Al Mohler: Cooperative Missions & The GCR

Editor’s Note: The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is now releasing a series of blogs unpacking various points of their recommendation with greater depth and clarity. Below is one installment in the series.

Cooperative Missions and the Great Commission Resurgence

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President

Reaching the people of North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been a primary purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention since its beginning in 1845. Over the last 150 years and more, Southern Baptists have been working together to evangelize and plant churches throughout this continent.

Of course, reaching North America is a far larger task in terms of both geography and population than it was in 1845 – and far more complex as well. Looking to the future, Southern Baptists must make the adjustments that will focus our work in order to make maximum impact on this land.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has this very much in mind as we hope to assist Southern Baptists to be even more faithful in this task. With that in mind, we are recommending changes in the assignment of the North American Mission Board and changes in the way the board works with the state conventions.

Beginning in the 1950s, Southern Baptists began working with the state conventions through what were known as “Cooperative Agreements.” These agreements were undoubtedly a good idea, and they served well for many decades. The idea of the Cooperative Agreements is simple – the North American Mission Board (and originally, the Home Mission Board) established agreements with each state convention in order to avoid overlap, confusion, and duplication of work.

So, why is a change needed now? The answer is really very simple – the Cooperative Agreements are now outdated and confusing to Southern Baptists. When the Great Commission Task Force recommends the phased elimination of these agreements, we are calling for the North American Mission Board to rethink how it should relate to the state conventions so that the mission board retains a more focused ministry of assisting Southern Baptist churches to reach North America.

In the year 2009, about $50-million dollars was routed through these Cooperative Agreements. Many of these dollars were spent on the salaries of workers in the state conventions and associations. The monies are allocated and channeled in ways that are difficult to trace, much less to prioritize.

We are calling on the North American Mission Board to focus its energies on reaching North America, with a strategic concentration on unreached and underserved people groups, the cities, and the planting of healthy, reproducing churches. There is simply no way that Southern Baptists can be more effective and faithful in this task if we retain the funding mechanisms of the Cooperative Agreements.

Much of the impetus for this came from leaders of the North American Mission Board and others who have been hard at work in this task. The purpose is not to weaken relationships with the state conventions, nor to cut funding to effective programs and partnerships. The purpose is simple, and well recognized by anyone who leads an enterprise – NAMB must have the ability to focus its energies and strategic mission funds on efforts that truly match the priorities of the board, as it serves Southern Baptists.

We are calling for the North American Mission Board to concentrate on its task assigned by the Southern Baptist Convention – and to do so through the direct appointment of missionaries and church planters who are accountable to NAMB and deployed according to its national priorities. This echoes the call made by the Convention when it adopted the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. This is the necessary next step.

This does not mean that Southern Baptists will abandon pioneer areas and underserved regions. To the contrary, we are calling for even greater efforts in these areas of our mission and work. But we do not believe that Southern Baptists expect NAMB to be primarily engaged in replicating state convention structures and personnel.

The North American Mission Board will continue to work with state conventions, and to do so in partnership. But now is the time for a new partnership structure – a structure that liberates NAMB to do its work, while respecting the important work of the state conventions.

Will this mean change? Of course it will. But this is the kind of change necessary for Southern Baptists to step boldly into the future, and to reach North American with the Gospel. This is not the 1950s, and the challenges of reaching North America in the 21st century will require far more of us than the current structures will allow.

The North American Mission Board and the state conventions both have essential roles to play in this, and we need a new spirit and structure for the partnerships that will take us into the future. With this step, the North American Mission Board will be ready to make the most of these partnerships, and to move into the future with greater flexibility, strategic focus, and stewardship of mission resources.

In other words, we need something better than the Cooperative Agreements if we are to cooperate to the fullest. We are not living in the 1950s, and North America is waiting to see if Southern Baptists are serious about reaching this continent. I believe we are, and I can’t wait to see how the North American Mission Board will lead us in this great task.

