DALLAS (BP)–Without Cooperative Program support, Southern Baptists would not have the International Mission Board, the largest evangelical mission entity in existence, Tom Elliff, the IMB’s new president, told the Florida Baptist Witness after his unanimous election by trustees March 16.
“We wouldn’t have our 5,000 boots on the ground,” Elliff said of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ primary funding channel for missions and ministry. “We wouldn’t have our International Mission Board if it wasn’t for that.”
Asked whether the Cooperative Program, which was created 86 years ago, remains effective in getting funds to the international mission field, Elliff said, “I do not believe that the CP is antiquated.”
Elliff had said in his acceptance speech that Southern Baptists “cannot fulfill the Great Commission without being consumed with the Great Commission theme in the days ahead” but also that “the International Mission Board does not operate in a vacuum.”
With reference to the Cooperative Program, Elliff told trustees, “[T]he simple truth behind CP [is] that we learned a long time ago we can do things together better than we can alone.
“So churches give regularly through CP and then the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” Elliff continued, “giving beyond themselves.”
Elliff pledged — “by God’s grace and your prayers and the heart commitment of Southern Baptists everywhere” — to introduce a plan at the SBC annual meeting in June to partner with local churches to reach the 3,800 unengaged people groups worldwide with the Gospel.
Elliff, in a brief interview with the Witness after his election, admitted there can be confusion about the role of Southern Baptist churches in relation to support of the Cooperative Program which provides support to the IMB — while the IMB is asking churches at the same time to partner with them.
“Hearing me say that we want to involve churches in no way means that I want to diminish the emphasis on the Cooperative Program,” Elliff told the Witness. “Part of the value the IMB can add to the whole equation is how [churches] can pray for and strategize and reach with and partner with us — to reach into these dark arenas where there are unengaged people groups.”
As churches are engaged, “they begin to see the value of the IMB, they begin to see the value of the Cooperative Program,” said Elliff, further noting that the SBC’s six seminaries and the North American Mission Board are “certainly part of this equation. They’re all essential in terms of reaching people, in reaching the unreached.”
However, Elliff said, “I do believe that it is unrealistic to believe that we will receive enough money through the CP and the Lottie Moon Christmas offering to send enough missionaries out in the world to take care of the task.”
“Churches are going to have to be a part of the equation,” Elliff said. “There is no way we are going to employ enough people to do this.”
David Uth, an IMB trustee and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, said he shares Elliff’s desire to reach the unengaged people groups with the Gospel and is encouraged by his affirmation of the Cooperative Program.
“I think it’s going to be imperative for us to participate together in the Cooperative Program,” Uth, who also is president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, told the Witness. “That may look different in the days to come than it does today or it has in the past, but if the effect is that we are able to do more to reach the nations, that we are able to do more to disciple the nations, then ‘hallelujah,’ that’s the goal.
“I think some of the changes that we see are simply a result of our times and a result of the changing environment of churches, the landscape of our churches [and] the landscape of our world,” Uth said.
Calling the Cooperative Program a “time-honored” way to engage the nations, Uth said everything is subject to adaptation, but he does not agree with decreasing CP support in order to increase support for mission partnerships or offerings. “Increase them all,” he said.
When Uth was elected as president of the Florida convention last November, he challenged Florida Baptist churches to follow the example of his church which promised to increase its giving to the Cooperative Program by at least a quarter of a percent. “I’ve also proposed at our church that we ramp up our missions giving.”
First Baptist Orlando gave an unprecedented $5.6 million in donations and pledges in a spontaneous offering March 12-13 for the homeless, which Uth described as a visible declaration of the congregation’s willingness to give sacrificially, even in a poor economy.
“It’s not about — I’m going to give to this, but not that — I think it’s more about, ‘We’re going to give more and we’re going to give through more channels perhaps, but we are going to give more,'” Uth said. “I think the … most important thing is that we engage the nations and that we are able to be effective and have the greatest impact starting here and [going to] the nations.”
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.goFBW.com.