2006-2010            Executive Committee provided stewardship education

What is noteworthy in the two timelines is that the responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education has always been entrusted to an SBC committee or commission.  While the SBC has, on occasion, moved the responsibilities for CP Promotion and stewardship education from one SBC committee or commission to another, there has never been a time these two ministries were not assigned to and conducted under the watch of the Southern Baptist Convention.  It is also interesting that these ministry assignments have eventually gravitated back to the Executive Committee of the SBC.

Cooperative Program Promotion, Stewardship Education, and the States

The history of the Southern Baptist Convention is an interwoven history of multiple autonomous bodies working both independently and interdependently to achieve Kingdom purposes.  During the economic crisis precipitated by the failed “Seventy-Five Million Campaign” that led to the creation of the Cooperative Program in 1925, relationships had strained between the various states and the Southern Baptist Convention.  Seeking to reestablish these fragile relationships, the SBC Executive Committee initiated a number of overtures designed to broaden cooperation among and between the various Baptist bodies and auxiliaries – local churches, associations, state conventions, Woman’s Missionary Union and Brotherhood, and the SBC.  Chief among these was the release of a report in 1923 under the title, “Defining the Work of the Convention” (1923 SBC Annual, p. 74).

Item 3 in that report stated,

The Convention occupies a sphere in our denominational work peculiar to itself and in conflict with no other organization or interest of the denomination.  In order, therefore, that the unity, integrity and efficiency of the Convention be not weakened or impaired, it is necessary that the Convention maintain and preserve its own right and function in determining its general plans, policies and programs as to organization and methods, the raising of funds and general objectives involved in its own work.  This is simply another way of saying that the Convention should preserve its own integrity as a Baptist body.  (p. 74)

This report spelled out the “voluntary” nature of “co-operation for common ends” and the principle of “mutual consent” as the driving forces behind the “moral and spiritual” relations of the Convention and its ministry partners (p. 74, item #4).  It was considered so strategic and pivotal that it was read in its entirety into the proceedings of the SBC as part of the EC report the following year (1924 SBC Annual, p. 25).

The Early Years of the Cooperative Program

From the time the Cooperative Program was created, the Southern Baptist Convention recognized its strategic interdependence on the states to assist the Convention by providing “field” agents for promoting the Cooperative Program.  The Convention also recognized its duty to provide resources and funding to the states in order that the states not bear a financial burden as they worked with the churches on behalf of the Convention to promote the “whole” Cooperative Program. 

            Joint Promotion.  The SBC Promotion Committee, proposed in 1926, was comprised of the Executive Secretary of the Executive Committee and, “if practicable” the “State Secretaries and others appointed by the Executive Committee.”  This committee was charged “to promote the work of the Convention” (1926 SBC Annual, p. 34).

The following year, in 1927, the Convention noted:

It is well known that the Southern Baptist Convention is an independent body, and that the several state conventions are independent bodies.  The territory included by the several state conventions co-operating with the Southern Baptist Convention constitutes the territory of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Each state convention has both the legal and the moral right to approach the Baptist churches and individual Baptists within its bounds and to solicit funds for the support of its work.  Likewise, the Southern Baptist Convention has both the legal and the moral right to approach the Baptist churches and the individual Baptists living within its territory and to solicit funds for the support of its work.

For many years the Southern Baptist Convention did, through its agencies, make direct appeals to the churches and to individuals for funds.  The funds thus secured were sent by the donors direct to the agency making the appeal.  But of late years the method of securing and handling funds has been different.  At the present time, the method is for the various state boards to collect and forward Southwide [Convention] funds.  This is as it should be.  This is co-operative work.

Co-operation calls for certain things.  There must be on the part of both parties an understanding of the needs and an interest in the work of the other party.  There must be real sympathy.  And there should be clear-cut agreements defining the terms and items of co-operation.  Only in this way can the interests of both parties be safeguarded and the possibilities of friction and misunderstanding be removed.  (1927 SBC Annual, p. 65)

That same year, the SBC asked the reorganized Executive Committee to prepare a statement of principles relative to numerous Convention matters, including the relationship of the SBC to other Baptist bodies.  Its lengthy report (24 pages) was adopted (for the full report and actions related to it, see 1928 SBC Annual, pp. 18-41).  Item VI of the report contains a 2-page essay under the title, “Relation of Southern Baptist Convention to Other Baptist Bodies” (pp. 32-33).  Several excerpts are particularly noteworthy to the subject of this paper.

