Cooperative Program


Richard Jackson, at the time pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona, had one of the best one-liners of the whole inerrancy controversy that dominated the SBC during the last two decades of the twentieth century. After he fell out of favor with the conservatives he scoffed at their calls for cooperation. What they mean by ‘cooperate,’ he said, is that we should cope while they operate.

Now the Task Force on Cooperation that was set up in 2000 has released a report on the cooperative program and made recommendations about how to encourage its growth in the future. While at points some of the language borders on apocalyptic, there are some very good observations, as well. The following two paragraphs quoted in a BP story are very forthright.

“[T]oo many top Southern Baptist Convention leaders and officials for too many years gave scant attention or support to the Cooperative Program as they discharged their responsibilities,” the report says. “It is well known that a number of our leaders in the past generation hardly ever spoke about the Cooperative Program or promoted it in one way or another. For the most part, their churches were poor models of Cooperative Program support. As a result, it has been projected that thousands of pastors and churches reduced their Cooperative Program percentage of undesignated monies as they followed the example of those who led them.

“For sure, this reality has hurt the Cooperative Program as much as anything and has been discouraging and regrettable. About that point, there yet remains a huge amount of disappointment, mistrust and even raw emotions which need to be recognized, addressed, and reconciled all across the Southern Baptist Convention.”

These are very honest and astute observations. I know of Southern Baptist churches who decreased their giving to the Cooperative Program (CP) in order to follow “the example of our illustrious leader[s]” (that is a quote from an actual motion made from the floor of such a church during an annual budget review; the motion carried and the CP giving was reduced to 2.5%, to match the percentage given by the newly elected SBC president’s church in 2000).

Many of the 13 proposals of the Task Force seem to miss the mark, in my estimation. They propose more promotion of and more education about the Cooperative Program. These have their place, but they are like trimming the branches of a dying tree, rather than seeking to repair it at the root.

The Cooperative Program is an ingenuous idea. It is a tremendous vehicle for the financial support of an incredible missionary force. I have encouraged both churches I have served as pastor to increase giving through it. However, as the report itself acknowledges, there is a great deal of “disappointment and mistrust” that now permeates the Southern Baptist Convention. That is why many churches have diminished their CP giving. You can educate me and try to sell me on your product all day long, but if I do not trust you, I ain’t buying.

It’s too bad the Task Force did not make recommendations about repentance and integrity and humility–the kinds of things that can rebuild trust. Once the horse is out of the barn it’s a little late to give lessons on how to close the door.

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18 Responses to “Cooperative Program”

  1. Yes Tom, “The Cooperative Program is (was) an ingenuous idea. It is (was) a tremendous vehicle for the financial support of an incredible missionary force.”

    But its missionary value has been slowly eroded away by the self serving interest of the Denominational Carrier Professionals who have with the passing of years taken an ever increasing slice of the pie and left the missionaries with the crumbs. Here in the state of Florida (if I remember correctly) the State Convention takes a 60% cut off the top of every dollar given by the churches to the Cooperative Program to fund their ever increasing appetite for more money.

    Last year (again if I remember correctly) the Florida Baptist Convention keep 22.5 Million Cooperative Program dollars for themselves. Now I know I am not in the know when it comes to just how the Florida Baptist Convention spends what it decides to keep of the Cooperative Program dollars given by the Churches each year… But what in the World are they spending 22.5 MILLION Dollars on each year??? I know that I for one do not see where it is being spent wisely, and to be honest with you I don’t know of any Pastor who does.

    And to top it off all we pastors ever here from the Florida Baptist Convention and the National Convention is how we all need to be giving more to the Cooperative Program… Sorry, until I see some accountability and reform in how the Cooperative Program dollars are being spent, I do not agree!

  2. tom,
    In your opinion, what percentage would be an acceptable model for the leaders of the convention. 15%10%, 5%?

    Thanks for the post. It does seem that there is a lot of “do as I say, not as I do.”

  3. Well, I do know that in most conventions there is a bugdet that is discussed to some extent at the annual meetings. At those you can see how the budget is being spent of course.

    I do know that in Indiana we have a partnership with Florida Baptists and receive help from them, so I’m appreciative of that. :)

    Dave Hewitt

  4. Apologies to my Aussie, Presbyterian friend for using shop talk without explaining my terms! Here is the official description of the Cooperative Program.

