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Chapman points to SBC signs of good health & of concern

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)??Record giving by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program is “a sign of good health,” said Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee.
“It’s not the only sign, but it is a sign,” Chapman said during the opening session of the Executive Committee’s Sept. 22?24 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Chapman cited three other statistical trends in Cooperative Program giving, however, which are cause for concern. The Cooperative Program is the channel of support by churches for missions and ministries of state and regional Baptist conventions and, nationally and internationally, of the Southern Baptist Convention.
A record 1996?97 total in Cooperative Program giving for SBC causes already has been achieved, Chapman said, noting CP receipts as of Sept. 22 were 1.71 percent ahead of last year’s final total. This year’s total will nudge up further, as the SBC fiscal year continues until the end of September.
Cooperative Program receipts have risen from $140 million in 1990 to a projected $153 million for the current year, Chapman also noted.
“I believe Southern Baptists are saying, ‘We believe in the mission commitment which we claim to have among ourselves. We want to reach to the ends of the earth,'” Chapman said.
Discouraging, however, are statistics showing three trends in Cooperative Program giving, the SBC leader said:
?? The percentage of undesignated gifts received by churches and then channeled through the Cooperative Program has dropped from an average of 9.84 percent in 1990 to 8.14 percent in 1996.
?? The percentage of Cooperative Program receipts forwarded by state and regional conventions to SBC missions and ministries has declined from an average of 38.64 percent in 1990 to 36.22 percent in 1996. Thus, the percentage of CP receipts retained by state and regional conventions has increased from an average of 61.36 percent in 1990 to 63.78 in 1996.
?? Baptisms compared to Cooperative Program receipts have dropped from 429,063 baptisms when 1958?59 CP receipts from Southern Baptist churches totaled $64 million, of which $17 million was forwarded by the states to SBC missions and ministries, to 379,344 baptisms when 1995?96 CP receipts totaled $412 million, of which $148 million was forwarded to SBC causes.
Of the first trend, the percentage drop in undesignated gifts channeled by churches through the Cooperative Program, Chapman acknowledged, “We live in a generation where most of us want to see and touch what is occurring” as a result of tithes and offerings given each Sunday.
But, Chapman said: “… let us not forget that there are those in our behalf, in the service of the Lord, under his call and mandate, following the Great Commission, who have gone to the ends of the earth and who need our love and support and our finances. We have the most united plan of giving for missions enterprise the world has ever known, and we must not lose our passion for providing for our missionaries around the world.”
Of the second trend, the percentage drop in Cooperative Program gifts forwarded from state and regional conventions ?? which can be affected by CP shifts in even one or two states ?? Chapman said:
“Now, I want you to know the heart and spirit with which I share this with you. First of all … many state conventions are increasing their Cooperative Program percentage … . (T)here are many state conventions that hold dear the partnership which has traditionally existed among Southern Baptists, and they are doing what they can do to reach their states for Christ and also to send as much as possible through the Cooperative Program to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Chapman continued: “… it is my belief that the Executive Committee is firmly committed to the partnership which has existed for all of these years we have been Southern Baptists … to be in a good relationship and good communication with our state conventions. At the same while, I would urge that we not forget the task at hand in our home and foreign missions. We must reach America for Christ not only through the state conventions but through the responsibility God has given us as Southern Baptists throughout the land. And we must reach the lands that are foreign to us, as our missionaries go.”
After citing the third trend, baptisms compared to Cooperative Program receipts, Chapman said, “I believe until we get a passion … we’ll not see this change. Obviously, obviously, giving alone has not changed it. There is something more to be done. … A good dose of soul?winning will go a long way in improving health and preventing the spread of spiritual diseases among Southern Baptists.”
SBC President Tom Elliff, in his address to the Executive Committee, referred to the Cooperative Program trends and said, “I cannot help but think that we are reaping some of the things we’ve sown in the past, especially when I see the decline in the number of baptisms, the number of people coming to know Christ as their Savior.”
Elliff continued: “Do you just give up and say, ‘Lord, I’m doing the best I can. I’m right with you and I’m trying to lead people to Jesus and yet the baptisms are still down for the convention.’
“If we don’t sow right now,” Elliff exhorted, “we won’t reap great baptisms in the future. And so, the key is for us to be faithful before God right now, to be pure, to be holy, to be sound theologically before God, and then in the future ?? ‘do not be deceived, God is not mocked’ ?? whatsoever we sow, that shall we also reap.”
Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., pointed to four facets of 1 Timothy 4:13 as vital directions for Southern Baptists:
?? “Our preaching must be scripturally conformed. … That means that the Word of God defines the message; the message doesn’t define the Word of God.” In the SBC’s six seminaries, Elliff observed, “The refreshing, encouraging return to the emphasis upon expository preaching is a marvel to me … a miraculous happening among us.”
?? “Our preachers must be sovereignly called. Preaching has got to quit being a job or even a profession for Southern Baptists.” Elliff added, “We’re reaping what we sow” in this area. “All those years of ministerial buffoonery on television have caused us to lose integrity in the sight of so many people, and I think it’s up to Southern Baptist pastors to restore that.”
?? “Our progress must be spiritually consistent,” involving both prayer and hard work so that all SBC efforts have a “holy underpinning,” such that the Lord “would not be ashamed to say, ‘Look, I am their God. I’m in that.'”
?? “Our purpose ought to be soberly considered.” Elliff reminded: “The same truth by which you come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior is that same wonderful treasure he has placed in your heart by which other people will come to know Jesus as their Savior. … It is serious business.”
That seriousness earlier was emphasized by Executive Committee chairman James Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., who said soul?winning testimonies by Executive Committee members will be included in the meetings he chairs. Merritt and two other committee members then recounted experiences in recent weeks in which they had helped lead individuals to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Also during the Sept. 22 Executive Committee session:
?? Chapman announced that renovation of the 12?year?old SBC Building in Nashville will begin this fall, involving 24,000 square feet at an estimated $40 to $50 per square foot. The renovation will include installation of data systems technology and expanded space for the Executive Committee, which has operated under inadequate office space in recent years and, under the SBC “Covenant for a New Century” restructuring, has received the additional ministry assignment of Cooperative Program promotion. Also, Chapman said, he will be filling a new Executive Committee position, director of data systems, responsible for installing and managing an electronic records system for financial data as well as an SBC informational database.
?? Elliff announced an ad hoc committee of Executive Committee members will be formed to study the SBC’s relationship to the Baptist World Alliance. Elliff said further information about the committee will be presented Sept. 23.
A reception for Chapman, who has completed five years’ service as Executive Committee president and CEO, and his wife, Jodi, followed the Sept. 22 meeting. Various SBC leaders voiced appreciation for Chapman’s role in shepherding numerous convention concerns handled by the Executive Committee and in facilitating the SBC restructuring the past two years.