There is no relation of superiority and inferiority among Baptist general bodies. All are equal. All make their appeal directly to individuals and churches. Each determines its own objectives – financial or otherwise – and allocates its own funds to the interests promoted by it. Each defines and fixes its own sphere of activities. But all is done with due consideration and regard for the functions of other Baptist bodies.  (p. 32)

The report continued:

The cooperation of Baptist general bodies with each other may be desirable from time to time for the sake of greater economy and efficiency. But there are dangers connected with such cooperation due to misunderstanding, confusion of thinking, and sometimes to trespassing upon the rights of cooperating bodies by one or other of the parties to the arrangement.

One of the present danger points is the cooperative relations between the Southern Baptist Convention and the various state conventions. This Convention disclaims all authority over any state convention, but wishes to define its own functions and activities in relation to state bodies. The following points should be stressed:

1. The cooperative relations between this Convention and state bodies as now established are limited to the one matter of collecting funds for southwide and state objects in conjunction with a unified appeal for the objects. The state convention boards are at present recognized by this Convention as collecting agencies for Southwide as well as for state funds. This arrangement, however, is not an essential in Baptist organization, but is made simply as a matter of convenience and economy, and may be changed at any time.

2. The fact that the state bodies first handle the funds and are more directly related to the churches in the matter of collections does not alter the basic relations involved. For the practical ends in view this Convention cooperates in the unified appeal for funds through state agencies. But in principle it retains as inalienable and inherent the right to direct appeal to the churches. Furthermore, in all matters other than money raising it retains complete control of its own affairs, with the right to fix its own objectives and to determine the amounts of money allocated to its various objects.  (pp. 32-33)

In 1928, the Executive Committee gave its first report since it was reorganized and hired its first administrative staff.  Its report to the 1928 SBC annual meeting is singularly instructive.

Since the reorganization of the Executive Committee at its meeting in June, 1927, and its taking over of the promotional work of the Cooperative Program, the headquarters office has published and distributed 3,744,000 pages of promotional literature in the form of pamphlets, and 2,016,000 additional pages of stewardship literature in pamphlet form.  (p. 19)

Displaying the power of synergistic cooperation between the SBC and the states, the report continued,

In cooperation with the state secretaries of fourteen states, the headquarters office published in letter form last summer an earnest heart message from the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which, reinforced by a letter from the state secretary in each state, went to the Baptist pastors of these fourteen states, appealing to them to join in concerted prayer for a genuine spiritual revival among Southern Baptists.  (1928 SBC Annual, p. 19)

1930 was a pivotal and strategic year in the history of the still fledgling Cooperative Program.  Misunderstandings concerning the proper role of the Convention entities and state conventions in promoting the Cooperative Program had surfaced.  In the May 13, 1930, meeting of the Executive Committee, it adopted several clarifying “changes in matters of promotion.” 

The first item acknowledged that the promotional work entrusted to the Executive Committee by the Convention was “only that promotional work which had formerly been done by the Promotion Committee” (1930 SBC Annual, p. 79).  The adopted changes (which did not affect item 1) were as follows:

2.  That the Convention by its action did not relieve its various agencies of their responsibility for promoting the interests of the causes they represent.  Based on the above interpretation we recommend that the Southwide agencies, in accordance with By-Law 9 of the Convention, by [sic] authorized and instructed to mobilize and use forces that in their judgment will be adequate to promote properly the interests committed to them, and that such promotion be worked out in conference with the Executive Committee.

3.  That the Convention by its action did not either assume the responsibility for conducting all the promotional work for the Cooperative Program within the various states or in any way to interfere with the right, privilege and duty of the State Boards to make and carry out their own plans for promoting the Cooperative Program.  Your Executive Committee should, and plans to work out cooperative promotional problems in the various states in conference with the several Boards and secretaries.

