Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cooperative Program, NAMB and other Brain Teasers

Have you ever tried to explain to someone unfamiliar with the SBC what we are?  Why we exist?  What the Cooperative Program is?  It usually starts with something like this:
"Southern Baptists exist to cooperatively spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Cooperative Program is the giving mechanism that makes Southern Baptists distinctive.  It epitomizes why the SBC exists - to pool our resources together for the most efficient missionary mobilization and support the world has ever known."
After such a statement, a new Southern Baptist, let's call him "Newbie", asks the natural question, "How exactly does it work?"  You reply, "Uh, well, let me try to explain.  You see, churches send a percentage of their budget to their state convention to send to the Cooperative Program."  Newbie asks, "How much does a church send?"  You reply, "Well it depends.  Some churches may send 1% and others may send 10%.  Some churches may just take up a special missions offering and send whatever they collect from that.  Some do both.  Each church decides for itself.  Oh, and there's also the special Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings."  Puzzled, Newbie interrupts, "Why are we giving offerings to individuals?"  You reply, "We don't.  Stay with me.  The Lottie Moon offering goes to the International Mission Board and Annie Armstrong offering goes to the North American Mission Board."  Newbie replies, "Why don't we just say where it goes?"  You reply, "Never mind - I'll explain it later."

You continue, "Churches may also send more if individual church members designate gifts to the Cooperative Program."  Newbie asks, "Designate?  What does that mean?"  You reply, "It means that a church member wants to make sure his money goes to the Cooperative Program and not the general church budget."  "What's the Cooperative Program again?" Newbie asks. You take a deep breath, "I'm trying to explain that."  Newbie responds, "OK, sorry."  You continue, "Anyway, once the money is sent to the Cooperative Program through the state convention, the state decides how much to send to each of the SBC entities."

Newbie interrupts, "What are entities?"  You reply, "I'm getting there.  Entities are things like the IMB, NAMB and the like."  "What?" Newbie asks.  "The International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Lifeway Resources - stuff like that," you answer.  "Oh yeah, you said something about those things already," Newbie replies.

Newbie tries to summarize, "So do the states send all the money they get from the churches to the SBC entitlements?"  "It's entities, not entitlements," you answer.  "And no, the states don't send all the money they get to them."  "Oh," Newbie answers.  "So how much do they send?"  You reply, "Um, somewhere around thirty five to forty percent is typical."  "Thirty five percent!?" Newbie repeats back in amazement. "Is that all?  What do they do with all the rest of the money?"  You answer, "Well, the states have ministries of their own that they fund and it takes a lot of money.  I'm not sure what all they do, but I know it takes a lot of money."  "OK, I didn't know that," Newbie answers, seemingly satisfied for now.

"Let's get back to the Cooperative Program," you continue.  "The entities then decide how to fund all the things they have to do."  "Like what?" asks Newbie.  "For instance, the IMB funds all the foreign missionaries that Southern Baptists send all over the world to share the gospel," you explain.  "I like that," says Newbie.  "That sounds good."  

You continue, "And they have to fund a lot of things like our six SBC seminaries."  Newbie replies, "Wow, I didn't know we had that!  So we pay for all those seminaries?"  "No, I didn't say that," you reply. "They still have to generate a lot of their own funding.  You'll hear from them soon enough concerning the amount we don't fund, so let's go on."  "OK," says Newbie. You continue, "Oh, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission."  "The what?" asks Newbie. "The ERLC with Richard Land," you say.  "I think I've heard of it.  Has it been in the news lately?" says Newbie.  You say, "Uhh, let's move on."

You continue, "Then there's the North American Mission Board, NAMB.  They send money to the state conventions to spread the gospel."  "I thought you said the state conventions kept money to do that," says Newbie.  "They do, but so does NAMB" you reply.  "NAMB decides who needs funding the most and they send money back to the states."  "Huh?" says Newbie, completely confused.  "You're telling me that the state conventions get money from the churches, keep most of it to do work in the state and then send some to NAMB.  Then NAMB sends money back to the state.  Did I get that right?"  You reply, "Well, sort of.  Look, it's all kinda complicated and you're new to the SBC.  You can't expect to understand all of this right off the bat.  You just need to trust that our leaders know what they are doing and are using the money wisely."  Newbie replies, "I sure hope they do 'cause this doesn't make a bit of sense to me.  I guess it takes a lot of complexity to have an efficient missionary force.  I didn't realize that before we talked."

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