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Why Wright is wrong about the Cooperative Program

 

Bryant Wright is a leader in Southern Baptist and Georgia Baptist life. He continues to be a strong supporter of missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program and other Southern Baptist mission causes. However, I was very surprised and my heart heavy as I read his recent guest commentary in The Christian Index entitled, “A Plea to Southern Baptists.”

The content of this editorial indicates to me a lack of understanding about how the Cooperative Program works, what it supports in the way of missions and ministry, and how each state convention decides about budgeting and mission giving.

The primary intent of his proposal seems to be more funding for international missions and seminaries and less funding for ministry and missions in North America, as well as in each state. I am not sure how you can weigh the importance of one over the other. However, I do know that if churches were just as supportive of the Cooperative Program as they were 10 years ago we would not be having this discussion.

This was highlighted recently in an article by Bob Rogers on Baptist Press. The loss of CP dollars going through the International Mission Board in the 2009-2010 SBC budget amounts to $36,263,500 as a result of the decrease in percentage giving through the Cooperative Program. The loss to the seminaries in the same budget year amounts to more than $16 million. That is at current levels of giving through the state conventions to SBC causes.

If we were to follow the guidelines recommended by Bryant Wright, most state conventions would simply cease to exist. This would mean the loss of a broad range of ministries in local states intended to assist churches in accomplishing the Great Commission. Examples would include the following in Georgia:

• Baptist Campus Ministry to more than 50 college campuses across our state.

• New Church Development – assisting church planters to start new churches, reaching new people and impacting the Kingdom in our state.

• Intercultural Church planting – reaching the growing ethnic population – our largest growth potential by far.

Scholarships for students attending our Georgia Baptist colleges who are preparing for ministry in the local church.

• Evangelism ministry – assisting and equipping churches to reach out to the 70 percent of people living in our state who are lost and outside of a relationship with Christ.

• Penfield Christian Home and Heart Ministries – recovering lives in bondage to drug and alcohol addiction.

• Church Strengthening Ministries – assisting churches in the important areas of stewardship, Sunday School, Discipleship, etc.

• Youth Ministries – SuperWOW, YEC, IMPACT, Youth Worker Mentoring, etc. touching the lives of literally thousands of young people in the name of Christ.

• Disaster Relief Ministry – training and mobilizing hundreds of Georgia Baptists for this critical ministry to people affected by natural disasters in GA and across our nation.

Wright makes this statement: “The local church should be the primary vehicle in carrying out state and local missions.” That is easy to say when you are the pastor of a mega church with all the resources that accompany that position.

His entire commentary exhibits the mega-church mentality that teaches, “We can go this alone. We do not need the state convention. Mega churches need the seminaries for their training and they need the IMB to assist them in getting their members out on mission trips around the world – but they do not need the state convention as a partner in these efforts.”

That is not true of 99 percent of the churches in Georgia who are not mega churches. According to the GBC Research Department, only 17 churches in Georgia average more than 2,000 in attendance on Sunday morning, placing them in the mega church category. Most of our churches are small, medium, and large churches that benefit greatly from their partnership with the state convention in accomplishing their Great Commission task. The ministries listed above would be impossible for these churches without partnership and cooperation.

I have been talking about Georgia where we have more than 3,500 churches and for some years have given the largest percentage of CP funds through the SBC of any state convention. What about state conventions like California and other pioneer areas across our nation?

The formula Bryant Wright is proposing would essentially close them down in areas of our country where lostness is just as great as it is in Africa, Asia, and South America. Is that really where we want to go as a convention?

Please remember – we are not a mega church denomination. Most of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention benefit both from their affiliation with a strong state convention and a strong national convention. This is not an either/or situation but a both/and. We need both strong state conventions and a strong national convention to accomplish the Great Commission in our day.

A renewed commitment to the Cooperative Program as our Great Commission offering will solve most of the issues we have been dealing with related to training pastors and missionaries and sending them out to reach a lost world for Jesus Christ. That has been true for almost 90 years and it is my prayer that it will be true for generations of Southern Baptists to come.

We will always be able to accomplish more together than we will be able to accomplish independently or individually.

 

Allen Hill is a specialist for GBC Cooperative Program, Stewardship, and State Missions Development. He and his wife, Emily, served as IMB missionaries in the Philippines for 24 years.