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.