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.