4.  Administrative Expenses.  Inasmuch as it has been brought to the attention of this Committee that among the states of the South there is a diversity of opinion as to the items that may rightfully be chargeable to cooperative funds before distribution of the same, we recommend that the Executive Committee be instructed to take this matter up with the State Boards and secretaries and seek to arrive at a more nearly uniform and equitable basis for such charges.

5.  Spring Campaign.  That in those states where there is a disproportionate distribution of funds to state and Southwide causes, we earnestly seek the cooperation of those states in making special campaigns for Southwide causes in the spring months.  (Executive Committee Minutes, Book 1, 13 May 1930, pp. 77-78; see also 1930 SBC Annual, p. 79)

The following day, in the Third Annual Report of the restructured Executive Committee (1930), an essay under the title “A Co-Operative Program of Promotion” was adopted.  It outlined the division of responsibilities of the various component parts of the Baptist denomination represented in the Southern Baptist Convention.  The headings demonstrate the breadth of cooperation our Baptist forefathers encouraged in the promotion of the Cooperative Program:

            1.  Churches and Promotion;
            2.  District Associations and Promotion;
            3.  State Executive Boards and Promotion;
            4.  Southwide Agencies [SBC entities] and Promotion;
            5.  The Executive Committee and Promotion;
            6.  The Woman’s Missionary Union and the Baptist Brotherhood and Promotion;
            7.  Denominational Publications and Promotion;
            8.  Pastors’ Conferences and Promotion.  (1930 SBC Annual, pp. 80-82)

Promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship education were identified as responsibilities mutually borne at each level of denominational life.  Items 3, 4, and 5 are particularly noteworthy.  They outlined a plan by which the states were asked to promote the Cooperative Program in their respective states.  The entities of the SBC were charged to promote their interests in such a way “that nothing done by an agency . . . will conflict with the interests of any other cause included in the Co-operative Program.”  The Executive Committee submitted an outline of promotional efforts it had undertaken and would “continue to use in the future” (1930 SBC Annual, p. 81).

These included publication and distribution of more than 600,000 promotional tracts which were produced and distributed to the states on a cost-recovery basis (p. 78).  In addition, the Executive Committee “published and furnished free to pastors 16,650 copies of a 64-page hand-book on ‘How Baptists Work Together,’ and four issues of the Baptists Program, a total of 44,650 copies.”  The office also produced its syndicated weekly church bulletin service, issuing “an average of 50,000 copies of this service weekly, featuring brief news articles and illustrations concerning the various phases of work embraced in the Co-Operative Program, stewardship, personal devotion, and other messages calculated to deepen the spiritual life of the readers” (p. 79).

Specifically, the various state Executive Boards or Committees were identified as the “main promotional agency within the state for the Co-Operative Program.  Therefore, the Board or Committee should give much thought to the work of promotion” (p. 81, emphasis supplied).  However, the activities the Executive Committee identified as its proper responsibility were clear:

5.  The Executive Committee and Promotion.  Herewith is submitted a brief outline of several methods of promotion that have been used by the Executive Committee and that it should continue to use in the future: (1) Confer with Southwide agencies [Convention entities], with state board and with other agencies concerning matters of common interest, especially looking toward a co-operative program of promotion; (2) Prepare for the states all literature of a general character that they may desire to use; (3) Publish and send free to pastors the Baptist Program as often as it finds advisable; (4) Prepare from time to time articles for the denominational papers on different phases of denominational work; (5) Continue to furnish a church bulletin service for churches desiring to use it; and (6) Use any and all additional means to promote the Co-Operative Program.  (1930 SBC Annual, p. 81)

One month later, the Executive Committee continued its deliberations on Cooperative Program promotion.  Meeting on June 11, 1930, the Committee created a special committee of the Executive Committee called “Promotion Committee.”  Its duties were outlined in a corporate resolution.

Promotion Committee

RESOLVED,

1.  That the Executive Committee in the discharge of the obligation for promotion and enlistment laid upon it by the Convention appoint for the current year a special committee for this work.

2.  That the committee shall consist of three members and the executive secretary of the Executive Committee, together with the executive officers of each board and institution of the Convention and the corresponding secretary of the W.M.U.

3.  That the committee be charged with the duty of formulating and recommending plans and policies for promotion and enlistment to the Executive Committee.

