COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (BP)–During a luncheon Feb. 10, Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told the Fellowship of State Executive Directors that “promoting full cooperation is frustrating and may never be attained” but that it is worth striving for the ideal. “Cooperation is foundational in everything we do jointly as believers,” he said.
Chapman framed his comments in context of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. Referencing a push he has made over the years for a 50-50 percent split of CP gifts between state and national causes, Chapman emphasized the symbolism it would represent and the relationship it would knit organizationally.
He said such an ideal would “adequately convey to our people that we are all yoked together … in Gospel enterprises,” having set aside “competitive tendencies for the greater good of the convention and to do more for the Kingdom.”
Chapman said the pursuit of such an ideal should not be done in a way that denigrates either state or national interests or in a way that creates “unhealthy competition” against the purpose of the ideal.
“The state conventions are composed of the very same churches the SBC is composed of … in a sense they are us and we are them,” he said.
However, he explained, “Any proportion other than 50-50 comes with an inescapable perception of greater importance for one side of the equation and less importance for the other.”
That, he said, is a strong reason to pursue the ideal.
Chapman also expressed concern regarding discussions about the possibility of changing the definition of CP giving to include societal giving rather than a unified plan for funding.
“Reclassifying which box a current gift is placed within will not increase giving nor address the problem of declining CP,” he said in reference to the suggestion of giving CP “credit” for local missions giving or other — even non-SBC — ministry projects.
Records show that CP giving reached record amounts in recent years prior to the economic downturn. However, CP giving from churches as a percentage of undesignated gifts received declined from approximately 10 percent just over a decade ago to about 6 percent in 2008. Likewise, in the United States, giving from individuals to the local church has declined as a percentage of disposable income (earnings less federal, state and local taxes) — from 3.1 percent in 1968 to 2.55 percent in 2008.
“I am convinced that the problems of insufficient giving [to support cooperative missions at state or national levels] and declining CP percentage are not procedural problems and, therefore, cannot be resolved by fixing the procedure,” he said, “but are problems resulting from an underlying disease of the heart.”
Chapman said the problem lies in part with the tendency of some to think they can give “a little more” each year to pay others to do “our personal Great Commission assignment for us” and also in part with an “apparent lack of understanding or care about the importance of tithing, or corporate church undesignated giving.”
Chapman also addressed the downside of emphasizing “Total Missions Giving” as a “preferable metric” at the expense of using “CP giving” as the quality check of a church’s convention involvement. Emphasizing Total Missions Giving could harm the Cooperative Program — by reducing both receipts and cooperation, he said.
“Fundamentally, Total Missions Giving [a category reported on a church’s Annual Church Profile survey that includes CP giving as well as special offerings like Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong and individual church missions efforts that might include non-SBC ministries] is a worthy measurement of Kingdom involvement, but not of convention involvement,” Chapman said.
Including money given in support for mission and ministry projects that are not in cooperation with other Southern Baptist churches in reports about convention activity only confuses the picture about what Southern Baptists are achieving together, he said. Also, including “cafeteria-style” giving to “favored ministries” goes down a path of “competition and disorganization,” Chapman noted.
“If the convention wishes to blend itself into the broader spectrum of evangelicalism and disappear, the convention will have to intentionally make that call.
“If the convention wishes to jettison central planning and strategically engineered ministry,” he added, “it will also intentionally have to make that call.
“But doing either would be suicide … a slow death by poison,” he said.
Chapman concluded his remarks by addressing the proportioning of monies received for national causes among the 10 SBC entities that receive CP support.
Much of the conversation in SBC life this past year has been about raising the proportion of money forwarded from state conventions to SBC national causes, and for likewise increasing the proportion for overseas missions among the monies distributed to SBC entities. It has been a topic of discussion related to the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, which was appointed upon the approval of messengers to the annual meeting in Louisville to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
“I believe these allocations should not be altered in the absence of an extreme emergency,” Chapman said, “and I do not view any present circumstance to be at that level of urgency.
“For those who have a heart for one of our ministries over another, I would encourage them not to allow their giftedness or burden for that one area to overwhelm our holistic view of the convention’s ministries.
“For example, our International Mission Board now receives over twice as much funding through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget as the next largest recipient (the North American Mission Board), and the two combined receive almost three-fourths of all CP gifts forwarded for national causes. Taking into account designations from the local churches to them (Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong and other designated gifts) the figure exceeds 86 percent,” he said.
“This is not in keeping with the evangelistic priority Southern Baptists have long embraced,” Chapman said. “We should not let either the Lottie Moon offering results or the constant need for more missionaries lead us into a starvation of resources for other Southern Baptist work.”
Chapman said the financial pressures of resourcing one ministry or another would not be remedied by reorganizing or reclassifying or by “throwing money at them.”
“The SBC funding challenges are not procedural or process problems or problems of the wallet,” he said, but lie with the individual, not a bureaucracy.
The challenges are “indicative of an underlying heart disease: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he said.
“The convention’s funding solution is to cure the heart disease.”
Chapman shared his remarks at the invitation of Bill Mackey, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and FSED president.
Prior to Chapman’s speaking, David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, presented a gift to Chapman on behalf of the group. Showing a picture of the latest Thomas Kinkade print, “Nature’s Paradise” (which was being framed), Hankins said, “We hope this will be a blessing to you, that you will enjoy it and remember all of us here in the years to come.”
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.