Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (3a): Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving

By Danny Akin and Nathan Finn

On May 7, Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Morris Chapman released a white paper titled “What’s In a Name? The Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving.” The paper is available online at Baptist2Baptist and through Baptist Press. The latter link includes an interview with Dr. Chapman conducted by Baptist Press executive editor Will Hall. This is the first of three blog posts written in response to Dr. Chapman’s document. We appreciate Dr. Chapman sharing his concerns. Some were unique in that we had not heard these concerns expressed by anyone else. Others have been raised by different people and Dr. Chapman provides a service in bringing them together in one place.

However, we believe his analysis is an inaccurate assessment of Great Commission Giving and the impact it will have on the Cooperative Program. We believe that Dr. Chapman is right when he argues that “Southern Baptists are moved more by principle than by public relations.” However, the public relations organ of the SBC, which is under Dr. Chapman’s oversight, is clearly and decidedly slanted against the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), thus we have chosen to respond through Between the Times so that our principles can be heard by Southern Baptists. We encourage our brothers and sisters to read all perspectives on the issues, and then make wise and informed decisions. Far too many are making their decisions based on irresponsible rhetoric and speculation and not the actual substance of the GCRTF report. We should all be more responsible than this.

Dr. Chapman’s white paper was written in response to the document titled “Penetrating the Lostness,” which is the final report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF). Component three of “Penetrating the Lostness” calls for Southern Baptists to celebrate “the total of all monies channeled through the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, the state conventions, and associations” under the proposed name “Great Commission Giving.” The GCRTF does not argue for Great Commission Giving (GCG) as an alternative to the Cooperation Program (CP). Rather, the Task Force simply recognizes that our churches support SBC-related causes through funding strategies in addition to the Cooperative Program and urges Southern Baptists to rejoice over all financial support of Southern Baptists’ Great Commission ministries. Celebration rather than chastisement is a far more effective means of motivating sacrificial giving through all avenues.

In his white paper, Dr. Chapman raises nine “grave concerns” about Great Commission Giving. In these posts, we hope to respond to his arguments and, Lord willing, lay to rest his concerns. It is our prayerful hope that this paper will make a helpful contribution to the ongoing discussion about Great Commission Giving in particular, as well as the wider Great Commission Resurgence movement.

Dr. Chapman’s first concern is that the adoption of GCG will result in a devaluing of the Cooperative Program. He uses a couple of different diagrams to hypothesize the possible ways that Great Commission Giving would undermine the priority of the CP. His chief complaint is that the Cooperative Program will simply become one component of the new GCG paradigm, thus forfeiting its role as “THE cooperative means by which Southern Baptist churches support the whole program of Southern Baptist work.”

The GCRTF does call for Great Commission Giving to be the new overarching term that is used for all funds given to support SBC ministries. But “Penetrating the Lostness” also clearly “call[s] upon Southern Baptists to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.” Furthermore, the GCRTF calls upon all Southern Baptist churches to increase the percentage they give to the CP and calls upon all state conventions to increase the percentage of CP funds they forward to the SBC. Every member of the GCRTF is clearly and strongly supportive of the Cooperative Program. We believe the GCRTF’s recommendation will actually strengthen support for the CP.

We believe Great Commission Giving is not a competitor with the Cooperative Program. Rather, it simply is the recognition that Southern Baptist churches have always given to SBC causes through a variety of means, including special missions offerings, direct giving, and yes, primarily the Cooperative Program. Great Commission Giving is a better term and method to identify and rejoice in the level to which a local church supports SBC ministries because it includes every means a given church may use to help fund the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists. The CP stands at the center of those means for the vast majority of our churches, and we believe it will be supported to an even greater degree in the years to come.

Dr. Chapman’s second concern is that Great Commission Giving represents a devaluing of the Cooperative Program name. He correctly and rightly argues that Southern Baptists are not Independent Baptists because of our commitment to cooperative missions and ministries. But he then seems to strictly equate cooperation with the Cooperative Program, going so far as to claim that “the Cooperative Program IS our Great Commission Giving!” This paints a picture that is both incomplete and historically inaccurate. It is incomplete because, as noted above, while the CP is the primary strategy through which Southern Baptist financially cooperate, it has never been the only means of such cooperation. It is historically inaccurate because Southern Baptists were committed to cooperative missions for 80 years before the advent of the Cooperative Program in 1925. The CP simply became our principle means of pursuing cooperative missions. Let us again say, we believe it still is and should continue to be the principle means.

