Or whatever you want to call it.  This will sound suspiciously like a rant, and may I apologize in advance for that. Now, on to the show:

I just received an e-mail from our wonderful state Baptist offices. You have them in your state too.  Some of you may even have more than one form. And within the confines of the attached invitation, I discovered that there are those who don’t really understand Southern Baptist Life. (Admittedly, such life has morphed and transmuted and otherwise distorted itself over the years that perhaps I’m the one who doesn’t understand, but let’s go with this for now.) I learned in reading that missive that the event advertised is a free event “provided through generous donations to the Cooperative Program.” (emphasis mine)

I love my fellow workers in this not so southern state where Southern Baptists are still seen as interlopers on northern soils, but to misunderstand the Cooperative Program (or even to change it to fit a form that those outside the SBC would recognize) is to reach a total misconception of who Southern Baptists have historically been.

A Quick History Lesson

The Cooperative Program (CP) was developed in the mid 1920s as a response to the Southern Baptist charge to help churches to fund the various missions/ministry efforts chosen by the convention, and to do so outside of the Society concept. In the old society method, representatives would come to churches to sell their particular cause. If a particularly good communicator showed up, a church might remove support from a prior ministry and funnel those funds toward the nice speaker’s cause. Another difficulty arose when so many good/worthy causes were presented to the churches: so much was being sent to these efforts that churches were having trouble keeping up with local on-going needs. On top of this, pastors were asked to relinquish their pulpits so often that they rarely had ample opportunity to preach the Word.

And so the CP was born. This new concept (growing out of a unified effort of fund-raising previously devised by the convention) was indeed that–a new concept. Simply put, the idea was to ask churches to designate an amount–whatever amount deemed appropriate to the local congregation (eventually the SBC narrowed its encouragement on a goal of 10% of undesignated gifts to the church) to send cooperatively in order to pay ongoing costs of the Convention.

Until recent years, this method has been the well-worn practice of Southern Baptists. During the last couple of decades (has it really been that long?), we have changed and whittled the CP to something that it is not. It has only been in the last few years that churches have been allowed by convention ruling to include designated giving in their CP funds. We have always been given the privilege to designate gifts, but for a gift to be considered CP, it was given with no strings attached–if you were dissatisfied with where CP money was spent, you made a trek to the annual SBC meeting and voiced your opinion as a duly elected messenger (not delegate–that’s a whole different post), hoping to convince the budget and finance committee of the convention to redirect funds to a more appropriate recipient.

Semantics at Its Best

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of my tirade. We must begin to understand what the CP truly is. It is not an offering that we give to. We have plenty of those–one at Christmas (named in memory of the late Lottie Moon) which is designated for the use of the International Mission Board’s ministry budget–every penny is to go to the work our missionaries are doing overseas; another (memorializing the champion of missions Annie Armstrong) is designated for use by the North American Mission Board; and others set up by various state conventions and local churches to benefit a variety of needs. All of these are good. But the Cooperative Program is not like this.

Instead of seeing CP as a special offering to which we give, we must reorganize our thinking to see it as a conduit through which we finance the work and ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s how we as Baptists get things done.

My point in all of this is that we need to educate our state and national Baptist employees and team members to use the right language in order for all of us to understand that we have the concept right. Perhaps then people will cease in trying to designate their “tithe” or trying to control their church from the grave by bequeathing a large sum of money to the church “to be used for ________” (fill in the blank).

Why do these words get me bothered? It’s because one says one thing and the other says an entirely other thing. So don’t donate generously to the CP, but give generously through it!