How SBC Churches May Discriminately Support Convention Causes

The Cooperative Program (CP) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is an ingenuous mechanism for supporting convention causes. As churches make financial contributions through the CP those funds are combined to underwrite the work of six seminaries, the International Missions Board (IMB), the North American Missions Board (NAMB), The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and the Executive Committee (EC), as well as state conventions (I have written about this previously here, here, and here).

When those institutions and agencies are healthy and are trusted by the churches that own them, the CP is a wonderfully efficient way for those churches to unite in seeing great good accomplished both at home and around the world. But when there is a lack of health spread through the institutions and agencies and trust with the churches is broken, then those churches understandably look on the CP as a questionable, if not problematic, mechanism through which to invest the resources of King Jesus.

Convention leaders often do not fully appreciate the vital and proper relationship between trust and generosity. It is true in a local church. Even the least congregational of churches know very well that if the members are suspicious of their leaders then they will eventually vote with their pocketbooks. The same is true in the convention of churches known as the SBC. Yet, none of the SBC leaders who addressed the CP in the recent annual meeting in Nashville even mentioned this relationship (or if they did, I missed it). Instead, messengers were exhorted to give more by being informed and reminded of the various things CP funding enables institutions and agencies to accomplish.

The fact remains, however, that there is a diminishing level of trust between grass-roots Southern Baptists and the elites who want SBC churches to increase their CP giving. The question that I have most frequently been asked by pastors in the days since #SBC21 is a variation of, “What can our church do if we have growing concerns about how our missions offerings are being used by SBC entities?”

Some have concluded that they have no alternative but to lead their churches to withdraw from the SBC. That is wrong. Certainly, leaving is always an option that every autonomous church can exercise, but it is not the only one. Others seem to think that they simply have to endure the frustration of seeing their money finance questionable teachings and activities taking place in SBC institutions and agencies because that just goes with the territory of being SBC. That is also wrong. Certainly, a church can do that, but I would argue that it is unwise to follow that course. Why finance what you disagree with?

Early in the Conservative Resurgence when certain SBC elites of that day criticized Adrian Rogers for his church’s miniscule CP giving, he responded that it is immoral for anyone to ask his church to finance things that undermine that for which they stand. That was an appropriate and true statement then. It is equally appropriate and true today.

When Bible-believing, cooperative SBC churches are increasingly dismissed, ridiculed, and disenfranchised by the elites who lead the convention, what recourse do they have? Actually, they have several avenues available to them. First and foremost, they can show up, stand up, and speak up at their associational, state, and national annual meetings and make their concerns known. That must be done if rank-and-file SBC churches want to see change in the convention. There is no other way.

But as that is being done, churches can, following Adrian Rogers’ lead, redirect their missions giving. This is an option open to every SBC church. Article III of the SBC Constitution explains that a “cooperating church” is one that meets the following three criteria:

(1) Has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith….

(2) Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention….

(3) Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.

The third criterion can be confusing. More than one pastor (as well as quite a few denominational workers) mistakenly think that this requires giving through the CP. But a careful reading of the sentence (which is fun to diagram) reveals that not to be true. A cooperating church can make “financial contribution(s)…to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.” This means that a gift to the International Missions Board (including but not limited to gifts given through the Lottie Moon offering) would qualify.

Any church that meets those three criteria is eligible to send two messengers to the annual SBC meeting. The Constitution goes on to explain how a church may be eligible to send more than two messengers:

The Convention will recognize additional messengers from a cooperating church under one of the options described below. Whichever method allows the church the greater number of messengers shall apply:

    • (1) One additional messenger for each full percent of the church’s undesignated receipts which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity; or
    • (2) One additional messenger for each $6,000 which the church contributed during the fiscal year preceding through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity.

Perhaps the best way to understand this is to use examples of two cooperating SBC churches. First Baptist Church (FBC) has a budget of $100,000 and gave $250 to the IMB this year. That means that next year the church is eligible to send two, but only two messengers to the SBC annual meeting. Third Baptist Church (TBC) also has a $100,000 budget but gave 10% of their undesignated receipts to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary last year. They would be eligible to send twelve messengers to the SBC annual meeting next year. 2 + 10 they get one for every percent of your budget you give.

Note that neither church gave through the CP yet they are still eligible to send messengers. Giving through the CP is an option, but it is not a requirement, for any SBC church.

Over the last few years some pastors and laymen have expressed to me that their church is eligible to send messengers but simply cannot afford to do so. One such pastor in that situation indicated that, based on their giving, they were eligible to send twelve messengers. He and his congregation are very concerned about the direction of the SBC and feel like they cannot show up, stand up, and speak up because they do not have the finances. They are thinking about leaving the SBC in frustration.

A church in that situation would do better to consider stewarding their financial resources like this (for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume this is Third Baptist Church I described above): Instead of giving $10,000 to convention causes this year (or giving nothing), they could give $6000. That would qualify the church to send eight messengers (the two that every cooperating church gets plus six more—one for each percentage of undesignated receipts that is given to a convention cause). The other $4000 could be used to send those eight messengers to the annual meeting. Better to be eligible to send only eight messengers and to actually send them than to be eligible to send twelve and not send any.

In that scenario Third Baptist Church gets actually to have a voice in the annual meeting in order to lead the SBC in healthier directions.

What does all of this mean for SBC pastors and churches? It means that they can be very involved and have a voice in the future of the SBC. They do not have to contribute directly to SBC institutions or entities that they have serious concerns about or that are dismissive of questions and concerns that have been raised. They can be a fully cooperating SBC church, eligible to send messengers to the annual meeting, by sending financial support directly to the SBC entities and/or institutions that they want to support. They simply must be thoughtful and intentional in doing so and they must keep good records of their gifts.

I know that some will take my explanation of the way that the SBC is organized and the options that SBC churches have not to give through the CP as disloyalty if not outright heresy. If I were a betting man I’d wager that I would get easier treatment if my church publicized belief in a trinitarian heresy rather than suggest giving around the CP. Nevertheless, the SBC is structured the way it is for good reasons and that structure serves the purposes of cooperating churches who want to exercise greater care in their financial support of convention causes. Explaining that should be applauded, not condemned.


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Photo by Randy Starkey Photography