DALLAS (BP)–Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said substantial giving through the Cooperative Program is not the only way of participating in the work of the convention and Baptists must stop using a CP giving percentage as a measuring rod for commitment to the Great Commission.
“The greatest resource that Southern Baptists have is not the Cooperative Program. It’s the people who give Cooperative Program dollars. One must come before the other. It’s not a chicken and egg deal. We know which comes first,” Hunt told Baptist Press in Dallas Oct. 27.
Though he was in town for a listening session between state convention executive directors and the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, Hunt told BP he wanted to make some remarks aside from his role on the task force. He addressed the Cooperative Program, Crossover Orlando and his hope for a church planting emphasis in the convention.
Just as people are attracted to First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., where Hunt is pastor, for different reasons, he said Southern Baptists must seize the opportunity to welcome a new generation that may not be drawn first to the Cooperative Program.
“I just want Southern Baptists to rethink, Are we too narrow? Are we saying, ‘If you want to be part of us, give to the Cooperative Program’? It’s almost like that’s the only door,” Hunt said.
“… Sometimes I feel like we’re slapping hands of people. Give them time to find their way around. They came in a different door. They may have come in our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering door. They may have come in the disaster relief door. They may have come in the world hunger door.”
Hunt mentioned a friend whose church recently gave $500,000 to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund but only forwards .25 percent of undesignated receipts to the convention’s unified giving plan for national and international missions and ministries.
“But you know what? If he’s got that kind of heart for what Southern Baptists are doing, let him learn his way around the house. He’s young. He’s probably going to buy in more,” Hunt said. “But if we keep slapping and just saying … ‘They’re not giving 10 percent to the Cooperative Program. They’re not committed to the Great Commission’ ….
“I think it’s a terrible measuring rod. I don’t think you can support it scripturally. You could get to the point that you give that and nothing else, where another church may give 10 percent and do all sorts of other work. So I think we’ve got to quit being so judgmental to each other.”
His friend whose church gave $500,000 to hunger relief may just be allowing CP dollars to be spent elsewhere rather than on that ministry, Hunt said. If that’s the way the upcoming generation wants to participate in the Great Commission, he said, older Southern Baptists ought to let them.
“There’s a generation coming behind me in their 20s and 30s that are saying, ‘We need to forfeit the American dream for the nations.’ That is challenging me to the core,” Hunt said. “I think when a generation is coming along saying, ‘We’re willing to forgo nicer cars, we’re willing to live in lesser neighborhoods,’ I’ve never been challenged that way in my life.”
Hunt said he believes in the Cooperative Program and urges churches to give more money through it to support Kingdom causes, but he doesn’t want churches to feel pressured into giving a certain percentage of their budget. He also is concerned with the distribution of CP receipts on the state convention level.
When only 341 million of the 6.8 billion people in the world live inside the United States, Southern Baptists must find a way to see the bulk of their money going to international missions, Hunt said. Local churches can minister in their states, he said, and colleges and seminaries can appeal for money elsewhere, but someone has to fund the proclaiming of the Gospel in the nations.
“They say that the enemy of great is good,” Hunt said. “I certainly can’t disagree when a state convention says, ‘Every dime we’re using we’re doing good things with it.’
“The question really does come when we have to learn to do more with less. Are there some things that compared to what we need to do to touch the darkest, deepest, farthest continents and countries of the world that are so underserved with the Gospel — are there some of these things that are not as important in priority?”
Hunt conceded the hardship of deciding which ministry budgets to trim when less money comes in, but he urged state convention leaders to make cuts alongside local churches during lean economic times.
Until the Cooperative Program is tweaked in ways that distribute more money for international missions, Hunt said younger leaders are going to opt for other methods, and that can’t be discouraged.
“They don’t want to just give you money to go do it. They want to go with you, or they want to be the one to go,” Hunt said. “It’s really different, and what we’ve got to do is say, ‘This isn’t bad. It’s just different.’ I think the better we can try to understand each other, I think there’s a happy medium and we can address all of that.”
Regarding Crossover, the evangelistic effort that precedes the SBC annual meeting each year, Hunt expressed a desire to honor Morris H. Chapman, president of the Executive Committee, who recently announced his retirement.
Chapman, a former SBC president, initiated the evangelistic campaign, beginning with Crossover Atlanta in 1991, and in September Chapman called for another emphasis, for Southern Baptists to pray during the next year for “one more soul” to be saved in support a Great Commission resurgence.
“One of the things I’m excited about is I’m asking our convention to take on the name for Crossover the ‘Morris Chapman Crossover 2010 Orlando’ in honor of Morris Chapman and his 17 years of service to our denomination and taking his theme ‘One More Soul,'” Hunt said.
“With that in mind, I don’t know where it will go, but I think this type of challenge is going to involve more people. Last year, kind of an average — about 3,000 people — came. We’re trying to be more intentional this year. We’re taking our middle schoolers and high schoolers to be a part of it,” Hunt said, referring to First Baptist Woodstock.
A renewed emphasis on evangelism surrounding the annual meeting in Orlando could yield as many as 10,000 participants in Crossover, Hunt said, and organizers are working with pastors and the Florida Baptist Convention to assign volunteers to a broad swath of Central Florida.
Also in his remarks to Baptist Press, Hunt reiterated a desire to see church planting become the next major emphasis of the North American Mission Board.
“I pray that NAMB, as the trustees work together with their committees, that they really will entertain being more serious about us getting funding and making it a priority,” Hunt said. “And that is not to say it hasn’t been, but I think it needs to be on the front burner, especially in the underserved areas of our nation.”
Hunt mentioned the unreached people of metropolitan areas including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and San Diego and said that compared to the number of churches in Atlanta, those cities are underserved with the Gospel.
“So I pray we would start a focus, and I trust that the day will come that God will make us so healthy and so focused that we won’t talk about a church plant,” he said. “We’ll be talking about we’re believing God over the next three years to see 100 new churches in New York City.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. With reporting by Mark Kelly, an assistant editor of Baptist Press.