EDITOR'S NOTE: The Southern Baptist Convention has designated April 26 as Cooperative Program Sunday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Cooperative Program and stewardship are two sides of the same coin in reaching our world for Christ. Southern Baptists are clear about the first component, the Cooperative Program, but we are fuzzy on the second component, stewardship. The Cooperative Program is dependent on vibrant stewardship.
Every Christian understands the call of God to reach our world for Christ. For Southern Baptists, being "on mission" is a hallmark of our denomination. Whether you talk about North America's urban centers, the unreached people groups in south Florida, Texas, California and New England or the remote areas of the Northwest, you'll find Southern Baptists in rock-solid conviction that God has called us to preach the Gospel, start churches and change lives. And when it comes to international missions, Southern Baptists are unparalleled and galvanized in their commitment to go everywhere in the world to preach the Gospel. Clearly, Southern Baptists are all about missions, and for the most part we are in agreement that the Cooperative Program is the best strategy out there. Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, has said on numerous occasions, "... if there was no CP strategy in place for our denomination, we would start one!"
But here's the thing. The Cooperative Program will only take us as far as Southern Baptists are willing or able to fund it. Here is where the stewardship component comes into play.
What I have learned in the past three years since the assignment for stewardship was placed with the Executive Committee, is Southern Baptists are struggling with money just like everyone else is struggling with money. I have seen conditions inside the church mirror conditions outside the church.
When I speak to pastors -- and ask them, "Would you agree with me, the people in your church, sitting in your pews every week, are worried about money, struggling to pay their bills, struggling to pay their taxes, struggling to invest in their future and struggling to give?" -- without fail, every pastor in the room nods his head yes!
And, by the way, don't think our pastors and church leaders are immune from money problems. I know for a fact many of our pastors are struggling with the same issues in their own families. I also believe this explains why most pastors don't talk about money in their church. At a time when finances are first and foremost on the minds of every American, many churches are eerily silent on the issue.
But has there ever been a better time to have a conversation in our churches about money?
I am convinced of this: If Southern Baptists were to become free from the bondage of debt and became good stewards, we would see our missions efforts explode. While we have a world-class missions strategy, funds given through the Cooperative Program must be in the hands of people who can keep their heads above water and invest in a strategy to reach our world for Christ.
As I said, the Cooperative Program and stewardship are inseparable and interdependent. Actually, we will never fully achieve the Cooperative Program component until we get the stewardship component right.
In the past three years the Executive Committee provided leadership to the stewardship and money side of this equation. We call this new stewardship initiative It's A New Day For Financial Freedom (IAND). We partner with Crown Financial Ministries to bring quality financial and stewardship resources to churches at affordable prices.
Crown is a great friend and partner for Southern Baptists. Several of Crown's key resources, the 10-week Life Group Study, the Life Group Leader Certification course and Money Map Coaching Certification, are now available to Southern Baptist churches at considerably lower prices. The Executive Committee along with state conventions and Crown Financial Ministries also are conducting one-day IAND pastor and church leader conferences across the convention. These conferences feature a national presenter from Crown Financial Ministries leading a practical and biblically based session on developing a spending plan; how to live on that spending plan; how to make spending decisions when things aren't going well; getting out of debt; and discovering what God has to say about money. In 2008, the Executive Committee conducted 40 one-day It's A New Day conferences with more than 1,100 participants and we are scheduled to conduct an equal number of conferences in 2009. Given the current national economic climate, it is no surprise we are seeing far greater participation at the '09 IAND events. Already in the first quarter we have had 600 participants in eight events.
In addition to engaging in a personal journey of financial freedom, the "take away" for IAND conference participants is learning learn how to be a catalyst for change in their church and community. The hardest steps to take on any journey are the first steps, and these events are designed to provide "first step" opportunities for churches to be relevant and authentic in a personal and tangible way in today's financial environment.
Ashley Clayton is associate vice president for stewardship with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.