4.  When said plans of promotion and enlistment have been approved by the Executive Committee it shall be the duty of this special committee to carry them into effect.

5.  That all the work of the promotion and enlistment shall be done in accordance with the general plans of the Convention and of the Executive Committee and in close and fraternal cooperation with the cooperating state agencies.  (Executive Committee Minutes, Book 1, 11 June 1930, p. 82)

In the afternoon session of the same meeting, the Committee issued its preliminary report, “Report of Committee on Promotion and Enlistment.”  It included seven items: (1) a report on the Cooperative Program be sent to all district associations; (2) Convention agencies be encouraged to make annual reports to the associations; (3) “provision” be made for regional conferences “in the interest of the whole program”; (4) the executive secretary attend every state convention possible; (5) efforts be made to increase the circulation of the Baptist Program; (6) a “sub-committee on literature” be appointed to study the need; and (7) promise of “a more thorough-going series of suggestions and recommendations” by the September meeting (Executive Committee Minutes, Book 1, 11 June 1930, p. 85).

At the September meeting of the Executive Committee, the Promotion Committee presented a lengthy report called “Suggestions on Promotion.”  Its third suggestion stated, “[T]hat a group of brethren be selected in each state in cooperation with the state secretaries, to keep constantly before our churches the appeals of the Southern Baptist Convention and at the same time the appeals of the respective State Convention” (Executive Committee Minutes, Book 1, 10 September 1930, p. 88).  In that same report, the Promotion Committee “respectfully suggest[ed] that each state name or employ a full time ‘Stewardship and Budget’ secretary” (p. 89).
 
Though the Convention encouraged the states to create state-level units of Cooperative Program promotion, the Convention did not divest itself of this responsibility, as the following shall demonstrate.

            Promotional Funding.  From the outset, the Southern Baptist Convention took the lead both in promoting and funding promotion for its ministries.  In the Financial Statement of the 75 Million Campaign report to the Convention, the SBC Conservation Commission reported,

Of a special interest to our constituency will be the fact that an exceptionally low expense account was maintained throughout the inauguration and conduct of this forward movement.  The expenses of the general headquarters in Nashville, both in the inauguration of the Campaign in 1919 and the conduct of that movement during the five and one-half years that followed was $427,878.11, or less than three-fourths of one percent of the total amount of money raised.  (1925 SBC Annual, p. 23)

Later in the annual, under the Foreign Mission Board report, the source of the funding was clarified.

Included in this expense by the States is the expense of the 75 Million Campaign which was conducted from Nashville, the Campaign expense having been prorated among the State Boards, paid by them and deducted from foreign mission remittances. (1925 SBC Annual, p. 179, end note)

Our Baptist forbears exhibited great wisdom in recognizing that the Convention bore responsibility for promoting funding for its ministries.  The Cooperative Program was a joint venture in which the Convention asked itself and its entities and the several state conventions to cooperate in seeking to secure funding from the churches for the various ministries with which both the Convention and the states shared a common interest.  The Convention recognized the states as valuable ministry partners; but it wisely acknowledged that the states should not be asked to undertake promoting the ministries of the national Convention without adequate compensation for the task.

The First Annual Report of the Future Program Commission to the Southern Baptist Convention was 13 pages long.  Its subtitle was “A Summary of Progress in 1925 and Suggested Plans for 1926 Program Given by Body Named Year Ago” (1925 SBC Annual, p. 25).  Buried deep in its report was Recommendation #15:

That the state treasurers be asked to take out of the total distributable receipts all expenses before the funds are divided, and remit the amounts due according to the percentages of distribution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention and the State Conventions.”  (p. 37)

With these words, the pattern was set.  Five years later, in its September 1930 meeting, the Executive Committee held a joint conference with State Secretaries and Southwide Executives to discuss “all matters involved in the division of funds, in the expenses chargeable against co-operative funds, and in the question of preferred items” (Executive Committee Minutes, Book 1, 10 September 1930, pp. 96-97; see also 1931 SBC Annual, pp. 27-28).  Its report addressed administrative costs, promotional expenses incurred by the states prorated before the states determined their percentages, the ideal of a 50-50 split, and preferred items.  This report was circulated to the states prior to the following annual meeting.  The report, accompanied by reactions from four state conventions and an explanation from the Executive Committee, was printed in the 1931 SBC Annual (pp. 27-29). 

