Wednesday, May 27

Is it time to change the Cooperative Program formula?

I read with much interest the following article penned by IMB Chairman Paul Chitwood and published by Baptist Press.

Is it time to change the formula for the Cooperative Program amounts received by the International Mission Board for global missions? Shouldn't this be at the top of the agenda at this year's Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville? I would vote a hearty YES!

Please prayerfully read...
Cooperative Program formula'
By Paul Chitwood

MT. WASHINGTON, Ky. (BP)--"If you will, with a broken heart, affirm the recommendation of our staff to temporarily suspend the ISC and Masters programs, and limit other new missionary appointments, please say 'aye.'" The motion passed.

After a prayer by one of our trustees for God to provide the resources necessary to once again fund all of these missionary-sending programs, I wiped the tears from my eyes and saw our president, Jerry Rankin, do the same.

During the tenure of Rankin's leadership over the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries has increased by more than 1,500. Our current count exceeds 5,600. But we do not have the money to support additional numbers of missionaries, nor will we be able to replace many of those who are
completing their assignments. Therefore, our overall number of missionaries will soon begin to fall.

In an era when more God-called individuals are coming to candidate conferences to explore potential service with the IMB and more students are enrolling in SBC seminaries with the goal of being appointed as Southern Baptist missionaries, have Southern Baptists decided they don't need any more missionaries? Have we reached the limits of our giving in support of international missions? Have we determined that we need do no more than we are currently doing to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth?

Because of the current formulas determining how Cooperative Program (CP) dollars are spent, 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...

...My modest proposal is this: The time has come to change the Cooperative Program formula. Our prayers for workers for the harvest have been answered! The Lord of the harvest is calling out incredible numbers of workers for fields that are already white to harvest. Shall we tell them we are unable to send them? Shall we communicate to the lost we cannot afford to reach them? My conviction is that the time has come for us to make tough choices between the good and the best when it pertains to the Cooperative Program.

I am not suggesting that all North American CP ministries be defunded. Vital Kingdom work is supported by CP dollars in every state convention and in the Southern Baptist entities and institutions operating in the States. The time has come, however, to invest more of our CP funds in making disciples of all the nations.

I am proposing that every state convention and our national convention revise the formula they use in dividing CP funds by applying a simple two-question test to how and where every dollar is spent.

First, will this expenditure have a direct and transformative impact on lostness?

Second, could this money be better spent by sending a waiting missionary to a place where the Gospel will not be heard unless that missionary goes?

I believe such a test would dramatically change our stateside CP formulas. More importantly, this test would provide the funds necessary to support every called and qualified Southern Baptist missionary to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Just as Americans are changing their spending habits during the current economic crunch, the time has come for Southern Baptists to change their CP spending habits. Ministries and programs we enjoy during times of plenty but that have little or no actual impact upon lostness must be sacrificed for the sake of those facing hell with no access to the Gospel.

Through natural disasters, regime changes, creative access strategies and an ever-growing pool of missionary candidates, God has opened an unprecedented, seemingly unlimited opportunity for Southern Baptists to take the Gospel to the nations. We cannot allow doing what is good to prevent us from doing that which is best.

I plead with you, Southern Baptists, to change the Cooperative Program formula at every level to ensure that the majority of money given to get the Gospel to the nations no longer gets held back in our own nation. We are a Great Commission denomination. The urgency of the times demands that we prove it.
--30-- Paul Chitwood is pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Washington, Ky., and chairman of trustees for the International Mission Board.


Alan Knox said...


How many more believers would be able to travel around the world spreading the gospel and strengthening the church if they followed Paul's example of working to support themselves? I'm not saying this is necessary, but it seemed like a good idea to Paul. I'm hoping that all of those people who the IMB can't support are still planning to go... since they are sent by God, right?


Grady Bauer said...

Great point by Alan. Maybe God is going to use this to get us into new areas of ministry that we previously have only attempted to....the actual market place. Although it's said in some's also potentially beautiful. We'll see.

GuyMuse said...

Alan and Grady,

Thanks for responding. I can understand where you are both coming from, but today's world with increasingly difficult government regulations makes it almost impossible to simply go to much of the developing and non-Western world and get a job supporting one's self and be a missionary.

Even Latin Americans wanting to go to the USA and do missions following Paul's example will run into the same problems of visas, legalities, work permits, and a host of other issues. I wish it were as easy as simply flying in to a country, finding a job, and supporting one's ministry in this way.

