The Cooperative Program has allowed Southern Baptists a consistent, systematic way to allocate the resources needed to fulfill our Great Commission task.
Yet, there is a question that ever looms before us: "Is the CP the most effective way to support our missionary endeavors in the 21st century?" After the 2009 SBC annual meeting, that question seems even more unsettled. I readily admit that I left Louisville, Ky., revived in spirit but confused in support.
It felt as though circumstances had totally changed from the previous annual meeting I had attended back in 2006.
In Greensboro, N.C., the Cooperative Program received affirmation as we adopted the Ad Hoc Cooperative Program Committee's report, and a "dark horse" presidential candidate was elected primarily because of his unwavering support of the Cooperative Program.
This year, however, discussions of the Cooperative Program were not very positive. Words like "waste" and "abuse" littered the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center.
By the time I returned home, I wondered if CP might actually stand for "Church Pork." I obviously was not alone in my struggles.
Recently, I heard of a pastor who recommended to his church a six percent reduction in CP giving. The reason he gave to his finance committee? Waste. There was no mention of the economic times or of future building expansion. It simply centered on a perceived inefficiency of the Cooperative Program. To me, this was a dramatic and unfortunate response to convention hallway conversations.
After pondering this issue for the past couple of months, a few observations have come to mind.
First, we must not allow perceived flaws to undermine our giving. I would suggest that all organizations (including our churches) have a certain amount of what some would call "waste." Sometimes those assessments are based more on appearance than reality.
We can all find "better" and more efficient ways to spend money while labeling others' ideas and fiscal appropriations as "pork."
Just a note, though: One man's waste is often another man's ministry. Furthermore, even if true inefficiency is found within our churches, none of us suggests or asks our congregations to reduce their weekly support.
Now, don't misunderstand me here. I'm not excusing any concept of poor stewardship; rather, we should insist on a better effort in our ways. That is in part why I supported the formation of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
I want to see improved efficiency and effectiveness in the SBC. Who doesn't?
But, my friends, please allow the system to work before you decide to reduce your financial support for SBC ministries and missions.
Second, we must understand what the title "Cooperative Program" communicates. We are cooperative because we are Southern Baptists. Individual, autonomous churches voluntarily join together to promote the Great Commission together. There is no hierarchal system that demands resources or barks orders. We simply cooperate with one another.
We are not isolationists; we are associationalists (if that is a word). And although the term "program" may carry with it negative connotations in the contemporary setting, it actually suggests a method, a systematic way to fund our ministries and missions.
A program is more than a one-time offering in that it advances a sustained giving effort, which is necessary for continued mission involvement.
Third, we must remember how the Cooperative Program has worked throughout the years. I especially encourage young ministers (like me) not to forget how we have been blessed through Cooperative Program giving. We have attended Baptist colleges and seminaries, have experienced mission opportunities, have been assisted by state and national consultants, and so much more.
We have been on the receiving end. Let's now be faithful on the giving end.
I pledge to pray for the GCR Task Force and its work, especially in its efforts to propose more efficient ways to use God's resources. May our Lord lead them and our beloved SBC president to make recommendations consistent with His will.
Regardless of findings of the GCR Task Force, I am thankful that I am already a part of the special mission to make disciples, and I commit myself to support that task financially and otherwise.
Reggie Bridges if pastor of First Baptist Church in Zachary, La. This column first appeared in the Louisiana Baptist Message newspaper, online at BaptistMessage.com
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