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FIRST-PERSON: Should designated giving be counted as CP?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Recently there has been conversation suggesting that designated mission giving to Southern Baptist Convention causes from the local church should be added to mission giving through the traditional Cooperative Program formula to indicate the percentage of missions given to CP by the local church. Such designated giving might include projects being promoted by state or national entities. Should designated giving be counted as CP giving?

While I appreciate and applaud the generosity of churches who give to numerous mission causes, the answer to the question is “no.”

I am a pastor at heart and so I address this issue with an eye to the local church. For that reason I look at the Cooperative Program as the unified budget of the SBC and compare it with the adopted budget of the local church. With that in mind, let me illustrate several reasons designated giving should not be counted as CP.

First and fundamentally, by definition, designated giving is not unified giving. Designated giving does not support the various line items of the local church or the SBC. When someone at the local church desires to give their tithes and offerings to projects not determined to be budget priorities by the local church, that money does not impact the budget.

Second, most pastors discourage any designated giving which simply reallocates money that someone would normally give as their tithes and offerings. When someone desires to give designated money through the local church — whether it is for a building, mission trip or musical instrument — most pastors insist that it should be money apart from and above one’s regular tithe. No pastor wants to see the regular budget giving decrease as the result of designated giving to any project. The same logic applies to the national budget.

Third, designated giving can have the impact of re-establishing the church or denomination’s priorities without the approval of the body. For example, someone with great resources might want their church to have a magnificent pipe organ. The church may be moving toward a more casual worship style and feel that the pipe organ would not fit well with the direction of the church. The designated gift must either be accepted — which may alter the strategy of the church — or it must be rejected, which can cause serious repercussions. Designated giving, in some instances, is based on the assumption that one individual is better qualified to determine the strategic needs of the church than the church family.

Fourth, designated giving has little value if taken from unified giving and thus has the impact of weakening budget giving. If we continue with our pipe organ illustration, the beautiful instrument would be of no value if the budget is underfunded and there are not sufficient resources to pay the staff and maintain the building.

Churches often desire to do mission projects which allow their people to have a hands-on mission experience. I applaud the strategy of direct mission involvement, but the truth is the long-term value of most mission projects will be determined by those persons on the field who will provide the daily follow-up to ensure that the results accomplish in a short term mission project are not quickly lost. If we allow short-term mission projects to be funded at the expense of our long-term mission strategy it will have tragic consequences.

Fifth, much designated giving is based on what the giver receives in return or gets credit for. The uniqueness of unified or budget giving at any level is that it enables us to do more together than any one of us can do alone and the credit or glory goes to God alone. It allows the small giver and the larger giver to share equally in the ministry. For the past 15 years I have had the privilege of standing before churches of various size and location and telling them with great enthusiasm that their giving through the Cooperative Program allows them to share equally in the greatest mission venture ever conceived.

We find the biblical foundation for cooperative giving in the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. Paul spent several years encouraging the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to join together to provide for the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. This offering called for cooperation and sacrifice. It required Kingdom thinking. Paul indicates that such cooperative and sacrificial giving will not only supply the needs of the saints, it will overflow with many thanksgivings to God (2 Corinthians 9:12).

Sixth, designated giving is not as effective or efficient as unified giving. Truth is, designated giving is simply the old “societal method” of funding missions that has shown itself to be both ineffective and inefficient. Societal funding consumes energy, time and resources. The amount raised through societal or designated giving is often determined by the personality or story of the one making the appeal. I believe that the Cooperative Program provides us with the most effective and efficient way of funding missions. Did you know that 94.43 percent of the SBC budget goes to train ministers and support missionaries?

As we look to the future, we must prioritize giving through our unified strategy for the sake of the Kingdom. Much good has been accomplished through designated giving, but it pales in comparison with what is accomplished when we join hands and work together without any concern for who gets the credit and we seek only to glorify the King and advance His Kingdom.

Can we do a better job of allocating resources received through our unified budget? Yes, we can and we must for the sake of the Kingdom. For this to occur, we must pray for Kingdom focus at every level.

First, we must do a better job personally. If the average “giver” only gives 2.5 percent of their income, then we must deal with our overspending at the level of the family. Our personal waste has crippled our ability to give tithes and offerings and thus impacted the ministry of our local church. Then we need to think about the stewardship of the local church. Some studies indicate that the local church spends 95 percent of its income on itself. These first two issues are no doubt interrelated. Now we can move to the level of giving to the unified budget we call the Cooperative Budget. State conventions and national entities must continually work to see that any and all waste and duplication is eradicated.

Each entity mentioned from the family to the local church to the state convention to the various ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention are autonomous and thus must respond from the conviction that we must be good stewards for the sake of the Kingdom and the glory of the King.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC’s national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth.

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  • Kenneth S. Hemphill