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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--At first blush, the suggestion to provide Southern Baptists a new category for "Great Commission Giving" seems innocuous -- allowing churches to total the various mission gifts to SBC entities to show a grand total for "Great Commission Giving." Nonetheless, this aspect of the GCR Task Force's Feb. 22 report seems to have created a great deal of interest. The concern being expressed is that "Great Commission Giving" will erode giving through the Cooperative Program, which has been our primary means of funding seminary training and cooperative missions.
I have no problem with churches keeping a record of their grand total of mission giving. Most church budgets will total up mission giving to demonstrate to church members how much is being spent on mission ventures. I do, however, have several concerns with how this proposal might be applied.
"Great Commission Giving" has the potential to degenerate into a "make-your-own-budget" mentality. We have already seen a not-too-veiled suggestion that churches might designate money directly to the seminaries and mission agencies and give less to their state convention, if their particular state convention failed to send an adequate amount of its total receipts to convention-wide causes. In this case, a church might give a fairly small percentage through the traditional Cooperative Program, which recognizes the valid partnership between state conventions and the national convention. The end result of such a strategy would be to erode the essential partnership between state and national convention and create the possibility that a state would actually find it necessary to keep a larger percentage of Cooperative Program monies in-state to make up for those money designated through a "Great Commission Giving" category that bypasses the state convention.
I do understand that there are some persons who feel state conventions are keeping too large a percentage of the total Cooperative Program dollar in the state for local ministries while the great need for resources is for those attempting to reach those at the ends of the earth. I would be the first to agree that we must make more resources available for those who are taking the Gospel to those who have yet to hear of Christ for the first time. But is this the best way to accomplish that end? I have talked to many state executives who would like to forward a larger percentage of receipts to national causes and are working to make this happen. Work with your state leaders and work through the budgeting process available to you at state conventions.
I am concerned that "Great Commission Giving will become a ready means for designating the churches' mission giving. I can't imagine any pastor would want the people in his church to adopt a designated giving tactic to provide additional money for the local church ministry of their choice. What if families with youth decided the youth program needed additional resources and thus chose to designate a large percentage of their giving for youth ministry? Those involved in the worship/music ministries hear of what is transpiring to provide more money for the youth, and they decide to circumvent the budget to provide additional resources to the ministry of their choice, which is being impacted by those giving to the youth ministry. As you can readily see, this is a no-win situation. It creates a shambles of the unified budget and makes it impossible for the church to plan effectively. If the "Great Commission Giving" category is allowed to degenerate into a "designated giving" plan, it will spell the end of the Cooperative Program as we know it and will make it virtually impossible to design and fund a national mission strategy.
Finally, I am concerned because "Great Commission Giving" does not challenge people or churches to give more, but simply to redirect existing funds to causes of their own choosing. As a pastor, I didn't have any problem with someone who wanted to fund a special "needed project" with gifts which exceeded their regular tithe through the budget. I did, however, think it was counterproductive for them to take from their tithe to fund the cause of their choice and I discouraged such designated giving. If a church wants to join the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, one of the seminaries or their state convention in a special project and they can do so without taking away from the money budgeted for the unified Cooperative Program budget, I applaud them for their generosity. While we are on the subject, why have we virtually dropped the suggestion/challenge that a church should consider 10 percent of its budget a good starting point for their CP giving? If we could agree upon this, I doubt there would be much need for additional designated giving.
I do believe that the "Great Commission Giving" category was suggested to provide more resources for reaching those at the ends of the earth. I have no reason to question the motive behind the suggestion. But the problem is not going to be solved by designating missions' money and giving it a new title. The problem is not as simple as "the state conventions keeping too much money." The problem starts with the individual believer who keeps too much money and thus fails to tithe through their local church. It is compounded then by the average church in America which spends 95 percent of its resources on its own ministries. We are keeping too much. The problem grows in scope and intensity as it goes from level to level, but we can't solve the problem with the same level of giving with different labels. We need a more sacrificial level of giving at every level.
Kenneth S. Hemphill is the SBC's national strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth.