For seventy-five years the Cooperative Program has been the means whereby Southern Baptist churches could support all the ministries of their state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Prior to this unified giving plan, appeals for support were made by the various mission boards, schools, benevolence ministries, and other enterprises directly to the churches. The results were uneven, costly, and ineffective. The SBC in coordination with the state conventions developed the Cooperative Program so that churches could support the whole program of Baptist work with one regular monthly gift. The results have been wildly successful with tremendous growth in all phases of our mission work.
From its inception, the Cooperative Program has depended largely upon the state conventions for its promotion. The work the Southern Baptist Convention has done in this area has been basically through the state conventions. The agreement was the state conventions would collect money from the churches and, after covering expenses of promotion and other agreed upon deductions, divide the receipts equitably between the state and the Southern Baptist Convention. As a part of this responsibility, the states agreed to promote the "whole" program, i.e., they would promote the SBC side of the Cooperative Program as vigorously as they did the state side. Because the SBC has believed it would be treated as a true partner, it has been pleased for the state convention to set the distribution percentage. In the same spirit, state convention leaders have been unselfish when determining the amount retained in the state convention for its work versus that forwarded to the SBC for its ministries. Each has recognized the historic and healthy division of labor between the Southern Baptist Convention and the state conventions that basically gives the lead to the state convention for ministry within the state and to the Southern Baptist Convention for ministry outside the state. This arrangement has maximized efficiency and minimized duplication of effort. It also has allowed plenty of opportunity for working together on a myriad of ministries and projects without the sense that there was a violation of "turf."
Historically, the state conventions have also valued the ministries of the SBC as their own and labored diligently to challenge the churches to support the national and international ministries with the same enthusiasm as state convention ministries. They recognized that Cooperative Program money given by the churches was intended for both the state convention and the SBC and did not begrudge the portion going for SBC missions. Most state conventions regularly seek to increase the percentage going to national and international causes and any decreases have been made with great reluctance.
A Cause for Alarm
In recent years, the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) adopted giving plans for the Cooperative Program that have the effect of supporting the state convention but curtailing support for the SBC. We were concerned with this fundamental change of definition of Cooperative Program at the time. Now, some SBC critics in Texas are pushing further and are attempting to dissuade churches from giving to the SBC. They have made various charges regarding the faithfulness, effectiveness, and necessity of SBC ministries (charges that are addressed elsewhere in this series of articles). This is a serious breach in the long-standing, useful partnership between the state convention and the SBC.
No one can tell individual Southern Baptist churches how to give their money. That is the reason we have always made provision for designated gifts. But we can encourage the churches in a particular direction. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention's position is that all churches are encouraged to give without designation to the Cooperative Program through the state convention. We have resisted creating any other track for giving because we believe it harms the idea of the Cooperative Program and breaks faith with our state convention partners.
In place of its long-standing practice, your church is being asked by anti-SBC leaders in Texas to abandon its support of SBC missions during days of unparalleled effectiveness and opportunity around the world. Not only is there no good reason to cut back, there is every reason to support the SBC more fervently. The agencies of the SBC have a track record of distinguished service to Christ and to Southern Baptists and are at their zenith in effectiveness — more missionaries under appointment than ever before, more candidates for missions service than ever before, more church starts in a single year than ever before, more students enrolled in the six seminaries than ever before.
We are extremely disappointed that anti-SBC leaders in Texas have persuaded the state convention to adopt what is at best a neutral attitude toward the SBC portion of the Cooperative Program and to promote other groups as bona fide recipients of Cooperative Program giving. This is a fundamental violation in the state convention/SBC partnership.
We are even more disappointed in the unwarranted and divisive criticism of SBC missions by those who would divert the gifts of faithful Southern Baptist churches in Texas to their own control. It would be sad indeed if Southern Baptist churches in Texas were dissuaded by a vocal minority of anti-SBC leaders from supporting the SBC portion of the Cooperative Program or denied a vehicle through the state convention for forwarding their gifts to Southern Baptist Convention missions causes. We hope neither of these practices becomes a reality. However, the Southern Baptist Convention is committed to relating to Southern Baptist congregations in Texas and will find a way to partner together in the event the traditional methods are unavailable.
What can you do?
1. Communicate your support of SBC missions and ministries to your church and the state convention.
2. Encourage a return to the historic state/SBC partnership through the Cooperative Program.
3. Continue giving enthusiastically to SBC causes.
4. Inform yourself and encourage your church to send its maximum number of messengers to the meeting of the BGCT meeting October 30-31 in Corpus Christi.
5. Pray for the Lord's guidance and blessing on all our ministries as we work cooperatively.