    Concerning what percentage of support would be acceptable for leadership in the SBC…I don’t really have an opinion on that. The process of electing and appointing people to leadership largely controlled already, so I don’t the task force’s recommendation on this point–even if it is followed completely–will address the root problem of lack of trust that is pervasive in the SBC.

    I do, however, find it more than interesting that conservatives who withheld their support (or at least enthusiastic support) from the CP before and during the early days of the SBC and who were even vaulted to places of leadership while doing so are now pleading for everyone to get on board the PR train for the CP. They may be hoping that people have poor memories.

    Joe, this relates to my desire that a call for repentance and humility had been included in the task force’s report. If, as the committee is convinced is the case, the Cooperative Program is in serious trouble, and if, as the committee asserts, that much of the ambivalence about it can be traced to the conduct of some conservative leaders, then should not that acknowledgement be accompanied by a simple, “We’re sorry.”? If it is wrong to have leaders today whose churches do not give at least 10% to the CP then wasn’t it wrong before? When the Moderates and Liberals screamed about the less than stellar giving through the CP of some of the conservative leaders, they were met with silence or with retorts along the lines of “Yeah, well, his 2.5% translates into more dollars than your 10%” or “It should not matter, he is a loyal Southern Baptist!”

    Now that conservatives are in charge those kinds of responses are disallowed. Humility would, I think, give pause to setting up arbitrary minimum giving requirements beyond what the constitution of the SBC requires. Instead, it would lead one to to renounce the triumphalistic spirit that has often permeated much of the conservative resurgence and seek to rebuild trust by giving an honest account of how current CP monies are spent and the great force for good that the CP can be when the causes it supports are both good and right.

  5. Just a few comments:
    1. The Cooperative Program and the opportunities/resources it provides is the reason I became Southern Baptist, having left an independent fellowship of Calvinistic Baptists. I support the CP, but AGREE WHOLLY that there needs to be MAJOR reform.

    2. Here in KY, I believe the state keeps 64% of CP dollars within the State (ridiculous!) and uses the dollars to support such stellar (read sarcasm here) Baptist entities as The Western Recorder (or Distorter to those who read the rag), Georgetown College (which is SO liberal that I could never in good conscience send them a dime!) and Clear Creek Bible College (where a recent grad told me personally that two theology profs openly hold to open theism!)

    3. Current SB leadership is so “in-bred” (pardon the crudeness of the term, but it is appropriate) that it is not funny. All the major leaders in our denomination are coming from an increasingly small “clique” of professional administrators (similar to lifelong politicians) and most major attention is given to a group of about 50 or so “important” churches. I don’t say this out of “jealousy,” its just the truth.

    4. It has been my observation that at least on the state and associational level, most conservative pastors (especially if they are reformed) shy away from involvement in the associational structure. I served on the mission board of the KBC last year, and at meetings, I was hard pressed to find one other conservative pastor there trying to make a difference by getting involved. However, there was no shortage of moderates from the visible moderate churches in the state. They were the ones chairing the committees and running the show. Seems to me if conservatives want to see reform, we have to get involved on the local levels, stand our ground, and be a voice for truth. The only other alternative is to retreat and concede.

    I still think the CP is the most ingenious effort put forth by man to do cooperative mission work. It just has some problems, and I hope some of you, my conservative brethren, will join in the effort to take it back and return it to its roots…the roots that were laid by its FOUNDERS when they first envisioned cooperative work efforts among Baptists in the early to middle 19th century.


  6. I’m just a Sunday School teacher. This is the first I have heard of any problems or dissent in the spending of cooperative program dollars. Are there other resources available online to provide more information on this?

  7. I cannot whole-heartedly support the CP because of the attitude of the “self serving interest of the Denominational Carrier Professionals who have with the passing of years taken an ever increasing slice of the pie and left the missionaries with the crumbs.” It is not just the missionaries who are left with the “crumbs.” Many pastors are left to live on the crumbs also as a result of the indoctrinating they have done on the small churches of the denomination. They have created within the smaller churches of the denomination an attitude that is unbiblical. I recently talked with a church that was searching for a new pastor. They wanted a bi-vocational pastor because they were giving as much to the CP as they were willing to pay a pastor. This same church boasted to me in our interview that at one time they gave 51% of their receipts to the CP. It is ungodly when a church will boast about how much they are giving to missions and doing for missions while their pastor starves to death because the church will not support the most important missionary they have.

