A Strong Message to the Local Church – Cooperative Program

On February 22nd and 23rd of this year, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee gathered in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss matters that affect the largest evangelical denomination in the United States. Southwestern Seminary sent eight student leaders to the convention headquarters for this year’s Executive Committee Meeting. I had the privilege of being one of those students. This is an annual tradition, created in the hopes of informing, encouraging, and inspiring the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders. For those reading, if you are anything like the majority of the students there, who had been unaware of the hierarchy, importance, and role of the SBC Executive Committee, please refer to the diagram below.

church-hierarchy2

As someone who has taken three different Baptist History electives, it is one thing to simply talk about the convention – but it is another to actually watch it work. With reference to the diagram above, I will try to explain as simply as I can how the convention operates. If your church is a part of the SBC, every time you tithe or give an offering, a percentage of that money goes to the Cooperative Program. Modeled on the Great Commission, the goal of the Cooperative Program is to accomplish the command of Jesus in Acts 1:8. Once that money is received from the local churches, the Cooperative Program then sends funding to various SBC Entities, all of which were created for one purpose: to reach as many with the gospel as possible. By God’s amazing grace, through generous donations and cooperation amongst local churches throughout the country, the Cooperative Program has allowed the Southern Baptist Convention to operate as one of the largest missions sending agencies in the United States. [1]

Where, then, does the Executive Committee step in? What is the significance of the work of the Executive Committee?

Legally, there are only two days each year that the Southern Baptist Convention exists, namely during the annual meeting. The Executive Committee acts for the SBC ad interim the remaining 363 days of the year. Very simply put, the men and women on the SBC Executive Committee act as stewards of the Cooperative Program funding, and as accountability partners for everything within the Southern Baptist Convention. Fortunately, God has blessed our convention by giving us leaders who harbor a true passion in changing the world. Their role is not one of heavy-handed, harsh scrutiny. Rather, in the words of Dr. Frank Page (CEO of the SBC Executive Committee), theirs is the role of the encourager.

As we observed the proceedings held in the convention headquarters, the lessons we learned in Baptist History classes sprang to life. We heard reports from important SBC figures such as Ronnie Floyd (current president of the SBC), Russell Moore (ERLC), Kevin Ezell (NAMB), David Platt (IMB), all six SBC seminary presidents, and many others. In the process, we learned the history and the inner workings of our beloved convention. To state that this excursion left a valuable impression on us would be an understatement. As aspiring leaders of our convention, I believe it is important for us to stand upon the shoulders of our current leaders and one day carry the torch. Without the help of the local churches and many members who contribute to the Cooperative Program, what we have achieved as a convention would no longer be viable. As you continue reading, I pray that the same fire that was kindled in the hearts of the Southwestern students who attended the conference will also be ignited in you.

 

“Each entity of our convention is laser-focused on one thing: reaching the lost world for Christ. Although the SBC is a large organization with many moving parts, the goal for each, in whatever area they influence, is to see the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth. Each organization is working to leverage the majority of their resources for this goal. The Cooperative Program is significant to me for several reasons. First and foremost it has provided an avenue for me to receive a top-tier theological education here at Southwestern Seminary. Secondly, during my time here at Southwestern I have cultivated relationships with many future IMB missionaries and NAMB church planters, with whom I hope to form partnerships in ministry for years to come. It is my hope that the Cooperative Program will be able to support these individuals for the duration of their careers as we partner together. Lastly, the Cooperative Program is significant to me for what it can and will do in the future. My hope is that those of us in Seminary right now, who are the future church leaders, will see the value of the Cooperative Program and lead our future churches to give sacrificially to the initiative.”

  • Garrison Griffith (Master of Divinity, Pastoral Ministry)

“­­­­The Cooperative Program is the most efficient and effective way for churches to participate in the work of global evangelism. At the SBC Executive Committee Student Leadership Conference, I was surprised to learn that, of the 46,498 SBC churches, fewer than 0.5 percent run over 2,000 people in average attendance, leaving the majority of churches unable to send, and fully fund, even one missionary independently. From my childhood growing up in an SBC church planter’s home to now serving as a pastor’s wife, I have always been a part of that other 99.6 percent of smaller SBC churches – churches where people are few and money is tight. The Cooperative Program, however, allows even the smallest of SBC churches to have a seat at the table, to play an active part in reaching the nations for Christ.”

  • Alyssa Martin (Master of Theological Studies)

“Attending this year’s Executive Committee meeting was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve had with the convention. The message from Dr. Frank Page about the Cooperative Program are still ringing in my ear weeks later. At the meeting, Dr. Page spoke about the SBC being a “small church convention”. The statistics prove this statement. Often times, larger churches will have the luxury of being able to individually sponsor one or two missionaries and church planters. This is nice, but this meeting prompted a question within my heart on whether or not this method was the most effective for supporting those on the field? Dr. Page made a compelling argument for the Cooperative Program advocating its need for the majority (small church) convention. Is this not the gospel message? We are to cooperate collectively as one, no matter the demographic, to further advance the kingdom of God. To Dr. Frank Page, SBC, and local churches, thank you for allowing me the opportunity through the Cooperative Program to have my light-bulb moment in Nashville.”

  • Joshua Clayton (Master of Divinity, Biblical Counseling)

“The Executive Committee meetings highlighted the value and the importance of the Cooperative Program. The program shows the bountiful fruit of the Southern Baptist ecclesial structure: thousands of self-governed churches voluntarily giving their resources to see tasks accomplished for God’s Kingdom, tasks that might not have been accomplished otherwise. It shows that the SBC is not top-down and hierarchical, but rather sustained by a cooperative effort that is governed, funded by, and held accountable to the grassroots churches. Giving to the Cooperative Program enables these individual churches, both small and large, to build incredible world-spanning ministries together – one which God can use in tremendous ways to advance the Gospel.”

  • Andrew P. Morris, JD. (Master of Divinity)

“Attending the Executive Committee meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention was of great help to me as a student and member of the SBC. It is easy to be critical of the entities and leadership of the SBC when the predominant news/blogs that you read concern financial issues, decline in baptisms, and so forth. I would not be surprised if many Southern Baptists look at the leadership and entity heads of the convention with a fair amount of skepticism. My experience at the Executive Committee, however, affirmed my support for the entity heads and leadership of the convention, and clearly disproved the kind of skepticism bred by bloggers and naysayers. Indeed, the convention is in the hands of godly men and women who are faithful and strive to be good stewards of that which the churches have placed in their trust.”

  • Justin Williams (Master of Divinity)

To local churches that may not fully understand the workings of the SBC, please know and trust that God is moving in our convention. Take it from the group of seminary students who listened to all the reports firsthand. The work of our convention would be impossible without our churches cooperating as one. On behalf of the eight seminary students who attended the conference, as well as thousands of others who may not understand the significant role you play for our convention, I say thank you for supporting the Cooperative Program. As students, we look forward to one day taking the wonderful lessons we learned on the convention floor to our local churches.


[1] The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentage of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries. (via – www.sbc.net/cp/default.asp)

Joshua Clayton

Joshua Clayton

Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Joshua serves as the Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives & Communications and Managing Editor for Theological Matters. He is married to Taylor Ruth and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity (concentration in Biblical Counseling).
Twitter: @jclay8332
Joshua Clayton