TAYLORS, S.C. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention presidential election generated considerable discussion about the relative importance of the Cooperative Program -— Southern Baptists’ unified missions funding and delivery system -— and probably resulted in Frank Page’s surprise victory this year.
The pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., which gave more than 12 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program last year, was elected over two other candidates from churches with smaller percentages of CP support, and in the midst of a special report from the SBC Executive Committee on the Cooperative Program which noted a steady decline in the percentage of CP support by churches and recommendations for how to reverse the decline.
But it may be surprising for some to learn that Page’s own church has seen a drop in its Cooperative Program support as a percentage of the church’s undesignated receipts since he became pastor in 2001 -— from 15.62 percent to 12.44 percent last year.
In an extensive interview with Florida Baptist Witness, Page spoke frankly about the Cooperative Program debate, explaining the rationale for the drop in percentage support for CP at his church and affirming the CP’s importance for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
When Page became pastor of First Baptist, although the church had robust support for the Cooperative Program in its budget -— as it had for many years — “we had no external national or international mission work” being done by the church itself. Since 2001, “We have indeed begun a huge amount of mission work on our own. … Balance is the key.”
Page said it’s possible for a church to demonstrate strong support of Southern Baptist missions through giving to the Cooperative Program while also not neglecting its duty of its own “personalized” missions.
“I believe you can do both well. At Taylors First Baptist we have seen an example of strong support of the Cooperative Program at the same time as a tremendously effective, locally initiated mission work on three levels … local, national and international,” Page said.
“I believe in strong, sacrificial giving to the Cooperative Program as a moral imperative because of the support we should give to our missionaries and entities. I cannot say I’m a Southern Baptist and give a paltry sum to the Cooperative Program,” he said.
Regarding the debate in Greensboro over the Executive Committee’s recommendation on the Cooperative Program which had removed earlier language calling for encouragement of a 10 percent of undesignated receipts by churches and the election of officers from such churches, Page said, “we should be very hesitant about putting a percentage as a mark of cooperation and for participation. … The question for me was, Does your church give sacrificially to the Cooperative Program? Does it give in such a way as to show a missional mindset?”
Although he believes it’s “bad theology” to assert that churches can and should tithe, “I do believe 10 percent indicates a serious commitment” to missions, Page said.
Page said he believes three factors that have contributed to a decline in support of the Cooperative Program.
“One is the propensity of the churches to be involved in their own mission work to the exclusion of the support of the Cooperative Program,” he said, adding that it is “understandable, to a degree. Churches are supposed to be involved in their own mission work.
“I never cast aspersions on any church doing mission work. I just say, God bless you. However, when one ceases to support or begins to decline in support of the Cooperative Program in order to do local mission work, this is a trend that is very disturbing,” Page said.
The second factor for CP decline is a “failure on the part of the denominationalists to truly show the Cooperative Program as an object of worth, as an object of value,” he said, adding, “we can no longer and will no longer as a convention respond to denominationlists screaming, give more, give more. … We must be shown where the money is going.”
The third reason for declining CP support, Page said, is that “in many states there are many people who disagree with the percentages of amounts sent to a state, sent to a national entity … . There’s extreme differences in where the money goes and how much money goes to various places.”
As to his own church, Page said that although CP giving has declined as a percentage of undesignated gifts, he expects that percentage to go up this year. “The truth is we do not give on a percentage basis. We give an amount that is in our budget,” Page said, adding however, that the percentage a church gives is “important as one looks at it from a statistical standpoint.”
CP giving “will never go below 10 percent” at his church, Page told the Witness.
Recalling the situation when he arrived in 2001, Page said, “We were out of balance -— we were giving a huge amount to the Cooperative Program and doing nothing locally. I believe where we have come to is a place of solid balance.”
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com.