Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (3c): Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving
By Danny Akin and Nathan Finn
Dr. Chapman’s seventh concern with Great Commission Giving is what he calls “the law of unintended consequences.” His concern is that CP budget shortfalls will result if GCG is embraced. SBC ministries would then be forced to raise their own funds like they did in the days before the CP. We have to confess that this is indeed a possibility. But Dr. Chapman makes two key assumptions that we would contest. The first assumption is that Southern Baptists ought to continue doing everything we are currently doing. The GCRTF has suggested that every ministry needs to be examined and some ministries may need to be altered or perhaps even dropped. It is not a question of whether or not all our ministries are good; undoubtedly they are. It is rather a question of whether or not we are investing our resources in the most important things: ministries which aid churches in penetrating lostness.
The second assumption we would challenge is the assumption that CP giving will either remain stable or decrease if Great Commission Giving is adopted. As we have argued, we believe the Cooperative Program will substantially increase if local churches are convinced the CP is the most effective means for them to fund our denominational ministries. We believe this is true regardless of what happens to the GCG proposal. We are firmly convinced that no denominational ministry that is effectively assisting our churches in fulfilling the Great Commission will face any financial shortfalls. Frankly, if a ministry is not doing its part to help us be a Great Commission people, it does not deserve our money. Southern Baptists will rally around the Cooperative Program and every ministry it funds if they are convinced we are more effectively rescuing the perishing among all the peoples of the earth. It is this very concern that leads so many churches at the present time to designate giving directly to individual denominational ministries instead of giving more through the CP.
Dr. Chapman also rehashes the tired argument that our problems are spiritual rather than structural. We strongly disagree with this false dichotomy which has so often been introduced into the debate over the Great Commission Resurgence. The spiritual and the structural are intimately related. Our structural problems reflect our spiritual problems, and our spiritual woes are only exacerbated by our structural shortcomings. Both need to be addressed and both need to be corrected. The GCRTF addresses both in “Penetrating the Lostness.”
Dr. Chapman’s eighth concern is that adequate budget planning will be hindered if the SBC adopts Great Commission Giving. He reasons that since the budgets of the denomination’s ministry are based in large part upon CP allocation, GCG introduces greater uncertainty into the equation. He recounts how the CP allowed Southern Baptists to give generously to New Orleans Seminary, NAMB, and three state conventions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He argues this could not have been done without the budgetary stability provided by the Cooperative Program.
We have already expressed our disagreement with Dr. Chapman’s contention that Great Commission Giving undermines the CP. We believe the CP will become even stronger if the SBC embraces a Great Commission Resurgence. We believe that, for whatever reasons, Dr. Chapman has embraced a doomsday scenario for the CP which colors a number of his concerns, including this one. We prefer to trust our people and the churches to do what they believe is best with their missions money. The fact is the CP will continue to play a central role in budget planning, and some churches will continue to give directly to individual SBC ministries. In other words, what is happening right now will continue to happen. But if the GCRTF recommendations are adopted (and this is a crucial point many seem to be missing), we will recognize only gifts to Southern Baptist ministries, call it Great Commission Giving, and stop criticizing churches who exercise their freedom to determine how their missions money is used.
Dr. Chapman’s final concern is that GCG will lead to a fractured spirit in the SBC because the Cooperative Program will die and Southern Baptists will no longer know how to cooperate. Some entities will go bankrupt and agency heads of financially viable ministries will be tempted to pander to churches that designate high dollars to those ministries. Again, we disagree. Dr. Chapman continues to assume that Great Commission Giving will kill the CP, even though the practice is basically going on right now, albeit by a different name (e.g. “Total Mission Giving”). We continue to believe that the key to a healthy future for the CP is not to bemoan designated giving, but for the CP to make a compelling case that it is the best means of funding our Great Commission priorities. Agency heads already receive contributions from some churches, some of which are substantial. Would Dr. Chapman argue that present agency heads are sycophants who lead their agencies in such a way as to please these churches? We trust he would not.
Dr. Chapman also argues that there will be tensions between pastors who support the CP, state conventions, and associations, and those pastors who do not. We have several questions about this claim. Does Dr. Chapman believe that there are many SBC churches that do not support any of the ministries he mentions, or does he mean they do not support them at the level he thinks is necessary to qualify for authentic cooperation? At what level of CP giving is a church considered unsupportive of the denomination? Does Dr. Chapman believe that every association and state convention is deserving of equal and unquestioned support? For example, does Dr. Chapman believe that churches who cooperate with the Baptist General Convention of Texas should give at the same level to the CP as churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, even though the former only forwards about 22% to the SBC while the latter passes on over 57%? Does Dr. Chapman believe that churches should give generously to a local association that is unwilling to disfellowship affiliated churches that embrace the homosexual lifestyle or ordain women to pastoral ministry?
This gets to the heart of our disagreement with Dr. Chapman. He seems to imply that the way forward for the SBC is to simply give more money to the Cooperative Program. We want the CP to flourish, but we argue that this will not happen without asking some hard questions about Great Commission stewardship of CP dollars. His position amounts to a tacit endorsement of the status quo. We believe the status quo is unacceptable and will neither sustain the SBC long term nor effectively plant Baptist churches among all the peoples of the earth. He implies the CP is the sine qua non of the SBC. We believe the CP is a fantastic strategy that is almost on life support because of stewardship concerns that many denominational servants are unwilling to address. He suggests more is better. We believe that better is better, and that will lead to more.
As we conclude our posts on this topic, we wish to make crystal clear our wholehearted support of the Cooperative Program. We were both converted and nurtured through the ministries of CP-supporting local churches. We were educated in various CP-funded institutions. We presently serve at a CP-funded theological seminary and have served at other CP-funded ministries in the past. We believe that the Cooperative Program remains the best strategy for Southern Baptists to fund Great Commission ministries. So does the GCRTF. But we also believe the Cooperative Program is not the only strategy for pursuing these ends. We further believe the CP faces an uncertain future, and that the movement known as the Great Commission Resurgence could bring needed renewal to the Cooperative Program and extend its effectiveness for at least another generation. We hope Southern Baptists will not be misled by the bombardment of biased reporting and the misinformation campaign being perpetuated by some denominational servants. It is unfortunate this is happening. It is unfortunate we needed to respond.