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  7Comments

  1. Brent Hobbs   •  

    I would consider myself someone moderately informed in SBC matters. I’m no expert, but I try to stay informed for the sake of being able to tell our people how our giving helps those working to expand Christ’s Kingdom.

    However, I barely feel qualified to offer an opinion on cooperative agreements, which is exactly the reason I think they need to end. On its face it seems too complicated and inefficient. The Task Force laid out a clear vision for the future of NAMB – an organization which badly needs a new direction, in my opinion. Ending cooperative agreements is necessary to implementing that vision and I’m on board.

  2. Scotty Karber   •  

    I wish the task force would give their rationale for their obvious belief that establishing partnerships with individual churches will be more effective than partnerships with State Conventions.

  3. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr Mohler:

    I agree 100% with your argument. These Byzantine money flows make it very difficult to prioritize and effectively manage evangelistic activity.

    Investers in SBC ministries want management structures in place with BOTH accountability and control. Units have to be held accountable for results. Also, units they need be able to operate with a clear mandate rather than having two or more bosses.

    Top management must setup metrics to measure the relative effectiveness of various parts of the operation. There needs to be visibility at a common point so that “best practices” can be identified and rewarded while “under performing units” can be brought under the microscope so that re-work can be implemented.

    Additionally, resources should be focused on areas most in need — independent of state boundaries or any other geographical demarcation.

    RK Simpson Oklahoma City

  4. William   •  

    I wish that the Task Force would make the case here.

    How is this funding “difficult to trace”?

    In what areas of these state conventions, the “salaries of workers in the state conventions and associations” are not being used effectively?

    This is really deep, inside baseball in the SBC and I rather think the Task Force is on target here. But, if the state conventions are going to raise such a clamor against it, and some already have, let’s see the evidence.

  5. Spencer   •  

    Scott,

    I cannot truly speak for the GCRTF, however I think that the principle which drives the believe that churches will be more efficient in dealing with NAMB money is “subsidiarity.”

    Subsidiarity is the idea that the best solutions will tend to come from the people who best understand the problem, i.e., those close to the problem. The state conventions are middlemen who are removed from the source of the money, and generally removed from the problems with which they are dealing. Any decision that they make will be based on a limited experience and filtered information at best.

    Another way of saying this is that the State Convention employees who are tasked with administering NAMB programs will oversee such a large number of programs in such significantly different geographic locations that they are more likely to be less effective than a local representative (a.k.a. the church).

    In a time when communication and travel were not as easy and comprehensive as they are now, the State Convention offices served as a more useful purpose in overseeing at a lower level. However, with the Internet, teleconferencing, and ready access to all sorts of communication technology, having someone in the State office isn’t nearly as helpful as it once was.

    Basically, Scott, the belief is that we have an early 20th century infrastructure that we are trying to employ and fund in an early 21st century culture.

    I would, Scott, appreciate hearing the reason why you obviously think that the NAMB-State Convention-Local Project is supperior to the NAMB-Local Church-Local Project model. (I will not accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a basis for continuing to do it that way.)

    R/,

    Spencer

  6. Roger Simpson   •  

    Dr Mohler:

    Like they say on Capitol Hill, “I’d like to revise and extend my remarks”. Specifically, I am modifying my previous comment [comment #3 in this thread]. My support for the task force’s recommendation regarding the “cooperative agreements” with the states was based upon a very incomplete understanding on my part of the current situation between the NAMB and the states.

    I continue to believe that the Byzantine situation with the “cooperative agreements” needs to be overhauled. However, whatever funding arrangement between the NAMB and the states that ends up replacing the unwieldy “cooperative agreements” has to be part of the task force’s package.

    The bottom line: I change my evaluation from “positive” to “incomplete” on the task force’s recommendation regarding the NAMB.

    Roger Simpson Oklahoma City

  7. Brian   •  

    Spencer,

    The idea of “subsidiarity” would argue against a strong national agency seizing control of local Baptist associations and telling them what to do, which is what will happen under the newly empowered NAMB. The GCR-TF Report is the federalization of the SBC, hardly a “subsidiarity” solution.

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