At the 2011 SBC meeting in Phoenix I got to sit down with some key leaders in our convention to discuss the Cooperative Program (CP) and other significant issues facing the SBC. In this interview I shoot questions at Bruce Ashford (Dean of the College at Southeastern), Jimmy Scroggins (Pastor at FBC West Palm Beach), and Micah Fries (Pastor at Frederick Boulevard Baptist).
Here are some of the topics we discuss:
- Decline in Baptisms- What are the main challenges we need to address moving forward in the 21st century? Is it a result of a lack of evangelistic fervor or because of a recovery of church health?
- Diversity in the SBC- Is this contributing to our decline?
- Cooperative Program-
- What are tangible ways you have benefited from the CP?
- What are the challenges facing the CP and how can they be overcome?
- If you had 30 seconds to tell a young guy why he should invest in the CP what would you say?
Here are some of the very interesting responses from these key leaders:
- Jimmy Scroggins: The SBC is a red state denomination (rural/suburban, southern, white, culture warriors, etc.) moving into a blue state future (urban, diverse, missional instead of culture warrior, etc.). This raises significant issues that need to be addressed
- Bruce Ashford: He says the problems are not first pragmatic. They are theological. We lack diversity, so we are contradicting the gospel. The public schools do diversity better than the church.
- Micah Fries: He cautions that as an institution ages it gets away from its roots. In our case that is evangelism and missions. Also, he does think that a recovery of a robust gospel and regenerate church membership can lead to a healthy decline in baptisms and church membership.
- When it comes to the CP, each man offered 3 things that have deeply impacted them and that keep them solidly committed to cooperative missions: 1) Theological education, 2) Church Planting, & 3) International missions.
- Two of the men’s fathers were saved in SBC church plants funded by CP dollars. Two of the men served overseas with the IMB funded by CP dollars. And, two of the men are serving or have served in theological institutions funded by CP dollars.
- They think that the CP faces a massive communication problem. It is so big that it’s difficult to keep people in the pews aware of all that their money goes to, and when they find out it goes to more than just international missions that can be helpful or harmful.
- Jimmy Scroggins says that the CP and SBC agencies need to become more competitive for missions dollars. They must convince churches that money given to the CP is a better missional investment than money given elsewhere.
- All 3 guys said that pastors have a stewardship responsibility before God and to their people to make sure that every dollar given by God’s people is being used properly and wisely or else they are not good pastors. So, pastors will constantly evaluate whether or not the CP is the best stewardship of their churches’ missions dollars.
- Bruce Ashford urges churches, especially with young pastors, to have an institutional memory and not “mooch off the CP” for years and then cut it off all of a sudden. He urges young guys to stick in and invest for a decade and see what happens.
- Scroggins says that we have the largest, best equipped, best educated mission force ever assembled in the history of the world domestically and internationally. We have the finest seminaries with the finest faculties ever assembled for the training of generations of missionaries and pastors. The guys said that the SBC is the best positioned network of churches in the world in terms of money and personnel and training to advance the gospel on all fronts to every tribe and tongue and people and nation!
Conclusion- Here are some things I found interesting moving forward in the CP discussion. All 3 guys were passionate CP guys and committed to giving to it. However, two issues in their answers stand out that our Convention is going to need to think through in the near future.
- Stewardship- Each guy while committed to the CP said that pastors have to steward God’s money rightly and invest it in the best places for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Therefore, the CP will need to continue to make the case to pastors that this is indeed the best mechanism for missions cooperation.
- Majoring on fewer things- While each guy was passionate about the CP, they only gave 3 reasons why they are passionate about it: 1) Theological education, 2) Church Planting, 3) International Missions. These are the things that pastors of different ages and different streams seem to be most passionate about. Part of the decline of involvement in the CP may be due to the fact that it funds so many good things to the detriment of ultimately funding the best things. This is an issue the CP will have to address moving forward