NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A special seminary offering being proposed by the president and trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary runs counter to a report adopted unanimously by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in September from its Funding Study Committee.
Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson recommended during his report to trustees Oct. 21 that the convention implement a special yearly offering to support the six Southern Baptist seminaries. His proposal, backed by a trustee resolution, noted that seminaries are being forced to raise tuition rates, resulting in rising student indebtedness.
But the SBC Funding Study Committee — while expressing concern over student debt — recommended that the entire convention would be better served by educating Southern Baptists about the Cooperative Program and challenging them to follow the biblical model of tithing. The report pointed to a steady decline in recent years in both individual giving and in the percentage of a church’s offerings passed on to CP.
It listed seven recommendations, one of which was that “creating any additional special annual offering be discouraged in favor of making Christian stewardship and the Cooperative Program a top priority in Southern Baptist life over the next several years.”
“The SBC Funding Study Committee believes the proliferation of special offerings weakens our unified approach to missions funding, detracts from the Cooperative Program and the existing mission offerings, and would be ineffective and cumbersome for the churches,” the report stated.
“The Convention and its entities will be better served by an aggressive stewardship education emphasis, perhaps as a part of Empowering Kingdom Growth, and a re-invigoration of the Cooperative Program.”
The Cooperative Program, founded in 1925, is Southern Baptists’ method for funding the various mission and ministry initiatives of state conventions and the SBC. Years before the Cooperative Program was formed, each entity — each seminary and each mission agency — was responsible for raising its own funds.
The two special offerings still in existence — the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings – existed before the Cooperative Program was formed.
In a statement Oct. 23 Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman said it is “imperative to remember that we are all on the same team with the same overarching goals.”
“Our SBC entities and auxiliary have leaders today who are extremely visionary and extraordinarily gifted,” he said. “Because of these qualities, they are highly capable of leading their particular entity beyond the ability of the Cooperative Program to cover all costs although Southern Baptists continue to give at record levels.
“I’m sure the Executive Committee, and its SBC Funding Study Committee, will continue to review the issues with the prayer that all entities will continue to make enormous strides for God’s Kingdom.” The 80-member Executive Committee acts in behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention between annual meetings of messengers from SBC churches across the country.
Members of the Funding Study Committee met with each seminary president at least once, listening to their concerns and proposals. The report noted that “leaders of the seminaries are concerned that rising tuition costs will result in graduates leaving school with too much debt. These debts could hinder the graduates’ ability to survive financially in entry-level ministry positions.”
The report warned of an impending financial “crisis” unless giving increases. It listed seven recommendations, the first of which was prayer. Others were: seeking ways for entity heads to strengthen their partnerships; creating a pastor-led strategy with the goal of “re-invigorating stewardship and the Cooperative Program in the churches”; expediting the implementation of a CP education course in the seminaries; forming an annual Cooperative Program emphasis accompanied by new CP-focused material from LifeWay Christian Resources; and strengthening the partnership between the mission boards and the Cooperative Program department in order to emphasize that the two special offerings and the Cooperative Program are “complementary, not competitive.”
“The recommendation identified two very real dangers of an annual offering for seminaries,” Chapman said. “One is the further erosion of our unified giving plan, the Cooperative Program, and the move toward societal giving, a system that gutted the Convention coffers in the early 20th century.
“The other danger is the confusion and complication in the local churches. Over 30 percent of our churches now collect one missions offering annually for association, state, NAMB and IMB initiatives. This trend is growing. The promotion of a designated seminary offering most likely would be added to the one missions offering, resulting in a decrease for the current recipients.”
Chapman praised the work of the seminary presidents, saying they are “called of God” and “dedicated to training our future preachers for Jesus’ sake.”
“There is no doubt they will continue to find innovative ways for lowering expenses, and creatively continue to advance the cause of Christ with the support of strong development departments and other means that are available to the seminaries for increasing revenues,” he said. “The trustees can be invaluable resources in these kinds of studies for the board on which they serve.”
The Funding Study Committee, Chapman added, has been studying “the most effective and efficient methods for providing quality theological education for Southern Baptists.”
“These discussions include a number of factors that have a direct correlation to costs for the students and the seminary,” he said. “They include location, accessibility, degree programs and student demographics.”
The Executive Committee is committed to consider seriously the resolution passed by Southwestern Seminary trustees, Chapman said.
“The review process is vital to cooperatively working together for the greater good of our witness and to our Lord’s Glory,” he said. “It is a process we can trust. Recognizing the value of the opinions of our Executive Committee trustees and knowing that any review by them includes careful reviews, referrals, and recommendations is a process we have all come to expect in Southern Baptist life.
“That process ends where it should, in the hands of the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers from the local church. Our churches have never let us down. More than ever, I trust the process. Over the last 11 years that I have been with the Executive Committee, I have learned firsthand to trust the churches and their messengers because they are worthy of our trust.”
The full report of the SBC Funding Study Committee is posted at the SBC’s Baptist2Baptist website, www.baptist2baptist.net.