Paul Chitwood, Chairman of the International Mission Board is wrong. The International Mission Board is in a financial crises, and Chitwood has proposed a solution to the problem. He suggests that the Cooperative Program formula should be changed so that more Cooperative Program money, in terms of percentage, should go to the International Mission Board.
Chitwood writes: "Only 18 cents of each dollar given through the CP in my state will ever make it to the overseas mission fields. While some states do indeed forward more money, they are the exception."
There has been no stronger advocate of the work of the International Mission Board in the last three years than I. Our church has four couples serving in all regions of the world through the IMB as well as several journeymen. We increased our Cooperative Program giving by 5% last year, and it was my privilege to visit five of the eleven overseas regional IMB headquarters in the past four years. There are several reasons why changing the formula for the Cooperative Program is not the solution to the fiscal problems facing the IMB. At the risk of upsetting a few who have been my strong advocates while serving as a trustee of the IMB from 2005-2008, I feel it is incumbent to share why I believe Paul Chitwood is incorrect.
(1). Lost people live in North America, including the United States. Missions within our borders is as important as missions across our borders. The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma funds Baptist Collegiate Ministries, Disaster Relief Ministries, Chaplaincy Ministries in the oil fields, hospitals, and nursing homes, and gives training and support to thousands of pastors who minister to people in their respective communities. This does not include all the BGCO ministry that occurs at our state Baptist colleges, nursing homes and retirement centers, and children's homes - all of whom receive support through the Cooperative Program. In addition, our SBC seminaries and other SBC entities, including the North American Mission Board, are involved in the training of all our ministry and mission workers, and a change in the CP formula to give the IMB more money necessitates giving to the other SBC ministries in North America less.
(2). The International Mission Board already has the largest single offering within the Southern Baptist Convention called "The Lottie Moon Offering." Over half the budget for the International Mission Board ($150 million) comes from Lottie. No other Southern Baptist entity comes even close to having that kind of revenue stream. If more revenue is needed, increase giving to Lottie.
(3). At some point the International Mission Board is going to have to address the dysfunction that occurs in terms of strategic planning, communication and implementation of core changes within the International Mission Board. There is nothing wrong with change, but when administration in Richmond changes things in East Asia without input from those on the ground, then you have the equivalent of the Senior Pastor telling the children's coordinator how to operate the nursery. Somehow, someway, administration in Richmond has got to get better at hearing and listening to the troops on the ground. Tens of millions of dollars could be saved if missionaries were the ones telling Richmond what was needed and Richmond supported the needs of those in the middle of the harvest. The new changes at the IMB, just like New Directions a decade ago, look great on paper. The problem is most missionaries have no clue what is happening. Sure, that will change in time, but until there is a much better system of listening to those on the ground, I would be against throwing more money into a system that sometimes seems to spin in circles.
(4). Trustees are going to have to take responsibility for ridiculous policies, initiated by them, that disenfranchise local Southern Baptist churches across the nation. When I have dozens and dozens of pastors telling me they would rather directly support mission work sponsored by their churches than to submit to what they believe to be extra-biblical and non-essential policy demands of the IMB, then Houston, we have a problem. For example, when there is a vacancy in a financial office in a major region, and a newly called SBC missionary with a background in finance within the business world is not allowed to fill the overseas vacancy without the required "two years of language school," then we have policies superceding ministry. By the way, in this real world example, the finance position remains vacant. It seems to me that flexibility and a minimum number of policies (including the rescinding of ridiculous extra-biblical and non-BFM doctrinal policies) should be a requirement before we even begin to discuss changing the CP formula. When the system continues with dysfunctions, it makes no sense to pour more money into the system.
(5). It would seem that the root issue of a lack of funding at the International Mission Board is NOT the formula of the Cooperative Program, but the general decrease in giving to the CP by churches across the SBC. Churches across the board are reducing their giving to the CP everywhere - but in Oklahoma. Here in Oklahoma our state keeps 60% of CP monies. 40% is sent to the Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. Of that 40% percent, the International Mission Board gets half. The other half is divided among NAMB, the seminaries, and other SBC ministry.
The average church in Oklahoma has increased CP giving to nearly 9.5% of church receipts over the past five years, while the average Southern Baptist church in other states has reduced CP giving to just above 5%. Oklahoma SB chuches give significantly more to the CP than SB churches in other states. Why is that? I might suggest that the BGCO agencies are professionally run, staffed and quite effective. Having served both at the state level and the national level in the SBC, I am more comfortable with the accountability, stewardship and ministry effectiveness of the 60% that stays in Oklahoma than I am with the 40% that goes elsewhere. I know where all the dollars go in Oklahoma. There is a high level of trust at the state level, and an absence of the ugly politics, particularly in the past decade, that have harmed other states. I am thrilled we in Oklahoma send what we do to national and international causes, and I believe our national agencies are improving in terms of their financial accountability. However, the way for the International Mission Board to receive more money from Oklahoma is NOT to change the CP formula, but rather, to continue to encourage the healthy giving to the CP that already characterizes our state.
So, I believe Paul Chitwood, Chairman of the IMB, is wrong. The CP formula does not need to change in order to help the IMB during their fiscal crises. We Southern Baptists simply must continue to be involved in reaching people at the local level, treating others with respect and grace, and seeing all our ministries as Southern Baptists as important. When the tide comes into the harbor the water rises and all the boats rise together. To artificially raise one boat over the others simply ignores the serious question as to why the tide of money seems to be going out of the Southern Baptist Convention harbor in the first place.
In His Grace,