Four years later, another “joint conference of the State Secretaries and the Administrative Committee and the Committee on Co-operation and Enlistment of the Executive Committee” was held for “the purpose of considering principles and plans of co-operation between the various state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention” (1934 SBC Annual, p. 48).  The Convention adopted this “Report on Conference at New Orleans,” as a “basis of action between the Southern Baptist Convention and the State Conventions” (p. 49).  The report was designed to clarify how expenses related to promoting the Cooperative Program should be handled.  Its opening point was divided into four parts.

I.  In the interest of clearness and better understanding among our people, we suggest that expenses chargeable to the whole Co-operative Program be cared for as follows:

1.  That we share in the administrative expenses, which shall consist of office rent, stationery and postage, salary and expenses of the general secretary, salaries of bookkeeper and stenographer, telegrams, and so forth, insofar as they are used for the whole program upon the basis of the ratio of distribution between state and Southwide objects as existing in each state.

2.  That we share in the promotional expenses of the Co-operative Program upon the same basis as above mentioned, including the salary and expenses of field men employed to work exclusively for the whole program, advertising and literature used to promote the whole program (which, in our judgment, would not include salaries of editors or subsidies to state papers), the expenses of the Woman’s Missionary Union and any other expenses incurred in promoting the whole program such as special rallies, and so forth.

3. That for the sake of uniformity and clarity in reporting the above items, the executive secretary of the Executive Committee and the several state secretaries undertake to work out uniform systems of accounting and reporting.

4. That we urge in every state that expenses chargeable to the whole Co-operative Program be kept at a minimum, and we heartily commend those states which give even more liberal consideration to the Southwide causes included in the Co-operative Program.  (1934 SBC Annual, pp. 48-49)

Seventeen years later, at the 1951 SBC annual meeting, the principles contained in the 1934 report were reaffirmed in Executive Committee Recommendation 13 (1951 SBC Annual, p. 40).  Two significant additions were acknowledgment that the Ministers Retirement Plan could appropriately be counted as a “chargeable” expense to the Convention (#2); and the reintroduction of the “ideal” of a “50-50 division” between the states and the Convention (#4).

Since the Cooperative Program is a joint enterprise of the various state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention through which the churches carry out their world-wide denominational program . . . we suggest that expense chargeable to the whole Cooperative Program be cared for as follows:

(1) That we share in the administration and promotional expenses directly related to the operation of the Cooperative Program and the Woman’s Missionary Union.

(2) We recognize the Ministers Retirement Plan is an appropriate charge against the whole program.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

(4) That we fraternally urge in every state that expenses chargeable to the whole Cooperative Program be kept at a minimum, holding ever before us the ideal of the 50-50 division for both state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention, and it is our further conviction that the items be deducted before distribution should be limited to those above set forth.

(5) Since, in the rapidly changing conditions which affect our plans, it would seem wise for us to have as circumstances may direct, mutual consultations concerning our expanding programs, we respectfully recommend periodic conferences for this purpose.  (1951 SBC Annual, p. 40)

Five years later, in 1956, the Executive Committee proposed, and the Convention adopted, the same general principles.  Numbers 1, 4, and 5 were restated verbatim.  The two additions merely recognized that if a state chose “not to deduct any items before the division between State and Southern Baptist Convention objects,” and adjusted its percentages accordingly, that the action of “dividing on a straight percentage distribution is in complete harmony with the principles of this understanding” (1956 SBC Annual, p. 41).

Though the states worked cooperatively with the Convention to promote the Cooperative Program, the Convention used its own resources to promote the Cooperative Program directly and also provided for the states to deduct their promotional costs before calculating the percentage of CP funds forwarded to the Convention, as described above.  For example, the Convention spent more than $32,000 for CP promotion in 1927, the first year it had an elected staff (1927 SBC Annual, p. 353). The Convention continued to provide funding for materials that went directly to churches and resources for the state conventions during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s (as reflected in Executive Committee statements of receipts and disbursements reported annually in the SBC Annuals).