Contrary to Dr. Chapman’s allegation, the recommendation that Southern Baptists adopt the Great Commission Giving language is not a “bait and switch.” The Cooperative Program “brand,” which is embraced and championed by the GCRTF, remains intact. We believe Southern Baptists will continue to rally around the CP, and even increase their support of the CP, if a case can be made that the Cooperative Program is the best strategy Southern Baptists have for extending the gospel to all nations. The Cooperative Program brand will remain as strong as Southern Baptists’ confidence in the stewardship of CP monies by the ministries they fund. This is as it should be!

Dr. Chapman’s third concern is that Great Commission Giving will become a new metric for “cooperation” among Southern Baptists. He repeats the mistaken contention that the Cooperative Program is the only standard through which a church’s support of the SBC is measured. He also claims the CP “provides a sense of a church’s sacrifice for the sake of all the ministries in which a state convention and the SBC are engaged,” which is incorrect. Further, he argues that “well-known pastors of larger churches that give small percentages through the Cooperative Program” will further undermine the CP by arguing that Great Commission Giving should become the new benchmark through which financial cooperation is measured. Not only does Dr. Chapman impugn the alleged intentions of large church pastors, he also neglects the fact that several prominent large churches, including the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia and the First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas have significantly increased their CP percentages in recent years.

Dr. Chapman fears that Great Commission Giving will motivate pastors who give low percentages to the Cooperative Program to further decrease their support of the CP. We disagree, and believe just the opposite will occur. We believe that celebrating all moneys given to SBC ministries, coupled with a renewed Great Commission emphasis across the SBC, will motivate pastors of churches of every shape and size to lead their churches to increase their Cooperative Program support. Most churches that give low percentages to the CP are not unsupportive of the SBC. Rather, many are unconvinced that the CP is the best stewardship of their missions money or should be the only strategy they use to fund SBC ministries. We believe the burden of proof rests upon CP-funded ministries to prove they are worth the investment of Southern Baptist churches who desire to spread the gospel to the underserved and unreached places in America and the uttermost parts of the earth. If the burden of proof is met, we are convinced our people will rise to the occasion and give even more.

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  22Comments

  1. Stephen Roberts   •  

    Very nice response Dr. Akin. Thankyou for your leadership and Christ like attitude in the GCRTF.

  2. Eddie Williams   •  

    I am saddened. I truly believe in the motives from which the vision for GCR was birthed. I do not believe it was born from simply a concern that the SBC was/is becoming a denomination in decline, but that because of that fact the numbers of people being reached for Christ was/is declining. It is disturbing to me that now, something that began as a genuine heart of concern for eternal destinies is turning (at least perspectively) into a divisive dispute over money. It occurs to me that no matter how much cash the SBC is slathered in, or how much cash it pours into the CP or GCG, if the heart of the denomination is not right before God, then it’s all money being poured down a rat hole. Most importantly, if people, rightly or wrongly, percieve that once again the SBC is bickering and infighting, then no matter how much money is recieved and allocated, they will continue to move away. What worries me is not that they will move away from the SBC, but away from our Lord, because we are not presenting His image to them with integrity. I understand that unity does not always necessitate agreement, but may our striving toward unity and agreement be as evident to a lost and dying world and as pronounced as our zeal to disagree.

  3. Mark   •  

    “Great Commission Giving” to SBC and non-SBC causes/missionaries is happening every week at SBC churches across the country. So, why is it a problem to acknowledge that this is going on?

  4. Tyler Recker   •  

    “Most churches that give low percentages to the CP are not unsupportive of the SBC. Rather, many are unconvinced that the CP is the best stewardship of their missions money or should be the only strategy they use to fund SBC ministries.”

    Amen.

  5. Tim Rogers   •  

    Dr. Akin,

    Thank you for your article and your desire to set the record straight. I do have one question that I believe underlies the push back experienced concerning GCG.

    I remember sitting in chapel and hearing Dr. Patterson say something to the effect; ‘If any of you run across a millionaire in your congregation and he/she is looking for a place to unload that $1 million, please call me and I will help him/her in the direction those funds should given and you, pastor, will have the next available chapel speaking slot open.’ :) While we all know Dr. Patterson was joking about that there still remains some element of truth to the direct gifts given to the entities. Most churches who directly give to various entities do so for the benefits received also, isn’t that correct? I mean, if I lead my church to partner with the NAMB to plant a church in a major city, those funds will go directly to the church that I am planting and my church chooses the staff and structure the church takes. I will probably cut my CP giving in order to free up mission funds to plant a church. Thus, I am benefited by planting a church funding it with funds I took away from my CP giving and receiving CP funds from NAMB given by other churches.

