TIGERVILLE, S.C. (BP)–In Acts 1:8, Jesus says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This verse has continued to be fulfilled through Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG), which started in South Carolina under the leadership of Dr. Carlisle Driggers and spread throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. EKG is successful because of the Cooperative Program.
The Southern Baptist Great Commission Resurgence Task Force proposals will greatly hurt our state budget and the Cooperative Program. First, each state convention has a cooperative agreement with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). In South Carolina, the primary use of funds received from NAMB go into church planting through financial support to approved church starts, and for jointly funded missionaries serving in South Carolina — with most of these missionaries serving in a local association. Over $500,000 from NAMB comes each year to South Carolina Baptists, and the loss of these funds as proposed by the task force will be devastating to the convention budget as well as our associations, with many of them already struggling.
Second, the task force wants the responsibility of the Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education ministry to be moved to the state conventions from the SBC Executive Committee. At a time when our state convention funding continues to decrease, it will be very difficult for the SCBC to provide adequate promotions without the support of the SBC Executive Committee.
Third, and most important of all, the task force is basically proposing new terminology for missions giving, which includes designated causes. It is obvious that the task force wants designated or special gifts to be a substitute for the Cooperative Program, but we must insist that the Cooperative Program, as we know it, remain the primary means of missions giving for Southern Baptists. After all, it is the hub that brings 46,000 Southern Baptist churches together for the purpose of advancing the Gospel around the world.
There are some possible solutions:
We encourage the SBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to develop a unique strategy which would challenge all Southern Baptists to increase their support of the Cooperative Program. In South Carolina and other states, if only the top 100 churches in membership would give 10 percent (a tithe) of their budget through the Cooperative Program, we could easily achieve our budget goals. Additionally, if each SBC church increased its CP giving by one percentage point, the Cooperative Program would exceed all expectations!
As we Southern Baptists continue with Empowering Kingdom Growth by being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, we must do all at the same time without neglecting any of them. The task force and others are recommending the reallocation of the pie for Kingdom growth by changing the size of the slices. This is not the right way. A better process is to enlarge the size of the pie, which will give more resources to accomplish the spreading of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. There is no question that international missions (or “ends of the earth”) is the engine that pulls the Cooperative Program train, but the train must begin at the church level and not the convention level.
The chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force wants the local church to focus on taking the Gospel to those who have yet to hear, which is a tremendous challenge. But it can, and should, be done without new ministries being dependent on the reduction of existing ministries. After all, it is indeed God’s vision. He owns all the cattle on a thousand hills, and He will demand the stock be sold so that the needed funds will be there for South Carolina and Southern Baptists.
Jimmy Epting is president of North Greenville University, which is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Trustees of North Greenville College, in their April 15 meeting at the Tigerville, S.C., campus, addressed a letter to Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the SBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, describing NGU as “a practicing Great Commission University” and cautioning that the current GCR proposals “will greatly handicap the work of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, North Greenville University and other state ministries.”
The Baptist Courier, the state convention’s newspaper, reported that the letter also was sent to SBC President Johnny Hunt and SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman.
The NGU trustees’ letter noted, “The support we receive from our state convention helps hundreds of Southern Baptists attend our University. Because of this support over 400 students have accepted Jesus Christ this year on campus, and we are one of the leaders among all colleges and universities in providing student summer missionaries.”
NGU trustees called on the GCR task force to “reconsider” a proposal that would remove North American Mission Board funding of mission work in state conventions. More than $500,000 comes to South Carolina from NAMB each year, and it “plays a vital role in church planting and missions in our state,” the letter said.
The letter also requested that the GCR task force not recommend transferring the responsibility for CP promotion from the SBC Executive Board to state conventions, citing the recent economic strain on state convention funding.
And NGU trustees disagreed with “proposed new terminology” for missions giving (the GCR task force has recommended a new giving designation called “Great Commission Giving” that will “celebrate” both Cooperative Program and designated giving) and called on SBC leaders to endorse the Cooperative Program as the primary vehicle for missions giving.
Trustee chairman Durham told the Courier he is concerned about “the danger of doing anything that would either dampen or hinder the Cooperative Program.”
“It’s unraveling who we are,” he said. “[The Cooperative Program] has been the strength of Southern Baptists. It’s not [in] showing what we can do on our own, but showing what we can do together,” he said.
Durham said he fears that changing the way that churches report giving could lead to “pride creeping in … when you start to say, well, we do this on our own.”
“That’s the big danger. That could be the downfall of our convention,” Durham said.