One of the crucial functions of missions organizations like the IMB is that they facilitate our being able to be here. I just spent an entire day trying to get done several very simple legal procedures dealing with housing issues, and COULD NOT DO A SINGLE THING as a foreigner because I didn't have all the legal papers and signatures from the mission (IMB) which vouch for my being who I say I am here in the country. They won't deal with individuals. Only with legal reps of the entity one works for and has been recognized by their government.

So to directly answer you, no, those people not backed and supported by the IMB are probably not planning to still go overseas. Not because they may not be willing to do so--following Paul's style--but because governments make it almost impossible to do missions in this way.

Our world is growing more complicated and with more restrictions on immigration. It is not just the money keeping people from going overseas, but all that foreign governments require in order to let you in to work (whether secular or religious.)

Whether these turned away missionaries go with the IMB, independently, or any other organization, they will still face the same obstacles.

Visiting a country as a short-term tourist is quite different from seeking to live and work in a country where you are not a citizen and are seen with suspicious eyes as to why you are there.

Sorry for the long-winded TMI answer, but till governments begin to open up their borders and facilitate free exchange of peoples from other nationalities as there was in Paul's day, I am afraid we are stuck with the cumbersome system of missions sending organizations.

Do you see other ways it might be done?

Arthur Sido said...

This conversation came up on the Founders Ministry blog and I raised a different question. Not only is the issue with the CP, it is also with the way local churches spend their money. How much of the offering goes into mission work versus how much goes into buildings, maintenance, staff salaries, etc.? It is easy to disparage those evil bureaucrats in the state conventions, but what about the miserly contributions of the local churches while they buy the latest/greatest audiovisual system and hire another associate pastor?

Alan Knox said...


I understand your concerns. But, I think you will find that believers with true business and technical and medical etc. skills can almost always find jobs overseas. Perhaps one of the problems is that we're trying to send people who only have training as missionaries. Remember, Paul was trained in a vocation that was useful all around the Roman Empire.


Alan Knox said...

One more thing... yes, the world has changed. But, God is still capable of providing for those he has called. So, if people refuse to go without funding up front, either they are not called, or they are not following. Is there another option?


GuyMuse said...


Good point about local churches hanging on for themselves more than their fair share. I have always found it strange that leaders expect members to tithe, yet the churches they lead often do not follow the same expectation.

GuyMuse said...


What you propose certainly may well be the future of missions. We may be coming to the end of missions as we traditionally know them. My wife and I have talked many times about what all it would entail to do the very thing you are suggesting. There are indeed M's all over the world who are doing the very thing you are talking about at this very moment. My brother and his family did this in Asia, but the restrictions on doing anything other than what you are there to officially do, limit much the open ministry of preaching the Gospel and planting churches.

On our team is a young Ecuadorian lady who spent 10 years amongst Islamic peoples. She lived along the patterns you are suggesting. The problem for her was never money, but government restrictions which finally have made it impossible for her to return to the country where she served.

But I do agree, maybe the Lord is leading us all to take a new look at alternate ways of engaging peoples and nations closed to the Gospel.

Alan Knox said...


Yes, I'm sure there are many government restrictions. Paul ran into those too, and was often kicked out of cities and regions. He used the time he had to proclaim the good news and disciple believers. Are we willing to do that?


GuyMuse said...


Good question: are we willing to do that? Are we willing to go that far in making Christ known? Like I shared in my previous post, some of us are talkers and others are doers. I know for me it is easier to talk about living this kind of life and paying the price such entails, than it is to actually do it in real life. Many of the brothers we live and work amongst are much closer to living out these ideals than I am. Pray that we too would be willing to do whatever it takes to see the Mestizo of Guayas come to bow their knees before the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grady Bauer said...

Good dialogue....the other question begs to be asked....Is it time for a radical change within the IMB?

We're a traditional, top-down organization and in the secular world we're watching them drop like flies.

I was hoping our recent changes were going to be significant but turned out to be little more than an admin move around and we actually added to the existing top heavy structure.

I think it's time to redo the coop program, the way we connect with churches, strategy and we need to take a cue from the secular companies that are doing well....streamline the admin roles.

Churches are still doing missions and giving to it...they're just not doing it with's time for someone to ask why and start making difficult changes.

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for checking back. I too have benefited from the dialog with you and Alan on this one. As to your question, I think at least some of these needed changes are slowly beginning to take place. I see them happening not so much in the center of the organization, but on the outskirts--like where we are! We are finding much more response and help coming from our network of relationships. I think our organization realizes this, but it is hard to turn the Titanic around on a dime. It will take some more time before we begin to see the effects of some of the changes in progress...or at least that is my hope and prayer!