    That is just one example. I know, as I have heard you say, that we all need each other and I pray that the GCR will become a reality. But, I believe, while some may be over the top in their rhetoric, we need to seriously look at this particular item of concern.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  6. Jonathon Woodyard   •  

    Great post. Thanks for answering Dr. Chapman, who raised some good questions.

    We cannot continue doing things like we always have. We need to make sure that the CP dollars are being used in a way that “penetrates lostness.” If we can make this happen then more will be given.

    The GCR puts forth the “vision” we need to see more monies being given to reach the nations.

  7. Mark   •  

    I wonder how many pastors like the giving in their chruch to be channeled into designated fund accounts. I am sure they prefer it to be in their general funds!

  8. Danny Akin   •  

    Guys, thanks for the comments. They are appreciated and helpful. Let me respond to a couple.

    Mark, I think you may be missing the point of the GCRTF report. Let me see if I can be of some help to you if I can. First, the SBC is not a local church and so I think the analogy breaks down too quickly. More importantly, we are not encouraging designated gifts to trump giving to the CP. That is simply not in the report anywhere. We are saying increase your giving to the CP, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, but keep in mind that the CP is our bread and butter channel for doing all that we do together as Southern Baptists. GCG will (1) simply replace Total Missions Giving in the ACP and (2) actually restrict what is counted to that which only goes to SBC causes. Currently, Total Missions Giving includes any avenue whether it is a SBC or non-SBC agency. Great Commission Giving would not include non-SBC agencies. Bob White has written an excellent article on this that is not linked on this blog.

    Tim, I do not see giving to specific entities as something that benefits that church or pastor in some direct way. It doesn’t at SEBTS. Some, in NC in particular, give to us in addition to the CP because they have a particular interest in a seminary that is in their state. I write them a letter telling them thank you but that is about it. What I would hope is that they would be generous givers first to the CP and then if they wish to do more with SEBTS, IMB, NAMB or another entity on the state or national level, that would be above and beyond their gifts to the CP. I know that is my heart and also the heart of the GCRTF. Thank you for raising a good question.

  9. Norman   •  

    I want to believe just as Drs. Akin and Finn have written. Unfortunately, there is no evidence in history, psychology, philanthropy or theology that indicates embracing or “celebrating” designated giving will increase giving to the primary, sustaining missions funding stream of the Cooperative Program. The only time the giving of individual churches is even an issue or consideration is when a church leader is a candidate to lead the state or national conventions as an officer. While many other factors are valid considerations during a vote, the candidate’s “demonstrated” support of the Cooperative Program is a tangible illustration of the his support of the financial lifeline of the convention he wishes to serve.

  10. Danny Akin   •  

    Norm, thank you. Let me say this. First, I am hoping and praying for a new day in the SBC. I believe by God’s grace it can happen! Why not if Southern Baptists really get their hearts right with God! Second, do we want to “not” celebrate all the good giving that our churches do?! I cannot imagine that is either wise or right. This is not to be a matter of boasting. God forbid! We are just saying “praise God and thank you” for all that our churches are doing to reach our nation and the nations with the gospel. Let the CP continue to be the heart, but let’s also rejoice in what the other organs are doing too! Thanks again for sharing your perspective. It is always welcomed.

  11. Nathan Finn   •  

    Norman,

    I would add one thing to what Dr. Akin has said. In many ways, what we are doing is a “negative” response to Dr. Chapman’s white paper because we are attempting to answer the questions he raised. But Dr. Robert White has written an excellent, “positive” articulation of the relationship between the CP and GCG at the Pray4GCR website. We’ve linked to it at BtT, and I agree 100% with his approach to this question. Thanks for the comment.

    NAF

  12. Louis   •  

    Mark’s first comment hit the nail on the head.

    Churches are already doing what they feel called to do. The question is whether their gifts to the SBC outside of the CP are going to be recognized.

    I think that those gifts should be recognized. And I do not believe doing so will cause a shift in giving patterns away from the CP.