  8. How am I too understand, historically, the phrase I hear time and time again…that the Cooperative Program is supposed to receive the ‘tithe’ of the church? What in the world is that?! Where did that nonsense come from? Can anyone help me understand where my people are coming from?

  9. PastorLeap:
    I have been on the Kentucky Nominating Committee that past two years and what a difference a year makes. Dr. York’s presidency has begun to turn the ship around in the right directions.
    Institutions like Georgetown are on notice that it is a “new day”.
    I’m optimistic about Kentucky.
    I agree, reformed pastors must not disengage from associations, they need to bring their people to the conventions and get on commiteed.

    In fact tonight I am preaching at our associations annual meeting.
    Pray for me.
    Kevin Hash

  10. Personally, I’m a believer in the pre-Founders model- the Triennial Convention supporting international missions and nothing else. I believe what we have created in the CP has been a breeding ground for politics and putting theology on the backburner in the local church. We need to plant churches in our own regions, as they did in early America. We need to train our own pastors. I know that sounds like a logistical nightmare for some- because we have gotten so used to the current model.

    Also, I fail to see the value of having state conventions. Not that they don’t do good things- they do; not that they don’t love Jesus- many if not all do; but haven’t we made a bureacracy of the Great Commission? One of our state conventions is on the verge of becoming an interstate convention- they’re using the “affinity” argument to justify it.

    Maybe I’m just too big a fan of simplicity.

  11. Praise God! I see a new and better time ahead for the Bible believing members of the SBC.

    PUBLIC, positive, honest, courageous discussions of the “golden calf” (aka the Cooperative Program) and Finney-ism were simply not tolerated without a very high price being paid. I write from sad personal experience.

    Genuine scriptural reformation and real spiritual revival may be coming in the very near future
    and to this glorious end many of us will continue to pray and preach!

  12. I am an IMB Missionary and I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to everyone who gives to the cooperative program and especially the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. I am very optimistic about the future of the KBC and the SBC. God has been using a few men of God to reform the SBC and KBC the last few years.

    I would like to ask everyone to pray for the Isaan people of Northeast Thailand. Thanks!

  13. An important reminder as well, Kirksey. In spite of all of the bad things that have gone on with the Cooperative Program, there indeed does remain much good. Though more missionaries could be sent were it reformed, many are being sent now, and we must remember to praise God for such things.

    Personally, I don’t think the solution is to get rid of it, but rather get is back to its roots. After all, that is what we are about here at Founders in general, is it not? Since we are about desiring to get the Convention back to its theological roots, why not reform the rest of the parts of the convention (of course including the CP) in the process?

    A thought.

    An unworthy slave of Christ,
    David Hewitt

  14. Tom,

    A brother in the LORD and I have planted a “historic Southern Baptist” church in our town. We recently celebrated our 1 year anniversary as a church. We are members of our local association, and are supported, in part, by our our state convention. I am a lifelong Southern Baptist. The co-elder of the church came from a Reformed Baptist background. He is new to the SBC and things like the CP. He is concerned about our church giving money to the CP which supports Arminian missionaries, etc. I’m sure you understand where he is coming from. Should our newly planted church give to the CP? What are your thoughts as the pastor of a fellow Founders-friendly church.
    Thank you,
    Branton Burleson

  15. Good discussion. I am a big supporter of missions work. I came to Christ myself through the witness of a wonderful Baptist missionary on the island of Okinawa.

    On the issue of CP spending in the U.S. by the state conventions and North American Mission Board, please remember that America is far from evangelized. NAMB estimates that as many as 224 million of North America’s 316 million population do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I think CP dollars spent in the states by NAMB and the state conventions are integral to our carrying out the Acts 1:8 mandate to simultaneously reach people locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

    Cooperative Program dollars that stay at home are also used to offset the tuition costs for future church leaders at Baptist colleges and seminaries, support children’s homes and many other vital ministries.

    These dollars also get used extensively in activities that are geared toward strengthening the local church. This is crucial because without strong, growing churches here at home providing prayer and financial report, the international work will slowly decline.

    None of this is to say that churches, state conventions and our national agencies can’t make improvements or be more efficient. Certainly, all can. I just see CP, while imperfect, as one of the best tools we have for reaching our world (both here at home and abroad).


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