During the first thirty-five years of the Cooperative Program, responsibility for CP promotion and stewardship education remained a collaborative effort between the SBC and the various state conventions.  At no point in its early history did the SBC fail to exercise its role and responsibility to “define its own functions and activities in relation to state bodies” (1928 SBC Annual, p. 32).  At no point did it surrender its duty to promote funding for its own ministries.  And, though it turned to the state conventions to share in the work of promoting the Cooperative Program, it made provision for the states to fund the work of CP promotion and stewardship education by allowing the states to “take out of the total distributable receipts all expenses before the funds are divided” between the states and the SBC.

A New Era – The SBC Stewardship Commission

During the 1950s, the SBC made numerous gains in terms of church membership, baptisms, and numbers of cooperating churches.  With the post-war industrialization of the north and job opportunities in the west, many Southern Baptists migrated to the major cities of the northeast, midwest, and far west.  As they planted new churches, Southern Baptists began to establish state Baptist fellowships and conventions in areas of the country where there previously had been little Southern Baptist work.  The Home Mission Board (predecessor to NAMB) began to forge cooperative agreements with these fellowships and conventions in order to strengthen the bonds of cooperation between the Convention and Baptists in the various states.

In addition, in the fifteen years following the close of World War II, the SBC organizational structure increased from 12 to 19 ministry entities.  In 1960, the Stewardship Commission was formed.  With the increased complexity of the SBC, many thought the time had arrived for a stand-alone SBC entity to assume the role of coordinating Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education.  In 1956, the Convention formed the Committee to Study Total Program of the SBC.  Often referred to as the Branch Committee, the Total Program Study Committee recommended in 1959 that the duties of CP promotion and stewardship education be transferred to a new commission of the SBC, the Stewardship Commission.  Its stated reason was to “give this important program status equal to that of other agencies and permit and encourage more rapid expansion of the stewardship promotion program” (1959 SBC Annual, pp. 66-67).

Over the next decade, both the Executive Committee and the states worked closely with the Stewardship Commission to promote the Cooperative Program.  As the 1960s drew to a close, the United States entered an era of dissatisfaction with social and ecclesiastical “institutions.”  The Southern Baptist Convention was not immune from the clamor for change.  In 1970, the Convention authorized yet another study of the structure of the Convention by the Executive Committee.  Initially called the Committee of Ten, its membership was expanded and it became known as the Committee of Fifteen. 

In 1971, the Committee of Fifteen reported its findings to the Executive Committee, which then asked the Convention to reaffirm previously-adopted Cooperative Program Principles at its annual meeting.  Five of the six principles in this document had been adopted in prior years (see above, 1928, 1951, and 1956).  A new sentence was added to #4 and a new #6 was added that had not been part of any previous listing of principles adopted by the Convention.  Though statement #2 was given new wording, it was footnoted in the SBC Annual as a summation of the “Relation of Southern Baptist Convention to Other Baptist Bodies” that had been adopted in 1928 (1971 SBC Annual, p. 59, footnote 2 under Recommendation No. 15).

Statement #2 said,

The state convention boards are at present recognized by this Convention as the principal promotional and collecting agencies for all Cooperative Program funds whether intended for state or Southern Convention causes.  This arrangement, however, is not an essential in Baptist organization, but is made simply as a matter of convenience and economy, and may be changed at any time.  The fact that state bodies first handle the funds and are more directly related to the churches in the matter of collections does not alter the basic relations involved.  For the practical ends in view, this Convention cooperates in the unified appeal for funds through state agencies.  But in principle, it retains as inalienable and inherent the right to direct appeal to the churches.  (1971 SBC Annual, p. 59)

What is of particular note for the purpose of this essay is that this principle was recognized by the Convention at a time when the Stewardship Commission was the SBC entity charged to promote the Cooperative Program and provide stewardship education for the Convention.  In fact, in 1971, the Stewardship Commission was funded at a little less than one-half of one percent of the SBC Cooperative Program budget (1971 SBC Annual, p. 58).  Identifying the states as the “principal promotional and collecting agencies” for the Cooperative Program underscored the reality that the “Cooperative Program [wa]s a joint enterprise of the various state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention” (1971 SBC Annual, p. 59, #5); but it did not indicate that the SBC had abrogated its right and responsibility to promote its own ministries and causes. 