  13. Rick   •  

    Friends,

    While I am glad for all the giving that supports SBC work, I see a few problems in the manner in which the Task Force seeks to encourage Great Commission Giving by “celebrating” all of it. If it absolutely has to be celebrated, let’s only celebrate it when it is added to an already strong level of CP giving rather than when it is subtracted from CP giving. The Task Force Report states that CP giving is our “preferred” channel. If the greater GC giving only comes at the expense of our preferred missions channel, that hardly seems like a cause for celebration. In this particular instance, to “celebrate” one method indeed “devalues” the other.

    For example, a church giving one percent through CP while giving ten million dollars through GC might not really qualify for any kind of celebration at all if the only way they accomplished this gift was by reducing their CP gifts in order to fund it. If CP really is “preferred” why should we “celebrate” it when a church does something that we prefer they would not do? On the other hand, if we do celebrate it, are we not exposing the reality that CP giving truly is not preferred over GC giving but that they are equally fine?

    A separate problem is inherent in the “just give more” challenge with regard to the Cooperative Program. Yes, a church giving 2% through CP should be challenged to “give more.” They are failing to pay their fair share of our missions mutual fund.

    But what about the church already giving 15% or 20% or 25% through CP? The possibility exists that some of our churches may already be giving at such sacrificial levels that they are completely within the will of God at this very moment. They don’t need to “give more.” They need to “keep giving sacrificially like they are right now.”

    On “The Biggest Loser” the guy weighing 400 pounds is probably going to make the most progress because he has so much more weight to lose. The 105 pound girl doesn’t really need to lose any more. She has met her goals and done her part. Those churches with abysmal CP giving records need to do their part without simply saying, “Everybody do more” as if we were all starting from the same place to begin with.

  14. Ben   •  

    I’m fully behind the GCRTF recommendations, to the degree that I grasp their implications at this point. But it seems to me that the only way CP giving is ever going to increase is if state conventions bring their allocation of CP gifts into greater agreement with the priorities of SB churches. This is textbook supply-and-demand economics.

    The GCRTF has offered us a band-aid to stop the bleeding that has resulted from CP giving going to causes lots of SBC churches have no desire to invest in. So I don’t see these recommendations as saving the CP, except possibly in the sense that they save the CP from itself. Right now we have a “goose that laid the golden egg” situation, but the problem is far too many people in influential places don’t see that they’re gutting the goose.

  15. Scott A Gordon   •  

    While I can certainly find myself to be supportive of this component, I must first ask about its necessity. If the GCG labeled giving is already happening, then why is it necessary to bring it in alongside somewhere that it already is? If we already recognize such giving, why do we need to rename and then recognize/celebrate it? Why not just recognize it? If the ACP needs to be narrowed in its focus, then do so within the current label and be done with it.

    I also have another issue. It concerns the wording of this post. It comes down to the representation of the mega church giving increases. You state: “Not only does Dr. Chapman impugn the alleged intentions of large church pastors, he also neglects the fact that several prominent large churches, including the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia and the First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas have significantly increased their CP percentages in recent years.” Impugning character or not, the last part of that statement is misleading. What has actually happened over the past two years is significant percentage increases of the percentages given to the CP. 58% of approximately 2% only elevates one of those church’s giving to just over 3%. By any measure that is not a significant increase in the percentage given to the CP. I hope and pray that the leaders of these churches do indeed have a plan to lead out in what the GCRTFFR laments as the sad decline of churches giving to the CP declining to an average of 6%. I would love to hear from some of these men as to their goal for their churches in relation to increasing CP percentages which will increase real dollars given to our missions agencies as we all endeavor to impact the lostness of our world.

    Sola Gratia.

  16. Nathan Finn   •  

    Rick, The GCRTF is not calling for GCG at the expense of our preferred channel, the CP. Rather, they are calling for greater commitment to the CP and a recognition of other gifts to SBC causes, all of which is part of a church’s Great Commission Giving. In other words, they are both calling for increased CP support and proposing a more accurate way of assessing a church’s support of SBC causes. You miss the point. Read Robert White’s essay, which we linked to in our most recent BtT post. As for the latter part of your comment, I’m confused. I don’t know how you or I can presume to know when a church meets the proper CP percentage to be “within the will of God.” I trust each church to make that decision, under the lordship of Christ.

    Scott, Dr. White adequately answers your first question–the proposal is more accurate. Read his article. As for your second issue, I disagree that we are misleading. Admittedly, one church has increased their percentages to a greater degree than the other (such is the nature of local church autonomy), but both have increased their CP giving quite a bit in recent years. We should celebrate every increase a church gives to the CP instead of criticizing churches for not meeting our arbitrary standards. As for their goal to increase their CP giving, these men are leading by example with incremental annual increases. I’m not sure they need to articulate some master strategy to you, me, or anyone else. They are leading by example, and every church’s situation is different.

