As mentioned in the last post, over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to talk to non-SBC pastors about moving their church to cooperate with the SBC for the advancement of the gospel. Not all of them have locked arms with us, but several have. Inevitably, in every conversation—no matter the state—the largest stumbling block to partnering with Southern Baptists is the state convention. In the last post, I mentioned a few of reasons why I love state conventions. In this post, I’ll mention a few ways people—who I agree with—wish state conventions would change. Every pastor I’ve ever talked with about this has voiced these concerns. Perhaps they’ll stir some helpful conversations.
- I’d love for state conventions to send more money out of their respective states, especially state conventions in the Southeast – State conventions have strategic needs. With rare exception, state conventions use their money to fund good ministries. Yet, there seems to be an obvious greater need outside of most states and, certainly, outside of our country. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than this: there are thousands of people groups in the world who will live and die just like us without ever hearing the name of Jesus. That reality should be more intolerable to us as the presence of legalized abortion in our country. At the very least, it would seem that in light of this reality money allocation would be slanted towards reaching the unreached people groups. But this isn’t the case. In fact, it is unusual for a state convention even to get to a 50-50 CP split. When you juxtapose the fact that the greatest need is outside of our states and country with the fact that the greatest portion of our giving stays inside of our states and country, it’s hard not to want to see this changed. But where do you change it? Perhaps you could remove some of those poorly attended events, since so many other events are around these days? Perhaps you could defund those universities that are teaching things contrary to your confession? Perhaps you could kill a few well-intentioned but ineffective ministries? Whatever it is, surely we can cut some good ministries in our states so that a first ministry can be created overseas.
- I’d love for state conventions to treat the local church as primary in the advancement of the kingdom, not the state convention – I don’t know of anyone who would argue against the primary of the local church in theory, but it’s rare to find a convention whose practices align with this statement practically. One of the best examples of absence of this view is the way “missions giving” is discussed. Some folks come really close to equating a church’s commitment to “missions” with the percentage they give to the Cooperative Program. These folks tend to ask local churches to increase their CP giving percentage if they want to see state’s do the same. There are at least a few problems with this thinking. First of all, it fails to understand the nature of the local church-denomination relationship. State conventions don’t send money to local churches; local churches send money to state conventions. Local churches don’t send money to state conventions because they are required to, but because they choose too. That means state conventions work for churches; churches don’t work for state conventions. Secondly, it fails to understand the nature of stewardship. Local churches are stewards of God’s money (just like state conventions, of course). If a local church believes that an organization—whether it is a state convention or something else—is not using money in the most effective way possible, then it doesn’t make sense to send more to it. Local churches don’t exist to keep state conventions’ budgets up, they exist to advance the Great Commission. This budget example is just one of several examples. Perhaps state conventions could have executive directors that continue to be local church pastors. While this hasn’t been the pattern, other networks have shown us it is possible. Between the technological advances that allow for greater connectivity and new statewide traveling scenarios, it seems we are in a time when this could happen. The primacy of the local church is hard to keep in view when the primary audience for an executive director is a trustee board. Is it possible? Sure. But allowing executive directors to keep one foot in the local church while serving a family of churches seems like a biblical win. In short, greater responsiveness to the desires of the local church would help signal a better understanding of the church-denomination relationship.
- I’d love for state conventions to stop drawing the line where the Bible doesn’t – When you partner together to advance the gospel, inevitably, you have to set up requirements to receive the benefits of that partnership. Southern Baptists have traditionally required those who benefit from their benefits—whether as a church planter or convention employee—to abstain from alcohol. I have friends who consume alcohol and many who don’t. Both groups agree that drunkenness is sin, that alcohol consumption can go really bad really quickly, that the Bible still permits it, and that it can be a sign of God’s blessing. Both groups also ask me why we’ve chosen to draw a line in the sand that the Scriptures don’t. I usually give the answers I mentioned above and a few more. But it does seem a bit odd to me that if Jesus, Paul, & Timothy wanted to plant a church through our state conventions, they would get red-flagged in our system because of their views and actions concerning alcohol. If Jesus, Paul, and Timothy get red-flagged in our system, our system probably needs to be red-flagged. There are enough challenges to gospel cooperation when we let Scripture alone determine the parameters, much less when we go beyond it. Let’s stop drawing the line where the Bible doesn’t.
- I’d love for state conventions to change their funding expectations – Most state conventions desire to see every church in their state give 10% of their budget to the Cooperative Program. If you are really “serious” and “wise” about kingdom advancement, you will lead your church to give 10% of your annual budget to the CP. If you don’t give that much, you’re not considered really “on board.” In fact, if you give a lower percentage while doing incredible missions work, people might oppose your appointment to SBC positions. This certainly was the case for David Platt and Kevin Ezell. Both men led their churches to give incredible amounts of money, energy, and time to advancing the gospel in America and to the ends of the earth. Both men were opposed by many when they were named presidents of NAMB and the IMB because of their “low” CP giving record. At the very best, this is silly. Both men are the right men for the job. Similarly, if you want to plant a church with the financial help of a state convention, then you will typically have to agree to give 10% of our offerings to the CP. Of course, the funds you receive from the state convention are nowhere near what you need to start a church. You have to get funds from lots of churches and networks to get a church plant funded. What ends up happening is these church plants, over the course of a few years, often give the denomination more money than they have received. That doesn’t make sense of this whole “let’s do more together than we can apart.” What if could change the CP expectations? Other networks require less from the church plants. What if we required church plants to give 10% of their budget towards missions—whether they gave it through the CP or some of it to CP and some of it to their own first church plant. Out of the number of pastors I’ve talked to about this, I’ve never had one that 10% to CP was anywhere close to reality.
I love state conventions. We give to the CP. I go to the state convention. And I’d love to see these changes made. I know it will be difficult to do so and that some would consider these drastic changes. But I think there are a few key reasons why leaders who are able should consider making these drastic changes. I’ll mention them in the following post.