As stated previously, at no time did the state conventions “own” the responsibility of CP promotion and stewardship education on behalf of the Convention.  The state conventions have uniformly been partners with the SBC in promoting CP and educating the churches in stewardship.  Stated another way, at no time in its history has the Convention divested itself of its role, right, and responsibility to promote its own budget and ministries.

Covenant for a New Century

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted Executive Committee recommendation 3, “Covenant for a New Century.”  Contained in this 26 page document was the following recommendation:

We also recommend that the Executive Committee be charged to fulfill the Cooperative Program Promotion assignment currently held by the Stewardship Commission.  This facilitating ministry of cooperative giving advancement is consistent with the Executive Committee’s responsibilities for interpreting the work of the SBC to Southern Baptists and for receiving and distributing Cooperative Program funds.

These actions will save thousands of dollars each year through decreased personnel and trustee costs, with no loss of service or effectiveness.  The Executive Committee will consult with state convention leadership in developing strategies and programs for the promotion of the Cooperative Program.  (1995 SBC Annual, p. 160)

For the first time in the history of the Cooperative Program, Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education were divided.  Their respective ministry assignments were given to different SBC entities.  The report recommended, and the Convention approved, the following statement,

The Sunday School Board [currently LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC] will continue in its established ministry assignments, but it is also charged with new assignments, including ministries to men and women, stewardship education, and capital fund raising. . . .  We recommend that this assignment, currently assigned to the Stewardship Commission, be a ministry assignment of the Sunday School Board.  (1995 SBC Annual, pp. 156-157)

The following year, in 1996, the Convention formally dissolved the Stewardship Commission of the SBC and merged its responsibilities into the Executive Committee for Cooperative Program promotion and into LifeWay Christian Resources for stewardship education (1996 SBC Annual, pp. 146-147 and 148-149).

Ten years later, in 2006, the SBC adopted Executive Committee Recommendation 9, “Request for Approval of Ministry Statement Amendments: The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.”  The recommendation deleted the following words from LifeWay’s list of ministry assignments and transferred them back to the Executive Committee as EC Ministry Assignment 6:

Assist churches in stewardship education.
Produce, develop, publish, and distribute products that help Southern Baptists to grow in
commitment to Jesus Christ by applying biblical principles of stewardship.  (2006 SBC Annual, pp. 61-63)

In the same annual meeting of the Convention, the Cooperative Program Ad Hoc Committee, composed of state convention executive directors, submitted a report on their perspective of the state of the Cooperative Program.  The report of this ad hoc committee applauded the action of the Convention to return stewardship education to the Executive Committee.  The report stated, “That the development of quality stewardship training materials with an emphasis on tithing should be given highest priority and we endorse the transfer of the stewardship ministry from LifeWay Christian Resources to the Executive Committee” (2006 SBC Annual, pp. 65-66).

During the thirteen years since the Covenant for a New Century was fully implemented, the Executive Committee has worked closely with the state conventions for the purpose of promoting the Cooperative Program.  Slightly more than half of the state conventions have a ministry specialist on the state staff tasked to promote the Cooperative Program and facilitate stewardship education.  Many of the new work state conventions, with a limited staff, have no one directly responsible for CP promotion and stewardship education other than the executive director himself. 

The Executive Committee continues to host an annual conference for state CP and stewardship directors and/or the state convention executive directors.  The purpose of this annual conference is to develop a consistent theme for CP promotion and stewardship education, review materials, discuss strategies, and formulate plans for this important work. Consistent with the history of CP promotion as outlined above, the states remain full partners with the SBC in promoting the Cooperative Program and providing materials and conferences for stewardship education. 

In fact, of the forty-two state conventions with which the Convention has a cooperative relationship, the vast majority routinely use Executive Committee materials to promote the Cooperative Program in their respective states.  In the current year alone (2009-2010), all but six of these state conventions have already ordered a total of more than 13,000 DVDs (five of the eight titles contain from 6 to 59 videos per disk) and more than a quarter million pieces of single piece print materials and 31,155 54-page booklets for Cooperative Program promotion.  The Executive Committee has distributed an additional 12,693 DVDs, 113,634 pieces of single piece print material, 19,245 54-page booklets directly to churches and individuals.  Over the past few years internet downloads of CP promotional videos and poster-sized CP charts have dramatically increased and number in the thousands.