    NAF

  17. Rick   •  

    NAF,

    Brother, I am not suggesting that the GCRTF is “calling for” GCG at the expense of our preferred channel, the CP. Neither am I missing the point.

    What I am suggesting is that the unintended consequence of celebrating “misdirected” giving — I’m tired of calling it “redirected” — is that it does “indeed, yes, in fact, truly, alright, okay, uh-huh, Amen” diminish the emphasis on CP giving in this specific way: Churches who cut their CP in order to increase their GCG will, under this plan, be “celebrated” for their GCG. This is not worthy of celebration because it is not the missions support channel that the Task Force “claims” is PREFERRED. My point is that the Task Force Report contradicts itself with regard to its support of the CP as the preferred missions channel by giving a secondary missions channel the very same level of recognition as the preferred primary one.

    Put simply, we should not reward behavior that we do not prefer.

    I’m sorry to have confused you with the latter part of my comment. Let me try it another way. How can anyone “presume to know” that every church needs to just “give more” through the CP? SOME churches (1% anybody) need to give more while OTHER churches (15%) may already be at the place they need to be with regard to CP giving. I’m glad to know you trust each church to make that decision under the lordship of Christ. Do you similarly trust each state convention to make their CP giving percentage decisions under the lordship of Christ or do you challenge them to give specifically 50% or more? If we can challenge one autonomous body with a specific CP percentage goal, then why not another?

    BTW, I’ve tried to link to Robert White’s essay and will continue to attempt to access it. In the meantime, I’ve read Dr. Chapman’s essay two or three times now. While I will try to read with an open mind, something tells me Chapman’s logic will resonate with me more than White’s.

  18. Rick   •  

    Finally able to link to Robert White’s well written essay, although it did not address the unintended consequence of creating a new term that will surely compete with CP in describing a church’s level of missions giving.

    At this point, only two things would satisfy me: (1) Drop the GC nomenclature completely, thus “proving” that CP really IS our preferred Great Commission Giving standard worthy of celebration, and (2) add a 10% “historic ideal” challenge for churches in the same manner that we have a 50% “historic ideal” challenge in the report for the state conventions.

    Unless these things are done, I will remain unconvinced that the statement “CP is our preferred primary channel for missions support” is anything other than rhetoric with no specific and tangible action points or challenges to back up the claim.

  19. jon akin   •  

    Rick,

    I am saddened greatly to learn that you think giving to our missionaries thru historic lottie and annie offerings is “misdirected.”

    That is most unfortunate. Why criticize that giving in this way?

    Jon

  20. jon akin   •  

    Rick,

    You write,

    “I’m glad to know you trust each church to make that decision under the lordship of Christ. Do you similarly trust each state convention to make their CP giving percentage decisions under the lordship of Christ…”

    Again, we cannot equate churches with state conventions. Not only is it unbiblical, it is unhelpful in this discussion.

    Churches and conventions are autonomous bodies, but not in the same way. Conventions answer to the churches b/c they were created to serve the churches, but churches are not called to answer to convention.

    Jon

  21. Rick   •  

    Jon,

    To clarify, the only “misdirected” Annie and Lottie giving is that which a church is subtracts from CP in order to fund. Gifts above and beyond a church’s already generous CP giving are indeed a source of celebration. We already report Total Gifts as well as Annie and Lottie totals. No nomenclature competing with CP is needed.

    Regarding specific numerical challenges to autonomous churches, the report is chock full of them: mission trips every four (not three or five) years, quarterly prayer meetings (not monthly or annual), etc. If you are claiming that the convention can challenge states but not churches due to a greater autonomy for churches, then there is yet another inconsistency.

    For what it’s worth, I for one believe that one autonomous entity can always challenge another although the second one is free to accept or reject the suggestion.

  22. Rick   •  

    Sorry to post again so soon but your view of autonomy strikes me as almost Orwellian: We are all autonomous but SOME of us are more autonomous than others. I could not agree more that the church is at the top compared to the other entities. Beyond that, there is no other autonomy distinction between association, state and national bodies, each directly accountable to their own member churches gathered at their own annual meetings, right?

    Thus, a state convention, for example, would not be accountable to a national convention, but only to the will of the churches as expressed at that state convention’s annual meeting.

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