Tammi Reed Ledbetter, The TEXAN News Editor
NASHVILLE — There’s no denying that Southern Baptists individually, corporately and as a denomination are lagging in their stewardship of God’s resources. While the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommends shifting primary responsibility for Cooperative Program and stewardship promotion to state conventions, task force chairman Ronnie Floyd is counting on local pastors to teach their members to honor God through tithing.
“Remember, the only people who ever get offended with the declaration of biblical stewardship are the ones who give little to nothing at all to your church,” Floyd said in the news conference that followed the release of the task force interim report.
“Christians need to repent of the sin of not honoring God with at least the first-tenth of their income,” Floyd reminded. “Can you imagine the spiritual revival that would consume our churches if God’s people would obey God in giving? Can you imagine the opportunities of advancing the gospel regionally, nationally, and globally if God’s people would obey God in giving?”
Seeking to discover “how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission,” the task force analyzed the means of funding that effort and reaffirmed the Cooperative Program as the preferred means of giving.
Early proponents of a Great Commission Resurgence called on Southern Baptists to cut a larger piece of the Cooperative Program pie for the International Mission Board in order to see more dollars sent overseas and appealed to state conventions to keep fewer dollars for in-state use. While recommending the IMB’s share increase by 1 percent, a move Floyd called “symbolic,” the task force chose to trust state conventions with more responsibility for stewardship and CP promotion.
Component 4 of the task force progress report states:
“We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to move the ministry assignments of Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education from the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and return them to being the work of each state convention since they are located closer to our churches. Our call is for the state conventions to reassume their primary role in the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship education, while asking the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to support these efforts with enthusiasm and a convention-wide perspective.”
The SBC’s Executive Committee did not welcome the recommendation. In a March 11 historical review of CP promotion, stewardship education and the SBC, EC Convention Relations Vice President Roger S. Oldham offered a 10-page rebuttal of verbiage he called “potentially misleading.” (Visit baptist2baptist.net/issues/gcr/rso-03-19-10.asp for the complete text of the white paper.)
Concerned that Southern Baptists could infer from the words “return” and “reassume” that CP promotion and stewardship education “were once ministry assignments entrusted to the states,” Oldham said CP promotion has been a joint venture of the SBC and state conventions since its inception in 1925 “with the responsibility for strategy development uniformly assigned to the SBC, and the ‘field’ responsibilities consistently shared with our state convention ministry partners.”
Based on his defense of the SBC’s “right and responsibility” to promote CP and engage in stewardship education (including the decade when LifeWay Christian Resources had the stewardship assignment), Oldham argued the adoption of Component 4 would be the first time in SBC history “that the Convention will have assigned away its rights, role, and responsibility to promote funding and support for its ministries of international missions, North American missions, theological education, and moral advocacy, each of which is rightly under its purview.”
In making the case for giving state conventions primary responsibility for both assignments, Floyd said in his Feb. 22 presentation, “History shows that we have struggled with where to place both of these assignments in order to serve our churches more effectively.” He expressed appreciation for the work of the Executive Committee, calling state conventions “Great Commission partners” of the SBC that could participate in a consortium involving the EC president.
“Together they can plan and execute an annual strategy that will promote the Cooperative Program to our churches as well as challenge our churches in biblical stewardship,” Floyd said. Calling it a return to the strategy offered in 1929 that gave state conventions responsibility for promoting CP “in the field and gathering funds from the churches,” Floyd said historic precedence permits such a move.
The EC’s Oldham disagreed. While the SBC has recognized state conventions as full ministry partners that promote the work of their respective ministries as well as the “whole” Cooperative Program, he reiterated, “The states are autonomous Baptist general bodies in their own right; they are not sub-sets of the Southern Baptist Convention and cannot be assigned ministries for which the Convention bears legal, moral, and spiritual responsibility.”
History at the state level
State conventions have been working in concert for decades along the line that task force proposes, sharing resources and ideas for stewardship education and CP promotion through the Stewardship Development Association. Begun in the 1960s to provide fellowship and continuing education, SDA assumed a greater role in generating resources that state conventions can share with local churches, often keeping production costs lower than the price of materials from the national entity and sometimes customizing them for specific states.
While complimenting the CP resources generated by the Executive Committee, SDA resource coordinator David Waganer told the TEXAN, “Our organization has worked hard to try to come alongside and not be in competition with the national office.” With most of their material addressing stewardship, Waganer anticipates any reduction in the Executive Committee’s role would prompt SDA to enhance its CP promotion materials.
The peril of competition was on the minds of pastors who crafted the language of the early reports about cooperation, Oldham told Baptist Press, labeling them “very wise” in their effort to formalize “mutual responsibilities among local associations, state and national conventions.”
In another component recommended by the task force, the IMB stands to gain 1 percent of CP budget allocations through the reduction of the Executive Committee’s assignment in these and perhaps other areas.
As a former denominational employee in Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina, Waganer said state conventions have a need to promote the Cooperative Program ministries they fund. “CP is not something to be owned. It’s a channel of mission support. We’re not giving to; we’re giving through. If people don’t understand that, they think we’re holding onto something when really we’re just a channel, a river to allow ministry to go forward.”
Floyd added, “The greatest amount of money that exists for the causes of Christ and the advancement of the gospel is in the pockets and financial portfolios of our church members.” He encouraged pastors and churches to be unashamed in the teaching and preaching of biblical stewardship. “Stand on the authority of the Word of God and call the people of God back to him through the giving of the first tenth and additional offerings to your local church.”
He offered his sharpest tone for the lack of participation in stewardship by many individual Southern Baptists of over 42,000 local churches, citing evidence that the average church member gives away only 2.56 percent of his income.
“From the time I did my doctoral dissertation in the area of biblical stewardship until now, I have been astounded by the selfishness of God’s people,” said Floyd, recommending that every pastor preach a series of messages on biblical stewardship annually and reaffirm such principles in small group studies.
“Even though we are envisioning the stewardship assignment going to state conventions, it is the responsibility of local churches to challenge their people to walk in obedience to God by honoring him weekly with at least the first-tenth of all income as well as additional offerings to our local churches.”
Referring to SDA’s two-year plan for stewardship education that includes CP promotion, Floyd said, “If you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to have any change. It’s a long process that’s not going to happen overnight, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Floyd and Waganer agree pastors must work at maturing the flock in their stewardship.
“It won’t happen just because the task force says, ‘OK, we’re going to put this back on the states,’” Waganer said. “It’s one church at a time, one member at a time.”