Further, during the past three years, 3,198 pastors and other church workers have attended one of the sixty-eight It’s A New Day stewardship training workshops which have been conducted in 22 states.  In addition to the materials distributed to the pastors (seminar workbook, curriculum kit, It’s A New Day New Testament, Money Map, and the trade book, Making Change), more than 4,000 curriculum kits have been distributed free of charge through the website, at the SBC annual meeting, through other conferences, and to state conventions and local associations.

During the past half century, the principles formulated in those early decades have continued to guide the Convention in its responsibility to promote its ministries through the Cooperative Program.  At no time in the eighty-five years of the existence of the Cooperative Program has the Convention failed to exercise its obligation to promote its ministries and causes through the CP.

Conclusion

The purpose of this essay is to offer a factual and historical perspective on the practice of Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education in the SBC.  In doing so, it demonstrates that Component #4 of the Great Commission Task Force Progress Report may unintentionally convey an inaccurate representation of the history of these two important ministry assignments.

During the more than eight decades of its existence, promotion of the Cooperative Program was predominantly assigned either to the Executive Committee (44 years) or the SBC Stewardship Commission (37 years).  In four of the first eight years of the Cooperative Program, its promotion was assigned to two different SBC committees.  Similarly, stewardship education has been predominantly a responsibility of the Executive Committee, the SBC Stewardship Commission, or LifeWay Christian Resources of the SBC. 

Since the Cooperative Program was created, the Convention has always recognized that the states serve as full ministry partners with the Convention.  They provide numerous resources to the Convention in promoting the work of their respective state convention ministries as well as the “whole” Cooperative Program, which includes both statewide and southwide [Convention] ministries.  But, the states are autonomous Baptist general bodies in their own right; they are not sub-sets of the Southern Baptist Convention and cannot be assigned ministries for which the Convention bears legal, moral, and spiritual responsibility. 

It is interesting to read again these words from the SBC Conservation Commission written in 1925:   

Of a special interest to our constituency will be the fact that an exceptionally low expense account was maintained throughout the inauguration and conduct of this forward movement.  The expenses of the general headquarters in Nashville, both in the inauguration of the Campaign in 1919 and the conduct of that movement during the five and one-half years that followed was $427,878.11, or less than three-fourths of one percent of the total amount of money raised.  (1925 SBC Annual, p. 23)

Since 1925, the Convention has never failed to exercise its responsibility to provide seed money through the Executive Committee or the Stewardship Commission for the promotion of its ministries.  Though the costs associated with producing CP promotional materials and providing stewardship education have increased over the years (from a review of budget figures published in eighty-five editions of SBC Annuals), at no time since 1925 have these "exceptionally low" promotional costs reached the "three-fourths of one percent of the total amount of money raised" to promote the failed 75 Million Campaign of 1919-1925.

Given that the SBC has never relinquished its right, duty, role, and responsibility of promoting support for its own ministries, this important task cannot be returned to the states.  They have never owned it.  Given that the states have never assumed sole responsibility for promoting the Cooperative Program, they cannot reassume it.  Promotion of the Cooperative Program has always been a cooperative venture, a collaborative enterprise, and a ministry of mutual benefit. 

While the Executive Committee only recently received back the ministry assignments for Cooperative Program and stewardship education, in both instances it was a return, since, by Convention action in 1997, Cooperative Program Promotion was returned to the Executive Committee for the third time in the Cooperative Program’s 85-year history; and by Convention action in 2006, the Executive Committee has now reassumed responsibility for stewardship education as well. 

If the proposal identified as Component #4 in the Great Commission Task Force Progress Report were to be adopted, it would be the first time in the history of the Convention (1845-present) and of the Cooperative Program (1925-present) that the Convention will have assigned away its rights, role, and responsibility to promote funding and support for its ministries of international missions, North American missions, theological education, and moral advocacy, each of which is rightly under its purview.

 

 

 
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